Just one day before the Citi Open Doubles Wildcard Challenge was about to take place, seniors and Mason tennis players Aaron Capitel and Conor Moran received an unexpected phone call.
The two players who had originally signed on to compete in the tournament for Mason were unable to attend and the coaches were in need of new competitors. Capitel and Moran, who do not usually compete as doubles partners, agreed to fill in the two open- ings and suddenly found themselves competing in the prestigious Citi Open.
The Citi Open is an annual tennis tournament held at Rock Creek Tennis Park in Washington D.C. that draws both amatuer and professional players for singles and doubles matches. It draws in professional tennis players like Andy Murray and Sloane Stephens.
Capitel and Moran competed in a Wildcard Challenge, which was held before the tournament started and allows college athletes to compete for a spot with the pros.
Unfortunately the Mason pair did not make it past the first round of the competition, falling to Austin Krajicek and Nicholas Monroe. But they stayed on for the duration of the tournament to help players warm up before matches and came away with some useful knowledge about professional athletes.
Q: What was it like competing at such a high level of competition?
Moran: It’s completely different from college. The physicality is insane.
Capitel: The speed. They are bigger, faster, and stronger. They’re not necessarily more talented. For every hour we put in, they put in five. They’re working harder.
Q: Did you get to meet any professional tennis players?
Moran: I’d open the door for the locker room, and someone else [would be] coming in. And it’s awkward; you don’t know if you should go or let the person go. I [would open] the door and Leighton Hewitt [would be] there or Mike Bryan [would be] right there, and it was so cool.
Capitel: [Cool to] to brush shoulders with them.
Q; What would you say was the biggest difference in play between college and the professional level?
Moran: They’re full grown men; we believe we’re in good shape. We both start. And they make us feel like little boys compared to them.
Capitel: They’re professional athletes, and we’re not.
Moran: I never had a close up look at [professional players] before. I always put [them] on a pedestal. Once you look at the work they
put in day in and out, anyone can do it. It’s just a matter of having the resources and getting it done.
Q: Did this experience alter your opinion of professional tennis players?
Moran: They’re all just normal people. When we see them on TV, like Andy Murray, they’re multi-millionaires. But they’re just living normal lives.
Capitel: That was the weirdest thing. By Monday or Tuesday we were just like “eh” cause [the professional athletes] are good, but they’re just people.
Q: What was your favorite memory from this experience?
Capitel: I got to hit with Pablo Cuevas, the 25th best player in the world, for two hours and train with him.
Moran: On Friday, before we played, we got to play with Daniel Nester, one of the best doubles players of all time. He’s got the career grand slam; we were so nervous we didn’t feel like we belonged there.
Capitel: He made us feel like we belonged. Moran: [Nester] always talked to us. He was always nice.