Moo’s Experiences of the ATP World Tour Finals at the O2

Monday wrapped up my year of live tennis as I had tickets for the O2 afternoon session for the first matches of the 2013 ATP World Tour Finals.  Over the past three years, I have made a conscious decision to avoid going.  The main reason has been the extorionate prices; I went to the final in 2009 where I got a good seat in the lower bowl for about £40.  After the success of the first year, the prices were dramatically ramped up so that a ticket for the final was double what I paid in 2009.  Generally, a good ticket in the lower bowl for ANY match is now in excess of £60.  Considering you get one best-of-three singles and doubles match, it’s extremely expensive although that doesn’t seem to have put off the majority with the organisers having few problems in filling out the arena.  However this year I decided to throw my morals out of the window and take advantage of the live tennis sitting on my doorstop.

On arrival at the O2… where’s Roger?
Although ticket prices are ridiculously high, I managed to get a seat in the upper bowl (the gods) for just under £40 each (with my LTA discount), which I thought was just about reasonable.  Choosing what day to go though is a real tricky one.  It really is luck of the draw what match you get so I was eagerly hunting out the schedule on Saturday to see what match I would get.  Personally, top of my list was to see a close, competitive match.  I would much rather have it like today where I saw Tomas Berdych and Stanislas Wawrinka, admittedly two of the less star-studded names, but both quite evenly matched rather than see one of the top 3 hand out a beatdown.  Berdych-Wawrinka sat somewhere in the middle on my wishlist although I cannot deny a DelPo match was what I was gunning for.

There is no denying that the O2 is a really great venue for the tennis.  The reason that it hasn’t sat as highly for me compared to the likes of Wimbledon and Eastbourne is you miss out on the experiences of walking around the grounds and seeing matches on the outside courts, which to me makes the grass court tournaments so great because you see stuff you don’t see on the TV.  I do though, like what they have done with the Fan Zone this year with two practice courts with 400 unreserved seats, which was easily accessible. 

Ross Hutchins being interviewed in the Fan Zone

Before the doubles match, I got to see a bit of Leander Paes and Radek Stepanek warming up, but unfortunately none of the singles players were out and about, apart from Berdych, who was warming up on the practice court near the Sponsor Village. I just don’t have the patience to try and get a glimpse from tiptoes when I know I can get to the front of the queue quite easily at Eastbourne or even Wimbledon.  One thing I did realise is what a massive draw Roger Federer is as one of the stewards, who had a copy of the practice schedule, was constantly inundated with the question “when is Roger practising?”.  It did make me wonder that when Federer retires, there is going to be a huge, massive, giant gaping hole on the ATP tour and I do honestly believe that tennis audiences will suffer when that day does come.

Leander Paes on one of the practice courts in the big bubble

Radek Stepanek… I was looking out for Petra, but does looks like on Twitter she is on her way soon!

Getting down to the actual tennis, I enjoyed our doubles match between Mariusz Fyrstenberg and Marcin Matkowski, and Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi and Jean-Julien Rojer.  I don’t watch a great deal of doubles, but I felt a duty as I had a ticket for it to be there and support it.  The most amusing part of it was the constant support and “come ons” from a loud woman in the lower bowl, who I have seen twice before at Wimbledon and Eastbourne in a bright fluorescent Chelsea shirt.  From the voice, I knew it was definitely the same woman!  I still remember from the Olympics last year, the constant “come on Janko, focus on the next point” and it still cracks me up every time.

The doubles match from our view in the gods, 4 rows from the front

I was pretty happy with the view as I knew we would be pretty high up!

It was a good doubles match although of all the eight doubles pairs, it was probably the least attractive match on paper.  As mentioned above, I don’t watch much doubles so it was interesting to see the use of the deciding point and how incredibly crucial it is.  In this match, at 6-3 6-5 40-40, Fyrstenberg and Matkowski had a match point, whilst at the same time, Rojer and Qureshi had a break point to force a tiebreak.  It was no surprise that Fyrstenberg double faulted under the pure pressure of the moment.  They did however recover well in the second set tiebreak from an early break deficit with some much better serving to take the match, 6-3 7-6(8).

Qureshi / Rojer and Fyrstenberg / Matkowski

If you’re going, I would definitely recommend making time for the doubles

When I go to the tennis, I am normally one of those annoying people who is constantly taking pictures; however with the strict guidelines on cameras at the O2, I decided not to bother and just use my phone to take the odd few.  It was actually refreshing just to watch the tennis although it certainly felt like a bit of an alien concept to me!

Our singles match was Tomas Berdych against Stanislas Wawrinka, which I expected to be close and it was for the most part.  I thought Wawrinka may be slow out of the blocks having never competed at the World Tour Finals, but it was quite the contrary as he came out with a love service hold including the shot of the match on the second point.  He played a fine first set, particularly his serve, which was flowing beautifully as he lost just 1 point on it in the first 3 games, which came from a double fault.  He certainly got tight closing it out, but got the job done in the end, 6-3.

Tomas Berdych and Stanislas Wawrinka

I was very disappointed with Berdych throughout the whole match.  He really looked flat out there and did not seem to be hitting the ball as hard as he usually does.  I saw a tweet during the match that Wawrinka’s average groundstroke speed was 7 or 8mph higher and that certainly seemed the case to me.  Stan was bossing the majority of rallies and Berdych was on the defence, which is obviously not his strength.  The only credit I can give him is that he was gritty and at least got stuck into the second set as Wawrinka’s unforced error count started to mount.  Berd played a solid tiebreak, dishing out a TB bagel and I thought he may push on from there, but no…

It’s bloody hot in the gods! And also steep too!

I do like the colour of the court

Wawrinka did a stellar job in finding his form from the first set and he was well worth the win, 6-3 6-7(0) 6-3.  When his backhand clicks, it really is a thing of beauty and he closed the match out without too many issues.  The O2 has it’s own quirks with announcing the aces, break points, set points etc with graphics on the scoreboard and sounds to boot, which were making some people jump.  It’s rare you see tournaments do this and although I didn’t have a problem with it, they were really inconsistent with it.  The umpire,  Mohammed Lahyani, who is a legend by the way, was often waiting for the graphic to appear before calling the score and was barely getting in the score before the next point when it didn’t appear.  In general, he waits an age to call the score after a point. I did like that Lahyani got some entrance music onto the court, because let’s face it, Lahyani is the star of the show!

Stan’s a winner 🙂
All in all, it was a good day and in terms of the matches we got, I think we were somewhere in the middle in terms of the quality of tennis on show.  In terms of value for money, I think we did pretty well with a combined 3 hours and 56 minutes worth of tennis.  I certainly have my gripes with the O2, mainly over the price, but nothing beats watching live tennis and turning down the opportunity is just boring even if it does cost me an arm and a leg.  I will enjoy the tennis just as much on the TV over the remainder of this week, but I am pretty sure I will be back next year…

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