Doubles Vision - Balancing Tennis And Family
Valencia Open 500
by Mark Knowles|
Let me share with you some of the highs and lows of life on tour with a family.
First and foremost, I wouldn't be able to continue to travel and play without my incredible wife, Dawn. She is a great mother to our two boys, Graham - four and Brody - one. Dawn was a professional model in New York and internationally for 15+ years, so she understands the sacrifice that it takes to leave behind loved ones to pursue one’s career. She knows that I would rather be at home with her and the kids, but as there are no tournaments in the Bahamas or in Dallas, I have to travel in order to play and pay the bills!
I am finishing my 18th year on tour this year, yes that's right – 18! I get a lot of teasing from the younger guys and I remember when I used to be the younger one kidding around the older guys. However, the tour has a way of making you feel younger than you really are. Maybe it is all of the crazy fun that is flying around in the players lounge. In my case, I believe that my two active boys keep me young. My wife always jokes with me that I love being out on tour so that I can get massages, sleep in, and do things generally on my own schedule. Guess what – she’s right! Life on tour is a breeze compared to being at home.
My number one rule with my family is to try not to be away from them for more than two-three weeks. I will usually try to schedule accordingly, even if it means flying back from Europe more often than most. If I have to be on the road for longer, I will try to have them come with me. When there was only Graham, we had him travel a lot with us. He is an amazing traveler and loves airplanes and sleeps well. We took him to Australia when he was three months old and he slept the entire way from LA to Sydney. That was sweet! During the European clay-court events, I fly back and forth maybe three or four times between Monte Carlo and Wimbledon. Yes, it means more jet lag, but as I said before, my sleep on the road is much better than my sleep at home.
Now to the tricky one, Brody. Boy, does he hate to fly. I remember this year at Wimbledon, Graham and his grandmother, Gigi, flew back to Dallas two days before us. We were all booked to leave on the Friday before the finals weekend. However, I made the mixed doubles finals with Anna-Lena Gronefeld and it was decision time. I wanted to have both of my kids there for the final but also knew that it is impossible to change five coach-class tickets coming back from Wimbledon.
That's the harsh reality of not knowing how well you will do. I think I've paid the airlines a ton of money in "change fees'' and "excess baggage". Besides my tennis gear, we have to pack the stroller, travel crib, car seats. The airlines see me coming and start smiling thinking of all the fees I'll be subjected to.
Anyhow, we made the tough choice of sending Graham back to Dallas with his Grandma on that Friday. Brody stayed with Dawn and I, as we felt two of us could handle Brody on a 10-hour flight back to Dallas. How wrong we were! We got on the flight in the middle seats of coach class, completely packed. We had a three-and-a-half-hour delay on the tarmac before we even started the flight. Dawn and I were ready to get off the plane but as soon as we asked to get off, they cleared us for takeoff. Brody slept for about a half an hour the entire 13-hour trip. Dawn and I alternated taking him back to the bathroom and just standing in there with him and trying to calm and amuse him. These moments are so insanely intense that it becomes comical. Brody was not walking yet and wanted to move around and not sit in his car seat. So he was all over the place and when we wouldn't let him crawl on the germ-infested floor, he went nuts! Not sure where he gets the temper from???
I have had many different stages of my time on tour. Having my wife and kids with me on the road is the greatest. I get to share my career with my boys. All of my fellow competitors are extremely nice to my kids and make it fun and exciting for them. The wins are that much more special and the losses are much more trivial. Of course they still sting, but as a father you are there for your kids up until the moment you go on court and you are right there for them once the last point has ended.
I played two weeks in Asia, in Beijing and Shanghai. Then I was at home with the family for two weeks. It was so much fun as both boys are growing up fast. The most common words of advice that I received when I became a father, was that the time goes fast so try not to miss it. There is so much truth in that statement. Graham and Brody are both growing up quickly and I want to be able to share as much time with them as possible. The highlight of my trip back home was Halloween! Dawn was dressed as Daphne from Scooby-Doo, Graham's favourite TV show. Graham, Brody, and I were dressed as pirates. Graham decided what we would all be for Halloween. As most of you may or may not know, I answer to three people in my house. My opinion is rarely heard!
I am in Valencia this week playing doubles with Michael Llodra (father of two kids) and I'm playing Paris next week with my regular partner, Mahesh Bhupathi. Then I am flying back to see my family for only a few days and am turning right back around to play the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in London. This is an example of how I have changed my schedule with a wife and two kids back home.
Dawn and I are truly blessed to have such a wonderful family. For those of you on tour with a family, you know the incredible joys of having your family on the road with you. For those of you who don't have families yet on the road, get as many massages as possible, play golf as often as you can and sleep in as much as you like!