Dry ice, lights and Fed­erer on a boat: how Fi­nals took off

Ahead of 10th Lon­don edi­tion, those be­hind UK move re­veal the se­crets of its suc­cess

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Atp Tour Finals 2018 - Char­lie Ec­cle­share

As the World Tour Fi­nals man­ag­ing direc­tor Chris Ker­mode sur­veyed the scene in Greenwich, he could have been for­given for think­ing: “What on earth have I let my­self in for?”

It was the sum­mer of 2007, and Ker­mode had been brought in a few months ear­lier to run the re­branded ATP World Tour Fi­nals, which from the end of 2009 would take place at the O2 Arena.

So, here he was, wear­ing a hard hat and in­dus­trial boots, stand­ing un­der the tent of a de­serted and bare O2 Arena that was only just be­gin­ning to shake off the “white ele­phant” tag be­stowed on it by the failed Mil­len­nium Dome project. “Peo­ple thought we were in­sane to try and do a ten­nis tour­na­ment there,” re­calls Ker­mode.

He need not have wor­ried. On Sun­day, the 10th edi­tion of the Tour Fi­nals will be­gin at the O2, with sell-out crowds once again set to de­scend on the venue. It may lack Wim­ble­don’s his­tory, and the el­e­gance of Queen’s Club, but in its own way the O2 has be­come a sta­ple of the Bri­tish sport­ing scene, and its in­no­va­tions – the dimmed light­ing, heart­beat sound ef­fect and vi­brant blue brand­ing in­stantly recog­nis­able to even ca­sual ten­nis fol­low­ers.

How­ever, it has been a long road. There was scep­ti­cism when the venue and lo­ca­tion was first pitched by the then ATP pres­i­dent, Eti­enne de Vil­liers, in early 2007. The pre­vail­ing view was there were too many ob­sta­cles for the event to work at the O2.

Ten­nis is a sum­mer sport in the UK – fans will not want to watch it in Novem­ber. Lon­don’s ten­nis mar­ket is pri­mar­ily to the south­west and in Sur­rey; they will not want to trek to the east end. Bri­tish

‘There was no point try­ing to mimic Wim­ble­don – it was about cre­at­ing some­thing unique’

ten­nis lovers want their events tra­di­tional like Wim­ble­don and Queen’s. “Ev­ery­one was scep­ti­cal,” re­mem­bers De Vil­liers.

But De Vil­liers, along with as­so­ci­ates such as Ker­mode and chief mar­ket­ing of­fi­cer Phil An­der­ton, were con­vinced it could work. De Vil­liers wanted to present the World Tour Fi­nals as the jewel in the ATP crown, Ker­mode’s ex­pe­ri­ence as tour­na­ment direc­tor at the quintessen­tially Bri­tish Queen’s event of­fered a use­ful counterpoint, while An­der­ton was In­ge­nious: Spe­cial touches add drama to ATP World Tour Fi­nals at O2 Arena a whizz at gen­er­at­ing buzz around a sport­ing event – so much so he earned the nick­name “Firework Phil” while chief ex­ec­u­tive of Scot­tish Rugby.

Lon­don was an at­trac­tive venue for a num­ber of rea­sons. The time zone suited Euro­pean and Amer­i­can au­di­ences far bet­ter than the Ten­nis Mas­ters Cup was do­ing in Shang­hai, it made lo­gis­ti­cal sense for the play­ers com­ing from the Paris Mas­ters and there was a pas­sion­ate fan base to tap into – es­pe­cially with Andy Mur­ray and the rest of the “Big Four” on the bill.

A com­plete trans­for­ma­tion of the ATP’S year-end­ing com­pe­ti­tion was soon un­der way. The Ten­nis Mas­ters Cup name was re­placed with the ATP World Tour Fi­nals, the dou­bles would be given more promi­nence, and un­der­pin­ning ev­ery­thing was a de­sire to make the event as ex­cit­ing and show­stop­ping as pos­si­ble.

There would be more rank­ing points avail­able and more prize money. Even the gleam­ing tro­phy was made big­ger.

“It would be loud, vi­brant, dy­namic, in your face,” Ker­mode says. “The idea was that it should be a real con­trast to Wim­ble­don and Queen’s.”

An­der­ton un­der­lines the point. “There was no point try­ing to mimic Wim­ble­don, which is an amaz­ing event. This was about show­ing ten­nis in a dif­fer­ent light and cre­at­ing some­thing unique.”

De Vil­liers be­came so con­vinced of Lon­don’s po­ten­tial that he made the de­ci­sion not to auc­tion the event to the high­est bid­der, but to take it to the O2 and gam­ble on mak­ing more money through spon­sor­ship and ticket sales than through a ten­der process. The stakes were high.

“The risk was you build it and no one comes,” says De Vil­liers, who left the ATP a year be­fore the first Fi­nals.

To en­sure the pun­ters did come, the ATP’S man­age­ment team made a con­certed ef­fort to in­volve Wim­ble­don and the Lawn Ten­nis As­so­ci­a­tion (LTA). Yes, this would be a very dif­fer­ent event from the all-white tra­di­tion­al­ism of the All Eng­land Club, but De Vil­liers was de­ter­mined to tap into Wim­ble­don’s ex­per­tise and cus­tomer base.

Keen to grow ten­nis in the UK, the LTA and All Eng­land Club hap­pily obliged. They pro­moted the World Tour Fi­nals in their mar­ket­ing ma­te­ri­als and helped to gen­er­ate in­ter­est to the point where Ker­mode de­cided to split each day into two ses­sions. There were fur­rowed brows all round at this, but the de­ci­sion was more than vin­di­cated when the Tick­et­mas­ter web­site crashed un­der the de­mand for tick­ets.

An­other key group to win over

‘I was at a Neil Young gig and the lights went down. It sud­denly be­came a piece of the­atre’

were the play­ers. Thank­fully for the event’s or­gan­is­ers the con­ve­nience of hopping over from Paris, cou­pled with the ap­peal of Lon­don, meant they were quickly on board.

For Roger Fed­erer, tak­ing the boat down the River Thames to reach the land­mark arena – an­other Ker­mode idea – was par­tic­u­larly ap­peal­ing.

“It was ex­cit­ing – the whole idea of go­ing down with the boat from the Lon­don Eye all the way to the O2,” he said at the Paris Mas­ters last month.

“I loved it, and I thought it was a great choice. I was very happy that the Tour de­cided to go to a place that had a lot of the his­tory with ten­nis, af­ter be­ing in dif­fer­ent places many years be­fore which maybe didn’t have quite the same his­tory as Lon­don.”

To make sure that the event lived up to ex­pec­ta­tions, Ker­mode – now ATP pres­i­dent – was un­com­pro­mis­ing in see­ing his vi­sion through. The colour scheme would be made up of vivid blues, there would be en­trance mu­sic and dry ice would bil­low through the air as the play­ers took to the court.

At­tend­ing a Neil Young gig prompted an­other ma­jor aes­thetic choice. “I was at a con­cert of his and all the house lights were up, and it was a bit flat. Then the lights went down and the fo­cus went on to the piece of the­atre and sud­denly you get very ex­cited.

“I thought, ‘Why couldn’t we do the same with this? Box­ing does it, and it works.’” Play­ers ini­tially com­plained that they would not be able to see the ball, but af­ter some tech­ni­cal grem­lins they were able to lit­er­ally see the light.

The inau­gu­ral event saw a to­tal at­ten­dance of more than 250,000 and was al­most unan­i­mously hailed as a ma­jor suc­cess, save for is­sues around late fin­ishes and trans­porta­tion.

Nine years on, the event re­mains largely un­changed – a sense added to by Fed­erer’s on­go­ing sta­tus as the head­line act. It may not be to ev­ery­one’s taste, but as it heads into its 10th it­er­a­tion, the World Tour Fi­nals has be­come a ma­jor part of the UK sport­ing cal­en­dar.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.