I spent several days in — very hot — San Jose covering the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic during the first week of August. I learned a lot from observing my colleagues for a day in the pressroom, but also from elevating my tennis coverage from collegiate to professional tennis, albeit just for a week.
One of my most important takeaways from the experience: No amount of water is enough to prevent you from the dehydration of sitting in a tennis stadium in 90-degree heat. Bring Gatorade.
Upon arriving at the San Jose State University Tennis Complex bright and early Monday morning and receiving my media credentials, I walked into the venue.
The first person I saw holding a tennis racket was former No. 1 and four-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka.
On the practice court with her sister, and her dad who recently started coaching her again, Osaka was practicing her serve.
“A couple years ago, we would have to fight to practice on public courts, and it was just me and my sister and my dad alone,” Osaka said in a press conference later — in an answer to my question (a horn I will most likely keep tooting for the rest of my life). “And now I’ve gotten to the point where people come to watch me play, and for that, I’m very grateful.”
After watching practices, I made my way back to the media center, where I took my seat and patiently waited for the aforementioned press conference.
Four players were going to hold media availability, I was told. And so, sipping on media-coffee with media-cream, I waited for top seed and No. 4 Maria Sakkari, Wimbledon finalist and No. 5 Ons Jabeur, four-time Grand Slam champion Osaka and young star Coco Gauff.
If I thought I was having a crazy day after watching Osaka practice, nothing could’ve prepared me for asking all four top players questions during their respective press conferences.
Cracking jokes with the press and giving surprisingly (to me, a relative novice at the craft) candid answers, they talked about their love for the Bay and this tournament in particular. Sakkari made sure to mention how excited she was for The Cheesecake Factory not far from their hotel. Gauff talked about throwing out the first pitch at the Giants game in San Francisco.
Questions in the pressroom ranged anywhere from the transition from grass and clay courts to the hard court for the upcoming swing, to the outfits the players were wearing; Gauff, in what is probably the best and brightest kit of the season so far, mentioned that sometimes she catches herself on screen during matches and thinks “that looks pretty fire.”
Jabeur, coming off an incredible run to the Wimbledon final in July, talked about being at the tournament by herself and coming back to tennis after a Wimbledon loss.
“Usually after losing a final I’m disappointed, but this is different,” Jabeur said. “It’s going to be a new experience for me because I’m alone here. I want to experience how to be alone with myself and know how to correct myself on the court.”
Top-seeded Sakkari, who lost in the second round to Shelby Rogers, noted that her clay and grass seasons did not go as planned.
“Tennis is tough, it’s the kind of sport where you can’t always have great results all year long, but I’m okay with that,” Sakkari said in a press conference Monday, before her first match. “This swing suits my game very well, so I’m going to do my best in these four tournaments.”
Following the press conference, I had the rest of the day to watch the ongoing matches and work on my articles from the press tent, accompanied by sandwiches provided for the press. I split my time watching matches and practices on the courts and getting a break from the heat in the air-conditioned tent.
During this time I also learned that no matter how long you spend watching tennis matches online, nothing compares to covering them in person. Though I spent six months covering Cal women’s tennis matches, mostly in person, professional tennis is quite different.
For one, no matter how much you can gauge the crowd, the atmosphere on the court and the match itself, via a stream, none of it even comes close to being able to see it in real life.
I also learned that it’s always better to ask questions. Though you might be piercing a hole in the charade you were trying to build by seeming like you know what you’re doing in a pressroom, I definitely learned much more by asking for help.
Over my two and a half days covering the tournament, I participated in seven press conferences and watched parts of six matches live.
This was definitely an environment that took getting used to — but definitely one I could see myself getting used to, too.