Well, the Barclay’s ATP World Tour Finals got underway in London. And what a spectacle!
This is an event in the truest sense of the word. London’s architecturally stunning O2 arena has been transformed into a gladiatorial tennis arena—a setting to inspire, or perhaps intimidate, the world’s best tennis stars. The spotlight is on the players, a one-on-one, week-long fight for the title—let’s hope they shine the entire week.
The view from the bleachers is just as spectacular as the court itself. Each of the 17,000 seats have a brilliant view of the court, in an atmospheric, theatre-like environment. The cheers and electricity emanating from the many thousands of fans to the players on court is addictive. Tennis in Great Britain is alive and well.
What a first day it was. The event kicked off in style with practically a full house observing the first match between No. 1 in doubles, Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic, and No. 8 seeds Mariusz Fyrstenberg and Marcin Matkowski. To spice up the proceedings, an upset was duly served, with the eighth-ranked Poles beating the seasoned veterans.
The atmosphere only grew when No. 1 Brit in singles, Andy Murray, took to the stage against 2009 U.S. Open champion Juan Martin Del Potro. Predictions expected the match would be tight—the world Nos. 4 and 5, a Slam Champion and potential future Slam Champion, battling on their favourite surface.
For the passionate home crowd, Murray did not disappoint. The match, full of blinding rallies, fast serves and awe-inspiring talent, culminated in a Murray victory that sent the crowd into a frenzy.
The conclusion of the day session gave the many fans a chance to relax, recharge and get ready for an eventful evening. The alleyways around the arena became full of chatter and excitement, the electricity overflowing from the tennis court.
There are plenty of food and drinks outlets to satisfy every taste. But beware of the horrendous queues.
Being such an open, important and publicity-packed event, people-spotting is a great activity to make the time fly by. From ex-players, to umpires, to commentators, to journalists, all variety of tennis enthusiasts mingle with the crowds. It’s a true tennis fan heaven under one roof.
More capacity-crowd doubles commenced during the evening session. This time, it was an expected win from No. 3 seeds Mark Knowles and Mahesh Bhupathi.
At 8:45 p.m., however, the “real” match started—Roger Federer against Fernando Verdasco.
The tension mounted until the two greats made their way to the court—a tension that was so greatly exacerbated by dramatic music, emotive video montages and player interviews being broadcast on the big screens.
This event certainly is epic in all its elements.
When Federer arrived, the applause was thunderous, the atmosphere intense. We all knew we were in for a good show.
The Spaniard started on a blinder, pummeling every shot and serve. Federer seemed unnerved at times, yet remained calm, knowing that his chance would come. And it did.
While Verdasco continued his successful shot-making, with a little encouragement from the audience Roger found his groove and started to retaliate. Cross-court forehands, volleys and drop shots all found their mark and soon, Roger was well in control in the third set.
Not even a few scoreboard glitches—Federer became Spanish for three minutes and the big screen went partially black for a significant part of the third set—could dampen the fresh, exciting mood of the first evening singles match to be held in London.
At 11:05 p.m., a thoroughly energised, but hoarse, collection of tennis fans emerged from the O2 arena fully satisfied—the home favourite was triumphant, as was the sentimental favourite. But given the success and enjoyment of the day, the thousands of people swarming about the arena appeared to be craving another dose of high-quality, high-drama tennis on the best, brightest stage.
ATP, we salute you. After an only semi-successful Shanghai venture, we worried if the over-commercialised, over-publicised and over-sponsored season-ending finale in London would be a media and fan nightmare.
But all fears were in vain. You chose the city, you chose the venue and we cannot thank you enough.
Let the Battles Commence.
(Published on Bleacher Report; November 24th, 2009)