Let me take you with me on my journey back in time, back to february 16th 2014.
It’s sundaymorning february 16th, 4.30 am: without any alarm I wake up. It’s still dark outside, but the nerves are strong in my stomach. It’s the finalday here in Rotterdam and the doublesfinal will be played between Nicolas Mahut/Michael Llodra and Horia Tecau/Jean Julien Rojer. The whole week we’ve been supporting the french team, so wouldn’t it be an amazing end of the week to see them hold the trophies in the end?
Lots of people are disappointed with how the tournament developed through the week. Del Potro lost early, Murray is out already and the last dutch player Igor Sijsling didn’t make it to the final either. Much better for me, because now I have a ticket to see the doublesfinal, from one of those disappointed tennisfans. Some hours later I’m on the way to Ahoy, trying to read in the book that Nico has written, ‘Le match de ma vie’. I’m not fantastic in french, don’t understand it all, but I understand just enough to know what the text is about. And I still hope to be able to understand it all, one day.
It’s nearly 11 when I’m at Ahoy, and a little bird told me that Nico and Mika practice this morning on the center court, behind closed doors. Luck is with me though, I’m allowed to borrow someones pass, and those passes on your jacket are a miracle. I tell the woman at the door that I’m having a look inside, and there she opens the door for me! I’m in and I quickly find a spot in a logebox. Yes indeed, the boys are warming up on court with Nico on the side where I am sitting, and Mika on the other side of the net. I feel worried though, I see that Nico wears the kneeband again, and he seems frustrated to me. The volleys look good, but when he’s serving, it’s not as fast as usual. Maybe it’s nothing, but it leaves me with an uncomfortable feeling.
Not even 15 minutes later, the three of them (Mika’s trainer included) leave the court. Time for me to leave too and hand over the pass to it’s owner. I feel special to have had the chance to see a bit, but also feel worried now. Not the best combination with the nerves that I felt already. Today’s cheeringteam will be the 3 of us. My friend and her daughter, and me. We’ve got our flags with us, and even facepaint to paint little french flags on our cheecks. We can’t fool the people around us though, this part of the stadium is our home and the people around know who we are. But today we support France. We think that they’ll need the support, because there’s a dutch guy in the other team who probably get the support of the audience anyway. To hang the flags on the wall, we can borrow some doublesided tape from the Wilson stand crew, excellent, we’re prepared!
The doublesmatch starts at 12.50 pm. Soon as the lights are off, I’m feeling terrible sick. It would be so unbelievable cool to see Nico and Mika win this tournament! With the fingers and toes crossed we wait for the players to arrive. Our team is the first to come on court, and luckily they take the left bench, right in front of our flags! The three of us clap the hands till they are red, and our conclusion is that the boys seem very focussed and concentrated. This looks promising! It always scares me when a match starts, that first point, you know that there’s no way back then. The match has begun and the players won’t leave the court before it’s played. Two will be the winners, two will be the runners up.
When the first game is over, the four players walk back to their seats, but Tecau accidentally takes the wrong bench. He’s about to drink from Nico’s drink, when the right owner of the drink corrects him and tells him to go to his own bench. We can’t stop laughing for a while, and even laugh louder when Nico says something to Tecau when passing him. Mika offers Tecau a banana too, trying to say, do you want our food too? Hahaha, it’s such a pity that doubles aren’t on TV this tournament, surely this would have caused lots of laughter. It doesn’t affect Nico’s and Mika’s focus and they take the first set with a double break: 6-2 in 27 minutes. We can breath a bit now, one set down, one more to go. But nothing is as unpredictable as doubles, and the other guys aren’t in the final for nothing, so we’ve got to stay focussed. It feels special to sit here, with the crowd on the hands of Rojer and partner. And we’re the only ones really supporting the french team. It makes me wish I could see much more of Nico in the year, when he’s on court, it feels just right to sit there and watch him play and support him through the match.
This is tennis from a very high level, with some fantastic points of the duo. It’s awesome to see how they team up together, that one serves, and the other finishes the point, or how they communicate on court. There’s no time to get bored, because of the speed of the game. In this second set is the other team much stronger than in the first set, and it’s a nailbiting set till the end. Nico and Mika faced breakpoints in this set but they managed to serve and play them all away. Phew. Still we couldn’t sit quiet, because tiebreaks are in doubles almost more scary than in singles.
It gives some confidence that all tiebreaks this tournament are won by the french team: one normal tiebreak and a strong matchtiebreak in the quarterfinal (10-1). Nailbiting continues and the nerves in my stomach reach the toplevel for the day. Before we realise it, it’s 6-4, and championship point for Nico and Mika. Oh that moment, that wonderful, fantastic moment when Nico raises his arms in victory soon as the ball from the opponents flies out. They did it!! The two guys are doubleschampions in Rotterdam, defeating Tecau/Rojer with 6-2 7-6. What a well deserved crown on a great week doublestennis. With tears in the eyes I’m watching them, hugging eachother on court, and coming to the net with big smiles on the faces. When they thank the audience, we cheer even louder and jump up and down. They did dit, they did it!! And then, such a special moment again, Mika waves at us in appreciation, while Nico gives us a thumb and blows a kiss. They’re so sweet, so awesome and the only true winners for us.
Krajicek chats with the guys while the court is prepared for the trophy ceremony. The photographers all have to stay on one side of the net, the ballkids and umpires line up on the other side. The officials arrive on the court, and the runner ups get the trophy from the ABN Amro bank director. And then, it’s time for the winners to recieve their trophies. We raise our voices again for our team, and again it’s Nico waving to us when they walk to Krajicek. He seems so happy, so thankful with the win. Mika is the one who gets the microphone to say a word to the organisation, sponsors and the crowd. Unfortunately, my pictures of them showing the trophies are all blurry, blame the emotions, I just couldn’t handle my camera at that moment. Seeing this team as winners, after a week of supporting them through all matches is magic.
It’s a pity that the singlesfinal is half an hour later, so they have to hurry with the pictures. I’d have given a sweet thing to be between the photographers and snap some shots, but our spot on the tribune will have to do the job. It’s another amazing moment in the life of a tennisfan, seeing your favourite win, is a feeling that’s hard to describe.
My friend and me have a sneaky plan next, which makes us leave quickly too. We leave the stadium and make our way to the back of Ahoy. We’ll give it a try to wait for Nico and Mika when they leave the venue. It’s sunny for a change and we find ourselves a good spot in the sun. We don’t have to wait very long, within 10 minutes it’s Mika who comes out first and drops his bag in a waiting car. He sees us and greets us, and my friend is the lucky girl to be kissed. He looks a happy man to me, while I keep an eye on the door for his partner. Stephane Simian comes out next, followed directly by Nico. A big smile comes on my face, I can’t help it. Nico greets us all, and he mentions my flag, with sparkling eyes. Somehow he does love that flag that I painted for him, that I had proudly hanging in Ahoy this afternoon. Nico tells his program for the next weeks, says one more time thanks, smiles his beautiful smile and off they are, to the hotel, and to Marseille next.
When my friend and me leave Ahoy, we do feel special. We’ve had an amazing week, we saw our favourites win a trophy, we lived awesome moments with our favourites and we have a lot to remember with a smile. I slightly feel sad too, because I have no idea when I will see Nico play again. It might make me sick from nerves, but when I’m watching him play, there’s no other place I’d rather be. Bring on the rest of the year, with more joy and happiness!
Thanks Nico, you’re a very special person. Always with you!