I’ve not been to watch tennis since I was at 6th form and we visited Queens Club as a school tennis team. We watched Jeremy Bates beating Boris Becker, and saw Tim Henman, who was then just a rising star, warming up. We were excited about that because his cousin was in our year at school. I’ve never won ballot tickets for Wimbledon, and never thought about getting tickets to other tournaments. But after watching Wimbledon and having N so excited about watching the exhibition doubles, I couldn’t resist buying tickets for the My World Champions Tennis at the Royal Albert Hall in London.
It felt like a long wait after buying tickets, and there wasn’t that much information provided beforehand compared with other places we get tickets for. But we’d checked out the schedule of play; N was so excited that he’d be seeing Mansour Bahrami play in real life.
The MyWorld Champions Tennis had changed this year with it being team tennis. Players split into 3 teams, with Tim Henman, Greg Rusedski and Goran Ivanisevic the captains.
Champions tennis format
This tournament is mainly made up of former champions from around the world. There’s 4 days of tennis, with 2 sessions a day to choose from. We chose the afternoon session so we could get home at a reasonable time afterwards.
Each session (except the last which is the champions final) you get to see 3 matches played. A team singles and doubles match, then an exhibition doubles. They play best of 3 short sets – first to 4 games, then short tie break at 3-3, with a 10 point tie break at 1 set all. This was interesting because I’d never seen that format played, although as N moves through the age levels in his tennis, he’s likely to come up against this scoring method.
Tennis at the Royal Albert Hall
I’ve not been to the Royal Albert Hall since my university days when I went to one of the proms. It’s a stunning venue, although unfortunately was covered in scaffolding so no beautiful photo opportunities outside.
We arrived at 11.30 having grabbed a very early lunch beforehand. The café bar and entrance were absolutely rammed although we used the gender neutral toilets and didn’t have to queue for those beforehand (there were queues for the ladies and gender neutral ones after the tennis finished though).
They’ve been playing Champions Tennis for a few years at the Royal Albert Hall and it turned out to be a good venue for the crowd. It does feel a bit strange – you’re in a cultural, concert venue, not a sports ground. I was imagining everyone would sit very sedately like at the theatre. But no, we had people arriving 30 minutes into the first match, pushing through into their seats. Then other people coming and going to get drinks and food. It was very surreal when you’re in such a beautiful theatrical setting.
We didn’t want to leave our seats at all – I can’t really understand why so many people needed to get up. Either eat beforehand, or take water in with you, rather than interrupting everyone’s viewing every time you want to get up. N sat still the whole 3 hours we were there, and he’s only 8 years old.
The tennis is played in the round, and the views are great from all angles. I’d decided against sitting in the stalls because of both the price and that you were sitting behind netting. We sat in the choir area which had quite deep drops for the staggered seat levels, so N had no problem seeing over the heads of the people in front. We seemed so close to the action as well, and from our angle, could just see the big screens with the scores on (with the tennis trivia at end switchovers).
You can see how they set up the Royal Albert Hall for the tennis on their blog.
It was all male tennis players on the day we went, with the team matches ending up GB vs Spain. The singles match was the 17 year old Jack Draper against Carlos Alcaraz who’s only 16, but is the world number one U16 player. It’s great for N to see young players, and amazing to think how hard they hit the ball when they’re still so young. Jack won in a hard fought match.
Our team doubles session was against GB vs Spain with the 2 young players joined by Tim Henman and Juan Carlos Ferrero who also coaches Carlos Alcaraz. N found it really funny that Tim spent a lot of time chatting over the net to Juan Carlos in the middle of the match. The Brits won again – both matches might have been slightly biased in the line challenges which were put to the audience!
Then onto the exhibition doubles. Our session had Mansour Bahrami with Thomas Enqvist vs Mark Philippoussis and Xavier Malisse playing. With all Bahrami’s tricks, and plenty of comedy from Mark Philippoussis as well, it was a real treat to see serious tennis players we’ve watched over the years on tv, up close and enjoying playing. How the umpire and ball boys and girls cope with the spontaneity and joking that goes on, I don’t know.
There were plenty of laughs in the match. And I can’t even remember who won in the end, because N chatted and laughed all the way through. I think he’d happily give up playing normal tennis if he could just learn all the trick shots!
Audience interaction and entertainment
Before the matches started, there was a saxophone group playing. I play alto sax, but I have to admit it wasn’t my kind of music at all, and I’m not sure it was really that audience friendly (unless you’re used to hearing a lot of contemporary sax music).
Apart from the tennis, there’s quite a bit of interaction making it very crowd friendly. Music at end changeovers, different coloured lights, an on screen quiz so you can find out more about the players over the 4 days, and if a player challenges a line call, the audience get to show their in/out card to decide the decision. Let’s just say there were a few challenges that probably went the wrong way! A bit of light hearted fun for the tournament.
Afterwards, Bahrami was signing autographs outside one of the doors, but by the time we’d headed out of our seats and halfway round the Royal Albert Hall, the queue was huge. It’s a shame they don’t do a more formal signing session afterwards, then there’s a bigger spread across the players. Although we now know next year to either sit in the stalls or in the balcony that side, or to give up watching the last part and be at the doors ready to leg it round before they’ve finished the interviews after the matches.
We had a great time at the MyWorld Champions Tennis. It’s a lovely venue, the staff at the Royal Albert Hall were all really helpful and friendly when we needed to ask questions, and it works well for the tennis. I think we’ll definitely be back next year, hopefully on the Saturday so we’ve got a bit more chance of doing something afterwards or before, rather than rushing around to find somewhere to eat before and after.
It was a treat for me to get to walk some of the London streets to enjoy the architecture on a sunny day.
Do you go to live sporting events? Where would you recommend with children?
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