Tennis: Buchholz brothers create a haven after the hurricane: Players can expect to be pampered all the way at the Lipton Championships this year. John Roberts reports from Key Biscayne

Click to follow
The Independent Online
BY describing Andre Agassi as a Zen master, Barbra Streisand may have started something. A meditation room is among the innovations at the splendid dollars 20m stadium which became home to the Lipton Championships here yesterday.

The latest in player pampering is to be found at the rear of the changing rooms, which are replete with lockers made of oak and personalised with brass name plates. The meditation room is dominated by a 'health environment capsule', a contraption which may have taken a detour from Star Trek.

A variety of sensations are produced at the touch of a computerised control panel: dry sauna temperature; massage intensity; face air speed; stereo sound; aromas. According to the advertising blurb, 'The stressful pressures of life quickly fade.'

In common with the other seeded players, Agasse will not be needing the meditation room until the second round. His opponent will be Britain's Mark Petchey, who earned the opportunity by defeating the Californian Chuck Adams 6-3, 7-5, on a blustery centre court yesterday, confirming a recent encouraging run of form.

Agassi has practised bare- chested, as if to show how hard he has worked on his physique since recovering from wrist surgery. While it would be still possible to pinch an inch, given a yard by the security men, the former Wimbledon champion appears to be in far better shape than was rumoured towards the end of last year.

Though the health environment capsule has been installed for the players, nobody would begrudge the Buchholz brothers, Butch and Cliff, taking a turn. Tournament chairman and director respectively, they have nursed the 10-year-old Lipton event through a series of crises, from hurricanes to hassles with local government.

Butch Buchholz is the better known, having been a US Davis Cup player and one of the founders of the Association of Tennis Professionals. As a 19-year-old at Wimbledon in 1960, he led Neale Fraser 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 in the quarter-finals and had six match points in the fourth set before cramp forced him to retire. Fraser went on to win the title, defeating Rod Laver, a fellow Australian left-hander, in the final.

Shortly afterwards, Fraser defeated Laver again to win the United States Championship at Forest Hills. Laver reached the final by beating Buchholz, who had three match points before cramp struck again. The American lost 7-5 in the fifth set.

These early experiences of adversity and disappointment may have served Buchholz well during the past decade. The tournament was his idea, a two-week event for men and women which he envisioned would evolve into a fifth Grand Slam championship.

This ambition foundered, though the Australian tennis administrators were sufficiently concerned that their struggling championships might be supplanted by the upstart in South Florida that they created a magnificent new venue in Flinders Park, Melbourne.

The Buchholz brothers, having found a sponsor, searched for an appropriate site. The Lipton was launched in Delray Beach and was then moved to Boca Raton before finally arriving here in Key Biscayne, near Miami, in 1987.

Even then the tournament was not everybody's cup of tea. Plans to build a permanent stadium were opposed by local residents and several court battles had to be fought and won before construction was allowed to proceed last year. At the time, the Buchholz brothers and their staff were clearing storm damage which threatened the 1993 tournament and must have made them wonder if the entire project was jinxed.

Since then the handsome octagonal stadium has risen on the former rubbish dump at Crandon Park, a facility to delight players and spectators alike. The Lipton, reduced to 10 days in recent years, seems to be finding its niche.

The stadium's 14,000 capacity includes 6,500 temporary seats, which form the top tier. When these are dismantled, the building cannot be seen above the trees and therefore does not offend the eyes of those who opposed it.

Stefan Edberg, practice completed, booked an appointment at the hair salon, which is just down the corridor from the changing rooms. A couple of doors further along is a nursery.

No tournament would be complete without a quota of players with aches and pains, and the medical facilities include a private examination room for the doctors. An early casualty was Britain's Chris Wilkinson, who retired because of tendinitis of the wrist when trailing 0-6, 0-1 to the American, Jeff Tarango.

There was an error in the spelling of Wilkinson on the brass plate of his locker. Still, 'Wilkenson' is but a minor mistake, especially since people on this side of the Atlantic cannot seem to shake the habit of referring to Wimpleton.

John McEnroe will be joined by four other former world No 1 players - Jimmy Connors, Ivan Lendl, Bjorn Borg and Mats Wilander - for a five-city US tour beginning in Denver, Colorado, on 21 April.