Tennis: Fruitful gamble in the park

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The Independent Online
AS the recipient of $128,000 (pounds 80,000) after winning the inaugural Guardian Direct Cup in Battersea Park on Sunday, Yevgeny Kafelnikov made all the right noises, hitting the tent peg on the head by saying: "Nobody knows what to expect from a tournament that is being held for the first time."

There were no tent pegs, as it happened, which was perhaps the first pleasant surprise for spectators led to believe that London's first indoor ATP Tour event for eight years was going to be some sort of Barnum and Bailey enterprise.

The temporary arena complex proved to an impressive innovation, blessed, it must be said, with clement weather except on two occasions when high winds flapped the plastic roofing and tested the metal supports.

But for the advent of Greg Rusedski and Tim Henman as pillars of the British game, the tournament would not have been conceived. Their participation was interesting while it lasted. Rusedski arrived after winning the Antwerp title and was unable to convert either of his match points against Germany's Marc-Kevin Goellner in the first round. Henman, who ended a run of five consecutive defeats by beating Richard Krajicek, lost to Kafelnikov in the third round, a match the British No 2 ought to have won.

The organisers, who gambled in acquiring the date of the former Milan event for three years, were encouraged by the public's response (a total attendance of 35,000, and a near capacity 4,800 on the Centre Court on both Saturday and Sunday), and noted the lessons to be learned, which included the late night scheduling of the Henman-Krajicek match on Tuesday.

In other respects the attention to detail in creating a spectator-friendly indoor event away from the customary venues was impressive, not least the free shuttle bus service to and from Sloane Square.

The carpet courts, laid on wood, generally suited the big servers, but did not impede Kafelnikov's all-court game. "There is no doubt that the people who are working at this tournament have done a good job," the Russian said. "The one thing that bothered me was the noise from the airplanes." One or two of his fellow players who departed early might have disagreed, appreciating reminders that Heathrow was reasonably close at hand.

l Greg Rusedski scored a remarkable victory in the first round of the ATP Tour event in Rotterdam yesterday, beat Karim Alami of Morocco 6-7 7-6 7-6 in a 2hr 26min match without a service break.

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