Best Day(s) Ever?

My Experience at the WTA Finals


Benjamin Hoppe '24

Iga Swiatek takes on Aryna Sabalenka in the semifinals at the WTA Finals.

Benjamin Hoppe, Online Editor

Walking into the stadium and seeing the bright, purple court surrounded by fans from all over the world was a dream come true. On each side of the court was “Fort Worth” written in big, white letters. Children and adults of all ages waited near the exit of the court, hoping to get an autograph or a quick picture from one of the players after their practice. There was a distinct smell of beer and fried food with a touch of the beautiful tennis ball smell. This was tennis in Texas. This was the top eight women in the world battling it out to be the champion of champions. This was the WTA Finals.

Back in early November, Dickies Arena hosted the final matches of the Women’s Tennis Association’s season. Here, the top eight singles players and doubles teams competed to be the best of the best, and they did not disappoint. 

Prior to the start of the tournament, I got the opportunity of a lifetime: getting to attend Media Day. Here, Jack Mezey ‘23 and I got to sit five feet away and ask questions to these incredible athletes. For me, this was one of the most exciting and nerve-wracking moments of my life. It was difficult to work up the courage to ask the players questions, especially in front of reporters who worked for the WTA and Tennis Channel, but the responses I got from the internationally famous tennis players were unforgettable (for good reasons), but one was particularly interesting. 

Caroline Garcia embraces the Texas spirit at Media Day. (Benjamin Hoppe ’24)

One of the players I got to speak to was Aryna Sabalenka, ranked 5th in the world. As an athlete, I wanted to know what her best piece of advice was, and her response did not disappoint.

“Just don’t give a f*** about what people are saying,” Sabalenka said. “Sorry, there’s no way to say it differently.”

Aryna Sabalenka curses during her press conference at the WTA Finals Media Day. (Benjamin Hoppe ’24)

From this moment on, she became my favorite tennis player on the WTA Tour and of all time. Even though I was not the one who had made this priceless response, I am still extremely proud that I was the one who asked the question that incited this gem of a response. 

Although not particularly related to Media Day, in between interviews, I was able to go watch at court level the players’ practices. It was amazing to see not just how hard the players were able to hit the ball, but to also see how easily they were able to control the ball. I even got to watch a full rally that lasted over two minutes. As I was leaving Dickies Arena after experiencing Media Day, I genuinely believed that nothing could top what I got to do and see that day. I was wrong.


Benjamin Hoppe '24
Maria Sakkari hits a serve during her practice session. (Benjamin Hoppe ’24)

Less than a week later, I returned to Dickies Arena to watch some of the matches, this time not as a reporter, but as a tennis fan. 

The singles matches that day were all entertaining, despite both being straight set victories. Iga Swiatek, the world number one, defeated Caroline Garcia, the future WTA Finals Champion, in an interesting battle. Both sets started off close, but halfway through each, Swiatek would start to dominate Garcia, leading to a 6-3, 6-2 victory, pleasing the numerous Polish fans in attendance. Even though Swiatek was the world number one, the seats began to fill up more before the next match. Everyone wanted to see Coco Gauff, the 18-year-old American superstar, take on Daria Kasatkina. The first set was thrilling to watch. Both players had chances to win the set early on, but after several set points being saved, the two players went on to a tiebreak. Gauff battled hard, but Kasatkina got the best of her in the tiebreak, and a little while later, won the match. It was a tough match to watch (witnessing the pressure of the match and tournament get to Gauff, which even led her to break down in tears after the first set loss), but it was still entertaining nonetheless.

Daria Kasatkina talks with reporters after her straight set victory against Coco Gauff. (Benjamin Hoppe ’24)

However, for me personally, the best part of the evening came in between the two matches. Seeing as how this was one of the biggest tennis events of the year, former professional tennis players were at the event, including tennis legend Martina Navratilova. After finishing reporting courtside on the previous match, she made time to sign tennis balls and take pictures with fans. I was lucky enough to be able to squeeze in among the crowd and get an autograph from Navratilova.

While at the tournament, I was fortunate enough to get Martina Navratilova to sign my tennis ball. (Benjamin Hoppe ’24)

I tried to mention to her that Joe Breedlove ‘78, Navratilova’s former trainer, was my advisor, but she was already leaving the court with her dog. Whether she just hadn’t heard me or she feared that the man who crashed her sports car after she won Wimbledon had found her again, I unfortunately wasn’t able to talk to her, but getting an autographed ball from her was more than I had expected in the first place.

Martina Navratilova signs tennis balls for fans at the WTA Finals. (Benjamin Hoppe ’24)

After the second singles match concluded, many of the already few fans had left, leaving less than about 400 people in the entire stadium to watch the doubles match. Although unfortunate for the players, the small crowd had its perks, as I was able to watch the entire match in the front row. As seemed to be a theme with the tournament, it got better. The doubles team of Veronica Kudermetova and Elise Mertens won an intense battle against Anna Danilina and Beatriz Haddad Maria, and after the match, I was able to get autographs from the winning doubles team, who ended up winning the tournament.

Elise Mertens (left) and Veronica Kudermatova (right) discuss their strategy in their match against Anna Danilina and Beatriz Haddad Maria. (Benjamin Hoppe ’24)

At this point, I felt like everything I got to experience at the tournament had been perfect, but yet again, it only got better. Three days later, I returned to the beautiful arena for the semi-final match between Iga Swiatek and Aryna Sabalenka. Obviously I was rooting for Sabalenka, and she did not disappoint. She took Swiatek off guard in the first set, winning it 6-2, but Swiatek did not go out easily, responding with a 6-2 victory in the second set.

 Although the quality of tennis was incredible, there was something else more exciting that caught my attention. Sitting front row next to two Swiatek fans, who were decked out in Polish gear and holding a Polish flag, was my former Government teacher and 7th grade Spanish teacher, Bill Arnold ‘86 and Debby Arnold. I was ecstatic. It had been several months since Bill Arnold had imparted his wisdom upon me and Jack Cimo ‘24, wisdom which I still have stored in my Notes app. It had been just as long since I had seen Debby Arnold, the last time being at SPC in Houston, where both tennis teams had qualified for the first time in many years. In between the second and third set, I rushed towards the other side of the stadium, hoping to get a chance to talk to them. I made it in time, and I was able to catch up with them while the crowd was waiting for Sabalenka to return to the court.

In a very zoomed in and cropped image, Bill Arnold and Debby Arnold watch the WTA Finals from the front row next to two Polish fans. (Benjamin Hoppe ’24)

After interacting with the Arnolds, I returned to my seat to watch Sabalenka dominate Swiatek in the final set, much to my delight. Although Sabalenka went on to lose to Caroline Garcia in the final the next day, it still felt like everything that could have gone right, went right. Despite the crowds being small, the tournament itself was incredible, and that seemed to be the general consensus from the numerous members of the FWCD community who went to the tournament. 

“I loved it,” Sil Azevedo, the former boy’s tennis coach, said. “It was a great privilege that we had it right here in Fort Worth.”

It was an incredible privilege, and two of the players on the boys’ tennis team did not want to pass up the opportunity.

“It was super fun watching the final,” Marco Olmos ‘24 said. “I think all the players were really impressive and seeing that level of tennis really blows you away.”

Part of the beauty of the tournament was how convenient it was for many in the DFW area.

“Being able to go just 10 minutes from my house and witness some of the greatest tennis players of all time play, it’s great,” Evan Dickerson ‘24 said.

Part of what makes a tennis match enjoyable to watch isn’t just the quality of tennis, but also the atmosphere from the crowd, and even though attendance wasn’t as high as it could have been, all the fans were engaged and made the experience great.

“I think the people who were there loved [the tournament] and were into it,” Debby Arnold, FWCD Varsity girls’ tennis coach, said. “They knew tennis and respected the game.”

All in all, I think the tournament was a success. Looking back now, I truly believe that everything I got to do at Dickies Arena that week made up one of the best experiences of my life. To quote James Roday Rodriguez in the detective comedy-drama TV show Psych, “Don’t take pictures of buildings, take pictures of moments. Capture them here [points to head], and hold on to them here [points to heart].”

Even though I took several, probably hundreds, of photos of the inside and outside of Dickies Arena during the three days I was at the arena, the interactions I had there, the emotions I felt, and everything else I experienced at the tournament, will forever remain in my head and my heart.

Don’t take pictures of buildings, take pictures of moments. Capture them here [points to head], and hold on to them here [points to heart].

— James Roday Rodriguez