Rafael Nadal jumps the net while Roger Federer watches on during the Match In Africa Tennis Exhibition held at the Cape Town Stadium on Friday. Photo: AP Photo/Halden Krog

JOHANNESBURG – Row 3. Seat 36. Block 316 Upper Tier. Cape Town Stadium.

From there I watched Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal play tennis. It was a long way back from the posh court-side seats occupied by Patrice Motsepe, Bryan Habana, John Smit, Helen Zille and Newcastle United striker Andy Carroll, among others. It didn’t matter one bit.

There are few sportsmen who stop me doing whatever I’m supposed to be doing. Roger Federer is one of them. I was insanely jealous of my former colleague, Kevin McCallum, who got to interview Federer a few years back at Joburg airport. Federer was supposed to talk to him for 10 minutes, but he gave McCallum nearly 20 minutes of his time. So when I got offered that ticket in the upper tier of Cape Town Stadium, it didn’t take long to say “yes” and book a flight.

It did worry me how much I’d be able to see from up there - about 100m (maybe more) from the court, but my concerns were unwarranted.

From the Upper Tier, I could see the ball and follow the rallies, although, with exception of the odd booming forehand from Nadal, I couldn’t hear the ball on the racquet. Never mind though. It was an amazing experience.

Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer embrace after the Match In Africa game at Cape Town Stadium on Friday. Photo: AP Photo/Halden Krog

The Cape Town Stadium is a terrific venue. Why it’s taken Western Province Rugby so long to move, only their administrators will know. There are clear views of every part of the field, and in the case of the tennis match it was pretty amazing that you could follow a point so clearly. It’s why 50000 people could be heard gasping when Nadal cracked one of his signature “off forehands” or Federer cranked up a first serve. And sure, it was an exhibition, so the rallies were relaxed, the shots struck with only half the force they would be in a proper competitive encounter, but even in that, the skill of those two was ridiculous. 

Only after the match as we made our way out of the stadium did we realise just how windy it was courtside. To be able to control a ball the way they did was simply incredible.

There was a rally involving them swopping backhand slices, low, cutting across the ball, barely getting it over the net, and when it bounced it deviated like an off-break. Try that indoors, it’s pretty darn difficult, never mind in an open stadium with the wind swirling.

I’m still hoping to make plans to watch either one of them in a competitive match, but even if I don’t I’ll take the memories of Friday with me. At times I’d watch some spectators close to me. There was an elderly couple seated one row behind me whose daughter had got them tickets. They were enraptured. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal had only been accessible through television for them. Here they were in the flesh, 100 or so metres away. And those two people never took their eyes off the action. I won’t forget them. 

I won’t forget seeing Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal live.

I am very, very lucky.


IOL Sport

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