ATP World Tour Finals

Nov 28, 2009

Walking up to the O2 arena from the North Greenwich underground stop on Wednesday 25th November, alongside a thousand or so other fans with tickets clutched in hand, I started to get an idea of what exactly the Barclays ATP World Tour Final has done for London. Here – in a stadium that was belittled and despised as a pathetic eyesore not long ago -  tennis was coming to London in a way it never had before. It was the antithesis of the traditional strawberries-and-cream, soggy weather and knitted cardigans Wimbledon.

On the walk up to the front doors, a covered walkway is passed with ten feet high posters of all the stars appearing in the tournament. The inside is a wonderful mix of consumer sponsorship and a new, exciting world where tennis is fun and plays to an audience of 17,000. Suddenly, tennis in England is cool.

More than anything, it was nice to see that the O2 had taken the event seriously. From the atrium ceiling hangs a massive poster of the eight contenders, looking down on the fans pouring in through the front doors and hurriedly running around Entertainment Event to find lunch, programmes, the practice court, merchandise, anything.

Speaking of the practice court – a place that I will forever remember as giving me an opportunity to be closer to Novak Djokovic than I had ever dreamed possible – the organisers of the tournament had set up an enclosed but fully visible practice court. Under the glare of halogen lights beaming right down onto the hard court, I was lucky enough to see the Djoker himself come out to practice. He was surprisingly good at ignoring the crowd of gawking fans and seemed to not be perturbed by them all watching as his coach stretched and pulled at him as though he was made of putty. Not only that, but fans were privy to some joshing and joking between player and his coaching team, a couple of impressions of Hawkeye, and a game of tennis-football. Graciously ignoring the cameras of sponsors on the other side of the court pushing their camera phones up his nose to try to get a picture, he waved to the crowd who had been watching him go through his final preparations and headed back to his locker room. 

Unfortunately, as anyone who saw or read about the match against Soderling will know, the Serb didn’t seem best prepared for what the Swede had to throw at him. Robin Soderling pulled another Soderling out of the bag to beat the world no. 3 in straight sets. After winning the tie-break for the first set, the outcome felt inevitable. As much as Djokovic tried to regain some winning rhythm, he looked out of sync with himself and frustrated at his inability to turn up the pace. He looked pleadingly at his coaches as he found himself broken twice in the second set, and despite some flares of brilliance he just couldn’t hold back Soderling’s powerful and agile tirade.

As I write this, the tournament stands on the brink of its first semi-finals clash. This, however, comes after a rather embarrassing moment for the ATP World tour organisers. So far I have been glowing with praise about the organisation of the tournament, the focus on the enjoyment of the fans and the idea of bringing tennis in England into the modern world. But when it comes to the nuts and bolt of actually putting together the scores to see who reaches the semi-finals and who doesn’t, the organisers ended up making the whole thing a farce.

On Thursday night, unable to find out what was going on, poor Juan Martin del Potro was left to wrap himself up in a cloak of misery in his courtside chair before he found whether he was through or not. Even though he had replayed his US Open victory by beating Roger Federer in this last of his group stage matches, he had no idea as to whether he had done enough to make it through. It seemed an age as the Argentine hung around on the court, waiting to see if he had made it through to the semis. It was obvious that he had got himself in the mindset that he wasn’t through, shoulders slumped and face glum. It took his friend and footballer Carlos Tevez to come have a knock up on court to lift him out of his waiting blues. Poor Andy Murray was on Twitter, asking anybody who followed him whether they had any clue he was through or not, just as clueless as the rest of them.

Eventually the announcement came over to the fans and players alike that del Potro had won one more game than Murray accumulatively over the group stages, and he was therefore through with Roger Federer.

What an undignified way for Andy Murray to go, and what an agonizing way for Juan Martin to get through. How could the organisers not have seen some difficulty in the tallies coming and accommodated for it?

Well, I suppose no harm was done. At least there was no miscalculation, even if their speed at it was left to be desired.

And as for the potential outcome of the tournament? I have to say I am pretty clueless. Could it be del Potro? The lanky Argentine has shown he is perfectly capable of taking out the world no. 1 in high-stakes matches, both at the US Open and on Thursday night in the last of his group matches. Then again, we can only imagine how much Roger Federer wants to end his golden year of a high. Robin Soderling will have things to prove to ensure he is not forever seen as just a one-hit wonder who occasionally ruffles some feathers in the highest ranking players.

The semis will make everything clearer. But even then, in a tournament like the ATP World Tour Finals, where every player is world class and every point counts, things are never quite as clear as they may seem.

 

-     SophieG

Written by: SophieG

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