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Massages, Five-Star Hotels, Porsches, And... Mayo-Slathered Sushi?: Tennis Writers Reveal Best (And Worst) Tournament Perks

Monte Carlo
Photo: Clive Brunskill (Getty)

As a rube who has only ever covered one tennis tournament—the U.S. Open (once in 2017 and once this year)—I was blown away by the perks given to credentialed media: $25 per diem to spend on food around the grounds or in the media cafeteria! Great seats! Free parking! Shuttles to and from the hotels! And until recently, I’ve been told, the tournament also held a daily happy hour for media members and a recreational media tennis tournament on the U.S. Open practice courts. On the one hand, all this makes sense. Covering tennis as a beat means long hours and frantic work—watching matches, interviewing players, and filing copy, sometimes all at once. And because matches can last anywhere from one to five (or more) hours, reporters’ schedules are often unpredictable, so providing easy, accessible food and transportation seems like a no-brainer. On the other hand, the tournament is motivated to make sure reporters are comfortable, even happy, therefore ensuring continued and/or positive coverage.

So do all tennis tournaments provide media with perks like this? Better perks? With nothing else to compare to the U.S. Open experience, I asked some of the world’s best-known tennis writers to weigh in.

The three prompt questions were:

1) How many different tennis tournaments have you covered in your career?

2) Which tennis tournament is the best (most enjoyable, comfortable, lavish) to cover and why?

3) What is the best perk (or two or three best perks) across all tournaments?

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Tumaini Carayol, The Guardian tennis writer

1) Too many! Brisbane, Australian Open, Paris WTA, Davis and Fed Cup, Indian Wells, Barcelona, Stuttgart, Madrid, Rome, Roland Garros, Queen’s, Birmingham, Eastbourne, Wimbledon, Hamburg, Washington, Cincinnati, Montreal, US Open, Wuhan, Linz, Valencia, Paris Masters, WTA Finals in Singapore and Istanbul, ATP finals. I think that’s it.

2) I’ve always liked the Australian Open. It’s one of the few big events held in the city center, which means that you can work until 3:00 a.m. and then just walk home in 15 minutes while wearing a t-shirt. Because the Australian Open doesn’t have the prestige or history of the other three slams, they tend to make up for that by throwing a lot of money at the event and actually trying to give people a good experience. That’s how you end up with three retractable roofs in the country that needs them the least. When I think of the media experience, I think of the masseurs provided by the tournament who randomly appear in the press room during the two weeks. You have not lived until you see a journalist furiously filing on deadline while someone stands behind their chair, delicately massaging their shoulder blades.

3) As a young freelancer until this summer, I’ve probably experienced fewer perks than anyone else. But the open bar in the ATP finals comes to mind. That tournament can be depressing to cover because only the eight best players qualify, so there are only two singles matches per day and a lot of sitting around with nothing to do. I never drink while working, but it’s very comforting to know that if I ever have an existential crisis in the middle of a piece about an irrelevant round robin match, it’s there.

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George Bellshaw, Metro UK tennis writer

1) I’m relatively new to the scene compared to some of my esteemed colleagues but so far I’ve done: Australian Open, Mouratoglou Challenger, Monte Carlo, Madrid, French Open, Queen’s, Eastbourne, Wimbledon, US Open, ATP Finals, then Davis Cup in Glasgow, Fed Cup in Bath and East London. *Think* that’s it so far.

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2) Ooh this is a tough one. Food I would say Wimbledon and Queen’s is the best (maybe I’m biased), particularly being vegan some of my food options can be quite limited abroad. The French Open is pretty poor in terms of providing enough of a food budget to cover your daily meals (like €10 a day or something), Wimbledon, Queen’s and the U.S. Open are best in terms of covering that side of things. Because I live in London already (and not exactly close to the site), my commute for events based there isn’t as good as when I go abroad. Wimbledon is obviously our busiest tournament and having to commute close to an hour and a half each way is not ideal... Monte Carlo’s transport is very good, the British guys stay in a little town called Menton and it’s nice to just get dropped back in a luxury car after a day’s work. In terms of tournament activities, the Australian Open has a good happy hour and generally amazing on site facilities but Queen’s has the best media bar (free pimms on tap is always a win). Best views from your seats are probably at the French Open (especially Lenglen), although the front row seats on Arthur Ashe right behind the players’ chairs gives a very different—and cool—insight into watching. Reading that back I realise I’ve given a ridiculously long answer and not much of an indication which is best.... I’m quite torn but I’ll go for Monte Carlo for what’s about to follow...

3) The view in the Monte Carlo press room is astounding. Literally couldn’t dream of a nicer view and you get such a nice breeze coming in through the window. Sadly, I think they’ve built a new press centre which isn’t in quite as stunning location so I may have just got there in time to enjoy it for this year and this year only. They also are said to have the best party towards the end of the tournament (I sadly missed it due to having to leave early to come back and cover Fed Cup). But I’d say the thing I enjoy most is taking my racquet and playing near the site (Simon Briggs from the Telegraph is my main sparring partner). From that perspective, Madrid’s media tournament is the best (we play on the outside courts) I’ve been involved in but we found a great club to play at in Paris and generally got down there every morning at Roland Garros.

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Courtney Nguyen, tennis writer for WTA and co-host of the No Challenges Remaining podcast

1) Uh... deep breath: Stanford, Carlsbad, Hopman Cup, Brisbane, Sydney, Australian Open, St. Petersburg, Fed Cup (Hobart), Doha, Dubai, Indian Wells, Miami, Charleston, New Haven, Stuttgart, Madrid, Rome, Strasbourg, Roland Garros, s’Hertogenbosch, Eastbourne, Birmingham, Queen’s Club, Wimbledon, Cincinnati, Montreal, Toronto, US Open, Wuhan, Beijing, Zhuhai, Singapore WTA Finals, Istanbul WTA FInals, Fed Cup Finals (Prague), ATP Finals London, Rio de Janiero, Shanghai, San Jose. Is it weird that I name off cities? Is that a tennis only thing? I genuinely don’t know. Seems weird.

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2) Pobody’s nerfect? The tournament that feels the most luxurious has crap transportation or puts the media in a stuffy closet. Roland Garros is so perfectly Parisian, but Andy Murray once chipped his tooth on an on-site baguette, and you know the players were getting THE GOOD BAGUETTES. And some of my all-time favorite tournaments to cover leave me physically broken at the end. I mean, at this point in my career, I’ll take an ergonomically designed chair over a chocolate fountain that runs all day (those are available in Stuttgart, btw).

People always think the Slams are the most luxurious events to cover but they all take place in major metropolitan cities, which means you’re just constantly dealing with major metropolitan problems (spoiler alert: I’m a kid from the suburbs). There are too many people in the media center, lines for food and coffee are long, common areas smell funny, and the commutes do your head in. You are constantly walking up and down stairs or waiting for elevators. And every security guard thinks they’re in one of those Gerard Butler movies. Pick one. Any one. They all apply.

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For me, the most luxurious ones to cover are Indian Wells and Stuttgart. Indian Wells is Palm Springs in a tennis tournament. The commute is 10 minutes. The press room has lots of light and is not so big as to make it a noisy traffic zone. It’s one of the few remaining press rooms that is connected to the stadium and press seats. I can go from desk to stadium seats in 10 seconds. You can eat both healthily or indulgently (shout out to the taco salads and the on-site Nobu), the free coffee is strong, they serve lobster rolls and sushi at the press reception, and there’s literally a pair of masseuses nearly every afternoon for the press to get a neck massage. I sent a photo of that to a friend who’s a soccer reporter once. She fell out of her chair.

Oh, and there’s unlimited ice in the press room. Dear America: NEVER TAKE YOUR ICE FOR GRANTED. Signed, an American who spends eight months a year outside of America.

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As for Stuttgart, imagine a Premier tournament sponsored by Porsche, which served primarily as a showcase for the Porsche brand. Now imagine if that tournament was executed flawlessly. That’s Stuttgart.

Again, the press room is connected to the press seats, there is free and delicious espresso all day—none of that Nespresso nonsense, you guys, real espresso drinks! For free! All day! Served in white porcelain cups! The dining, is manned by actual white-coated chefs who prepare the most delicious of local German food, and they have waiters manning the press room all day to clear your dishes and cups and trash as you work.

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3) For those who have never traveled in China, I cannot even capture the luxury of the breakfast situation at a western-owned Chinese hotel. Unbelievable. UNBELIEVABLE. Like Leslie Knope, I too believe breakfast is the best meal of the day. Unlike Leslie Knope, I rarely wake up in time to ever eat actual breakfast. But I will drag myself out of bed every day when I’m in China to hit the breakfast because they feed you like kings. Sure, you have all the western stuff you need, cooked impeccably—eggs, toast, bacon, sausage, tomatoes, beans (ew, Britain, ew), with fresh cut fruits and juices in every color of the rainbow.

But you also get all the delicious Chinese foods, like dumplings, noodles, rice porridge with all the fixins, steamed buns, etc. This is how I imagine rich people live in their homes and if they don’t then they shouldn’t allowed to be rich.

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Fancy transport is also an easy way into my heart. To this day, I have never felt fancier than walking out of the Four Seasons in St. Petersburg into a beautiful snowy morning, and being greeted with “Good morning. Which Porsche would you like today?” in a heavy Russian accent. Or being driven home after midnight in Madrid in some AMG Benz with dark tinted windows, only to hear the groans from fans when I get to the hotel.

No, it is not Rafael Nadal, feverish tennis stans.

It is I, a tired tennis writer. Wearing a backpack. Hoping the hotel bar is still open.

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Jon Wertheim, Sports Illustrated executive editor and senior writer

1) I’ve been to maybe 15 different tennis tournaments, but several of them don’t exist [anymore] which is either a function of my age or how quickly these events turn over.

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2) I miss the days when tournaments used to charter panes and send over a media contingent. There was a woman in Philadelphia, Marilyn Fernberger, who used to charter a jet from Europe filled with British and European tennis writers, figuring whatever the cost was it was outstripped by all the publicity her tournament got from reporters who wouldn’t otherwise be there.

There are certainly offers for airfare, hotels, and all expense paid trips to China. All you have to do is write about, you know, Angie Kerber, and you’ve paid your way. I have never, in keeping with U.S. media ethics, availed myself to those offers.

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3) As far as the best ones to cover, I guess I would say the French Open, as much for the cuisine as anything. There’s a great cafeteria for the media where you have these Michelin chefs making paella and there are about 80 different dessert options and compote with berries and I always think that a counterpart in the U.S. is eating a sweaty hotdog or soup with their hands in the Lincoln Field press cafeteria. So for food I would say the French Open and for all around experience I would say Wimbledon, which thank God no one there has ever been to an NFL game and realizes you can seat the media north of the nosebleed section. At Wimbledon the press section is directly behind the court. You can see the players sweat and hear them talking to themselves and it’s an absolute pleasure to be in the media seating at Wimbledon. And they give you a free towel as well.

Ben Rothenberg, tennis writer for the New York Times and co-host of the No Challenges Remaining podcast

1) I’ve done a lot... in calendar order: Auckland, Hopman Cup, Australian Open, Indian Wells, Miami, Charleston, Estoril, Madrid, Rome, Nuremberg, French Open, Halle, Queen’s Club, Birmingham, Eastbourne, Roehampton (Wimbledon qualifying), Wimbledon, Washington, Cincinnati, US Open, Stockholm, Paris Bercy, London WTFs, WTA Finals Istanbul+Singapore. And then I’ve done a couple Fed Cups, in Worcester, MA and Prague.

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2) There are a lot of personal preferences that go into this, obviously. Because there’s a 5-6 hour cushion, European tournaments have easier deadlines for me than American ones; Australia is all over the place on that front. The most pleasant tournaments are ones where you can stay within walking distance or at least without a hellish commute (U.S. Open), that have late night food options on site or near where you’re staying, especially if there are night sessions. And then on-site food is good for morale, of course. U.S. Open has a ton of options that are cheap for media, and then fancier stuff around the grounds, so they’re the best of the Slams right now on that, though Wimbledon gets points for having their cafeteria open 24 hours. The Australian Open has particularly weird food these days. They have a sushi bar where every option is either sushi that’s cooked or covered in mayo, both of which are dealbreakers. The French Open has okay food but it’s pricy and limited in options and availability. But at least there’s no night session there (yet) so you can usually get at least to some sort of kebab place after.

Miami is notably terrible for lodging, because it’s during a peak season there and during the Ultra music festival, which drives prices way up. Cincinnati (the suburb of Mason) is charmingly middle America, but it’s horrible at having places open after 10:00 p.m. to eat/drink, which is a must for a tournament with night sessions (RIP Mason Applebees).

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Indian Wells checks a lot of boxes for sure—they also have a media deck where you can watch inside the stadium from pretty near your desk, which is a basic stadium function which tennis usually lacks.

My favorite tournament, in spite of itself, is probably Rome, just because the food on site (the public food) is incredible and the Italian brand of disorganization is considerably charismatic chaos. And the food offsite is incredible and it’s easy to stay within walking distance. And there’s a lot of old kitschy Mussolini remnants on site which is pretty wild.

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3) The one that comes to mind for this is Paris Bercy, where I haven’t been since 2014 and think it may have changed. They used to have a media restaurant where every reporter got 50 euros a day of free food, with a super full, gourmet French menu. This included wine by the bottle, so I know some people used to use the whole 50 euros on buying a bottle of champagne and then just walk off site with it as a daily souvenir. Heard they stopped that, eventually, for shame.

Carl Bialik, host of Thirty Love podcast and co-host of Tennis Abstract podcast, former writer for ESPN and WSJ

1) Approximately 43: 12 US Open, 4 Wimbledon, 4 Queen’s, 3 ATP World Tour Finals, 3 Indian Wells, 3 French Open, 3 Davis Cup ties, 3 Exhibitions at MSG, 2 New York Open, 1 Barcelona, 1 Bronx Open, 1 Paralympics, 1 San Marino challenger, 1 SF challenger, 1 Fairfield challenger

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2) ATP World Tour Finals at the O2 in London (where it will be through 2020):

Easy to get to from most parts of the city, a short walk from a tube station

In the O2, an arena full of restaurants and other amenities

Short, level walk from media work area to media seats, which are in a great location

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Manageable format: one match at a time, best-of-3 singles, shortened best-of-3 doubles, predictable end times, a small pool of players who are all top-ranked, and a guarantee, short of injury, that all the players will stick around through the round robins, so you have multiple chances at access and to write about them.

Catered lunch and dinner in a restaurant setting, and the food is good enough to be sure you arrive in time for lunch even if you’re not likely to cover the first matches.

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3) Some that come to mind: U.S. Open pullovers, U.S. Open per diem so you can try the expensive options on the grounds, U.S. Open happy hour and media tournament (RIP), Indian Wells shared dining with media and players, French Open media seating in Chatrier accessible directly from media work center, and covered from rain.

Reem Abulleil, tennis writer, former managing editor or Sport360

1) Australian Open, Qatar Open (ATP and WTA weeks), Dubai (ATP and WTA weeks), Indian Wells, Madrid, Rome, Roland Garros, Wimbledon, Cincinnati, US Open, Wuhan, Beijing, WTA Finals in Singapore, Next Gen Finals in Milan, ATP Finals in London, Laver Cup in Prague, Davis Cup in Athens, Mubadala exhibition in Abu Dhabi. So roughly 18.

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2) To be honest, I personally rank tournaments based on how comfortably I can get my work done. So a tournament with the fastest WiFi, most comfortable media centre, convenient media seats in the stadium, coffee and tea available at all hours (especially middle of the night), good access to players and their teams, practical food that you can buy quickly to get back to your desk and work, decent transport available late at night, and a reasonably-located official hotel, is the real winner for me.

Of course it’s hard to find one tournament that ticks every box. Indian Wells is up there when it comes to all of the above. Although it is an expensive trip overall, between the flight, the drive from L.A. to Palm Springs, and the hotel. The media tribune overlooking centre court is accessed directly through the media centre which means you can easily watch the matches and work. Ordering food from any of the onsite outlets is very convenient because we place our orders through a digital kiosk from within the media centre and just round down to pick up the food without queuing, which is super practical. The player garden is very useful to capture decent footage of players warming up or cooling down.

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Cincinnati has arguably the most hospitable media centre staff. They set out bagels for us every morning along with cream cheese and peanut butter, which is a nice touch, because I never have time to have breakfast before work. The dessert section in the media lounge at the ATP Finals in London is an absolute joke, and the five-star hotel buffet they offer us twice a day in Dubai is the best on tour.

Among the Slams, Wimbledon does a lot of things well when it comes to making our lives convenient. The 24-hour media restaurant that opened a few years ago is a game-changer because you always have access to food no matter how late you stay onsite. It was particularly helpful during Ramadan when I was fasting and sunset was at like 10:00 p.m. Breaking my fast that late was never an issue there.

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Dubai is probably the most comfortable tournament of the year for many of us journalists because the tournament hotel is actually onsite. You literally step out of the hotel and you’re immediately in the tennis club. Nothing beats that!

Singapore always put us up in swanky hotels during the five years they hosted the WTA Finals. Australian Open gives the best goody bags because they’re full of practical items you actually use as a journalist at a tournament, like coffee mugs and power banks and sunscreen etc...

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3) One of my favorite things is the boat pass they give us during the ATP Finals. Instead of taking the tube or dealing with London traffic, the tournament gives us—along with the players and their teams—access to a boat that goes up and down the Thames, to and from the hotel and the O2 Arena. I started taking it last year each morning instead of the tube and it was a great way to start the day, especially since staying indoors at the O2 all day can get quite depressing. The boat also has WiFi, which means you can get work done on your way to the tennis.

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