Posts Tagged ‘Tennis’

“Tennis should be safe. That it should be humane should not even be up for discussion.”

Thursday, January 16th, 2014

WillisBy Alexandra Willis in Melbourne

“Does Wimbledon have an extreme heat policy?”

It was a perfectly innocent question. But if you’ve ever been to Wimbledon, you will understand why it was an amusing one.

Rain delays, rather than heat delays, are a fact of SW19 life. The skies darken, the clouds let rip, the court coverers hurry on, the players grab rackets and bags and hurry off, and the umpire announces that play is suspended. You sit around gloomily clutching cups of tea. Lather, rinse, repeat.

And so, rather than an extreme heat policy, Wimbledon has a wet weather policy, which is largely (boringly but necessarily) about defining when the public are entitled to refunds.

The introduction of the Centre Court roof, when it is closed, when it is opened and why, has been the subject of as much debate as the heat policy here with regards to the logistics of when it is implemented, how it is measured and why. The Centre Court roof protocol is almost as obfuscating and vague as the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature. No governing body or committee or organisation is perfect.

But the reason for all these protocols is because of the need for a delay in play that is based on concerns for safety. The events of Wimbledon 2013 merely confirmed the perils of what can happen on wet grass, as players slipped and slid and injured themselves. Whatever the combination of reasons behind all of that was, it is very much acknowledged that if it’s raining, it is dangerous to play on grass.

2014-01-13 11.47.51-1

So, if it starts to rain, at the discretion of the referee, play is stopped. The same is true at other tournaments. If it is raining, or thundering, or lightning, and the weather is considered dangerous, again, at the discretion of the referee, play is stopped.

Which begs the question, why should heat be any different?

As Andy Murray rightly said, these decisions are not easy to make.

“I think it’s tough.  I think it’s tough for everybody.  It’s tough for the referees, tournament director.  It’s hard for the players.  I mean, the medical staff.  It’s very, very difficult,” Murray said.

“It’s very hard for the fans, the people watching.  I mean, sitting there.  Line judges, umpires.  It’s not a good place to be in because, the heat is bearable just.  It’s weighing out whether or not it’s kind of worth playing like that and it’s worth it for the fans and everyone.”

Whether the heat policy was activated early enough or not, the inconsistency is this. It states that once it has been enacted, at the discretion of the referee, any matches in progress will continue until the end of the set in progress before being suspended or the roof closed.

This might be ok on Rod Laver Arena and Hisense Arena, where at least there is some shade at each end of the court, although the extra 40 minutes that Maria Sharapova and Karin Knapp were subjected to were almost painful to watch. But on the outside courts, it is worse. There is nowhere to hide.

Which comes back to the same argument: if the conditions are dangerous enough for the policy to be put into effect, why not just stop?

The point has been made that players have been through this and far worse in years gone by, so why treat today’s players any differently, why change something that has worked for years?

“We evolved on the high plains of Africa chasing antelope for eight hours under these conditions,” Chief Medical Officer Tim Wood told the BBC.

But, with all due respect to players past (and those who chased antelope for eight hours), that was tennis of a different type. It has been said many times, by pundits, by press that today’s tennis, with technological advancements in rackets, balls, conditioning, is a different, more physical, more demanding beast.

And so, arguably, playing tennis in extreme conditions is more dangerous than it used to be, because the tennis is more extreme too.

“There will be some players who complain and no-one is saying it is terribly comfortable to play out there, but, from a medical perspective, we know that man is well adapted to exercising in the heat. Whether it is humane or not is a whole other issue,” Wood added.

No one thinks playing tennis should be easy. Any player would struggle to tell you the last time they felt ‘comfortable’ – they have niggles, pains, blisters, sores, aches, tweaks, tears… all around the world and back.

So  the sport should be as safe as is manageable. That it should be humane should not even be up for discussion.

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Murray’s Brisbane win sets up a shot at an unprecedented Slam feat

Sunday, January 6th, 2013

By Nick Harris

SJA Internet Sports Writer of the Year

6 January 2013

Andy Murray won his first title of 2013 by retaining the Brisbane International on Sunday but will need to achieve an unprecedented feat in the Open era of tennis if he is to add the Australian Open title this month.

The 25-year-old Scot won his first Grand Slam singles title at the US Open in 2012, having earlier won the Olympic singles title in his finest season to date.

But no male first-time Slam winner in the Open era has ever added a second Slam of their career in the next Slam event.

Murray can make history with a win in Melbourne but his task is put in perspective by the fact nobody has done it in the 44 years of Open tennis since 1968. John Newcombe, just before the Open era, did it at Wimbledon and the US Open in 1967.

(Before that, the last time any man followed up a first Slam win with his second in the next Slam was in 1956 when Lew Hoad won the Australian Open and then the French Open. But that was at a time when all the Australian Open competitors were Australian except four).

Up to and including Murray, there have been 49 different first-time Grand Slam winners in the Open era.

Of the 48 before Murray, 25 of them have gone on to win multiple Slam titles, and 23 have won only one title.

Of those multiple Slam winners, the average wait between the first Slam title and the second has been six Slam events.

Even Roger Federer, winner of 17 Slam titles to date, had to wait for two tournaments between his first Slam win at Wimbledon in 2003 and his second at the Australian Open of 2004.

Pete Sampras, with 14 Slams in his career, had to wait 11 Slams between his first at the US Open of 1990 and his second, at Wimbledon in 1993.

Bjorn Borg waited four tournaments between his first and second Slam, the same as Rafa Nadal. Novak Djokovic waited 12 Slams.

The longest wait for a second Slam was by Marat Safin after his 2000 US Open win; it was 17 Slams later at the 2005 Australian Open that he lifted another.

The first graphic shows all the Open era multi-Slam winners and their waits between their first and second Slams:

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The list of one-Slam wonders in the Open era below contains names as illustrious as Andy Roddick and Goran Ivanisevic, whose near misses both included three Wimbledon runners-up spots as well as their sole Slam titles, respectively at the US Open and Wimbledon.

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Newcombe aside, the small brigade of multiple Slam winners who followed a first Slam win with a second in the next Slam – at any time in the history of four Slams a year since 1905 – achieved that feat between 1925 and 1956.

The first man to do it was Rene Lacoste by winning the French Open then Wimbledon in 1925.

Fred Perry was the next man to do it, winning the US Open in 1933 and then the Australian Open of 1934.

Famously, or infamously, Perry was the last British man before Murray to win a Slam singles title – in 1936.


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Money, FCB, LFC, BRFC, RFC, tax, tennis & more: The most read pieces in 2012

Monday, December 31st, 2012

By Sportingintelligence

31 December 2012

From everyone at Sportingintelligence to every who has taken time to visit the site and read any single piece we’ve produced in 2012, thank you.

Wishing you all a healthy and prosperous, and robustly opinionated new year, here are the stories on this website most read in the past 12 months.


Top 20 stories

1:  REVEALED: The world’s best paid teams, Man City close in on Barca and Real Madrid (1 May 2012)

2:  REVEALED: Barcelona No1 for producing players for clubs in Europe’s elite leagues (13 December 2012)

3:  REVEALED: New leaked Blackburn letter lays bare crisis and torment inside Ewood (8 May 2012)

4: Brendan Rodgers inherits … the most trophy-laden club in English football history (31 May 2012)

5: EXCLUSIVE: Manchester United and Real Madrid top global shirt sale charts (8 October 2012)

6: EXCLUSIVE: Liverpool give blogger written apology for ‘inappropriate’ director behaviour (30 October 2012)

7:  REVEALED: The letter that exposes the history of Blackburn’s crisis (15 January 2012)

8:  Where the money went: Premier League prize and TV payments for 2011-12 (15 May 2012)

9:  EXCLUSIVE: Man City won 2011-12 injury league, Man Utd bottom (28 May 2012)

10: Revealed: Facebook role in Blackburn transfers as fans prepare for government meeting (11 June 2012)

11: REVEALED: the best and worst owners in English football (13 December 2012)

12: Premier League TV rights Q&A, including where the money goes and what next (19 June 2012)

13: Football titles world league: Rangers top, but who is most dominant? (14 February 2012)

14: EXCLUSIVE: Liverpool confirm departure of communications director Jen Chang (16 November 2012)

15: ‘Being: Liverpool’ – an intriguing tale of transatlantic sporting disconnect (11 September 2012)

16: EXCLUSIVE: Djokovic, Nadal, Federer – as close to perfection as tennis has ever been (13 February 2012)

17: RANGERS CRISIS: Mystery deepens over Whyte links to former jailbird associate (15 February 2012)

18: EUROPE’S best young footballers: 50 ‘under-21s’ making waves in ‘big five’ leagues (23 January 2012)

19: REVEALED: the £39.6m in unpaid football taxes (and that’s only part of it) (25 March 2012)

20: REVEALED: The art of winning a major tournament penalty shootout (21 May 2012)


Top 10 columns / analysis

1: The sacking of football managers as an exact science: who got it right and wrong (Tom Markham, 23 April 2012)

2: London 2012: Beware billions bollocks. Ceremony to be huge TV hit, but not that huge (Nick Harris, 26 July 2012)

3: Tell me why … nobody seems to care whether what they read is true? (Ian Herbert, 3 December 2012)

4:  ‘The only people who propose a sensible, long-term vision for Portsmouth football club are its supporters, local business and the local authority’ (Micah Hall, 26 August 2012)

5:  In memory of Khalil Dale: my gentle, compassionate, tolerant friend. RIP. (NH. 29 April 2012)

6:  Lionel Messi’s 234 goals for Barcelona: a complete statistical analysis (NH. 21 March 2012)

7:  Tennis players underpaid? Why Djokovic beats Barca and Kvitova is Manchester United (NH. 9 January 2012)

8: Tell me why … I won’t get any substantive answers to these 13 questions for 2013 (Ian Herbert. 31 December 2012)

9:  ‘She makes £2 a day from begging. She is a Paralympian and embodies why the Paralympics matter’ (NH. 9 September 2012)

10: You want clinical? Buy Berbatov, Fletch or Odemwingie (and NOT Chamakh) (Dan Kennett. 5 January 2012)


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Laura Robson: an 18-year-old who loves cheesy music, teenage TV – and winning

Saturday, September 1st, 2012


ALEXANDRA WILLIS is a multimedia tennis journalist who flits between WimbledonSportingIntelligence, the TennisSpace and a few other outlets, while tweeting copiously and trying to improve her (terrible) backhand in her spare time. 




By Alexandra Willis

31 August 2012

With two Grand Slam champions on her tennis conquests sheet, a first Grand Slam fourth round, a first top 10 win, and a game so natural you couldn’t teach it, it’s all too easy to forget that Laura Robson is just an 18-year-old.

But, as she dissolved into giggles at a One Direction reference during her post-match press conference, having shown no hesitation in lambasting Wayne Rooney for calling her Robinson instead of Robson, we were reminded that behind the tennis, she is just a teenager.

She said it herself.

“I’m only 18, so if I was that negative, last year or a year ago, then who knows what I’m going to be like in a few years,” remarking on the struggles she’s had with injuries, finding herself on crutches for a stress fracture barely 9 months ago, dealt abdominal strains, thigh strains, tonsillitis, and even, this very tournament, an infected toe.

All of which makes her passage to the fourth round of this US Open, the first British woman to do so since Jo Durie in 1991, all the more exciting, both for British tennis and for women’s tennis. Because there is inevitably so much more to come.

“ I’ve always thought that I can play with the top girls,” Robson said, while reminding us all she is still ‘the baby’ of the locker room. “Whenever I’ve practiced with Caroline or Maria, I’ve always felt that level was there. It was just taking that onto thte match court and keeping the level up for the whole match. That’s the biggest difference.”

Robson has always had a ready wit and easy charm, ever since she wowed a room full of often cantankerous journalists at the age of 14. Questioned whom she would ask to the Champions’ Dinner, were she to win the title, she said, without trace of a pause, ‘Marat Safin.’  But the Russian was to deny her. “He sent me a letter,” she said. “I’ve memorized it. It says, ‘Sorry I can’t come to the ball, but good luck for your final tomorrow.’ A bit disappointing actually.”

A master of the self-deprecating put-down, Robson has kept her feet on the ground in her four years on the tour to date, preferring to quip rather than get drawn into the whole ‘big picture’ of it all.

During her senior Wimbledon debut in 2009, for example, when she led Daniela Hantuchova by a set on the new No.2 Court, only to lose, Robson was asked what she was thinking about as she prepared. The 15-year-old replied, “Nothing really. I was kind of thinking about what the towels were going to look like this year. They’re really nice (laughter).”

Remarking she spent much of today’s match trying not to wave at comedian James Corden in the crowd, it’s no wonder she has developed such a following on twitter, out-ranking the likes of world No.1 Victoria Azarenka, Andy Roddick, even though you’re likely to find more tweets about the Masters, the Olympics and her taste in music than insights into the tennis tour. Which, quite frankly, makes a change.

““I honestly don’t understand why,” she told the New York Times yesterday. “I guess people just love Twitter in England.”

Another typical Robson moment, which had even Judy Murray splitting her sides, came at GB’s Fed Cup zonal tie in Eilat, Israel earlier this year. As the rookie member of the team, it fell to Robson, who had also brought the board game ‘Pass the Bomb’, with her to Israel, to give a speech to the rest of the teams. Rather than wax lyrical about this and that, she took the entire room aback by rapping Sir Mix-A-Lot’s ‘Baby Got Back’, better known for its opening line, ‘I Like Big Butts And I Cannot Lie.’ When the British team completed their win over Israel, she performed it again, by popular request, on Israeli TV.

When not playing tennis, which according to her twitter profile is something she does ‘occasionally,’ Robson likes to walk her dogs, cook, watch TV (the ilk of Gossip Girl and Vampire Diaries), and listen to music. Just like many other 18-year-olds.

“I don’t know any 18-year-olds that don’t listen to cheesy music from time to time. I can’t help myself, I love it,” she revealed to the NYT, having tweeted her excitement at the presence of Carly Rae Jepsen of ‘Call Me Maybe’ fame at Arthur Ashe Kids’ Day, and later confessing to the world’s press that she sang along to Taylor Swift on a changeover during her match with Clijsters on Arthur Ashe.

“Can anyone not sing along to Taylor Swift,” she joked this afternoon.

But if it seems like it is all one big party for the British youngster, let that not fool you. Beneath all the banter, humour and down-to-earthness, there is a gritty, steely determination, but also a wisdom that most 30-year-olds would crave, let alone an 18-year-old .

“I don’t see how I can not be relaxed when you’re playing someone as good as Li Na or Kim, you have to go out there with nothing to lose, and that’s what I did,” she said, when asked how she was able to keep so calm in the face of two such career-changing moments.

It’s rather like her fellow Olympic medallist, Andy Murray, in fact, who is well known to like a joke or few, and yet is certainly a 25-year-old going on 40, in some senses.

Reminding the world No.4 that he owes her diamonds. Fluffing a mini Union Jack in the face of the gold medal champion. Getting him to sniff at the presentation flowers suspiciously. Or producing a world-class eyebrow raise at Gabby Logan’s dancing, to name but a few.  And yet an Olympic medallist and set to be ranked in the world’s top 75 at the end of this tournament at the age of 18. It’s all part of what makes Laura Robson Laura Robson.

And, hopefully, it’s only the beginning.


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No American players ranked in the top 10 for the first time in tennis history

Thursday, May 5th, 2011

By Alexandra Willis

5 May 2011

Come next Monday, with just two weeks to go to the French Open at Roland Garros, and six weeks to The Championships at Wimbledon, there will be no American players ranked inside tennis’s top 10 rankings for the first time in the history of the sport. Serena Williams, the multi-Grand Slam champion, is currently the United States’ lone representative in the sport’s elite, but, having sat on the sidelines since July after severely injuring her foot, next week will see the younger Williams slide off the WTA computer’s top 10 players.

On the men’s side of things, Mardy Fish and Andy Roddick (the last American male to win a Grand Slam when he won the US Open in 2003), are sitting just outside the top 10, but still represent a decline in the longevity of what was once one of the sport’s most powerful nations.

Andy Roddick at the Australian Open 2011

A report by Bloomberg suggests that with so many other sports on offer to the modern child,  the United States Tennis Association are struggling to get talented youngsters to play tennis rather than soccer, basketball and many more. “Our best athletes aren’t playing tennis,” Max Eisenbud, Maria Sharapova’s agent, told Bloomberg. “There are so many different opportunities. When you are an American kid, you can play sports, you can become a singer, you can become an actor, or dancer, or go to school and become a doctor. If you are a great athlete, you can be in the WNBA, women’s soccer.”

By contrast, it is argued that the constantly increasing flow of tennis players from nations such as Russia, Serbia, Poland, the Czech Republic, is often down to fledgling stars being presented with tennis as a fait accompli, their only opportunity to excel in sport.

The flipside of the argument is that whereas once the likes of Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi, and Billie Jean King, Chris Evert and Lindsay Davenport effectively ‘cleaned up’ at the major tennis tournaments, tennis has since become a far more international game, and thus more popular as a result. There have been 30 different nations represented in the WTA’s top 60, while the sport is developing at a rate of knots in countries hitherto not known for their tennis background. Denmark for example, or Latvia.

“The WTA has a fantastic mix of established champions and rising stars in the game today, many of whom are very popular in the U.S. and transcend geographic boundaries,” Stacey Allaster, chairman and chief executive officer of the WTA Tour, told Bloomberg sports reporter Danielle Rossingh.

With young Americans such as Ryan Harrison and Christina McHale touted as future prospects, whether American tennis’s current dip in fortunes is merely a blip, a gap in the talent pool, or whether it is symptomatic of a deeper problem among the wealthier nations in the sport (Britain and Australia have experienced similar declines), remains to be seen.

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Murray calls for a venue that will breathe new life into Davis Cup in Britain

Saturday, March 12th, 2011

By Alexandra Willis

in Indian Wells

12 March 2011

Andy Murray has called for Britain’s forthcoming Davis Cup tie against Luxembourg to be housed at a venue that “sells out in minutes” and show off the true atmosphere and excitement of the famous team competition.

The British No.1, who gave the clearest indication yet that he intends to play in the Europe/Africa Zone Group II tie in July, explained that the venue does not need to be the biggest, or the best, but should be the one with the best chance of bringing a sell-out, enthusiastic tennis crowd.

The Murray brothers competing at Indian Wells

Tennis is a huge sport in the UK and the fact that we have Davis Cup matches and they’re not sold out within days is not right,” Murray said ahead of his first match at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells. “So I think they should pick a smaller venue that gets sold out quickly, that creates some interest in the area – I think that makes a lot more sense than putting it in a huge venue where they might not sell the tickets out and the demand isn’t going to be as high.”

Murray has not competed in a Davis Cup tie for Great Britain since playing all three matches in Britain’s dispiriting defeat to Poland in Liverpool in September 2009, and, with the 2012 Olympics drawing ever nearer, needs to make himself available for Davis Cup during the course of this year. It stands to reason therefore that his opinion will hold some sway with captain Leon Smith.

One venue mooted to be in consideration is Stirling University, who have submitted an application to the LTA ahead of the decision on Monday. A stone’s throw from where the Murray brothers grew up, Stirling is also familiar territory for Davis Cup regular Colin Fleming, who took a break from the tour to spend four years studying a degree in Economics and Finance.

Me, Jamie and Colin grew up playing there for many years,” said Murray, “and, yeah, it is obviously close to home for me. It’s 10 minutes from where I grew up playing and that’s obviously an option.”

Stirling’s Gannochy National Tennis Centre, which boasts six indoor acrylic and two outdoor acrylic courts,  may not have the expanse of somewhere like Nottingham, or the pomp and circumstance of Eastbourne, but, Murray believes that a Davis Cup venue, which only requires one match court and one practice court, should not be decided solely based on facilities.

I think that’s also a reason why it wouldn’t be a bad idea because it kind of shows that it’s not about the facilities,” he said. “They’ve got a good gym there, the courts aren’t great but that’s where all of us came through playing. I think it would be good.”

And, there is no doubt that a Stirling-based tie would certainly prove popular with Scotland’s ardent tennis fans, and provide a strong contrast to the recent ties in Bolton and Eastbourne, which were never full to capacity.

I don’t know how many people they could fit but I’m sure the people who would come to watch would be pumped for it,” he said. “They’d get behind the team and I think that’s what Davis Cup’s about: it’s picking the right venue, it’s not picking the biggest venue or the most convenient venue – it’s about picking the right venue that’s going to get the best crowd and that’s what they need to decide.”

The LTA are due to announce the venue for the July tie on Monday.

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Karlovic shatters fastest serve record on Davis Cup duty

Sunday, March 6th, 2011

By Alexandra Willis

6 March 2011

Ivo Karlovic, the long-limbed Croatian known for being the tallest player on the men’s tennis tour, has set a new record for the fastest serve delivery in official competition. Karlovic, competing for Croatia in the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas in Zagreb, delivered a serve of 156 mph (251kph) during Croatia’s doubles rubber against Germany in the Croatian capital.

It is the fastest delivery on the men’s tour since Andy Roddick hit a serve of 155mph (249.4kph) against Vladimir Volchkov in 2004, also while competing in Davis Cup.

The Croat, whose height of 6ft 10ins enables him to serve at a unique trajectory, has achieved several other accolades in the serving department. In 2007, he finished the year with an astonishing 1,318 aces, the most in a season since compatriot Goran Ivanisevic served 1,477 in 1996. Thought to be the shy, retiring type, he has also recently become a twitter sensation, entertaining fans with his surprisingly witty posts.

Karlovic’s achievement was officially confirmed as a new world record by the International Tennis Federation today.

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Bookies facing big payouts as Murray reaches third Slam final

Friday, January 28th, 2011

By Alexandra Willis

28 January 2011

Bookmakers are unashamedly backing Novak Djokovic against Andy Murray in the Australian Open final on Sunday, as they face a record payout if the British No.1 achieves a first Grand Slam win.

Labrokes were offering 8/1 on a Murray victory in the build-up to the tournament, as the Scot aims to end Britain’s drought for a male Grand Slam tennis champion. But with Djokovic now a 4/6 favourite, bookmakers’ odds have shortened to 11/10 for  Murray triumph.

“Murray is nearly always a shocking result for the bookies,” commented Ladbrokes David Williams. “He now has a following to rival Henman in his heyday and we’ll make no apologies for cheering on Djokovic.”

Murray will face childhood friend and longtime rival Djokovic for their first meeting at a Grand Slam, after coming through against David Ferrer in four ferocious sets. The Serb demolished defending champion Roger Federer in straight sets the day before, and the pair are looking forward to contesting a thrilling final.

Djokovic leads the head to head 4-3, but Murray has won the last three encounters.

“I expect a very tough match,” said Murray. “I’m not expecting him, just because he’s lost the last couple of times, to hand the match to me. I’m going to have to work incredibly hard.”

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ALEX WILLIS: ‘The approaching Australian Open means that every competitive rally played is vital preparation, and at the Hopman Cup, players are guaranteed a minimum of six matches. You don’t get that anywhere else’

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

ALEXANDRA WILLIS is the former Deputy Editor of ACE Tennis Magazine, and alongside mag work and an affair with social media, has the honour of sitting in on a few tennis tournaments from time to time as part of her professional duties. If you happen to bump into her court-side, she’ll probably tell you that she went to Oxford (and not just shopping).

By Alexandra Willis in Perth

4 January 2011

Tennis tournaments are funny things. There is at least one going on almost every week of the year, in all sorts of far-flung locations, backwaters, and byeways around the world, and, every single one is different. Take the four Grand Slams – the lazy ease and contentment of the Australian Open, the rowdy rambunctiousness of the French Open, the pomp and circumstance of Wimbledon, and the bright lights and big city of the US Open.

Besides the big four, how players pick and choose which events they are going to play throughout the year depends on quite a lot of things. Some, like Indian Wells and Miami, which are ATP Masters 1000 Series or WTA Premier tournaments, are compulsory. Some, like Dubai, offer top dollar. Some offer top points. Some, like Roger Federer and Basle, are about loyalty. And some are just nice places to play tennis. The Hopman Cup seems to be the latter.

Perth's Burswood Dome, home to the Hopman Cup

A boulder’s throw from the Swan River estuary, the much-beloved mixed teams event takes place in the Burswood Dome, Perth’s answer to London’s O2 Arena. 7,000-odd spectators surround the Centre Court, wafting their fans in one giant coordinated action. Because it is hot, and not just hot, humid too. Why else would Mr Fitness Andy Murray be reduced to the status of a 70-year-old climbing Mt Everest, gasping for breath after every torturous point.

That may sound as much fun as playing tennis in the Sahara desert. But there’s a smart side to it too. Perth is a good 10 or so degrees C hotter than Melbourne, and these two weeks are all about preparation for one of the most important events of the year. It’s just like marathon runners going off to train in the Kenyan highlands. So that is plus point No.1.

Plus point 1.5 is the fact that the players can jump in an air-conditioned car and head down the road to the State Tennis Centre on their off-days, a facility that would be the envy of any tennis club in the UK, and home to Western Australia’s tennis authority, Tennis West. Murray and Novak Djokovic, who were joking around together over breakfast this morning, spent two hours under Perth’s steaming hot sun today, slicing, dicing, crushing, and crunching the ball all over the court. The duo, often compared because of their similar age and stage, have been spending more and more time together of late, something that cannot fail to help Murray prepare for Melbourne. Lest we forget, the last time Djokovic played this event was in 2007. Three weeks later, he was a Grand Slam champion.

Perth’s second fishing hook is the atmosphere. As is typical of Western Australia, where the local motto is ‘Wait A While,’ nothing at the Hopman Cup is stressful, or uptight, or pressured. Under the supervision of Tournament Director and former Aussie great Paul McNamee, the players may have to compete in two matches every other day, but it is at a gentle round robin amble rather than a knock-out rush.

This is not to say that the players don’t care about these matches, even though they do not earn them any points on the ATP or WTA computers. The tournament’s proximity to the Australian Open means that every competitive rally played is vital preparation, and at the Hopman Cup, players are guaranteed a minimum of six matches. You don’t get that anywhere else. Even the mixed doubles, which purists tend not to count as a proper part of this sport, has a point and a purpose.

Andy Murray talks to Novak Djokovic during practice

“In men’s doubles, most of the guys normally serve and volley on both serves, so you are not always trying to take volleys and stuff,” explained Murray. “Whereas tactically it’s a bit different in the mixed because you have to try and help out a bit at the net, you do quite a lot of crossing, it’s good for your timing of movement around the net, like helps out your split-step and also, it’s really for your movement around the net. It’s important to try to get free points on serve but also hit a high percentage because second serves, they can return at the woman so it helped quite a few things, and I enjoyed it.” So that’s three.

Four, and this is an attraction not to be sniffed at, the players get to play for their country. That may be run of the mill for Steven Gerrard and co, but it’s a pretty rare event in tennis. Even rarer is the sight of a tennis player singing a national anthem. Laura Robson sang every word.

Ana Ivanovic and Novak Djokovic in particular have been the life and the soul of the Perth party so far. Djokovic arrived in Perth in fine spirits on the back of winning the Davis Cup (or shaving his head), dancing with 90-year-old Mrs Hopman in her wheelchair at the pre-event ball, and buying an $8,000 guitar signed by Queen to give to his Dad.

“That was the best I’ve ever played doubles in my life!,” beamed Ana Ivanovic after she and Djokovic giggled and grinned their way to victory against Kazakhstan. “We had really good tactics. We walked on to the court and Novak said ‘Ok, choose which side you want’.”

It is such good humour and attitude that typifies this week in Perth. From Robson suggesting teasingly that Murray blanks her for the rest of the year (which he doesn’t, by the way) to Djokovic imitating Ivanovic’s extraordinary fist and leg pump combinations, the players’ personalities are the Hopman Cup’s oxygen. And David Hasselhoff is in the crowd. Plus point five.

Djokovic even shed some new light on his and Ivanovic’s childhood pastimes. “Basically we started playing tennis together – we also played with Barbie and Ken as well. So we have been through a lot, you can say.”

Note that one down. Novak Djokovic, the third best male tennis player in the world, used to play with Barbie dolls. Talk of the tournament.

One final thing about Perth. There couldn’t be a more enjoyable time to have an English accent. All you have to do is mention cricket and no one says another word.

Photos by Alexandra Willis

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ALEX WILLIS: ‘Whenever I watch great people playing great tennis, I have this sudden urge to rush out onto the nearest court, brandishing my not-used-enough racket, and serve like Serena, hit forehands like Rafa, or backhands like Federer’

Saturday, November 27th, 2010

ALEXANDRA WILLIS is the former Deputy Editor of ACE Tennis Magazine, and alongside mag work and an affair with social media, has had the dubious honour of sitting in on a few tennis tournaments from time to time as part of her professional duties. If you happen to bump into her court-side, she’ll probably tell you that she went to Oxford (and not just shopping).




By Alexandra Willis at the O2 Arena

23 November 2010

It may sound like barking up the obvious tree, but a tournament like the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals requires rather a lot of different bits coming together seamlessly in the right place at the right time. It’s a bit like making a giant cake. First you need the flour, sugar, eggs and butter – so that’ll be the players, venue, staff and spectators – whip it all up over a few weeks, bake it overnight, and hey presto, a super-sized tennis tournament that Maison Blanc would be proud of.

But there’s also the icing. The tiny little bits of added sugar and cream that make an event more than a few guys battering a ball about. The clouds of dry ice, the tv-style spotlights, the heart beats on crucial points, the music, the rock-star style introductions, the shops, the food…even the do-it-yourself paint splattering…all of these odds and sods mean that this is not just a tennis event, it’s a hula-hooping extravaganza.

One of the added extras is the shiny new Fan Zone, free to any visitor to the O2 this week, and complete with a smorgasbord of pointless and not-so pointless interactive devices. You can have your photo taken with the very same trophy that will be presented to the singles and doubles champions at the end of this week. My lifetime ambition. You can watch the world’s best singles and doubles players knock up on two superbly thought-out practice courts. You can pad around in sand with a Corona and lime, watched by a guy in overalls sitting in a lifeguard’s chair at the Corona Beach Bar. I’ll let you be the judge of which one you’d choose.

The Highland Spring Hot Shots Tour area at the O2

But there’s also the Highland Spring Hot Shots Tour area. Despite what you may think from Corona’s offering, this does not involve swigging shot glasses of hot water next to a backdrop of the Scottish Highlands. No. It serves a far more important purpose. I don’t know about you, but whenever I watch great people playing great tennis, I have this sudden urge to rush out onto the nearest court as soon as possible, brandishing my not-used-enough racket, and serve like Serena, hit forehands like Rafa, or backhands like Federer. Needless to say I soon remember that I can’t do any of that. But I do enjoy it.

So, what better way to take advantage of youngsters and oldsters being caught up in the tennis moment than to get them to actually play? And on the Highland Spring Hot Shots Tour, you don’t just hit the ball back and forth. You can whack targets, you can bosh serves, you can even, if you’re lucky, meet a real live tennis player. Of course, one child spending a few minutes hitting a sponge ball with Jamie Murray doesn’t mean they’re suddenly going to be hooked on tennis for life. But it’s a start. And when that one child becomes 500 a day, (not to mention the 300 adults), it’s suddenly far more than just a fad for fans.

Jamie Murray having a hit with some youngsters

“The Highland Spring Hot Shots Tour roadshow goes out to over 60 events around the country during the tennis season, so it’s great for us to help get tennis out on the road,” explains Leah Holmes, Sponsorship Executive at Highland Spring. “The interaction for the kids is fantastic – to have a game of tennis with Judy or Jamie Murray, that makes a lot of peoples’ days, and lets them take away a very special experience after their visit here.”

Managed by Phil Leighton and his Wirral-based Cross Sports team on behalf of Highland Spring and the LTA, the roadshows give many a young gun their first taste of tennis at Davis Cup ties, the summer events before Wimbledon, at The Championships itself, and of course, here at the ATP’s season-ending event. It’s amazing what happens to a group of 10-year-old boys when you tell them to try and serve the ball harder than each other.

This is not to say that we should have pop-up inflatable tennis courts on every street corner. They’d probably get run over by the Boris bikers. But getting fans, especially the young ones, to pick up a racket on the day they’ve seen Federer hit a hot dog can only be a good thing.


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