European Clay for American Tourists: Monte-Carlo vs Madrid vs Rome

Best Value for the American Dollar during the European Swing.
We compare the 3 Clay Masters Tournaments for your next Euro Tennis Vacation!

Monte-Carlo Masters (Monaco)
Late April

The Crown Jewel of the French Rivera. See our Monaco and Nice photos for trip ideas.

For an Amazing City and just as high-caliber players in a smaller venue, try the Barcelona Open tournament! I was able to attend as media and got to witness the pinnacle of Spanish Championship Tennis. The venue is intimate, and the club is historic (at that same location since 1899).

Travel
It is best to take a flight to Nice, France, and then the train about 20 mins to the special stop they open only during the Tournament. Here is the ATP Behind the Scenes short video tour.

Find a nice AirBnB near the Nice station or the French side to save some money. I splurged and pulled a few strings for the full experience from the hillside balcony.

Be warned, that the French transportation system was on strike several days out of the week (listed on a schedule) when I was there. You may need to find a bus or an expensive $50 taxi to get back on those days.

Food
Should you want to wine and dine at the tournament, there are plenty of white tablecloth options on-site with a great view of the center court from above.

For a quick lunch, there is a small food market deli called "Casino" which sells a lunch combo. Get a sandwich, drink, and/or dessert (for 3, 6, and 9 Euros respectively).

All the locals know where it is located and the tournament will let you take in your own lunch as long as it is small and in a container.

Center Stadium and Side Courts
The Court de Princes is a separate ticket in a more secluded venue. I actually enjoyed the 3rd stadium (the equivalent of the old Grandstand at the US Open).

You can sit wherever you want and get pretty close to players such as Lopez. The high bounce of this clay favors Nadal who has won it 11 times! They should just change the national flag to Spain when he arrives.


Practice Courts
The main practice courts are usually teaming with kids up and down the castle walls trying to see Nadal. Since there are only the top male players in this tournament, the selection is pretty good but the small alleys can be tight and crowded.

Map and Walking Tour

The main entrance and the center stadium take up the entire Right Half.

It is better to make your way down the small hill and walk around the top thin green line marking where all the food and shops are located. The practice courts are all on a grid of 3 islands with 2 courts each along the bottom shown with the dotted lines. The 2nd and 3rd stadiums are nearby each other at the top left corner - there are usually better matches playing there the first few rounds.

Art of Traveling Light
Security is extremely tight getting there and lines can be long to get in so plan ahead to go early. It is best to travel light and not bring a backpack unless absolutely necessary. You will thank me later. There is a convenient bag check service out front which is very nice but space is limited - but for just one Euro you cannot beat it!

Bonus +1 Trip Option in Spain: 
Barcelona Open ATP 500 plus a short visit to the Rafael Nadal Academy 

Mutua Madrid Open

Early May

"The Magic Box" - Madrid Open with closable roof
The stadium is only a short walk downhill from the nearby Metro station.

Map and Box Layout
The entire campus is laid out like a giant Grid floating on a large lake. To reach the side and practice courts, walk down to the lower level and walk across a small bridge walkway that splits the courts.




Booths and Layout

All the merchant booths and food locations will be housed within the 2-story floors.

From all the shiny metallic siding and seats plus the reflections off the water, be sure to bring sunscreen and sunglasses if you are sitting in the open.

Nadal played for over 4 hours in the longest 3-set matches in Masters 1000 History against Djokovic in the semi-finals. Epic Match!
Roger Federer once defeated Rafael Nadal here...
The next month he won the French Open.


 A rare sight that few have ever witnessed was Federer beating Nadal on Clay on the Spanish capital's home soil and went on to win the French Open in Paris a month later. After his worst season ever in 2008, some have said this Madrid title is what saved his career in 2009.

Another great tourist stop after the tennis is to visit the Madrid Bullring - Plaza del Toros (largest in Spain and 2nd largest in the World) also near the train line.

 

You can also play Matador and learn about the rich culture behind one of Spain's oldest traditions that still runs strong in this city.

Toledo, Segovia, Avila


Whenever matches were in the evening, I was able to take a full day trip to Toledo via the Renfe train. The ancient capital has many great castle views. The war  museum has many fascinating artifacts from the medieval era.

Mornings in beautiful Retiro Park or on a tapas tour were highlights, I can recommend any visitors.

Avila (castle walls) and Segovia are two other UNESCO cities I enjoyed on a bus tour, but would pick just Segovia to spend a full day walk if given the choice and save driving time. Loved Spain for over 13 years and will always rank number it as #1 country for young American tourists for a solo trip.

Italian Open (Rome, Italy)
Mid May

2nd Stadium (my favorite) at the Foro Italico

Crowds are seated closer together in this "sunken" stadium surrounded by giant Roman Statues.

There are no bad seats here. Even when walking by above, you can hear all the shots and crowd reactions intimately. This is very much the People's Court with lots of true tennis fans.

Italian Open Tennis Tickets on Sale

Italian Open Tennis Map - Green Arrows show my recommended viewing paths for fans
In this map, the green arrows show the paths where I typically recommend staying.

The main practice court areas are a 3x2 area where most of the fans can watch from only the near side (as the backcourts are blocked off to the public but visible).

You will see a lot more tennis if you stay near the Eastern Half.

The 3rd stadium is all the way at the end. Below are more photos taken from the Grounds and Fan areas. I recommend coming from the back or side entrances located at the southeast end as there can be a bottleneck in front just before the day or night session starts.

Main Stadium

It is best to have a ticket in hand before you approach to get inside because you will be at the tip of the Giant Triangle which is the Foro Italico.

Usually, this is where more of the box seat holders will go and typically only stay here. The view is very steep in traditional Coliseum-like seating for dramatic angles.

View from inside the Main Court

The cafe-style restaurants are easy ways to grab a quick bite and drink. There is lots of small table seating on the Lower Left side near the grass.


There are lots of kid-friendly activities like riding the circular train loop and playing some mini-tennis in the Kids Zone near the main entrance.

See my reasons for picking Rome as the top clay-court Masters for 2016 as well as cool sights to see on a Segway in the city at night (if you are tired from all the walking).



The Last Stop before Paris!
Roland Garros is the grand finale.


The new stadium and expanded campus are supposed to be great.
Excited to see the giant Rafael Nadal metallic statue on display!

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