Pierre the caniche poodle will be the most pampered pooch in Britain if he joins his master, Novak Djokovic, at the World Tour Finals in London in November. Organisers of the end-of-season finale at the O2 Arena are promising five-star treatment for the world's top-eight players and their entourages, including Pierre, who sometimes joins Djokovic on his travels. "Whatever he needs we'll supply - premium dog food, a special kennel, you name it," Phil Anderton, the tournament chairman, said at the launch of the finals in London yesterday.
More than 150,000 of the 250,000 tickets available have been sold for a tournament that is being promoted as the "biggest and best indoor tennis event in the world". With Andy Murray up to No 3 in the world rankings, and having a decent record on fast indoor courts, the prospect of a home victory should certainly help shift the remaining tickets.
The tournament has been going since 1970 under a number of different guises. In recent years the event has been called the Tennis Masters Cup, Djokovic having won the 2008 edition six months ago in Shanghai, where Andy Murray was knocked out in the semi-finals after eliminating Roger Federer from the group phase. It has been staged in 13 different cities, but this is the first visit to London.
The tournament offers massive prize money, great prestige and, with more ranking points at stake than at any event outside the four Grand Slam tournaments, the chance to finish as the year's No 1 player.
"The players see this as a very special event," Anderton said. "It's the top eight singles players and the top eight doubles teams in the world and I think they have every right to be given special treatment. Not only that but all the top players travel with big entourages these days, so we'll want to look after them as well."
It will be the biggest tennis event ever staged in Britain outside Wimbledon. Rafael Nadal has already qualified thanks to his Australian Open win, while Federer, Murray and Djokovic are on the way to securing places. Juan Martin del Potro, Andy Roddick, Gilles Simon and Fernando Verdasco currently fill the other positions as the next four players in the rankings, though much can change between now and the end of the year.
There had been concerns that it would be hard to fill the 14,500-capacity O2, but ticket sales are exceeding expectations. Tickets costing as little as £20 and children paying half-price, has helped, while the format, with everyone playing at least three matches, guarantees a top-quality field every day. "Everyone will be seeing at least the equivalent of a Grand Slam quarter-final," Chris Kermode, the tournament's managing director, said. There are only 65,000 seats left. Tickets went on public sale yesterday.
Fewer than 10 per cent of the seats will be occupied by corporate clients, who will be placed at the rear of the lower section of the arena. The places nearest the side of the court will be filled by the general public, which should mean that organisers will not have to explain to television viewers the empty seats at certain times of the day in the corporate areas. Empty spaces were particularly visible last week at the Masters event in Madrid, where the seats nearest the court went to corporate clients.
*Maria Sharapova, who is making her comeback from a shoulder injury in Warsaw this week, has entered the Aegon Classic grass-court tournament at Edgbaston from 8-14 June.
Finals countdown: Tournament details
World Tour Finals: Venue O2 Arena, London.
Date: 22-29 November.
Singles: Top eight male players of 2009, split into two round-robin groups of four, from which four players emerge to contest semi-finals and final.
Doubles: Top eight of the year, playing in same format as singles.
Sessions: 12.30 and 19.00, both featuring one doubles match followed by one singles match.
Total prize money: $5m (£3.2m).
Ranking points for winner: 1,500 (compared with 2,000 at a Grand Slam and 1,000 at a Masters Series).
Tickets: Between £20 and £70 for adults, with children at half-price.