A Top 100 ATP player typically plays anywhere between 20-30 tournaments a year, jetting between cities, countries, and continents. A huge part of the challenge is managing life off the court and trying to keep to a routine when it comes to the basics of sleeping, eating, and relaxing.
Enter Player Services, a department at the Rolex Shanghai Masters dedicated to helping players focus on tennis – and only tennis – for the week. The team of 20 or so help with everything from making sure laundry gets done to arranging for security as players walk out to the practice courts, as well as fulfilling special requests.
“One player earlier this week needed his shoes fixed,” Player Control Supervisor Chase Larson explained, as he hops off a golf cart from delivering a freshly strung racquet to Benoit Paire on court, while speaking to another player’s father in Chinese about transportation back to the hotel.
“Unfortunately, it’s a Chinese national holiday this week so his sponsor couldn’t deliver new shoes to him in time. We had to scramble to find someone who could patch up his shoes in time for him to play a match.
“Tennis players like their routines. If they win, they’ll usually want to hit with the same partner or practice on the same court at the same time.”
Another member of the Players Services chimed in with a laugh: “Some players are even superstitious with their laundry. I had a couple of players add a note to make sure they got back an exact number of branded wristbands.”
Now in his 11th year of managing Player Services, Chase has seen lots of improvements at the Rolex Shanghai Masters. The gym and locker rooms were remodeled this year, and players now have a private lounge where they can relax, play cards, and confer with their teams away from fans, guests, sponsors, and officials. There’s a revamped Ogawa Massage Room, a Zen-like space with ambient sounds, low light, and top-of-the-line massage chairs.
The Music Room is also popular with players, where regulars throughout the years like the Bryan brothers and Kevin Anderson have been found jamming, or simply relaxing with foosball, video games, ping pong, and billiards.
Players often ask for recommendations, and Chase and his team are happy to oblige, including where to shop for souvenirs (Level 1 of the Science & Technology Museum Metro Station), best restaurant near the players’ hotel in Shanghai’s leafy Jing An district (Shintori), or where to go for best views of the Bund (Flair from the Pudong side, Bar Rouge from the Puxi side).
One of the biggest innovations over the years involves how practice courts are booked. “It used to literally be a pencil and pad where players signed up for courts and times,” Larson said. “Now, players log in requests through a custom-made app for their favorite of 19 outdoor and five indoor courts, as well as practice partners. Players can either practice with their own coach / hitting partner, use one of the nine tournament-provided hitting partners (including five flown in from Spain), or sign up as “looking” for another player to hit with.
“It’s especially hectic when it rains,” Larson said, “because all of a sudden 24 courts are condensed down to five.”
During the tournament, there’s a strict hierarchy of access to practice courts, especially during peak hours, with preference given first to players who are playing on the day, to those still in the tournament, and finally, to those who have lost but who still want to use the facilities.
Through the years, the work of Player Services has continued to grow. A lot more guys are traveling with bigger entourages. Some bring their own physios so there is the availability of at least 15 massage beds all over the city for them to use. The tournament is also generous when it comes to laundry, as the whole entourage gets unlimited access to next-day delivery.
There’s a reason for all these services that combine to create a virtual mini-city throughout the 80-hectare Qizhong Forest Sports City Arena. Chase said: “The stadium is a long way from the players’ hotel, so the guys will hang out here all day. We aim to provide enough things for them to do, and a level of comfort to where they’re happy to spend the whole day here.
However, it’s not all fun and games for Player Services who are usually first-in and last-out. “It’s a lot of fun while it’s happening, but also nice when it ends,” he says of the long days where it’s not unusual for staff to come in at 8 am and not leave until long past midnight… and they start from the Wednesday before the event begins until the very last ball is struck.
“Until we do it all over again next year, of course,” Larson said.