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Doubles Vision - Planes, Trains & Prison

Ashley Fisher© Getty ImagesAustralian Ashley Fisher has no shortage of entertaining travel stories.

In our latest Doubles Vision blog, Australian doubles specialist Ashley Fisher reflects on tough times at the Futures and Challenger levels before he cemented his place on the ATP World Tour.

I have just enjoyed a week in Australia doing some rehab on my knee and working on my fitness.  As I pack my bags and head to Sydney Airport I am reminded of some of my previous travelling experiences during the past 11 years. Tennis fans often comment to me about how glamorous the ATP World Tour must be. I'll let you read a couple of my stories to draw your own conclusions.
Bastad 1999
After a few months of slogging it out playing ITF Challengers and German Club tennis, I decided to take a week’s vacation at the Swedish Open in Bastad (now one of my favourite events).   The week would be vacation because my doubles ranking of 400 and the startling state of my 3 year old Wilson Sledghammer racquet made it difficult to convince a player to sign in with me.  Fortunately, I had some friends in the draw so the six of us piled into one hotel room.  Despite the luxurious accommodation, Sweden in the summer it is not particularly conducive to getting a good night’s sleep. The sun goes down at 10pm and comes up at 3 am, just before my return home from engrossing myself in local culture.  Bastad is notorious for being a party town so I figured it would be disrespectful to visit without seeing what all the fuss was about.
I ended my week with a wedding in Stockholm just hours before my 6am Sunday flight to Frankfurt for my next event.  As I staggered onto the pleasantly empty flight I decided to take advantage of a full row of seats in the back of the plane.  Just moments into the flight, I had my seatbelt off and was sprawled across three seats fast asleep.  Perhaps it was turbulence or a dream about dancing at the wedding but somehow during the course of the flight I rolled off the seats onto the ground.   In my hibernated state, I slept through the landing and was missed by the flight attendants and the passengers vacating the plane.

I woke up in an utterly confused state staring at an empty plane not sure if I had even left Sweden.  I ventured to the front of the plane and then approached the open door with trepidation.  I found myself in the middle of the runway at Frankfurt airport.  The other passengers had all boarded the bus to the terminal and I was alone looking at a walk across a busy airport runway.  Luckily, I was able to find a baggage handler who kindly gave me a ride to the terminal. 

I thoroughly recommend a trip to Sweden in Summer, especially for the Bastad tournament but make sure you take some eye goggles and get a good night’s sleep before you travel.
Croatia/Serbia 1999
This trip did not begin well with the airline losing my bags and therefore nearly all of my worldly possessions in Umag.  When I say lost, I do mean gone because to this day they have never been able to figure out where they are.  Somewhere, someone in the world is wearing my ITF shirts and playing with my Wilson Sledghammer.
Once in Umag, my doubles partner and I battled our way through a couple of rounds at a Futures event before deciding to hit the big time and try our luck qualifying for a Challenger in Belgrade. We began our journey with a 9 hour train trip, halfway through which our train stopped for four hours in the middle of nowhere so that passengers could exit the train to enjoy a picnic lunch.  We would have been happy to oblige this custom had we not foolishly assumed there would be a food carriage on the train.  Our lone box of Pringles had lasted only 20 minutes into the trip so we were forced to wait in hunger for the train to resume the long journey. We never did figure out if this was typical for Croatian trains or just a lucky treat for us but we arrived into Belgrade late Saturday night.  We took to the court Sunday at 1pm ready to qualify for our first ATP Challenger.  Unfortunately, our opponents had a different idea as we were soundly beaten, tired and frustrated.

My doubles partner took on the responsibility of getting us onward train tickets.  A bit despondent from the loss and frustrated because our credit cards didn’t work, he responded to the question of destination with “Just get me back to the west”.  The agent kindly took most of our cash and provided us with train tickets to Germany.

Seven hours into the trip, around midnight, we were woken by the Hungarian Border Control asking for our Visas. I showed them my train ticket, explained that I wanted no part of Budapest and insisted I was headed to Frankfurt.   This explanation did not fly so I was apprehended and promptly removed from the train.  My doubles partner acted quickly to give me his final ten pounds but did not join me.
I soon found myself somewhat concerned as it had been some time since I had heard any English and I was now locked in a station holding cell.  This was pre mobile phone era so the idea of confinement in a Hungarian prison and not being heard from for years seemed like a real possibility.  Fortunately, my prison term only lasted a few hours and I was woken at 7am the next day and put on a train headed back for Belgrade.  I wasn’t sure this put me in any better position and was now fearful of the prospect of being thrown off the train in rural Yugoslavia.  I chose the only strategy I could think of and spent the seven hour trip in several of the train's bathrooms.

I made it safely to Belgrade where I used my ten pounds on a taxi to the airport.  The only option with an airline who would accept my Australian credit card was a business class flight to Frankfurt, which equated to a month of my budget but I couldn't reach for my wallet fast enough.  With the loss of my bags the previous week, I was still wearing my match gear that had since become my prison uniform suffering the dirt floor of the holding cell. Needless to say my fellow German business class passengers were a little startled when I joined them for a champagne.
Despite these very true travel adventures, I am very fortunate to be able to play on the ATP World Tour and have the opportunity to see beautiful cities each week while staying in five star hotels. Knowing what I had to endure to get here makes me appreciate my lifestyle that much more. Thanks for reading guys!

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