March 21-22, 2004 – “Raise A Racquet” Silent Auction & Exhibition –
After Ronny and I missed our second flight from Atlanta, Georgia to Newport News, Virginia, we were freaking out! Here’s what happened – we had went to the restroom and got something quick to drink, and when we got back to the terminal about 25 minutes before the flight was supposed to take off, they had already boarded the plane! They had just shut the doors and they would not open them back up and let us board, even though it was still another 20 minutes or so before they took off! Obviously we were very upset because we thought we had just messed everything up, and we thought were going to miss the Silent Auction that evening! But the ticket agent said we could possibly catch another flight to Norfolk, Virginia, and directed us to the Delta Airlines counter. We had to run to the Delta counter and pay the price difference. Once we had paid and had the tickets in hand and she informed us where to go, but said that they are boarding the flight now. Of course the gate we had to catch for our new flight was on the other side of the airport! So Ronny and I had to haul butt to the Terminal. We got there in time luckily…got to Norfolk…and once we had landed we contacted Jenz to let her know that we were at a different airport then expected. She picked us up at the Norfolk airport after talking to us on the phone and finding out what had happened (she had no idea in that hour flight difference before we called, what had happened and didn’t know why we were not on the flight we had originally stated we would be). But we got a hold of each other and we finally did make it after all!
After settling in at Jenz’s house, we all got dressed for the evening and went to the auction in Richmond, Virginia. When we arrived, there were already a lot of people down on the floor and people walking around. Just guessing, but I would say that there were about a hundred people at the Silent Auction.
We walked down the VCU stairs to the floor, where there were tables every where and food to eat, and a lot of items on a long table that were up for auction. Guests got to walk around and look at all the items and place a bid if interested in something. We noticed that the court wasn’t the typical indoor blue carpet surface, it was more supreme hard so it looked like a hard court. It was a very pretty court! I wanted to jump out there and play some tennis! It was really nice.
Drinks and food were free. We picked a table real close to the court (because there were a few podiums right on the court and we thought Monica and Martina might be standing on them to auction stuff off). We were very excited. We walked around and looked at all the items. We saw Monica’s racket that was being auctioned off and an oversized tennis ball with Monica’s autograph. We were also looking around every where, wondering where Monica was or when would she come in? We all decided to take a quick restroom break before it started and when we returned – there she was!
As we were walking down the stairs to the floor, Monica, Martina, and Esther were standing right by the stairs at the bottom! People were already all around them talking to them. I was a little shocked that we missed her coming in and that there were already so many people around her trying to get her attention. It was a feeling of desperation that maybe we had missed a great opportunity to talk with her when she had come out (before everyone was all around her). Ronny and Jenz were the ones who weren’t moving with me towards our table and I was saying “Lets give her a chance to talk with these people, and maybe after we will have a better chance to talk”. But Ronny and Jenz weren’t moving, so I stayed also. We slowly scooted through the crowd and a lady was taking way too much time grabbing others that she knew and having Monica meet them. Monica then looked up and reached her hand out to greet Ronny, and as he reached his hand out to shake her hand – that lady just totally barged in again to say a few more things to Monica! We all were a little taken back and so was Monica. Ronny and I exchanged a glance towards each other silently, acknowledging the bossy woman’s rudeness.
After the woman was done, Ronny reached his hand out again and said “Hello Monica, my name is Ronny”. They shook hands and talked a bit but then another lady came in and started talking to Monica. It surprised Monica because she and Ronny were still talking. Monica then put her hand up like saying “hang on – I am talking with these people”. We chatted for a bit and I remember that when I got to talk to her, I said “Hi Monica” as I held out my hand and she shook my hand and said “Hello, how are you doing?” Then I just started telling her how she got me into tennis and that I discovered my love for the game because of her – How it has changed my life for a more positive direction and that I hope that I can play for the rest of my life, health willing. And then she said “Oh me too” and she motioned to her foot. I asked if it was ok now, and she said that it felt good. I told her we started watching her play at the 97 French Open, and then Ronny said “Well actually, we saw you at the 96 US Open final, and you were talking to your racket during a change over” and she said “Oh yes, that was a tough match”. And then I said “Well we turned the channel during a commercial and forgot to go back to watch the match. But then we saw you again at the 97 French”. And she said “What match was it?” And Ronny said “It was the match vs Pierce”, she said “Oh yes, I remember that match”. And then I said “We have been watching your matches ever since”. And then she said to me “And then you started playing tennis”? And I said “yes, I joined the USTA and started playing tournaments”. And she said “That is great, and you like to play”? and of course I said “Yes, I do. I love tennis”.
Then Jenz and Monica started talking and I remember Jenz mentioned that we didn’t bring our stuff to have Monica autograph, and Monica asked if we were all going to the Exhibition matches tomorrow. We said yes and she said “Well bring it and I will do it then”. Then we asked if we could have our picture taken with her. We ended up taking a couple of photos and the media photographer at the event asked Monica if she wanted the picture he was to take of her, to be with us. And she “Yes”! So the media photographer took his picture of Monica with us! We got some great photos with Monica. Jenz got two photos with just Monica and her, and we got two photos of the three of us with Monica. Monica was not ready in one of the photos that was taken with Jenz, and she said she wanted to see that photo on the camera to see if it was bad! She decided to take another one since she wasn’t ready and that’s when Jenz got to have a second photo with Monica. Then Monica noticed Jenz’s husband Charles after we took the pictures and Jenz introduced them, and as they shook hands Monica said “Oh wow! You are really tall”!
When we looked at the pictures that we all had taken later that night at Jenz’s house (which was early early in the morning since we stayed up late talking about the evening, and looking at the photos we got with Monica), we noticed Charles in the back ground behind us in one of the pics. We then realized we didn’t even include him in the photos! We felt bad, but then laughed a little over it! We were just so focused on getting to meet Monica and talk to her. We were caught up in our own little world. I think he stayed back in the background on purpose, to let us have our wonderful meeting. He was very nice, both of them are. They made us feel very welcome in their home and we both appreciate that immensely.
I then told Monica that we saw her play a couple of times; that we saw her first at the 2000 IGA tournament. We saw the semifinal vs Coetzer, and the final vs Dechy. And she said “I loved that tournament, but then they moved it”. And then I said “We didn’t get to go to the 2001 tournament and we were so upset that we didn’t go”. She then said “Oh yes, the final vs Jennifer”. Some other people came in and started talking to Monica while she was standing with us (I didn’t get to mention that we went to Fed Cup in 2002. But that’s ok, because then I would have had to remind her about that tough time vs Austria), and she said to us “Well It was really nice meeting you all. Wave to me tomorrow so I can see where you all are sitting”. We then moved out of the way so that she could talk with other people, and we could go look at some of the auction items.
No more than a few minutes later it seemed, Monica all of a sudden is standing right next to us again. Jenz told Monica that we had a website dedicated to her (that Ronny and I did, she was motioning to us). She was very interested and made a comment about us having a site on her and then Jenz said “We sent you some letters from all of the forum members”, and Monica said for us to write down our site link and she would come and reply to us. Jenz said “No, you already did that. That your assistant sent us an email message saying you got them and we”……. and then Monica just throws her head back and laughs and says “That was you guys? Yes I got those, thank you so much”! And I said, “We all did it for you, we have a forum on our site with tons of members that are fans of yours and we post on our forum talking about you and your career. We just met her today (and then I motioned to Jenz), she is one of our members. She is letting us stay with her while we are here”. Then Monica said “Well please give me the address and I will have to go check this out”. We talked for a bit longer but more people were wanting to talk to Monica, and so we went back to our table to freak out over what had just happened!
About 15 or 20 minutes later, Jenz was getting Monica and Navratilova’s autograph on her auction flag (that was all she had, because we left our Seles memorabilia at her house). Ronny saw that Jenz was over with Monica and Martina again, so he went over there to try and get a photo of Jenz talking with them. While Martina was talking with Jenz, Monica walked up to Ronny (and since I was just a few feet away watching, I walked over to them bursting with excitement inside that Monica was wanting to talk with us again).
MONICA ASKS US TO PLAY TENNIS WITH HER!
It had already been quite the experience having already spoken to Monica a few times during that night as it was, but when she walked up to me to talk some more my heart was racing with excitement.
Monica and Martina were standing across from one of the tables chatting with some other people. Monica was actually holding a plate and was eating some hors d’oeuvres. Jenz approached them and I followed behind, but didn’t go up to them again. I just stood back about 30 feet and thought I would try to get a photo opportunity. James was standing a few feet away already nervous that we were pushing our luck and not wanting to seem too pushy (since we had so much time with Monica already).
I was watching Jenz talking to Martina when all of a sudden my eyes and Monica’s eyes met. She put down her plate of hors d’oeuvres and started walking towards me.
She walked up to me and said “What are you doing tomorrow morning”? And before I even had a chance to answer she said, “If you guys want to come up here at 11:15am tomorrow morning, you can hit some balls with me”.
I was in a total state of shock, but I immediately answered “OK, we would love to”.
And then our conversation went like this:
Monica: “Ok, be sure to bring your racquets with you”.
Ronny: “Monica we came from Texas and didn’t bring our racquets”.
Monica: “Do you think you can borrow one? Because I only brought two with me this time”.
Then James said without hesitation: “We will go buy some racquets tomorrow morning”.
Monica: “Oh, no. I don’t want you to have to do that. Try to see if you can borrow one from some one. If not, maybe I could find a racquet for you to use”.
James: “We will definitely get us a racquet”.
Monica: “Ok, then I will see you tomorrow morning”?
Ronny: “At 11:30am”?
Monica: “No, at 11:15am”.
Ronny: “Ok, we will be there”.
Monica: “Then I will see you two tomorrow morning”.
Ronny: “Thank you so much Monica! This means a lot”!
James: “Thank you Monica”!
Monica then said you’re welcome and we parted ways. When we started walking back to our table we got to meet Esther Seles (Monica’s mom); and that’s when James got his picture taken with her.
It is so hard for me to even begin to say how I was feeling after this encounter! I was so happy, excited, nervous, anxious all wrapped up together. It was truly the most natural high I have ever been on. It was an absolutely euphoric experience!
We are both still in a state of disbelief that all of this actually happened to us. Of course, we had great expectations going into this trip. You always have dreams that you would love to meet Monica and have her invite you to go play tennis with her….but you never really think it could become reality. And that’s exactly what happened on that magical night of the silent auction. It was a night full of enchanted moments and memories. It is definitely something that we will never, ever forget. It was really a dream come true!
Our Practice with Monica on Monday morning!
After the Silent Auction, we all went back to Jenz’s house and stayed up way too late talking about everything that had happened at the Silent Auction. Ronny logged into the site using Jenz’s computer and uploaded the photos from that night. We had a great time talking, laughing, and getting to know each other. After several hours we finally went to bed.
Jenz woke us up the next morning to start getting ready for our practice with Monica! We all got on to the forum before we left and saw the messages from the forum members. Everyone was already very excited. Jenz had a racquet for us to borrow and a pair of shorts for James. After breakfast we left for the arena.
When we arrived at the arena there were quite a bit of people there, more than we had expected. There were probably about 50 people there to watch Monica practice. As we started to walk down the stairs to the court a woman approached us and said, “Are you the guys from Texas”? and we said yes. She then said, “Ok, Monica is expecting you. I’ll go see if she’s ready”. James went to the bathroom to go change into his shorts (I was already wearing mine, even though it was like 40F outside!). While James was in the bathroom changing, the same woman came back up to me and said that Monica was stretching and would be out in a few minutes. I started getting the camera ready to take some pictures. James came back and said he was very nervous. I told him that Monica would be out in just a minute.
We (Me, James, Jenz & Charles) were all sitting at courtside when Monica and Martina came in. A few minutes later Monica approached our table and said “Are you ready”? And James said that he was ready. Monica walked over to where Martina was sitting on the other side of the court and started talking to her. James walked over and met Martina. As Monica and James started walking back to the baselines, James said, “Oh let me warn you that I’m very nervous and this is not my racquet…….. and I usually like to have grip tape.” Then Monica said, “I know, I’m sorry.” Monica grabbed a ball and smacked it to James and they started hitting. It was the kind of hitting around you do when you just get on the court and are trying to feel out your strokes for that day. James only made about 3 mistakes he thinks. He played really well and Monica even let him hit a few winners on her. LOL! Monica gave a good “Oh yeah”! on a couple of shots! I took some photos of him and Monica on the court.
After about 5 minutes of them hitting, another lady approached me and said to me “Are you ready”? and I said “Yes”! While I was walking onto the court I told the lady that I was very nervous but she said you will do fine. Then James turned around and gave me the racquet and I said to Monica to take it easy on me and she gave a little laugh.
I had never played with this racquet before and the first shot I hit went long but Monica was able to hit it back and we started trading ground strokes. She seemed to hit a lot to my back hand side (James also said he felt like Monica hit to his back hand the most). I too only made about 3 mistakes during our rallies. I remember hitting one backhand in the net and Monica said “I know it’s hard not having your own racquet”. We hit a few more rallies and I hit a forehand winner down the line. Shortly after, Monica started approaching the net and she let me hit a passing shot on her, LOL! I then ran up to the net and we shook hands and I said to her, “Thank you so much Monica. This means the world to me”, and she replied “You’re welcome”.
I then turned around and was about to walk off the court when Monica said, “Oh, do you want to take some more pictures”? and I said “OK”, but then she said, “Oh wait, let’s do it afterwards”. I then walked back over to where James, Jenz, and Charles were sitting.
After our hitting session, Monica and Martina then took the court and they hit with a few other people in a doubles warm up. Monica & Martina were on one side of the court, with Monica on the baseline and Martina closer to net. Martina was cracking up in that warm-up. She kept giving one of the players advice on how to hit better. We got to snap some pictures of them practicing. We noticed that Monica was warming up her one handed forehand and one handed backhand slice a lot. She was hitting some great shots too!
After they finished hitting, about 10 people walked onto the court to get their autographs. We decided to stay where we were and wait for them to finish.
After siging a few autographs, Monica put on her jacket and grabbed her stuff and was getting ready to leave when all of a sudden she noticed that we were still there. She walked over to us and said “Oh, do you have your stuff”? We then got out some photos and Jenz had her book to get signed. When Monica saw the photos that James and I had brought, she said, “Wow! Those are young photos”. While signing the one I brought she asked how I spelled my name and while she was writing it she spelled it with an “E” at the end. I then said, it’s with a “Y”. She then said, “Oops, memories”! She was looking at the photo while signing it and made the mistake. Then I said, “Those are great memories though Monica”, and she nodded her head and said “Yes”.
Then Monica asked if we wanted to take some photos. We took two of Monica with me & James, and then another of Monica and Jenz. While Charles was getting our camera together, we were all standing arm in arm waiting to get our picture taken, James said to Monica, “Thank you so much for doing this for us” and then I said “Yes, this means a lot to us”. She said, “You’re welcome”.
James told her that our forum already had 20 comments from the photos we posted on our forum last night, and she said “Oh wow, there was already 20 this morning”? Then James told her that the photo that she wanted to look at through the camera that we had taken at the auction (the one that she wasn’t quite ready for), was of her throwing her head back laughing, so that we didn’t post that one. And she said “Oh no, don’t post any bad photos”! After we had our photos taken, I gave her a card with our contact information on it and she said that she would check out the site. Jenz also asked her how her foot was doing and she said it felt great. She then said as we were getting ready to leave, to make sure to wave at her before the match so she could see where we were sitting.
We then got our stuff together, we headed back to Jenz and Charles’ house to wait for the exhibition matches later that evening. This practice session and the silent auction were definitely the highlights of our trip! This has been the most exciting thing that James & I have ever done! I know I have already said this before, but we will never forget this experience…it was a fairytale come true and having Jenz there with us, made it all that more special.
The Doubles Exhibition – Seles/Clark vs. Navratilova/Steinour
When we first walked in, we bought some t-shirts with the event name with Monica and Martina’s name on it. Then we walked to the railing to look at the court. When we saw that the players weren’t out yet, we went and got some drinks and then found our seats. The first few rows of chairs had been removed for the VIP section tables, so our fourth row ended up being like the sixth row. But we still had great seats, it was on the side where the players would take their change overs. Slowly but surely the crowd filed in and they announced the other two men players, and then announced Martina Navratilova to a nice ovation. Then they announced Monica’s name to an even bigger applause.
Monica and her partner were sitting on the side where we were sitting at, so that was even better! Monica definitely looked nervous to me. During the coin toss she was swinging her leg back and forth and looked anxious/nervous. I think because of this, we all silently opted not to try and get her attention to show her we were there, and where we were sitting.
They played very well together! Monica got aced on her first return though, but after that miss she started creaming her return! It had a new sharp angle that screamed towards the sideline. The other guy found himself trying to scrape up a shot at his feet! He couldn’t get to the net fast enough to volley Monica’s return very well. Monica seemed to have a blast during this match, and even during one of the points (after the point was really already over), one of the men players hit a high lob that almost hit the speakers at the top of the arena. But then Martina hit it back up almost hitting it again (with the crowd getting a laugh). Then right before the ball dies, Monica hits it again real high and the crowd started laughing and clapping. You could tell Monica was having so much fun. Jenz leaned over and said, “She’s enjoying this”.
They won!!! Seles/Clark def. Navratilova/Steinour 8-5
After they won and left the court we all took our bathroom breaks and got back to our seats, and before we knew it……they were back on the court!
The Singles Exhibition – Seles vs. Navratilova
Monica had changed outfits and looked ready to go! Unfortunately, Monica had a slow start. She went down 0-40 on her serve, but then came back to win the first game. At 2-2 in the first set, Martina strung a few games together to take a 5-3 lead. Monica was having some serve and overhead problems, and Martina was attacking her second serve really well and drop shotting Monica a lot. Monica pulled it to 4-5, but then Martina closed it out 6-4.
In the second set, both players were hitting some great shots! Monica hit some great winners, and Martina hit some great shots. Monica looked to get her game back together a little bit more and lead 5-4 in the 2nd set – but Martina put together a great service game and pulled it even at 5 all. When they got to the tie breaker, Martina put together some great shots and closed it out with an ace 6-4, 7-6.
I started feeling during the second set that Monica could have won that. But at 15 minutes until 9pm (when the event was to be over), Martina ran away with the tie breaker 7-3. I am just assuming of course, but I am sure both Martin and Monica knew at that point that if Monica had won the 2nd set, they would have to play a 3rd and the event would run way later than expected.
It was still a great 2 matches even though Monica lost the singles match. The two things I noticed that were off with her game was her first serve and her overhead. And you could tell that she wasn’t going to run down a lot of balls. She was there to have fun, not to rush her comeback too fast. Even if that meant not running after balls that she could have gotten, if she didn’t have to be worried about re-injuring the foot (so early in her return to tennis). If it was too good, then she just let it go which I think was smart of her. I don’t want her to be scrambling around too much too early on that foot.
We were all thinking that it was over and that we didn’t get to wave to her during the match to say, “Here we are!” But then as we were standing up waiting to scoot down the aisle to leave, James just blurted out, “WE LOVE YOU MONICA!” She looked up and saw us, then waved and said “Thank you all for coming”!
We slowly walked around the top of the arena to the front exit, just watching Monica get bombarded by people wanting her autograph. It was hard for us to leave. But we didn’t want to try and ask her for more attention, it just didn’t seem right since she had already spent so much time with us. We saw her take some pictures with the ball kids, and then we left.
We talked about it all the way back to Jenz’s house. We dropped off Charles and then drove to Jenz’s work to use her computers. When we got to her work, she brought up our forum on the first computer and OMG! There were a ton of people there! We were all freaking out and just so excited! Jenz ran around and got the computers going and then got Ronny all set up to start up-loading the pictures to the site! We had originally scheduled the chat session for 11pm eastern time, but we didn’t get there until 40 minutes after, and there were 18 people still on the forum and in the chat room!
We had a wonderful time chatting with everyone! We ended up staying at her work until 3am! We finally got the pictures all posted and left for home. We talked for a bit when we got back to her house and then went to bed. Before we knew it, it was time for us to go to the airport in the morning.
We had a wonderful time in Virginia. It was a dream come true. Thanks again to everyone who participated in our experience and coming to the chat on Monday night. Thank you! And a special thank you to Jenz again, for her warmth and kindness to us. Having you there made it even better.