With Wimbledon having started this week, the players on the current ATP tour were practicing hard, and where better to do that than at the BNP Paribas Tennis Classic, held in the lush grounds of The Hurlingham Club?
Now in its twentieth year, the best-kept secret in tennis is only just starting to gain awareness on the summer season social scene, although if the chatter from the people around me was anything to go by, there are a good number of regular attendees who don’t want anyone else finding out about it. It’s really not hard to see why. Centre court seats an intimate 600 guests, meaning you end up within spitting distance of some of the tennis world’s biggest current and former stars.
Whilst the first match between Wimbledon competitors Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Tommy Haas was an exciting insight into their grass court game for the coming week (incidentally, for those looking to place early bets, world number eight Tsonga won comfortably over his German rival), it was the legends that took centre stage – quite literally! Never mind their on-court antics, tennis greats Pat Cash, Goran Ivanisevic and Henri Leconte were persuaded to take part in a fashion show organized by my-wardrobe.com, sporting unique headgear.
The fashion show itself showcased some classic looks for the summer season, with clothes from the likes of Burberry and Marc by Marc Jacobs. The styling emphasis was on chic summer staples, classic tailoring and statement necklines, and full-length dresses with floating hemlines.
Back out on the courts, and the mood switched from competition to entertainment. After Tsonga and Haas’ game, British legend and TV personality Andrew Castle stepped up to interview Tsonga about Wimbledon. The Frenchman revealed he was in good shape, before quipping, “are you?!” “No!” came Castle’s immediate response. Both men were asked for their men’s final predictions. Tsonga went for Federer, Murray, Djokovic and Nadal. Haas also went for Federer and Murray as his top two, but went for Nadal and Tsonga as his picks for third and fourth.
The next game was a case of David vs. Goliath, as 6’4” Croatian Goran Ivanisevic faced Hurlingham first-timer Fabrice Santoro. The tiny Tahiti-born tennis legend wasn’t about to let his smaller 5’10” frame be daunted by Ivanisevic, and he more than held his own. When Ivanisevic prepared to serve and announced, “big one next!” (before promptly smashing the ball straight into the net), Santoro taunted, “that was a big one?!” Later, he turned to the crowd, gestured towards Ivanisevic and said, “he’s not bad, is he….for his age!” Santoro eventually won the match (although how the umpire was still keeping score by the end was anyone’s guess – especially as Ivanisevic had undone her shoelaces in retaliation for her calling one of his shots out).
The final match of the day was a doubles game between Andrew Castle and Mansour Bahrami, and Peter McNamara and Henri Leconte. Affectionately dubbed the court jester, Bahrami has been a mainstay at the Tennis Classic since its inception, and it wasn’t long before he was up to his usual tricks. The adoring crowd was clearly anticipating the king of trick shots to pull something special out of the bag, and Bahrami was only too pleased to show off his fakes, pocket catches and ability to pick up six balls in one hand (far harder than it sounds!) Added to this was Leconte’s insistence on ridiculing every spectator who left mid-game, and at one stage, after running out of balls, the four players resorted to miming their way through the match.
The following day, Andy Murray took to the courts, to the delight of the crowds. He later commented that, “I feel I’ve done a good job today. It was a good match.” Asked about his hopes for Wimbledon, the world number two said, “Wimbledon is the biggest event, so it would be a big achievement to win. A few weeks ago, I wasn’t hitting tennis balls, so I won’t be getting ahead of myself. I am going to concentrate on getting myself 100% fit.” The Scot added, “I plan to do the best I possibly can.”
On Friday, the sun shone brightly on two-time Wimbledon winner Rafael Nadal as he played against Japan’s Kei Nishikori.
In this intimate setting, one gets a real sense that international players shine when they play on Great British grass courts. Fabulous, funny and a wonderful warm-up to Wimbledon, the BNP Paribas Tennis Classic is a secret that is unlikely to stay that way for long. Book yourself in for next year!
For more information about the BNP Paribas Tennis Classic at The Hurlingham Club, go to www.bnpparibastennisclassic.com. To see more of photographer Kitty Buchanan-Gregory’s work, go to www.kbgphotography.co.uk.