I’m delighted to say that we have another guest post here on Moo’s Tennis Blog… @Mc_Mooo (Morgane) on Twitter was lucky enough to visit Prague last weekend for the 2015 Fed Cup final between Czech Republic and Russia and she has very kindly written about her experiences. Over to you, Morgane…
Friday 13th 3:00 AM – the alarm clock went off and despite my exhaustion, I was excited to fly to Prague and attend this tennis event I had not yet experienced: THE FED CUP FINAL. As an unconditional fan of Lucie Safarova since early 2014, I have closely followed the Czech Fed Cup team this year. When they won against the Germans, I was really frustrated I was not over there with that crowd, in that atmosphere. So I promised myself that if the Czechs reached the final again in 2015 and were to play in Prague, I would do everything in my power to be there. The dream came true…
In Prague, there were signs of the Fed Cup everywhere: posters of the Czech players in the subway, Fed Cup cars in the city center… passing by the Intercontinental hotel, I happened to cross the way of the Russian team. Since my own hotel was quite close, I ran into Myskina and Vesnina a few times over the weekend.
Friday also came the big disappointing news for me when I got a peak at the draw… Lucie – who was expected to be playing singles alongside Petra – was only scheduled to play doubles. I was very sad because I was so looking forward to seeing her play at home in front of her crowd. Even if I love all Czech players, Lucie is my favourite player on the WTA tour…
Saturday 14th November: Day 1
DAY 1 of the Fed Cup! It was my first time in the O2 arena and I arrived there around 12:30. After passing the security, I bought Czech stickers from the staff. With Czech colors on my cheeks and a real Czech flag I brought from home – I was ready. I took my seat in category 2 and was surrounded by Czechs of all age groups: kids, students, middle age people and an elderly person next to me! Everyone was showing their colors through a variety of accessories: hats, scarfs, make up, flags… and they were armed with trumpets, drums and any noisy object, really! The people around me were very kind and very sweet to me, Czechs are just great people! I must say I didn’t run into any Russians anywhere but I guess a few were there though.
14:00 the ceremony started right on time. After a brief introduction, the Russian team came in and there was some applause but nothing in comparison to the Czech team’s entrance. The crowd got very loud, people stood up, started to shout, trumpets and drums were going nuts! Each of the Czech players was really loudly applauded but the ones who got the biggest cheer were definitely Lucie and Petra!!! People stood up respectfully when both the national anthems were played (sung by lyrical singers), which was quite moving for me even though I’m not Czech neither Russian.
The first match was about to start, featuring Petra Kvitova against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. The atmosphere was electric. The first set was very stressful for me – and I believe for most of the crowd – since Petra was making a lot of unforced errors and Nastia was playing well and coming through quite easily. People started to yell “PE-TRA, PE-TRA, PE-TRA” louder and louder to support her, trumpets and drums could be heard between points (I was half deaf after 30 minutes since it was very noisy right around me). The chair umpire had to intervene MANY times to silence the Czechs.
I couldn’t help but think what an amazing feeling it must be for the Czechs to play at home. Tennis is such a lonely sport but when you play Fed Cup at home, there are thousands of people yelling your name, being noisy simply to remind you that they are there. And I found the Czech crowd so fantastically supportive of their players, it was very clear that they were on their side no matter what would happen. I believe it’s Barbora who said that the crowd was like the 5th player of their team, I could not have said it better. The energy sent by the crowd was amazing and was added to the encouragement sent by the Czech box: Lucie, Barbora and Karolina were clapping, sometimes getting up – especially at changeovers. The Captain, Petr Pala, was often standing up, pumping the fist! As I was a bit worried the Czechs lost the first set, P3tra fortunately came through and raced towards the victory in a punishing 6-1, 6-1. It was going fast and the crowd was loving it! 1-0 CZECH REPUBLIC!
20 minutes later – during which I realized how many people were actually there (it just took a look at the queues for food and the bathroom) the second match started. Even though Maria Sharapova got her fair share of applause, the crowd encouraged Karolina more loudly, probably aware of the big challenge she was facing. She had never played Maria before and didn’t have much experience in Fed Cup so far (she only played early this year against Canada). I personally didn’t expect Karolina to win but nevertheless, just like everyone else, I wanted to show her my support and was hoping for the best. And since it was a struggle, the crowd was even more present for her than they were for Petra. I heard so many times “KA-JA”, and thousands of “POJD”, “CES-KO”, “CES-KO!!!”
Even though the Czech crowd had a great behaviour towards the weekend, a small “rebellion” started against Maria. I believe it was not only because she was winning but the crowd also clearly got tired of seeing her taking forever to serve or launching the ball multiple times before serving… so people started to make noise before/during her serve, which resulted in many protests from the chair umpire. I clearly remember that at some point, Maria went twice for a drop shot that went to the net, and as a response, the crowd mocked her by laughing. Only in Fed Cup! Nevertheless, the Czech supporters showed sportsmanship as they really applauded Maria’s victory as well as Karolina’s efforts. The first day closed out on a 1-1, leaving maximum suspense for the next day…
Sunday 15th November: Day 2
I reached the O2 arena around 10:30, and when I was about to go through the security scans, I randomly ran into Simone, another fan of the Czech team whom I got in touch with when I was preparing the Fanbook for Lucie earlier this year. It was amazing to see him, especially in such a crowd, what luck! We chatted for a while and left each other with a “POJD” since we didn’t have seats in the same part of the arena. The first match was very tough for me I must say, since I really believed that Petra could win it and the first set had given the impression she was controlling the match. I’m not sure what happened afterwards and despite the crowd’s amazing support, I had the feeling that she was not in the match at the end. Maybe she was tired, perhaps Maria was simply too good. Even if she lost that match, the crowd treated Petra as if she had won. I got very moved by the unconditional support and love, the audience was showing her their gratefulness for her efforts and accomplishment. I also got emotional when I saw Maria’s face, she seemed truly honored for bringing another point to her country.
I started to worry a bit since it was 1-2 but had faith that Karolina could win against Nastia. After a short break, as I tweeted back then, I tried to send everything I had to Karolina and in that match, I just turned into a complete Czech: I was cheering loud screaming “POJD” – losing my voice – pumping my fist, getting up shaking my flag when she was winning important points and clapping my hands so hard they were turning red. The crowd went insane, chanting “KAJA” and “CESKO” again and the moment Karolina secured the second point for Czech Republic, I felt full of emotions that I could not really describe. I was so happy and so so so proud that she had come through in this match after her loss on the previous day. She was my hero of the day. Even the elderly person next to me who had difficulty walking stood up, clapped hands and just had the largest smile I have ever seen!
2-2… it would then come down to the doubles and I was already pretty sure that Lucie wouldn’t play at all as she hadn’t left the box at all during the previous match and still had her left wrist wrapped. After a long break, the doubles took place with Barbora and Karolina against Nastia and Elena. I was relieved when I saw that Makarova was not playing, since Vesnina/Makarova are so good and are so used to playing together. I unfortunately also knew that I couldn’t stay until the end of the match because of my flight home… and even if they ended up losing the first set, I noticed that the Kaja-Bara combo was very effective and I left with big hopes and some frustration…. A last look at the score, a last look at Lucie in the box and I left, my eyes on the Fed Cup app to follow the scoreboard.
I was at the airport when they were playing their last game and it felt like forever to me since it was going to Deuce, Advantage, Deuce etc and I couldn’t see what was going on on the court. And then I saw that they had finally won, I pumped my fist in the airport with a smile that I kept on for hours. I could only imagine how loud the crowd must have been!
This weekend, I felt Czech and this was an amazing experience that I cannot wait to repeat. I feel so proud of that Czech team, I felt part of this unity of the crowd and that symbiosis with the players: all together to join forces and energy in order to claim that 9th crown, the 4th in the last 5 years! What an incredible achievement! WORLD. CHAMPIONS.
Massive congrats to Petr Pala, Petra, Kaja, Bara and Lucie, who unfortunately could not play but did her fair share of the work during the semifinals. And I’m telling you: if the Czechs reach the final again and if it takes place in Prague, I will come back! POJD CESKO!
Article and photos by Morgane (@Mc_Mooo on Twitter)