Tennis: Charming life of the old school network: Julie Welch enjoys a set of vintage displays at the Hurlingham Club

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The Independent Online
THE ATP Seniors tour, otherwise known as the Disneyland of tennis, enjoyed its final day here yesterday. In this fantasy setting (chestnut trees, conservatories, the Union Jack flapping behind the South Stand), the punters were able to experience Roger Taylor serving to Ken Rosewall and watch Ilie Nastase re-run his act. There was a tent flogging Pimm's and lots of middle-class voices - 'heavenly day'. The fantasy was remarkably true to life: still couldn't find a British winner in the singles.

We were told that the Seniors provide the growth end of the ATP tour. It is easy to see why. The players are on a full- time charm offensive and mix genially with the guests - even Nastase, despite the fact that he looks as hairy and sinister as ever. You roll up outside the clubhouse and the first person you see is Rosewall and the first person you hear is Rod Laver, sneezing with hayfever as he walks past the flowerbeds.

Most of these guys might be a bit broader in the beam now but they still play great tennis. No one grunts or gets lippy with the umpire. And it's amazing how quickly you recognise their faces when you'd be hard pressed to tell Sergi Bruguera from a paper bag.

Play was scheduled to start at two o'clock but as on all the other days in the event last week, it turned out to be more like when enough people had wandered across the terrace and sat down. At 2.07, one of the organisers was muttering anxiously into a mobile phone outside the dining-room. 'It's pretty slow in there. Some of them have only just started their pudding.' This was because the grub was laid on by Albert Roux and the menu was as crucial as the Order of Play. Let's not beat about the bush, the Seniors Tour here is entirely concerned with corporate entertaining. It's nearly pounds 200 a head and they don't open the gates to the general public. Wimbledon, in contrast, is positively proletarian.

This last day featured a singles final between Paul McNamee and Sandy Mayer, a sobering thought as these so- called veterans are younger than your correspondent. Before that could get under way, we were treated to a splendid eight-man shoot out consisting of tie-breaks. It was seven-man, actually; we were told that Tom Okker wasn't there because he had 'done something to himself'. But it was still good value - Taylor versus Rosewall, Laver and Frew McMillan, Fred Stolle, Mark Cox, Bob Hewitt.

Laver is still ginger-haired, and still the owner of that classic range of shots that no one, but no one, has ever really rivalled since. He said he did the Seniors Tour because he enjoyed it. 'It's a little bit of a reunion with all the players and this is a perfect club to have it.' But let's be honest, Rod, you don't get all competitive out there, do you? 'Yeah. It's competitive out there. There's not so much riding on it, of course, but financially it's OK if you win. And the doubles is fun.'

Cox said it was his first week on the tour. 'It rekindles some of the old memories. And all the old nightmares and exhilarations come back. Tension, anxiety, frustration, a great feeling if you hit a good shot - all those emotional reactions which you don't focus on in your day-to-day life.' He thought the rapport between spectators and players had to be built on.

All the players looked terrifyingly fit and healthy, as well. Rosewall made you nostalgic for tennis's lost past with his dinky serve and majestic stroke-play, Hewitt is still hairy everywhere except his head, Taylor's squiggly eyebrows have not gone grey, McMillan still keeps the trade in white caps going.

Are people enjoying this? McMillan was asked. 'They seem to watch us in stunned silence. If they don't appreciate it . . .' he paused, 'they jolly well ought to.'

Laver and Stolle are 55, Hewitt is 54, Rosewall is going to be 60 this year. Old tennis players never die, they just join the ATP Seniors.

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