Qatar ExxonMobil Open 2014 – Player Dinner

Tonight, I hosted the “Player Dinner Gala” for the Qatar ExxonMobil Open 2014 at the Four Seasons in Doha. For many of the players, nights like these are just part of the routine. Practice. Shower. Show-up. Get photographed a couple hundred times with salad in your teeth. Enjoy some entertainment. Bail.

For me, however, this was an entirely new experience. You see, as the “Voice of the US Open,” I’ve spent many years behind the curtain. In New York, I’m the Wizard of Oz. Always loud, always commanding with a flair for the dramatic…yet never seen, just heard. Sure, that has changed over the years. I now conduct on-camera giveaways in Arthur Ashe Stadium and host a Kids Day Pre-Show; but I know, understand and cherish my role and premier responsibility – to be simply the VOICE of the Grand Slam.

To have an opportunity to mingle with players, their families, journalists, sponsors and VIPS – it has actually been quite a humbling experience. Since Saturday’s pre-tournament press conference and draw ceremony, I’ve had several people ask if I was indeed the announcer at the US Open. Without a doubt, they knew the sound, yet not the face. Sadly, now that these poor individuals have put the two together, they’ll be popping antacids for two weeks straight while watching tennis in late August.

Last year, while working the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, I finally had an opportunity to meet Bob and Mike Bryan during a post-match interview. My first question was for Bob, and instead of answering, he simply smiled and said: “Wait a minute, you’re the US Open voice! You’re the guy that announces all of our Davis Cup matches in the States.” Very humbling…kind of funny…however, bad form with attention shifted away from the players. I then asked them how long they’d been playing Indian Wells – it was their 15th year. With all they’d accomplished – the career Grand Slam, Olympic Gold, the winning-est doubles team in tennis history…how had they never managed a win in the high desert. Mike’s response after a long pause: “How about this guy’s voice?!”

The highlights of tonight’s Player Dinner Gala for me…the human moments:

…like watching Nikolay Davydenko and his wife chase their daughter around the room. She spent a healthy chunk of time hiding behind my legs to avoid her mom, and we had some fun with the raffle tickets in the fish bowl.

…A curious Andy Murray asking what type of laptop he was presenting a lucky winner, impressed with what the Qatar Tennis Federation provided for gifts.

…Watching Rafael Nadal make a late grand appearance to the stage. The man is consistent. Those who’ve worked tournaments know all about Rafa’s unique schedule when it comes to player walk-on.

…Seeing David Ferrer and Rafa on stage, eyes closed, playing along while mentalist Wayne Hoffman wowwed the room.

Talent, time and television have all turned these athletes into rock-stars. Even annually working a Grand Slam since 2002, I rarely see the more human side of a player’s individual existence. Here it was…encouraging…to see this side of the player’s lives in what is unquestionably a non-stop traveling circus most of the year. Many deserve to be commended for maintaining balance amid the…opulence that comes with their talent and determination over the years.

Loads of credit for the Qatar Tennis Federation and the amazing team that works for the Higher Organizing Committee…they featured three performers tonight including hat-dancers “Elizabeth and Fray,” quick change artists and magicians “Sauce and Victoria, and Wayne Hoffman. All three kept the players engaged late into the evening; so much so, that most were still there for the laptop giveaway at the end of the night. In fact, Pablo Andujar won one of those laptops by answering the following question: “How many times has Rafael Nadal won the doubles title at the Qatar ExxonMobil Open?” Pablo consulted the World #1 himself for the win. The correct answer…three.

Tennis starts tomorrow at 3:30p here in Doha with Monfils vs. Giraldo, Berdych vs. Karlovic, Verdasco vs. Volandri and Jaziri vs. Kamke on center court. I’ve really enjoyed my time in Doha, and truly look forward to the 23rd year of this prestigious international event on the ATP World Tour.