Sensational Spanish Open Pickleball Tournament, Madrid, Spain
From Lisbon, Portugal to Madrid, Spain, it would have been faster to drive. The distance is only 388 miles (625 km). At warp speed, no time at all, but given current scientific constraints, about 6 hours. However, there’s a pesky little problem with the border between Portugal and Spain. Despite the fact that the European Union has officially made borders between member countries a thing of the past, the car rental companies have not completely followed suit. They don’t really like you taking their assets out of one country and returning them in another.
And besides, we had already booked our flight from Lisbon to Madrid when we realized that it would have been faster to drive. The flight itself is exceptionally quick, but it takes longer as we generally arrive at the airport early enough to put our shoes back on and refill our water bottles after going through security. Heck, we usually even have time to recharge our cell phones. Just ask our son how exasperatingly early we get to the airport. This particular trip to the airport underscored why we get there early.
The airport in Lisbon is enormous. So enormous that if Tom Hanks had been stuck living his life in that airport as he did in "The Terminal" at JFK, he could still be trying out a different waiting lounge chair every night, and not having to sleep in the same one twice. And it has been 15 years since that movie came out!
There were lines so long that my hair grew a quarter of an inch before we got to the front of them. We barely made it to our gate on time. And then, the flight was short. When arriving at customs in Madrid, if you have nothing to declare, which we did not, you just walk right through. Well, that is after you get your passport scanned and you get a new stamp in it. It was all very perfunctory and quick.
We had come to Madrid primarily for one reason, the usual reason - pickleball. But not just any old pickleball. We were there for Tournament Pickleball. None other than The 3rd annual Spanish Open Pickleball Tournament. We were so thrilled to be in a place where, even though pádel is the main racquet sport, pickleball is making headway against the tide. We hadn’t played pickleball for the past week in Lisbon, and we were desperate to get on a court!
We checked in to our Airbnb, one of our favorites ever, and we had a glass of wine with the very lovely retired couple who own it. Their daughter loaned us two very nice bicycles for the week, which turned out to be a huge bonus.
The very next day, we hopped on the bikes and headed for the courts. They were a short 12 minute ride from our place. It turns out that Madrid has a penchant for exceedingly large parks. Another bonus for us!
The tournament was held at the largest park in Madrid, the Casa de Campo. The land was used as a royal hunting ground under King Philip II, who built the city's royal palace when he moved Spain's capital from Valladolid to Madrid. A country house had been built on the land in 1519, giving rise to the area’s name – Casa de Campo means ‘country house’ in Spanish. The king used the land for hunting, which gave rise to the name of the area.
The park was exclusively used by the Spanish royal family until the proclamation of Spain’s Second Republic in 1931, when the state donated the Casa de Campo to the people of Madrid. It has been a public park ever since. On more than 4,200 acres, there is an amusement park, an aerial tram, a large lake, a zoo, and just about every sport you can imagine. There are even beautiful equestrian areas, an arena and stables as well.
We pulled up on our bikes and found that we were some of the first people at the courts - go figure. I mentioned that we were desperate to play didn’t I?! Aaahhhhhh! Proper courts, awesome courts in fact, and as usual, really friendly people started showing up. Good thing I never got hooked on anything such as cocaine or alcohol like I have pickleball. The sight of so many nice clean courts brought us so much joy! Okay, I’ll stop before you think I’ve gone overboard. Sorry if I’m too late ;-)
We had two days of practice and drills before the tournament was scheduled to begin. We played for about three hours in the morning and went back in the evening to play a bit more. We played the next morning and decided we better give it a rest that evening. The first day of the tournament was singles. We had brilliantly decided that we better not play all three tournament event days, so we skipped singles so our old bodies could better handle the following two days of doubles competitions.
It was fun watching people play singles, and partaking in the fun atmosphere without the pressure of competition. My women’s doubles partner, Karen, showed up and we had a chance to get in a couple of practice games and to reassure each other that we were just there to have a good time - no pressure at all. Yeah, right… For all of you competitive people reading this, you know that really means that you won’t throw a tantrum if you lose. Just joking, you’ll suck it up and say honestly that there were lots of sandbaggers in your bracket! No, really, you’ll say and believe, there was a lot of good play and, others were playing their best that day.
Two of the very best pickleball players in the world, Kyle Yates and Irina Tereschenko came to Madrid to play in the tournament. It was really special to get to watch these stars play for three days. One of my favorite parts of the weekend was watching and listening to my friends, Lou, SuperMitch and Stan playing a pick-up match with Kyle. Lou was giving Kyle tips, and being her usual hilarious self. Kyle was being a really good sport!
Way to protect your jewels Kyle!
Our first match began at 9 am. Karen and I won some and lost some in a round robin stage that combined all levels from 2.5 - 4.499. We were all of about the same age, but quite varied in ratings. We were registered at 3.5 and there were teams that clearly out-rated and outplayed us. We really were having fun, even the games we lost. It’s in those losing games that you actually get to see what your weaknesses are.
In the “knock-out” stage, the double elimination portion of the tournament, however, we played well against our equally rated 3.5 peers. We found ourselves in a match for gold . We hadn’t lost a match getting there so when we lost one nail-biting match in the finals to a team we had beaten before, we had to immediately play them again. The second time around, we won, meaning we had taken the gold.
It was a fabulous feeling to have Ky and so many friends watching and rooting for us. It was only the fourth tournament I've played in, and the adrenaline rush made me want to sign up for more. It also made me look forward to the next day when Ky and I were to play mixed doubles together.
Some people cannot play pickleball with their spouses. Because of our nomadic ways, we are always together and we don't have the option to practice consistently with anyone else. We've had our ups and downs and had to come to some agreements, mainly that Ky cannot give me playing advice during a match. We have a much better time and I'm a much nicer person when he's not telling me what I'm doing wrong. In general, I've come to the conclusion that spouses should not try to teach each other anything.
We played really well together and as a result we got pushed up to the 4.0 level. We won two and narrowly lost two, and we didn't have anything but fun. We learned some very good lessons and we still love each other. Best possible outcome... or next best to a medal with love and lessons ;-) !
One highlight of the tournament was the dinner. The Spanish organizers outdid themselves with a five course affair where incredible food, wine and drinks were brought out over a two hour period. When we thought we were finished with dinner, everyone's jaws dropped when the servers brought out steak knives and enormous steaks followed! Two days of pickleball makes one ravenous, but we needed a doggy bag!
Fortunately, we had three additional days to see the sights of Madrid. There is so much to see and do there, that we are looking forward to next year's tournament. We loved meeting so many wonderful new people and we know we'll see many of them on courts in other parts of the world. A huge thank you to all of the organizers of the tournament, my fabulous partners, Karen & Ky, and the many people who cheered us on and pampered us during play! You're the best!
People frequently ask us "Where is your favorite place?" That's a very tough question to ask of full time nomads who have spent their entire lives together traveling. Our first date was a ski trip to Lake Tahoe in 1984, and since then we haven't stopped traveling.
But then we arrived in Madrid. We were only there for ten days, but WOW! We've taken to saying that our favorite place is one we haven't been to yet, but Madrid is going to be one of our top 20 I think. We define our favorite past places now by places to which we would want to return. Typically we prefer visiting new places. We're very much looking forward though, to returning to Madrid.
Enjoy the music of a great group of street musicians we stopped to listen to - Ataca Paca.
Abrazos de Madrid!
Next stop New York!