You walk into a sunlit room full of plush white chairs and couches overlooking stadium court, and you are immediately greeted by a smiling face who wants to fulfill all of your desires. You see uncle Toni lounging on a chair and you go up to him and say, "Uncle T, am I in heaven?" and he laughs and replies, "No, no senorita...just the player's lounge."
So in reality, Uncle Toni and I didn't even make eye-contact, but I DID see him taking a load off on one of the comfortable chairs of the lounge when I walked in, and I imagined that we would hit it off grandly. No?
While at the Sony Ericsson Open, I got the opportunity to get an inside glimpse of what it would be like to be a player on the tour. Unfortunately, but understandably, I can't SHOW you what the player's lounge looks like, but I can do my best to give you a mental tour.
Before walking through the lounge, I sat down with the Director of Player Services, Kim Hall Uliasz to talk about the different amenities players receive when they are at this tournament. Because it is so important for players to get a sense of a home away from home since they are on tour for most of the year, Player Services handles pretty much anything that a player could ask for, from rental cars to hair cuts. They also coordinate most of the activities outside of the tournament, like going to the Miami Heat game, (which Caroline Woznaicki, Serena Williams, and Roger Federer attended this year) to other activities such as passes to the Miami aquarium and golf at the 18-hole Crandon Golf in Key Biscane where the likes of Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Roddick attempt to take on the green. Player Services also makes reservations for dinners at various South Beach restaurants, and if it happens to be a player's birthday, they take the time to write a note on their locker telling them to come to the office for a present, which is a gift certificate to a featured restaurant.
The tournament dedicates a large amount of space to the lounge which occupies 1/3 of the 200 level, and it's most striking and unique feature, is that it overlooks stadium court. Therefore, while players are relaxing or getting a bite to eat in the cafeteria they can also assess their next opponent's game. If they choose to watch the match outside, there is a player patio they can access which is in direct contact with the paid box seats surrounding it, and players like Rafa have been known to sign autographs for neighboring fans.
When you walk into the lounge, almost the first thing you see is a smiling face at the Welcome Desk where players make all their requests throughout the tournament. The room is sunny and filled with comfortable looking (although I didn't sit in them) white leather chairs and couches. The lounge connects directly with the cafeteria which has a pasta bar, carving station, and on the day that I visited, a sushi chef. Here I ran into Jo-Wilfried Tsonga playing on his i-Pad while waiting to play the remainder of his rain-delayed match against Alexandr Dolgopolov (who was chilling in the lower lounge) as well as Jelena Jankovic loading up on carbs at the pasta bar.
There is also a smaller player's lounge on the lower level which has computer access, and also has an outside dining area. They gym is also located on this level, (where I briefly watched a very tall and fit Victoria Azarenka and her trainer going through her daily workout routine) and if they want to let their hair down, there is an on-site salon during the first week, where players such as Kim Clijsters, can get their luscious locks cut by someone they know and trust.
It really is an extremely nice facility with seemingly very friendly people, whose sole job is to put the players at ease so they can play their best tennis, because that is what it is really all about.
I wish I could have hung out longer in the lounge, but it was time to leave. While walking out the door, I ran into John Inser and then a bit later Xavier Malisse who both, in my imagination, gave me high-fives as I made my way back media center. When I was a little girl all I wanted to do was be a professional tennis player, and for just a moment I got to be them, and it rocked.