Sunday, September 29, 2013

Longines Finale and Grand Slam Completion

It was the final day of the Longines Future Tennis Aces tournament and I was ready to see the championship match. I was also more than ready to complete my own personal Grand Slam.

Even though the American Adam Neff had lost in the first round, he was excited to be able to watch the match with Longines Rising Tennis Star Ryan Harrison. He also felt better knowing that the player he lost to, Rudolf Molleker of Germany was the winner of the tournament.

In addition to Harrison, tennis stars Sabine Lisciki (who would reach the finals of Wimbledon a few weeks later), Arnaud Clement and Fabrizio Santoro gave out prizes and did exhibitions before we left for Roland Garros.

I have covered the US Open nearly every year in the past three decades. I have been to Wimbledon and I’ve been to the Australian Open, but I’d never been to the French Open. Roland Garros, the fourth major, had eluded me – until this day. I was finally getting to complete my Grand Slam, at least as an attendee.

Before the matches, we had lunch in the Longines Pavilion. It was even better than expected, with a salad of various artichokes to start. It was served with a light and fruity 2012 Chateau La Tour a L’Eveque Blanc de Blanc.

I couldn’t wait to get out to the courts so I left the group right after dessert was served. It was quite crowded, with narrow walkways that seemed to go off in all directions. 

I tried to make my way to see a match between four players I know well (Mike & Bob Bryan vs. Eric Butorac & Jack Sock), but couldn’t get near the packed court.

Instead I went over to the press room to say hello to some friends and ironically ran into Bob, Mike and Eric, who were just getting off the court (the Bryans won and would go on to win the tournament).

I watched the Rafael Nadal vs. Fabio Fognini match. It was a good one, but I was much more interested in exploring the grounds of Roland Garros.

I tried to get in to watch the match of Jamie Hampton, a player I’ve known since she was a child who is having a lot of success on the tour, but the line was too long and I reminded myself that I had a ticket, not a press badge, at this event. The same was true for the John Isner vs. Tommy Haas match, which went on to a tiebreaker in the fifth set before Haas prevailed.

I walked around for a while before settling in the circle, where a crowd of spectators was watching matches on the big screen, next to the Longines official watch and the plaques of past winners. I found pretty much the same scene at the other stadiums.

We took the bus back to the InterContinental Paris Le Grand in the evening to get ready for our dinner cruise on the Bateaux Mouche. I sat with the Longines PR reps and had a wonderful time (I’m sure the endless bottles of chablis helped).

Despite the fact that it was my fourth trip on Bateaux Mouche, I felt like a first time sightseer. My camera was snapping every angle of the Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty and every other site we saw along the Seine River.

The group was going out after the boat ride, but I knew I had an early flight back to the U.S. so I went back to the room for my final night’s sleep in Paris – at least for now.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Cool Paris for a Longines Filled Day

The weather was almost winter-like as we bundled up for a full day of tennis at the Longines Future Tennis Aces tournament in Paris.

I was up early for a quick breakfast at the InterContinental Paris Le Grand. We boarded the luxury bus to the Hotel de Ville, where a beautiful red clay tennis court was set up. There was a screen for those who also wanted to keep up with the action at the French Open.

Though rain in Paris is not unusual, it was nearly snowing so we went into McDonald’s to warm up with some coffee while we checked our email. It was a McDonald’s like no other I had seen, with a full coffee bar (they even had French macaroons and croissants!) and kiosks you could use to pre-order food. I was quickly reminded that I wasn’t back in Champaign.

We headed back to the courts for a while, enjoying the tennis live and on the screen with the marketing group from Longines before walking to Pamela Popo for lunch.

The appetizer was scallops so they instead gave me a good foie gras, though my memory is still focused on the rest of the meal.

Tender duck was served with a chestnut and pumpkin puree that was unusual and wonderful. It was only topped by a chocolate caramel molten dessert.

We watched the rest of the matches and returned to the hotel in the evening. I was cold and tired and decided to skip dinner (which turned out to be mostly seafood anyway). Instead, I indulged in what I was craving on this cold, wet day – French (yes, they called it that) Onion Soup from the Intercontinental Le Grand room service.

The soup was delicious, with just the right amount of cheese and lots of onions. It was served with a freshly made warm baguette.

I was exhausted and drifted quickly off to sleep, knowing that my next and final day in Pariswas going to be a big one as the Longines junior tournament would end and I’d finally get to complete my Grand Slam. 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Tennis, Glimpsing at Sites and French Food

The day started at the InterContinental Paris Le Grand with their huge breakfast buffet. I was definitely impressed, as it included every fruit imaginable, as well as made to order omelets, meat, croissants, Danishes, yogurt, cereals, crepes and even sushi.

I had a crepe filled with raspberries and covered in chocolate sauce, along with some fresh fruit, yogurt and a croissant.

It was an unusually cold and rainy day so the morning matches were cancelled and I did some work while waiting for the Longines group to leave for lunch.

We ate at Restaurant Chez Julien, where the table centerpieces were filled with white roses. The pea soup tasted as good as it looked. I had a glass of Domaine de Pellehaut Sauvignon Blanc with my steak and fries.

After lunch we took the long (because of traffic, not distance) bus ride to the Longines Future Tennis Aces facility to watch the boys’ 12 and under matches. The players were from all over the world and had to qualify to get into this prestigious event.

My concentration was on Adam Neff, the U.S. participant. He had unfortunately been matched with one of the strongest players in the tournament and Rudolph Moellker of Germany would prevail in the match.

I will never tire of driving down Champs-Elysées with the view of the Arc de Triomphe. Even though I didn’t have much time to shop or sightsee on this trip, I was still in awe as we passed the sites by bus.

The tournament had run late so we went straight to dinner. It was a rather interesting French-Italian restaurant.

We started with a large portion of Burrata surrounded by a selection of yellow, green and red tomatoes. It was fresh and delicious.

The main course was Veal Saltambuca with rotini in a marinara sauce. I definitely enjoyed it, but it wasn’t quite as incredible as the chocolate dessert, filled with deep dark chocolate. I don’t think there was a spot left on anyone’s plate.

We were back at the hotel about 11:00 pm after a very long day. There was still more tennis – and Paris to come. I quickly drifted off to sleep after one last look at the Opera House outside my window.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Paris, Longines Style

I’ve been so busy the last few months that I never got around to writing about my last minute amazing trip to Paris with Longines.  My adventure with the Swiss watch company is well worth relaying anytime.

The invitation came out of nowhere to go to Paris to cover the Longines Future Tennis Aces tournament for Tennis Recruiting and the new fall watch line for Cocktails and Joints. I love anything that lets me combine lifestyle and tennis stories so it didn’t take me too long to say “yes!”

My flights on American Airlines were uneventful. I didn’t get into Business Class, but I did get to experience the Economy Comfort seating. They served baked ravioli with lettuce and carrots with a brownie for dessert. It wasn’t bad. I watched “Hyde on Hudson” (good movie) and actually managed to sleep for six hours before the flight attendant woke me up to a warm and tasty croissant and a blueberry yogurt.

I managed to get through customs quickly since you no longer need to fill out all the forms when coming into Paris. The Longines driver was waiting for me as soon as I got to baggage claim.

We hit a lot of traffic and it took an hour and a half to get from Charles de Gaulle Airport to the hotel. I was staying with a few other writers at InterContinental Paris Le Grand and my balcony looked out to the Opera House.

I had some time to shower and eat one of my favorite French lunches, Croque Monsieur, from room service before meeting with our group at 5:00 pm. We were going to the Shangri La Hotel for the Draw Ceremony. It was quite a festive seen, with the young boys who were playing the tournament mingling as they awaited their “fate” in the draw.

We also got to preview the new Longines Conquest Classic, a beautiful watch that represents “Sport Elegance.” Hors d’ouerves were being passed, though all were seafood so I stayed away. I did indulge in champagne, chocolates and macaroons, though not too much as dinner was still to come.

We once again encountered a traffic jam. It was the most crowded I had ever seen Paris. The only good thing about sitting in traffic was a chance to see the Eiffel Tower, something I will never tire of seeing.

Dinner was a buffet set up for us at the Westin. I had fond memories of staying there when I came for the Perrier Jouët anniversary. It’s a modern gem near the Louvre and one of my favorites in Paris.

The buffet was actually quite elegant, with seafood, veal and duck, the latter two of which I enjoyed immensely. I had a napoleon-like dessert before we headed back to the Le Grand Intercontinental.

I’d like to say I had drifted right off to sleep, but it was a bit too much rich food too late and I was up thinking about what the next day of Paris food – and tennis – would bring.