At 2 a.m. Wednesday morning, Harri Heliovaara woke up to his one-year-old daughter crying. The Finnish doubles player checked his phone and saw something jarring: 20 missed calls from his partner, Lloyd Glasspool.
That started a wild adventure that less than two days later has seen the pair defeat the best doubles team in the world and reach the Internazionali BNL d’Italia quarter-finals on their ATP Masters 1000 team debut.
“My baby turned one-year-old that day and she gave me a birthday surprise by waking me up and giving me a chance to play the tournament,” Heliovaara told ATPTour.com. “I woke up, saw my phone and that I had like 20 calls from Lloyd. I knew something must have happened.”
The night before, Karen Khachanov and Andrey Rublev withdrew from the doubles draw, opening a spot for an alternate team. At 10:30 that night, Glasspool learned there was a chance they could get in. But neither player was in Rome.
“I couldn’t contact Harri,” said Glasspool, who contacted his partner’s brother and wife to no avail. “His baby actually woke him up in the middle of the night at 2 a.m. his time. Then once I got a hold of him, we [decided] we were going to go and sign [in].
“I had a 6 a.m. flight. I actually missed my alarm and baggage check was closed by the time I could get there, so I just had to take two racquets, a pair of shoes, some match kit and jump on the plane.”
Glasspool was in London and Heliovaara was in Helsinki, but they both booked flights to Rome. They went straight to the Foro Italico and signed in, and received the alternate spot. There was no time to go to the hotel or do anything else.
“He didn’t have any baggage, why would he go to the hotel?” Heliovaara said as they both cracked a laugh. “We were both prepared to fly home the same evening if we lost.”
“We didn’t know where anything was either. We had to go straight and warm up. We didn’t even know where the gym or the practice desk or anything, so it was pretty crazy,” Glasspool said. “But actually playing those guys for me was pretty comforting because one of them is British and I practise with him a lot, so it kind of eased all the pressure for me.”
“I would say how we felt on the court was great. How it happened, that we could play with absolutely zero pressure, that’s something you want to get often,” Heliovaara said. “You can swing freely, you can do your best, but if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t really matter. We did really well on court.”
Photo Credit: Peter Staples/ATP Tour
There was little time to enjoy it, though. After the whirlwind of a morning, they had to reset for a second-round doubles match on Thursday.
“For me it’s actually been eye-opening a little bit, being able to play so freely… I was still so tired from the night before when I got one hour of sleep, I missed my alarm again. We had a car at 10 and I woke up at 10,” Glasspool said. “Normally I’d panic, but I was just like, ‘This is what’s happening this week. Just get there, you’ll practise fine.’ It’s taken a lot of pressure off. Everything doesn’t need to be perfect, so I will take that moving forward.”
The pair played a thriller against singles stars Thanasi Kokkinakis and Frances Tiafoe in front of a raucous crowd that was largely behind Kokkinakis and Tiafoe. The alternates triumphed 6-3, 3-6, 10-8.
“Now we felt the pressure. We were the doubles team playing two singles guys. They were pretty relaxed,” Glasspool said. “The pressure was back on us and the crowd was loud for them as well. It was kind of just back to business today, a bit more normal.”
Glasspool competed in his first Masters 1000 earlier this year in Miami alongside Michael Venus, while this is Heliovaara’s first Masters 1000. They had played two Grand Slams together, and compared the atmosphere to the majors.
“This feels actually a little bit similar to those events,” Heliovaara said. “There is a massive amount of people here watching the matches. We have women, men, everything. This is where we want to be.”
Glasspool only has the two match kits, racquets, shoes and string he carried onto the plane, and today Heliovaara is down to his last pair of socks. But that doesn’t matter now to last year's Marseille champions, who reached the final in Montpellier and Dallas earlier this season. What does is that they will play John Isner and Diego Schwartzman for a place in the Rome semi-finals.
"Before we flew here I had four days off for a stag party of my friend. I practised once on Tuesday in Finland. Sometimes you just trust it,” Heliovaara said. “The skills are there, it doesn’t matter the preparation if you actually trust it and keep going without pressure."