Brian Lutz / February 24, 2017

Delray Beach, FL
Brian Lutz / Backhand City

I haven’t played a tennis tournament in about a year.

These events take planning, effort, training and patience. It’s 60 minutes exactly from my apartment in Coral Gables to the Atlantic Avenue exit of Interstate 95. On this trip I decided to bring a friend along who is an former ATP Player. It was his day off from work and wanted to pal along. I could use the company and decided some encouragement would not hurt.

When it rains in Florida traffic slows down a lot. But since I left and ample 3 hours in advance we still made it to the venue in plenty of time. But there was still lots to do. Pick up credentials, tickets and parking pass. Park the car in the RED lot about a 10 min walk from the facility. It was a busy day. We parked on the top floor. Negotiated which bags we thought security would let us bring in and negotiated a pre match meal or snack.

As I’m pulling into our spot the rain clouds gather. In the Wintertime in South Florida it’s typically very dry. But these rain clouds pulled in the from West Coast and were bring some Summertime intensity. It would be a close call or would it?

My phone is going off with multiple pings. I noticed several texts and call from a strange 561 (Palm Beach number I didn’t recognize). I was soon notified my 1st round opponent bailed on the match and I was granted a default. My friend started his high five dance. But I was conflicted. Yeah I’m in the money round now but really? High five dance? He said to keep it positive so I obliged with a fist bump as a compromise.

We proceed onward. I’m thinking I can get in a practice session at he very least. We rubbed elbows with some tour players. My fanatical friend got his picture with Juan Martin del Potro on his flip phone. I said to him “you can’t have a flip phone unless you are over 65.” I took the picture of him an the Argentine tennis hero and everyone was happy even DP was amused. I even got in the photo as my pinky took up the bottom of the image. He was like “Dude? What is that at the bottom of the photo? I said I wanted in the picture too.

We laughed that off and he went inside to the players lounge to get some autographs. Now if you have ever been in the players lounge it would be the modern version of a safe place on campus. There are no autograph seeking fans in there except for my friend. With Tennis Posters in hand he’s canvassing the room. He see’s everyone he wants and starts closing in. I suggested some small talk before the pitch. He’s said: “yeah, yeah good idea”.

Everything is going smoothly, he sees a few guys he played with in past, until the Tournament Director gets wind of him and undressed him verbally right in the middle of the players lounge. It’s crickets baby and my friend runs for shelter. He’s a bit shell shocked as the little kid in him just had his balloons float away at the Carnival.

I tried to rationalize. You probably caught him at a bad time. It’s monsoon like rain outside now and the skies are in full rage. I said this tournament owner has a 7 day window to make some money and this day is officially a wash out. I think you caught his ire at the wrong time I think you might want to apologize.

Moments later he and the director made up. He said you can get all the autographs you want just do it outside. Seemed fair enough. I told him to get back in their an enjoy the free buffet and catch up with some old friends Leander Paes wants to catch up. I’ll be back soon. I needed to check the schedule for tomorrows matches.

As I’m gone he and Del Potro run into each other again. And my fanatical friend is going back for more. He wants an autograph for his sister on the tournament poster now and just grabs a nearby pen. Now if you are familiar with the memorabilia business a blue pen is not the instrument of choice for autographs. One must have a Sharpie Autograph Pen. Accept no substitute. They are most importantly permanent, fast drying and legible with thick line and easy to utilize on posters, hats, clothing or tennis balls and non toxic so you don’t feel like a skunk as your wait for your celebrity prey.

As Del Potro heads to his waiting car service my fanatical friend notices how lame the blue pen looks on the poster and decides he needs a Sharpie and fast because he’s about to pull away. Miraculously he finds one and sprints to the waiting Porsche with Del Potro in the front passenger seat. Remember it’s pouring so he is worried the poster will get wet so rather than a polite knock on the German engineered window like a true fanatic he just opens up the passenger side door to the alarm of the Argentina’s living legend. He wasn’t too pleased after all he was getting wet.

Fortunately, all he was armed with was the best autograph pen money can buy or in this case borrow. He signed it texted me and said: “I think we better get out of here.” : )

I’m back the next day some 26 hours later. I came back for my match in the Finals as I waited for my opponent this is the picture I took. Sometimes getting where you want isn’t always easy but it sure is fun.