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The Statoil Masters Tennis doubles as a culminating Champions Tour event and an exhibition of tennis legends. Players on the Champions Tour must have been ranked number one in the world; played in a Grand Slam singles final or played singles for a winning Davis Cup team. Today’s schedule saw local favorite Greg Rusedski face Goran Ivanisevic in the first singles match.There was little to suggest that Goran did not take the match seriously as he groaned at his mis-hits and goaded the audience to cheer him on instead of Greg. The relaxed nature of the competition emerged when Greg served for the second set at 5-4 and was broken. In a show of sympathy, Goran collected some chocolates from a lady in the audiences and shared them with Greg and chair umpire, James Keothavong. The audience gave an appreciative chuckle and Goran went on to take the 2nd set and match in a tie-break. In the post match interview, Goran noted that coaching Marin Cilic helps him to stay competitive, so that he can still unleash his lethal serve. Still, Greg was not too upset as both he and Goran pitched autograph balls into crowd. As Goran rushed off too catch his beloved West Bromwich Albion team in their evening match, Greg followed his match with a quick autograph session for about 50 fans.
The Legends singles match between Henri Leconte and Jeremy Bates was an even more light-hearted affair. Leconte teased and joked with the ball kids; occasionally broke out into dances and cheekily ribbed the audience. Bates would provide his own laughs by attempting to return Leconte’s strong serve with a racquet in each hand and even a giant sized one; he was unsuccessful with both as he lost in two sets. A quick doubles match followed as the audience was treated to some joyful rallies by the always entertaining Fabrice Santoro and his partner Wayne Ferreira versus Thomas Enquist/Peter McNamara. Aside from the crowds cheering the tennis, much of the event appears to be an opportunity to wine and dine the well-dressed sets in the boxes on the Grand Level of the Royal Albert Hall. Amongst the echo of balls hitting the constructed tennis court, one could hear clinks of champagne classes and utensils as guests partied under the pink lights.
It was a pleasant way to pass a few hours in the afternoon, though a few of the general ticket holders I spoke with expressed a wish that the cost of the event was a bit cheaper. At £12.50 for the cheapest seats available, that might be asking alot. Aside from tonight’s Grand Opening which will support the child health charity, Best Beginnings, each Hawkeye challenge during the course of the day will translate into £100 for the charity. By the end of the day session, Best Beginning had earned £1,500.