Lawman at Queens

Tuesday, June 12, 2007 /by


[Ed note - Some time ago, I asked David Law to write a little about the Artois Championships at Queens, to more or less kick off the grass court season. Here are his thoughts, slightly edited and brought up to speed by me. Queens is a great place to watch tennis,  and because the grass-court season is so short, the quality of play is excellent.

This is a still of the Centre Court. I think the color combination at Queens is exceptional (red and green, and check out the image of Roddick below). It just screams grass-court tennis, no? I wish Wimbledon were bold enough to adopt these colors.And check out the Artois website - it's one of the classiest, cleanest looking sites I've seen, although I haven't poked around in it long enough to see how it stacks up, information-wise.This is one slick operation - in the best sense of the word.

Feel free to post any questions for David in the Comments, I'll email him and ask that he drop by and answer them when he gets the time. And you can use this post to discuss the results at Queens, and any other grass-court issues that occur to you - Pete]

Eleven years ago, I walked through the gates of the Queen’s Club for the first time. Never before had I entered a tennis tournament without paying. About two weeks ago, a familiar sight greeted me - luscious, green grass courts set against the vivid, red backdrop of The Artois Championships.

There is nothing quite like it.

Of course, I am hardly impartial.

Back in 1996, I was lucky enough to spend a week working as part of one of the most professional media teams in tennis, operating as a kind of firewall/enabler between respected journalists and world-famous players. It was a daunting, exhilarating experience, and enough to convince me that I wanted more of the same.

Today, as the tournament’s Communications Manager, the buzz upon entering the grounds is just as intense as it ever was. The grass enticing, the faces familiar.

In Artois Championships terms, I am still very much the new kid on the block. My boss, Jolyon Armstrong, has headed the media operation for twice as long as I have been involved. Tournament Director Ian Wight will bow out after 28 magnificent years of involvement with the event. Head Groundsman David Kimpton – the man who produces grass courts that the players so often say are the best in the world – is in his 42nd year in the job. His son, Graham, joked today that he is ‘only starting out’ by comparison. He has enjoyed 21 Artois Championships.

The first? When a 17-year-old Boris Becker came from nowhere to win the title.

Not everything has stayed the same.  This year, in particular, has seen some exciting developments.

After 28 years known as the Stella Artois Championships, the event is now called The Artois Championships. Stella Artois is still very much part of La Famille Artois, but the addition of two other beers, Peeterman Artois and Artois Bock has made the brand and the tournament stronger than ever.

There are now two giant screens at either end of the Centre Court – a sight which had never greeted me before. Hawk-Eye is here for the first time at a grass court tournament, and I’m looking forward to seeing the crowd reaction.  In my role, taking winning players on Centre Court to live interviews with BBC television, I get to sample, at court level, of the noise made by the crowd when a match is won or lost. It is one of the highlights of the job – particularly when a close match is unfolding in front of me. I can only imagine the atmosphere that will be created when an important line call is challenged. As someone who loves the drama and theatre of this sport, I like Hawk-Eye.

On a personal level, the launch of the Artois Tennis Podcast – a download-able radio show available through iTunes and - has been a thrill.

We set out with the goal to provide tennis fans with a new way to get closer to the stars of tennis, and more than anything, to entertain.

The way the players responded was uplifting.

Defending champion Lleyton Hewitt, World No.2 Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, Tim Henman, Ivan Ljubicic and Fernando Gonzalez were all happy to take part, and each of them did a great job.

We had some fun with the doubles players – Paul Hanley and Kevin Ullyett, Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram, Jamie Murray and Eric Butorac, and Jonas Bjorkman and Max Mirnyi braved our Doubles Zone, and hopefully found out something they didn’t know about their partners! Our computer-generated female interrogator might like to consider an alternative career as an umpire. No-one would argue with her!

And last, but not least, there was the not inconsiderable contribution of John McEnroe. A four-time Artois champion, we made John the ‘Commissioner’ of tennis – inviting him to make ten changes to the game. We had some fun recording those, and I thought the results made for a great listen – one per episode in the run-up to the tournament. Patrick McEnroe even agreed to a guest ‘Commissioner’ appearance. Both are fantastic broadcasters, and I sincerely hope they reprise the roles they filled last month, hosting a Breakfast Radio show in New York. Brilliant.

If you fancy a listen to the back-catalogue of our Podcasts, they are all available for free, downloadable from iTunes or Hopefully they get you in the mood for some cracking grass court tennis, because that’s what they are intended to do.Andy_2

The players were arriving at about the same time as I was. Andy Roddick looks like a man on a mission. He’s been here with Jimmy Connors and John Roddick, practicing away. They are certainly not leaving any stones unturned, and I wouldn’t bet against Andy winning a fourth title here. He did a guest spot on Friday Night With Jonathan Ross this week – that's a BBC television chat show watched by more people in the UK than any other. It’s the sort of opportunity that tennis needs to pursue on a regular basis - to help introduce new people to the sport and its personalities, people who might not otherwise realise how much tennis has to offer.

We will witness history being made over the next ten days if Lleyton Hewitt has his way. No player, not even Connors, McEnroe, Becker, or Sampras has lifted the biggest trophy in tennis on five occasions. Lleyton has that opportunity ahead of him. The way he has been playing over the past month, and having seen his tenacity and drive up-close numerous times at this tournament since he first arrived eight or nine years ago, I can well believe that he has it in him, and he's now through to the third round.

We all were sad to see Tim Henman lose to Marin Cilic (a qualifier). With Andy Murray out of action, it would have been inspiring to see Henman put together a run here, perhaps to build some momentum for Wimbledon. I guess he now has plenty of time to hone his grass game in practice before Wiimbledon. Tim has been a true credit to his sport. The man is a class act, plain and simple.

And to every other player, official, and spectator who comes to the Artois Championships over the coming days, and to all who will follow the event on tv, radio and the internet, I hope you enjoy it as much as I know I will.

--- David Law

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