Anyone for tennis?

March 05, 2012

7pm, Thursday, March 1, 2012, Dubai. Five thousand people stand to applaud the No 1 tennis player in the world, Novak Djokovic (Nole), as he enters the stadium to play his quarter-final match against Janko Tipsarevic.

Both men are Serbian, born in Belgrade, with Nole just three years younger at 24. There are plenty of Serbian flags being waved by supporters.

Nole looks the fighter, dressed all in black, the powerful floodlights adding to the illusion. Janko is in green, and looks fearful. They are the top two Serbian players, and team up for the Davis Cup.

Nole has been in great form since the start of 2011 and currently holds the crowns from the majors at Wimbledon, the US Open and Australia, and is the hot favourite to win his fourth consecutive Dubai tournament.

Nole is out of the blocks quickly, and takes the first set 6-1. The second is closer. Janko has a point for it, but Nole takes the tie-break 7-6 to win the match. The one-on-one spectacle is what stands tennis apart from many sports.

In a tight arena, with a big crowd, there is nowhere to hide – the players can hit a great shot and revel in it. But when they hit a bad one, everyone can see. In many ways it is like boxing, but with a racquet and a small yellow ball.

Management and I go every year to Dubai to see the competition, and have now made the trip six times. This is the twentieth year it has been staged, and the players have voted it the best run competition of its ranking in the last eight years out of nine.

My love of lawn tennis started in our local park in north London, where my parents couldn’t believe how inept I was – I couldn’t even decide which hand to use. I wish I could say I was like Rafa Nadal, who is naturally right-handed but plays with his left. I just play with my left!

At the age of eleven I took lessons, improved a little, made many friends at a local club, and went to Wimbledon each year to pick up tips. I even worked there one year for the whole two weeks, what a treat!

These days the players are fitter and the equipment much better, the game is faster and the competition at the top, for both women and men, is intense. I wanted the dour Andy Murray to win in Dubai, and he did upset the form-book to beat Nole in the semi-finals, playing some aggressive tennis, but lost to the ever-youthful Roger Federer in the final on Saturday night 7-5, 6-4.

What really inspires me is the way these top athletes represent themselves and their sport. Roger, Rafa and Nole are just fantastic ambassadors for the game of tennis and for their countries of Switzerland, Spain and Serbia. They have time for the young and the old, their families talk to the crowds, they speak well and always congratulate their opponents.

To my mind, they are worth every penny they earn. Their humility, coupled with the fierce competitiveness and ambition each of them has in order to succeed, is a balance many of us try to find in our everyday lives. To watch these exemplar role models do this so well is a lesson worth learning for all of us.


Nick lives and works in Muscat and the views expressed in this column are entirely his own