Tennis: Britons on show at Battersea revival

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The Independent Online
IT is all very rosy for Wimbledon to label their ground development scheme "tennis in an English garden", but "tennis in the park" in February? The Guardian Direct Cup, which starts today only a decent lob from Battersea Power Station, is designed to stretch the imagination almost as far as the notion of two British players competing at the highest level of the world game.

Greg Rusedski and Tim Henman have accomplished enough in a short time to convince promoters that Britain is ripe for a new mainstream ATP Tour event. Concern about weather conditions are allayed by De Boer Structures, of Oxfordshire, who assure spectators of a warm welcome to 10,000 square metres of sheltered accommodation.

Apart from the highly successful Stella Artois Grass Court Championships at London's Queen's Club and the Nottingham Open in the June weeks leading up to Wimbledon, Britain has lacked a top men's grand prix event since the great winter days and nights of Bjorn Borg, Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe and Ivan Lendl at Wembley Arena.

The Wembley event ended in 1990, since when the domestic game has been on a regular diet of Challenger and Satellite events designed to sift through would be aspirants to the fame and fortune enjoyed by Rusedski and Henman.

This week's London revival follows the success of the ATP Tour Senior Tour of Champions event at the Royal Albert Hall shortly before Christmas, wonderful evenings of nostalgia featuring Borg and McEnroe.

Rusedski and Henman will be in excellent company, a cast which includes Petr Korda, the Australian Open champion, and Pat Rafter, who defeated Rusedski in the final of the United States Open. The class of the competition is underlined by a first-round draw which pits Henman against Richard Krajicek, the 1996 Wimbledon champion.

It is not the first occasion that Battersea Park has played host to tennis VIPs. There was the "love doubles" on a fine day in May 1980, when Bjorn Borg and Mariana Simionescu duelled with John Lloyd and Chris Evert Lloyd. "Bjorn ran about the the court as for a Wimbledon singles final," Mariana remembered, "but we lost it. I tried everything I knew, but Chris, who the English say is a Borg with ringlets, was a tigress, as if determined to prove that a married couple is technically better than a pair of fiances, as we were on that beautiful day.''

In time, of course, both couples were to lose, love and love.