Winter 2014-2015

Vamos Rogelio!

A love story

Leland de la Durantaye

Federer at the 2010 French Open. Photo Mike Powell.

I was once given charge of the exceptionally amusing children of some friends and, not knowing what to do with them, took them to Kids’ Day at the US Open. I was bored because the kid stuff was boring, even though the kids were not, and so was leading my little troop off the grounds in search of better adventure in greater Queens when it began. Two children ran by us, slipped through a gate, and disappeared. After a quick consultation and some running, we emerged courtside in a stadium empty save for a handful of spectators, none over ten years old, watching the inconceivable. But I should begin at the beginning.

• • •

Ball games in the Americas began as sun-worshipping rites. The ball represented the sun and there were fatalities. Fast forward to March 2014 in the Mojave Desert, where the fifth-most-important tennis tournament in the world is played. Even in early spring, the sun there is like anger and the heat like punishment. The Santa Rosa mountains, which loom over Indian Wells and separate it from Joshua Tree Park, seem to say, in a constant whisper: no water. The only shade for miles around is that of the main stadium of the BNP Paribas Open, the second-largest tennis stadium in the world.

During the women’s final, I had left the grounds through the players’ exit. So that my dog—thick-coated, born for snow—might survive the afternoon, I had found a tiny plot of shade. Having just checked the dog’s vital signs and received a look which was perfectly translatable into human as You must be fucking kidding, I was returning through the cool, shady area reserved for players, press, and tournament officials when it happened.

The area was empty, which was strange considering what a bustling place it had been for the preceding weeks. Notwithstanding the remoteness of the tournament’s location (the nearest city of note, Los Angeles, is more than two hours away), there were always a great many people wanting autographs and attention, and so this protected refuge was the only part of the extensive tournament grounds where players could be at anything approaching ease. Ten days earlier, at the table where I was pausing to eat a hasty lunch, I had less interviewed than just really annoyed Richard Gasquet, a Frenchman then ranked twelfth in the world and best known outside the tennis world—and, come to think of it, inside it as well—for having tested positive for cocaine, and then successfully appealing the finding with the claim that the cocaine entered his system orally, and involuntarily. This was because—get ready for the French part—he met a girl in a club and they were dancing and they were kissing and how could he know that she had just been doing a cartel level of cocaine and so it was in and around her mouth? How, indeed? responded tennis’s governing body, the Association of Tennis Professionals, an organization with a surprisingly liberal attitude concerning the realities of being a pro tennis player. (The stories about Vitas Gerulaitis, Ilie Nastase, John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, and that generation’s wild partying, frequently involving Andy Warhol and Studio 54 during the US Open, support such a conclusion.) Around Gasquet on that first day sat much of the French delegation in the tournament, including the acrobatic Gael Monfils, the senatorial Paul-Henri Mathieu, the spry Gilles Simon, and the highest-ranked of the French, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the ninth seed and the only one of them with what bookmakers considered a legitimate chance of winning the tournament. (He lost in the first round.)

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