Huge victory for the game as tennis greats show their human side

2014-11-21 00:00

THERE was much anticipation last weekend ahead of the Novak Djokovic against Roger Federer year-end showdown at the ATP Tour Finals in London.

It had been a week of tremendous tennis as the top eight players in the men’s rankings were divided into two groups that dished up some savoury treats on the court.

Djokovic dominated and easily secured his spot in the final. Federer proved he is far from done as a major force in world tennis, delivering some sublime moments, including a steamrolling of Andy Murray who only had one game to his name in the two sets played.

Federer did call on all his reserves to beat countryman Stan Wawrinka in the semi-final, saving four match points before squeezing through. But it was what the tennis public wanted, the ultimate showdown between the two greatest players of the modern era to determine who would finish the year as the best in the world.

It was all systems go and then it died like a damp squib. Federer had to pull out due to a back injury and Djokovic took the title with a wry, apologetic smile. It was a massive let down, but there were people who had paid big cash to secure their seats and a plan had to be made.

And it was here that the human side of the great tennis players was exposed. So often they are seen as superhuman, immortals who make wads of cash week in and out, masters of the courts, magicians with a tennis ball. There was still a game to be played, people waiting and television cameras rolling.

A quick phone call and Murray arrived for an exhibition match against Djokovic. Seen sometimes as a highly-strung, surly Scot, Murray won huge credit and new fans by pitching up at the last moment for a hit. As he said, he was on the couch at home playing TV games when the distress call came.

Huge accolades to him for putting the paying fans first and ensuring they got something for their tickets.

He showed his sense of humour too, saying after the hit with Djokovic that he apologised for over-extending Federer when they had played earlier in the week. It showed he too is just an ordinary bloke and it proves those tears after losing the 2012 Wimbledon singles final to Federer were real and heartfelt.

But the best was yet to come. A put together, first to eight games doubles showdown between Murray and John McEnroe, taking on Tim Henman and Pat Cash. It was never going to be serious, and it wasn’t, but to see Mac and Cash in particular entertaining the crowd and TV viewers was more than awesome.

Tennis was the winner but McEnroe (55) and Cash (49), who still play on the oldies tour, displayed some of the mastery that made them crowd favourites in the 80s. To see that McEnroe serve, instinctively followed into the net for a volley, reeled back the years. Cash, still strong and muscular, had that black-and-white headband and could still hit a good ball.

Henman took some time to warm up, but he too, gave us a journey back in time to when he was a four-time Wimbledon semi-finalist. Touch, finesse — just good damn fun. It was a real treat and to hear the commentators say how much these older players still value the game, and that they turn out for exhibition and charity matches, again proves these guys are like anyone else. They just love what they do and appreciate the talent they have for doing it.

Murray summed it up at the end when he said, “To play with John, one of the legends of the game who still has that great touch, and Pat, a Wimbledon champion, plus Tim, who was my inspiration growing up, was awesome.”

In fact it was so good, it was even worth giving up a relaxing afternoon of TV games.

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