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TENNIS – As the dried ice, bright lights and thumping music fade following the conclusion of this year’s Barclays ATP World Tour Finals at the O2, there are a couple of questions which currently remain unanswered. By Harry Wancke for Tennis Today

 

As the dried ice, bright lights and thumping music fade following the conclusion of this year’s Barclays ATP World Tour Finals at the O2, there are a couple of questions which currently remain unanswered.

One – will the event stay at the O2? and two – will the man who created it be moving on?

In its fifth of a seven year agreement between the ATP Tour and the O2 Arena, the championships, involving the best eight singles and eight best doubles pairs in the world, attracted another record crowd of 260,000 which adds up to an attendance total of over 1.25 million spectators in the years the Tour Finals have been staged in London.

From a commercial point of view, it has been a financial success and it would seem crazy to move it to any other country or venue.

However, some players are keen to see that happen, like Novak Djokovic, who successfully defended his title at this year’s event.

“The tournament is of the eight best players in the world. It is the tournament which is not fixed for one city or one country, it is in ATP’s hands to think about this,” he stated at the start of the event following Rafael Nadal’s comment that the surface should be varied from year to year so that clay court exponents stood a chance of overall victory.

Nadal, of course is ‘The King of Clay’, who has never won the event and this year’s final showed that he has some way to go to match his Serbian rival indoors.

Dokovic also points out that to continue to popularise the sport, the shop window should play its part – as it used to in its early days – by staging it in other cities for not more than three years in each venue.

“I know various players share the same opinion, because of the promotion of tennis,” he said, adding that the ATP should be looking into that.

The O2 agreement comes to an end after the 2015 championships and cities will no doubt be bidding for it over the coming months but there cannot be a better argument for it stay in London than the fact Britain’s capital is now synonymously associated with the Tour finals.

In addition, as mentioned, it has more than proven itself a commercial success.

And the man behind that success? Chris Kermode, who could well become the new president and executive chairman of the ATP Tour and if that does come about – an announcement is expected within the next week or so – he would be the first Briton to fill that post, previously occupied since 1990 by Mark Miles, Etienne de Villiers, Adam Helfant and Brad Drewett.

The vacancy became available when Brad Drewett died last May following an unsuccessful fight against cancer. A popular man, the ATP World Tour Trophy has been renamed the Brad Drewett trophy and, as many will have noticed, all the umpires and lines-people at this year’s event displayed, in memory of the man, a bold BD badge on their uniforms.

Kermode would be a more than a suitable replacement for apart from The Championships, Wimbledon, he runs the two biggest tennis events in Britain, the Tour Finals at the O2 and the Aegon Championships at Queen’s Club. Both vastly different affairs.

The former could be described as a ‘tennis festival’ while the latter is more of a garden party seeped in history and consequently appealing to the ‘traditional’ tennis follower.

Should the popular 48 year-old Kermode be chosen from the four-man shortlist currently being considered, it could prove an embarrassment to the Lawn Tennis Association, who allegedly, didn’t even consider him for the post of chief executive, a position which was subsequently filled by Tennis Canada’s Michael Downey.

Kermode came into tennis from the music world so one can understand the razzmatazz of the O2 and believes he learnt some valuable lessons in those early days, lessons he has been able to apply to his current role and turn the 18,000 seat O2 into ‘the biggest indoor tennis event in the world ever’.

Kermode, who competed at Challenger level, said: “The thing I find interesting is that I run two events in the same city but acknowledge they are very different venues. And how they are put on is very different. It’s what is applicable to the stage you’re on.

“With the finals I thought the 02 was primarily a music venue so let’s bring the elements of that show to tennis. Light and stage the arena in a different way. The lights on the stage – the court – and the audience in darkness.

“I fought for two sessions a day rather than one. It’s worked well. Two lots of 18,000 at £20 a ticket and half price for under-16s. Creates a huge opportunity to engage with an audience who would not normally go to a tennis event.

“It’s very easy to think ‘well that works at the 02, let’s try it at Queen’s, the music, lights etcetera’. It wouldn’t.”

He explained: “Queen’s was already an incredibly successful tournament and it was ‘how could I tweak it’. You’d be a fool to mess with the core element.

“With the 02 event I could make my mark. I was handed a blank piece of paper to set it up.Just a bit of responsibility? Yeh. A fantastic challenge and I’m so proud of how it has developed.”

One can only hope that if he does get the job he will vote to keep the ATP World Tour Finals at the O2 in London. That would certainly be the right answer.

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Unseeded Ugo Humbert Becomes First Player In Over A Decade To Win Halle On Debut

The 22-year-old fired nine aces and 29 winners to claim his first ATP 500 title.

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image via https://twitter.com/ATPHalle

France’s Ugo Humbert has clinched his maiden ATP title on the grass after defeating Andrey Rublev in straight sets at the Noventi Open in Halle.

 

Humbert remained unbroken throughout his 6-3, 7-6(4), win over the Russian fourth seed who has won more matches on the ATP Tour than any other player since the start of 2020 (74). The Frenchman was particularly impressive behind serve where he won 83% of his first service points and 55% on his second. It is the first time he has beaten Rublev on the Tour after losing to him on two previous occasions in 2019 (Monte Carlo) and 2020 (St. Petersburg).

“It’s incredible,” said Humbert. “The best victory of my career. I’m very proud because it wasn’t easy, I was a little but tired today but I tried to stay focused on each point. It’s very nice.”

The triumph concludes what has been a marathon week in Halle for the 22-year-old. En route to the final he had to come through four three-set matches where he scored wins over Sam Querrey, Alexander Zverev, Sebastian Korda and Felix-Auger Aliassime. Becoming only the second player in Halle’s 28-year history to have reached the final by playing only three-set matches.

Meanwhile, runner-up Rublev paid tribute to his opponent following their clash. The world No.7 is now 1-2 in finals played so far this season after winning Rotterdam before losing to Stefanos Tsitsipas in Monte Carlo. To put that into perspective, in 2020 he won all six finals he played in.

“I have often told my coach that you play in an incredible way,” he said. “You have everything to be a very great player. So keep working, doing everything you do. You play very well, you have incredible shots. I wish you a great career.”

Humbert, who won two ATP titles last year in Auckland and Antwerp, is the first player to win Halle on the debut since 2010. On that occasion Lleyton Hewitt prevailed over Roger Federer in the final. He is now projected to rise to a ranking high of 25 on Monday when the ATP standings are officially updated.

The Frenchman will be hoping that he can continue his winning streak heading to Wimbledon where he reached the fourth round back in 2019. His best ever result in a Grand Slam to date.

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David Goffin Out Of Wimbledon Following Halle Accident

It has been reported that the unfortunate injury he suffered is ‘more serious’ than a sprain.

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David Goffin has been forced to withdraw from Wimbledon after suffering an ankle injury during the Noventi Open earlier this week.

 

The former top 10 player was taking on Corentin Moutet in Halle where he slipped on the grass and subsequently hurt his right ankle. Forcing the Belgian to retire from the match at the start of the third set. Providing an update on Goffin’s health, agent Martin Roux said he is unsure how long he will be absent from the Tour for.

“Yes, David has officially withdrawn from Wimbledon following his ankle injury in Halle. For the moment we do not know more about the exact duration of unavailability, ” Roux told lesoir.be. “He is of course disappointed to miss a Grand Slam tournament, especially since he had recovered well on grass before his injury. “

Elaborating further, Roux confirmed Goffin’s injury is ‘more serious’ than a sprain and tests are ongoing to assess the extent of the damage which has been caused to the ankle. It is not the first time he has suffered a freak accident on the court. During the 2018 Rotterdam Open he hurt his eye after a tennis ball rebounded into his face, forcing him to pull out of Marseille and Indian Wells that year.

“David told me that it was more serious than a minor sprain, after exams in Belgium.”Roux added. “The ankle has not yet deflated (stopped swelling). David realizes that ice and bandages won’t be enough to play. The ligaments must be affected in one way or another. The idea is to do new exams at the end of the week in order to then have a healing protocol, especially since after Wimbledon the Olympic Games will arrive quickly. These are now his next goals. “

The 30-year-old has achieved a win-loss record of 14-13 so far in 2021 and won his fifth ATP title in Montpellier. He has also reached the semi-finals in Antalya and quarter-finals in Monte Carlo. However, recently Goffin has struggled on the Tour with Halle being the fifth tournament in a row where he has failed to win back-to-back matches.

Goffin is currently ranked 13th in the world.

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Dominic Thiem Follows Nadal In Olympic Games Snub

The world No.5 says his decision is related to his performance on the Tour so far this season.

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Dominic Thiem training at the 2021 Lyon Open (photographer Sammy Dancyger - Owned by Sport Plus Conseil - GM Sports Consulting)

Austria’s Dominic Thiem has pulled out of the Olympic Games in order to focus on his title defence at the US Open later this year.

 

The 27-year-old issued a statement on Thursday saying he was ‘not ready’ to play in Tokyo following what has been a roller-coaster start to the season. Thiem enters Wimbledon with a win-loss record of 9-8 and recently lost in the first round of the French Open. His best results so far this year were reaching the last 16 of the Australian Open and the semi-finals of the Madrid Open.

“Hi everybody, I have some sad news to share with you all. After talking with my team and analysing the situation I have taken the very difficult decision to withdraw from competing in the Tokyo Olympics,” the 27-year-old Austrian wrote on Twitter.
“For me, like all athletes, taking part in the Olympics and representing my country is a huge honour and that makes this decision even tougher.
“However, 2021 did not start as expected and I don’t feel ready to play my best in Tokyo.
“My goal is to work hard the coming weeks, give my best at Wimbledon and keep training and hopefully defend my US Open title.”

Thiem, who also skipped the 2016 Olympics, had previously said that his views on the multi-sport event have changed over recent time. During one interview with Tennis Deutschland he said it would be a ‘dream’ to play at the Olympics and he would ‘definitely play’ at the event if he had the chance to. Thiem is coached on the Tour by Nicolas Massu who won a gold medal back in 2004.

The world No.5 says he hopes to be able to play at the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris where the tennis tournament will be held at Roland Garros. The same venue as the French Open.

On the same day as Thiem’s announcement on Thursday, Rafael Nadal was another player to confirm he would not be travelling to Tokyo, as well as Wimbledon, in order to recover from the clay season. The Spaniard said he wants to take a break from the Tour in order to preserve his body and prolong his career on the Tour.

The Olympic tennis event will take place between July 24th – August 1st. Andy Murray is the defending champion in the men’s tournament.

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