Free cars, lunches and haircuts: It's just brutal being a tennis pro
The Miami Herald
Copied by WTAFANS TEAMS
Here at the Nasdaq-100 Open, you can valet park your free car while contemplating what to order for your free lunch, which could come right after your free haircut.
You can do all this, at least, if you're a player. And not just Andre Agassi or Venus Williams. You can do all this even if you're Anna Smashnova, whose entire being isn't nearly as famous as Anna Kournikova's ankles.
This is a different world in here, where the distribution of $6.4 million in prize money comes at the end but really is only the beginning. Along the way, there also will be CD players, hotel suites and $100 sunglasses.
All of which comes to a grand total of, let's see here, zero dollars.
Welcome to the other half, the other half times 10, in fact. No, it is not Bigfoot-captured news when the privileged in sports receive perks. But it is worth noting the lengths to which this tournament now goes to accommodate the participants.
It seems the cushy quotient was kicked up in the early 1990s after a stretch of foul weather turned the moods equally stormy.
''All of a sudden, the food tasted bad, the hotels stunk and the players were saying they hated Miami,'' said Kim Hall, director of player services here for a decade. ``We decided to start a campaign to win them back. We wanted to do more for the players than write them a check.''
So they began doing things like flipping them car keys. All of the nearly 400 players in this event were offered the use of autos during their stays. This meant a rental car for most but, for the top eight seeds, a Mercedes-Benz.
They also established a nursery and a hair salon -- equipped with representatives from internationally renowned Toni & Guy -- right here in the stadium, just off the locker rooms. That's right. Open the wrong door and risk encountering Amanda Coetzer's coach getting clipped.
They host parties for the players on South Beach, give them movie passes and even do their laundry. Want to play golf at Doral Country Club? No problem. That will be cart fees only, if that.
There are computers readily available, two in both locker rooms and four in the players lounge, where they also serve food prepared by hand-picked dietitians and offered at a cost of nothing.
''It still surprises me, all the nice presents we get,'' fourth-seeded Kim Clijsters said. ``We get cell phones, bags of cosmetics, perfume. I give a lot of the things to my family. You can only use so many handbags.''
Now, this is not meant to criticize all players as pampered and complain about a bunch of millionaires who receive toys without having to part with a dime. We are talking about the elite of the elite, survivors who reach this level often by dedicating nothing to tennis but their lives, their childhoods, their very adolescence.
And we're not about to just poke fun at freebies, not when this event boasts a ''media happy hour,'' when our shift Sunday was interrupted by the announcement, ``Note to all media, there are now some sandwiches available at the front desk.''
The point here is to offer a glimpse of a land so foreign it could have its own language, to suggest a reason why some of these tennis-lifers struggle with demanding concepts like changing the channel themselves.
After a straight-sets, sleep-inducing victory over Katarina Srebotnik on Sunday, Serena Williams left the stadium, climbed into a Cadillac Escalade with windows tinted as dark as midnight and was driven back to the safety of her private universe.
She did, at least, carry her own bags. But not Jennifer Capriati, who arrived moments later in a red Ferrari. Capriati had a bellhop in -- no kidding here -- Matthew Perry. How's that for living large, a star actor toting your tennis shoes?
In the middle of this bizarre culture sits Hall, in her third-floor stadium office, fittingly with her back to the tennis happening below. Her role, after all, has about as much to do with the action on the court as a snowdrift.
Players routinely bombard her with requests for such benefits as parking passes, tickets and turkey. Pete Sampras just had to have two turkey sandwiches after his match ended late Saturday night. Since the players lounge already was closed, a park-wide hunt ensued before the proper lunch meat was located.
''I deal with a lot of characters,'' Hall said, speaking not of Sampras but of those who cling to the players like annoying lint.
``Some of them I swear are cartoon characters.''
Cartoon characters? Why not?
Fantasy worlds often are animated.