Bausch & Lomb
1995 Bausch & Lomb: Amelia Island, FL (April)
I'm a sportsaholic of sorts who follows every sport although tennis and golf had replaced baseball/softball and
basketball as major participant strongholds once I reached 30. Shortly after I was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s
Disease in the fall of 1994 I realized my playing days were over. My limbs would no longer allow me to play games
that I love. So I had to resort to becoming a full-time spectator in those sports too.
Helene and I had the luxury of attending the men's tennis tournament in Orlando, Florida (it had moved there from Sanibel), compliments of her cousin who was the attending physician for it for several years running. It moved from Orlando about the the time I became ill. We were sorry to see it go to say the least. Front row box seats to see the likes of Connors, Mecir, Becker, Agassi, Gilbert, Chesnokov, etc. And did I say for free.
I had seen a women's Wightman Cup match in Williamsburg, Virginia in 1985 and found it enjoyable even though my major premise for going was to kindle an interest in tennis in my daughter. Which, incidentally, never developed. Helene had not gone with us but I figured she too would have enjoyed it. Discussing that fact with her we began searching for a women's tournament to try out. We sought one with the added bonus of being a nice place to visit at the right time of year. We chose Amelia Island, Florida in April 1995, for the Bausch&Lomb tournament. We decided to go for 3 days and make it the early rounds to catch as many players as possible. We figured it would be fun trying to predict who might be the next top player.
Helene took care of the reservations. She booked us into a couple bed & breakfasts, the Elizabeth Pointe Lodge and the Hoyt House. I was still talking, eating, and walking, although managing stairwells toting suitcases was a mite dangerous, especially on the way down. Balance was becoming more and more an issue.
Thankfully the bleachers in the stadium weren't full in the stadium so we could sit where I needn't go up/down steps where there were no rails. The parking was disjoint from the tennis grounds. A shuttle bus carted people between the two. The shuttle steps were steep and difficult to land to the ground from so after 2 rides, we opted to trek it. We bounced around from court to court checking out as many players as we could. A superb layout and very spectator friendly. Very quaint and picturesque. Players walk amongst the spectators. We saw most of the marquee players, eg. Conchita Martinez, Amanda Coetzer, Zina Garrison, Maggie Maleeva, but two days of on and off rain interrupted play enough to cause us to miss seeing the major attraction of the tournament, at least for me, Gabriela Sabatini. DRATS!
Of the lesser known players, Ruxandra Dragomir ans Sylvia Farina Elia, although both seasoned players, caught my attention. We left knowing it was definitely a venue we'd come back to.
2002 Bausch & Lomb: Amelia Island, FL (April)
The Family Circle Cup had left Hilton Head and moved to Daniel Island in 2001. We had opted not to follow it there
as we had come to enjoy our time in Hilton Head and the thought of anywhere else wasn't floating our boat.
We decided to head back to Amelia in 2002. This would prove to be a brilliant decision. Helene booked us into
the Amelia Island Plantation Inn this time and we'd would stay through the quarters. We arrived on Saturday,
figuring we'd use Sunday to acclimate ourselves with the logistics and work out seating arrangements with the
ticket manager whom Helene had talked to on several occasions re: the large Permobil. The plantation resort is
beautiful and is very convenient to tennis.
We made our way to the grounds Sunday afternoon and immediately went to the ticket trailer to seek out the ticket manager Marlene Kaselis. She escorted us over to the stadium where we discussed logistics for seating. They had a wooden ramp leading up to a wooden platform that was about 18' by 8'. It was on a corner in-between the end and side court boxes. Marlene became concerned that the size and 450 lb. weight of the chair with me in it might buckle the ramp with heavy traffic on it and would take up too much space on the platform since I have to change positions often with tilt and recline to avoid pressure sores. The remedy was to allow me to park on the wood chip area in front of the platform and next to the end boxes. To ensure us a handicap parking spot she would set aside a spot in front of her trailer. We left feeling like royalty. Throughout our stay we would check in with Marlene everyday and soon a wonderful friendship with a wonderful person developed.
The tournament itself was intriguing. We saw Venus Williams, Daniela Hantuchova and Justine Henin for the first time. The night before Patty's opening round match we saw her in the lobby of the inn as we walked by on our way to our room. Playing with her were 2 or 3 gentlemen. Upon returning to the room Helene said she wished she would have gone in and said something to her. Patty played Ruano-Pascual in the first round and won handily, 1 and 0. As we returned to our room that evening we again saw her. Same spot, same group. This time Helene stopped went in. Great, a lady with a guy in a large powerchair approaching a 23 year old professional athlete from Switzerland. How intimidating for the poor girl.. I couldn't imagine her ever hearing of ALS no less understand it. I was trembling. What was Helene thinking? What was she going to say to her? To what to my wondering eyes should appear but Helene AND PATTY. Wow, nervous doesn't begin to describe my state. It cured my constipation problem. I couldn't speak so Helene and I had to use our alpha-speak system in order for me to converse with her. The slowness drives most mortals into drumming up an excuse to have to move along. Granted some are legit but I realize that its taxing and tries one's patience so I always curtail my dialogue to a minimum. Amazingly Patty waited patiently while questions were spelled out letter by letter. I ended by asking for her autograph. She signed my cap and we floated on cloud nine to our room. I had to know just how much Helene had slipped into her hand to get her to come out. All she did was tell Patty that her husband was her biggest fan and would she like to come out to meet him. Special to say the least.
The next morning Helene went for a stroll along the beach prior to heading to the tennis venue. A gentleman who had been at the table with Patty walked over to Helene and introduced himself His name was Don Sands and he was a sports marketing representative. He was attempting to sign some girls up, including Patty, to represent and for a promotion he was envisioning. Helene described my situation and told him that I was patty's biggest fan. He asked her if I would be willing to write an article for her website telling of how and why she became and remains my favorite player. There was no need for Helene to check with me – of course I would.
Later that day Patty would lose a hard fought match with Dementieva, 4-6, 5-7. Afterwards we saw her and she came over and asked if I had enjoyed the match. I told her it was good tennis but it would have been more enjoyable had she won. We chatted a bit more, wished her good luck and parted ways knowing we'd see each other next year here.
We ran into Don a few more times before we left engaging in conversation on backgrounds, futures, tennis, and of course Patty.
The memorable quarter was Dokic vs. Dementieva. Blowout 1st and 3rd sets sandwiched around a tie-break.
This time Clarissa Fernandez was my pick for stardom. She held her own in a 2nd round loss to Henin.
We made plans for returning even before leaving. We left on a high to say the least. We arrived home from Amelia in time to watch the final on TV. An incredible turn of events in that match. True testament of Venus's will.
2003 Bausch & Lomb: Amelia Island, FL (April)
2004 Bausch & Lomb: Amelia Island, FL (April)
2005 Bausch & Lomb: Amelia Island, FL (April)
2006 Bausch & Lomb: Amelia Island, FL (April)
2007 Bausch & Lomb: Amelia Island, FL (April)
2008 Bausch & Lomb: Amelia Island, FL (April)
MPS Group Championship
2009 MPS Group Championship: Ponte Vedra Beach, FL (April)
2010 MPS Group Championship: Ponte Vedra Beach, FL (April)
Family Circle Cup
1997 Family Circle Cup: Hilton Head Island, SC (April)
In 1997 we decided to try a different tournament with the same selection criteria and modus operandi. The Family
Circle Cup in Hilton Head, SC. seemed to fit the bill nicely. We always wanted to see Hilton Head and this was a
By this time I could no longer amble and had to be pushed along in a companion wheelchair by Helene. We stayed at the Main Street Inn. Getting from the end of the island we were on to the other end where the tennis was took patience as there was but a single thoroughfare.
The tennis grounds were very well laid out and quite spectator friendly. Not as quaint and fan friendly as Amelia, but close. Parking and bathroom posed a bit of a problem. The handicap parking was along the road in front of the grounds, convenient enough, but on quite a steep bank making transferring from car to chair and vice-versa an adventure. The handicap bathroom was at the top of the slope which meant you needed to exit the grounds and manage the slope with each use. Less than ideal.
We did a fair amount of browsing from court to court, but spent the majority of time at the stadium court. Wheelchair seating was courtside which made viewing fantastic.
Most of the players we saw in Amelia in 1995 were here. In addition, we got to see Jana Novotna, Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, Iva Majoli, Martina Hingis, Lindsay Davenport, Irina Spirlea, Anke Huber, Lisa Raymond, Jennifer Capriati and Mary Jo Fernandez. But it was a Swiss miss by the name of Patty Schnyder who caught my eye that year.
We saw most of the last set in her 1st round match win against Tami Whitlinger-Jones. She was spunky, unpredictable, graceful (nobody slides into shots on clay better), had a bevy of shots, touch, long flowing locks, cute, and petite. No better combination in my book. Patty prevailed 6-2, 7-5. Fortunately, we got to see her entire 2nd round match against Jana Novotna from the ringside seating. Unfortunately, she lost in 3 sets. Won the 1st, lost a tight 2nd, and lost the 3rd closer than the score showed. 6-3, 5-7, 1-6. I had the feeling she was destined for stardom and I began to follow her matches in every tournament.
2000 Family Circle Cup: Hilton Head Island, SC (April)
Having missed going to tournaments in both 1998 & 1999 due to other commitments, we were anxious to get back to one.
We decided to go back to Hilton Head and the Family Circle Cup in 2000. The fact that Patty had gone to the quarters
and semis respectively was a major influence in the decision process for me. Helene hadn't caught the Patty bug big
time yet. Plus, we could make the drive in one long day and the venue was nice.
We were sporting a van this year as well as my Permobil power chair. We'd work on the parking issue with them as the van had a lowered floor and we wouldn't be able to park on the bank. The logistics of the bathroom would no longer be a concern as I was sporting a catheter system to discreetly handle capacity exchanges.
Helene booked the Main Street Inn again. However, we altered our game plan a tad. This time we'd stay through quarters and extend if Patty went further. This would be an eventful tournament for us aside from the tennis.
The adjacent golf club was used as the tennis clubhouse. We were allowed to park in the parking lot which sat between the tennis grounds and the clubhouse.
We got our 1st look at Mary Pierce. She went through the draw like a hot knife through soft butter. Dominating! The gals that I saw that I thought would make it big were two Russians, Dementieva and Myskina. And then there was Anna Kournikova. She had looks and game.
An interesting tale concerning Jelena Dokic. We left the stadium after a match and were tooling around the grounds to get to an outside court when a man stopped us coming around the back of the stadium. In very broken English we discerned he wanted to know which court Jelena Dokic was playing on. We pointed it out. He then looked at me and asked if I had been in an accident. Helene tried in earnest to explain the disease to him in layman's terms. The gentleman teared up big time. He had all he could do to muster a “good-bye” as he left. His player badge read “Damir Dokic”. We know he's done some horrendous acts, but we can't say he's totally heartless.
Patty's 1st two rounds yielded routine, straight set wins over Jeyaseelan and Tu. 6-3, 6-1 and 6-4, 6-0 respectively. In the 3rd round she ran into a buzz-saw by the name of Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario and fell in 2 sets. The first was tight, the 2nd not. 5-7, 1-6. Upon arriving at the matches one day, I confess to not recalling which, I spotted Patty approaching the parking lot from the tennis grounds walking in the direction of the clubhouse. She was in street clothes. As soon as Helene dropped me off and went to park the van, I was gone in a flash in hot pursuit of my favorite player. Through the lot and onto the grass to the back of the clubhouse. She went in. I felt like the dog chasing the train. What to do if I faced her? I'd like to tell her that she was my favorite and I'd like her autograph, but my speech was discernible by only the trained ear, and very little at that.. I started to retreat. Hastily. Too late, here she comes already. I had barely made it back to the pavement. A wonderful thing happened to my surprise. She smiled and said “Hello”. Doesn't seem like much, but to a fellow in a power chair it means a lot. Most people tend to look away when I come in contact with them. And yes, the smile was sincere. It set her apart from the rest. This more than rationalized my choice. A nice person on top of her tennis. I continued to follow her onto the tennis grounds. She went into one of the tennis trailers. By now Helene had caught up with me and we entered the grounds to watch some tennis.
Another noteworthy event to report. I had been having extreme constipation during the week. By April 21 I became impacted. It was our 21st anniversary and we planned on going to dinner. I was determined to make that happen. Off to the hospital we went. Fortunately the ER was fairly empty. They took us right in. An enema later we were off to dinner. A bad situation turned out A-OK. The show-stopper was eliminated. Pun intended.
All in all, a good time.
2002 Family Circle Cup: Daniel Island, SC (April)
I began to write the article for Patty's website while keeping a close watch on her progress in this tournament.
I was hopeful she'd make it to the 3rd round or quarters even with the brutal draw she had since she usually
played well at the Family Circle Cup.
In the 1st round she again played Ruano-Pasqual. And again won in 2 routine sets, 6-2, 6-3,. Next up, the 6th seed, Amelie Mauresmo. A top 10 player and a force on any surface. Patty prevailed in 3 sets, 6-4, 3-6, 6-2. It was certainly a nice win for Patty. Two-time slam winner Mary Pierce, who had entered the tournament as a wild card, was her next opponent. She was working her way back from an injury riddled 2001 and was playing well as evidenced by her 2 straight set victories. Despite this, I figured it to be a winnable match. And it proved to be in as Patty won straight sets, 7-6(4), 6-2.
Meanwhile, I had sent a draft of my article to Don, he made comments and suggestions, and I set off to revise it.
The next task, Serena Williams, the 3 seed in the quarters. End-of-the-line for Patty, right? Patty had managed but one set against her in 5 previous meetings. Didn't matter, those matches were either on hard court or carpet. On clay, Serena's power is not quite as great of an advantage. Patty would prevail in 3 hard fought sets, 2-6, 6-4, 7-5. Looming in the semis, the #1 seed, Jennifer Capriati. Oh my, Mauresmo, Pierce, Williams and now Capriati. She was 0-2 against Jennifer, but as was the case with Williams, this would be their first meeting on clay.
The phone rang about 12:45 PM. while we anxiously waited for TV coverage to begin at 1:00 PM. It was Don Sands. He asked if we could make it to the final tomorrow. We told him only if Patty made it. He said she already has. She beat Capriati in straight sets, 6-4, 6-3. How can that be, it's on at 1:00 PM we retorted. Must be delayed telecast he responded, I was there. I said to myself, just like Carl Hubbel in the 1934 All Star game, she slew the dragons in succession. For you non-baseballers, Hubbel struck out Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons and Joe Cronin consecutively in that game. All Hall of Famers. You'll be her guests he emphasized.
It's a 10 hour trip, we had nothing packed, we had returned from Amelia only a week earlier and tomorrow is our anniversary. Helene left it up to me. I didn't hesitate, the answer is yes. Don said he'd call back within the hour with directions.
Helene did her best chicken without a head routine to get us on the road ASAP. When traveling with an ALS patient it isn't like toss a few clothes and toiletries in the suitcase and off you go. It's a production. She was stellar in getting us on the road by 4:00 PM. As we drove out the driveway we both thought, are we nuts? This is insane. We stopped. Then reality set in. This is insane, but totally us. And the thought of seeing her win a tier I was intriguing, especially since she was playing Iva Majoli, whom she was 4-0 against. Helene put the pedal to the metal and off we went.
Don called on our cell phone to update us on evening festivities a couple times. On the final call he said he would call tomorrow morning with detailed instructions. We stopped at a hotel in Florence, SC just about 1:30 AM. We couldn't make it to Charleston. This stop left us with a good 2 hours more tomorrow. Umm, make that today. By the time we got to bed it was almost 3:00 AM. We awoke around 8:30 AM in order to hit the road by 10:00 AM. Those not acquainted with the later stages of ALS are wondering why it takes so long to get to bed and ready in the morning. Believe it, these times ARE NOT exaggerated. Comes with the territory.
We hit the road right around 10:15 AM. Don called around 11:00 AM. His detailed instructions, “drive up to the policeman on the street at the checkpoint leading to the authorized parking only, tell him who you are, and that you're Patty's guests”. Some detail. He also said to make no mention of his name. This was all between Patty and us from here on out. Things did not work out between Patty and him and he was not associated with us or Patty. We were on our own.
Helene and I wondered how this was going to work.. A place we've never been, no one knew us, no parking pass for authorized parking, no tickets and the guy who set it up says we're on our own and can't use his name. Just show up and say we're Patty's guests, the Nichols. Were we pranked?
We found the venue rather easily. Next part was finding the correct entry road. That wasn't difficult either. Oh boy, there's the policeman. Here goes nothing. Helen rolled down the window and announced who we were. Fearing that he'd say ”That's great, I'm officer so and so. What can I help you with?”. But instead, he got on his walkie-talkie and announced “They're here” and told us to proceed to the next checkpoint. Whew! At each ensuing checkpoint we were pointed in the right direction and off we went all the way to the PLAYER parking lot at the clubhouse. Now what to do? Surely the clubhouse was off limits and how do we get tickets? Do we go to will-call?
Didn't have to concern ourselves for long. As we exited our van, Robin, an tournament official came out of the clubhouse to greet us. She pronounced that she was so happy we made it and escorted us into the clubhouse. We were actually in the clubhouse. Wow! She gave us our tickets and said since it was very hot out that we should wait until just before the match to go over to the stadium to our seats. After several other officials came over to greet us and chat we were offered drinks and escorted to a room upstairs overlooking the club court. Robin explained to us that we wouldn't see Patty until after the match. Patty had said to meet her in the clubhouse after the match. Another girl from the tournament came into the room and told us we were likely to be interviewed after the match by Mary Carillo. We felt like celebrities.
As tournament time approached we thought it best to stake out seats in the shade if possible. On our way out we passed the enemy, Iva Majoli, chatting on a phone. She smiled cordially and said hi. She seemed very nice but I wanted her to lose of course. We made our way over to the stadium and found a great viewing locale partially in the shade. Since I couldn't move my head from side to side it had to be either on the end or very near it. A great spot to witness her first tier I win in person. This would be somewhat anticlimatic after subdoing murderers row. But the unthinkable happened. The 1st set was a real nail biter. Patty lost it in a tie-break, 6-7(5). 2nd set went to Majoli, 6-4. The glorious run was ended by an unlikely opponent. How cruel it seemed. The highest seed had to beat was the 7th. Patty had beaten numbers 1, 3 and 6 and arguably a better player in Pierce than any of Majoli's opponents. But all that counts for naught. That's why you play the match. And lest we forget that Iva had been a top 10 player and had beaten the heavily favored and world number 1 Martina Hingis in the final at Roland Garros in 1997. She was no pushover.
We took our merry time going back to the clubhouse as we knew she'd have to shower, get interviewed and such. As we got near we wondered if we even should go in. Perhaps she'd rather be left alone. We decided to go in. We sat somberly watching the slight activity going on around us. Our minds were deep in thought. How should we act? What to say? It was only a game, nobody had died or even got hurt. But it's her livelihood, not just a game. The games were in our minds.
Patty appeared a short time later. True to her word she came right over to us. Thankfully she started the conversation. She was sad, but stated it was not that important in the scheme of things. How's that for a 23 year old who had just lost the final? This young lady had it all – a tennis game, good looks, personality, and character. We chatted about the match, tennis and personal things. It was nice, casual conversation among friends. She said that we needn't be concerned that Don wasn't in the picture any longer, she cared about us and wanted to be friends and keep track of us. After taking a few pictures with her we headed out. Our crowns were left behind as we were royalty no more.
2005 Family Circle Cup: Daniel Island, SC (April)
2006 Family Circle Cup: Daniel Island, SC (April)
2007 Family Circle Cup: Daniel Island, SC (April)
2008 Family Circle Cup: Daniel Island, SC (April)
2009 Family Circle Cup: Daniel Island, SC (April)
2010 Family Circle Cup: Daniel Island, SC (April)
2011 Family Circle Cup: Daniel Island, SC (April)
AT&T Rogers Cup
2002 AT&T Rogers Cup: Montreal, Canada (August)
We had way too much fun in Charleston to wait until April in Amelia Island to cheer
on our new friend so we began scouting the tournaments to see which ones she planned
on playing would fit into our travel limitations and be a venue we might enjoy.
Montreal stuck out like a sore thumb. It's a great city, seemed like a great facility,
was a very scenic drive up 87, Helene had never been there and her first love is
French, and it was in the direction of our daughter's in upstate New York. We could
do the tournament and stop to see the grandkids on the way home. Book it.
The drive from Albany north on 87 did not disappoint her. Montreal did. Many times in her attempt to speak French the other party would speak English back to her. Funny thing is she's been told by French people her language skills are masterful.
We stayed at the Ritz-Carlton which happened to be the hotel where the top players were staying. It was fun watching them come and go.
We headed up to the tennis facility which was a good trek through the city. We saw Olympic Stadium on the way to the park. I had seen a World League of American Football (WLAF) game there in 1992. I had been to Jarry Park back in 1969 to watch the Expos play baseball. I had expected to see the stadium next to the tennis grounds in the park only to find out the stadium itself had been converted into the tennis facilities. We were fortunate in that we were able to get a handicap parking spot right outside the grounds.
We figured we'd walk around the facility when we first entered to familiarize ourselves with the layout. Helene found me a spot in the shade next to the stadium and went to the information booth to see what she could find out. While I sat there waiting for her to return a gentleman approached me and asked if I was all right. He looked familiar but I couldn't place him. He said he saw me in Amelia Island. Ah, yes, now I remember. It was a similar situation. Helene had gone to the ladies' room and he came up to me and asked if I needed help. I smiled and tried in earnest to shake my head no. Then he asked if someone was with me. I blinked repeatedly. I surmised he interpreted my signals correctly since he said that's good and meandered off. I knew from his accent he was a foreigner. Upon Helene's return I told her what had transpired. This time I wouldn't need to as she returned shortly after he popped the question. They conversed a bit and we found out he was from France. Helene also noted that he had a player badge on. The player's name, Dechy. Must be her dad.
Helene was informed that Patty had practice time in about 10 minutes. How's that for timing? We looked around a bit and headed over to the practice courts pointed out by the information booth. Lo and behold, as we turned the corner around the outside courts in the direction of the practice courts who should we see jogging but Patty. Rather unexpectedly after waving and saying “Hi Steve”, she broke from her jog and came over to us. We chatted briefly, she pointed out which practice court was hers and jogged away in that direction. We made our over to it, watched her practice for a good bit and left to watch matches. I think that erased any doubt she may have had as to whether we were her number one fans.
Patty's first match was on the stadium court. It was an unbelievably hot day. The ushers brought me drinks and allowed us to pull back into the shady walkway to view play. Patty won a tight one over Elena Likhovtseva 7-6(4), 7-5. Great match.
As we were standing at the information booth getting the daily schedule on the next day we caught our first glimpse of the infamous Martina Navratilova boarding a cart to take her to the practice court. Patty's 2nd match came against Daniela Hantuchova. Another scorcher of a day and nearly as tense a match. Patty lost, 3-6, 6-7(3) in the grandstand, court BN.
We watched parts of a couple more matches after cooling off and left quite satisfied with our time there. The hotel was grand, the prices very reasonable, the people friendly, and the drive scenic.
2007 AT&T Rogers Cup: Toronto, Canada (August)
2008 AT&T Rogers Cup: Montreal, Canada (August)
2004 Pilot Pen: New Haven, CT (August)
2005 Pilot Pen: New Haven, CT (August)
2006 Pilot Pen: New Haven, CT (August)
2007 Pilot Pen: New Haven, CT (August)
2008 Pilot Pen: New Haven, CT (August)
2009 Pilot Pen: New Haven, CT (August)
2010 Pilot Pen: New Haven, CT (August)
2004 US Open: Flushing Meadows, Queens, NY (August-September)
2005 US Open: Flushing Meadows, Queens, NY (August-September)
2006 US Open: Flushing Meadows, Queens, NY (August-September)
2007 US Open: Flushing Meadows, Queens, NY (August-September)
2008 US Open: Flushing Meadows, Queens, NY (August-September)
2009 US Open: Flushing Meadows, Queens, NY (August-September)
2010 US Open: Flushing Meadows, Queens, NY (August-September)
Western & Southern Financial
2005 Western & Southern Financial: Cincinnati, OH (July)
2006 Western & Southern Financial: Cincinnati, OH (July)
2007 Western & Southern Financial: Cincinnati, OH (July)
2009 Western & Southern Financial: Cincinnati, OH (August)
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