In a grand opening ceremony Roger Federer strode onto the court with fans cheering and a disembodied voice booming his vital statistics from some unknown place in the stadium.
But this wasn’t Wimbledon and it wasn’t Centre Court that Federer was stepping out on.
…a surge in popularity…
It was the ATP World Finals which have felt a surge in popularity over recent years even if, you presume, it has not reach the levels that major grand slam tournaments are welcomed with year-in, year-out.
Despite that, the ATP World Finals have developed a following in London where the tournament has been held since 2009 (moving from Shanghai) with organisers hoping to extend the contract beyond its scheduled end-date of 2013. Despite not garnering the meteoric levels of interest that greets Wimbledon in July, with a tournament that keeps moving from city to city, it’s bound not to have the same level of prestige or tradition that history has granted on other tournaments. But it certainly rivals a few of them.
…marks the end…
A mainstay in the tennis calendar since 1970 the very nature of the tournament, effectively a shoot-out between the world’s best over seven days, is a unique set-up. It’s the best vs. the best (in singles and doubles) and injuries permitting, each match could be an epic encounter. It also marks the end of the season, furthering its status as a must-see fixture. It also doesn’t hurt that we’re seeing a level of tennis skill that’s hitherto unprecedented in the annals of tennis history with players at the top of their game (Federer, Djokovic, Nadal, Murray) and another group giving them a run for their money (Fish, Tsonga, Tipsarevic and Berdych) who, on their day, can surprise the odds with a win.
The amount of publicity in the English press, the constant advertising and the tournament’s accessibility (it can be viewed on Sky Sports and the BBC online) only add to the need to see it.
…reducing the star wattage…
But, and it’s a significant but, due to tax policies in the UK, players may opt for it to be moved to avoid paying the exorbitant taxes, reducing the star wattage around the tournament. So for a competition that’s certainly on the rise, there’s the possibility that the momentum it’s created could be ruptured by tax policies.
So while it may never rival Wimbledon or the US Open it has the chance to cement its own legacy in London. It showcases the best of what tennis offers for a viewing public who don’t get to see these players live very often and with full crowds, great matches and players who love playing in the fantastic O2 Arena, it’s explicit that fans care for it. It’s when it runs into complications in the future that it could find itself in another period of transition when it should be knuckling down.
Image courtesy of ATP