There come moments at each of the majors when hundreds of members of the tennis community gather off-site for an elegant eating occasion. In Paris, this happens each year on the second Tuesday of the tournament at the ITF World Champions Dinner. This event carries a distinctly global flavor – or more pointedly, a strong European quality, of men in tuxedos, women in long dresses, of sponsors and administrators, of kindly formality and celebration and the cozy smiles and handshakes exchanged between people who during these events likely spend more time attending meetings than watching tennis matches. Such is the business of sport.
An instrumental version of “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?” piped its way through the cocktail hour. Waiters circulated, offering flutes of champagne and assorted beverages. Tuna sushi. Shrimp. Dotted throughout the dining room were champions of all eras. At one table, for example, sat two past Roland Garros champions and Hall of Famers, Manuel Santana and Nicola Pietrangeli, a pair of elegant stylists aging in the manner of early ‘60s movie stars. Other tables were dotted with such notables as Hall of Fame president Stan Smith; Aussie legend Mark Woodforde; USTA Chairman, CEO and president Katrina Adams; ex-player and indescribable tennis life-force Ingrid Lofdahl Bentzer; as well as the last two Frenchwoman who’d won the singles at Roland Garros, Mary Pierce (2000) and Francoise Durr (1967).
There was also a celebration of the champions of 2016. A pair of juniors, Serbian boy Miomir Kecmanovic and Russian Anastasia Potapova, and wheelchair stars, Gordon Reid (Great Britain) and Jiske Griffioen (Netherlands), were honored. At the pro level, awards went to the women’s doubles team of Kristina Mladenovic and Caroline Garcia (who broke up at the end of ’16), the men’s duo of Bruno Soares and Jamie Murray and singles top players Angelique Kerber and Andy Murray.
While it figured that Andy Murray, scheduled to play today, would not be on hand, instead sending a video message he’d shot in the Roland Garros player’s lounge, it was a shame not to see Kerber. However disconsolate Kerber likely was to have have lost in the first round at Roland Garros, surely she might have attended rather than send a video. Ditto for Jaime Murray, who lost in the doubles on Monday – but was absent at the Tuesday dinner and, alas, sent no video but instead was represented by a solitary Soares.
Capping it off was the bestowment of the ITF’s highest honor, the Philippe Chatrier Award, to the Spanish duo of Sergio Casal and Emilio Sanchez, a pair of excellent players from the ‘80s and ‘90s who became one of the world’s best doubles team and, more notably, created the Barcelona-based Sanchez-Casal Academy – and others throughout the world.
But perhaps the real hero of the evening was a large trophy. In the back sat the Davis Cup – that is, the physical cup itself, all 220 pounds of it. Tuesday had been a good day for the ITF, tennis’ United Nations announcing yesterday that its board had approved a revolutionary measure to shorten all Davis Cup singles matches to two-out-of-three sets (a final vote on this will come at the ITF’s annual meeting, to be held in August). The hope is that these and other planned reforms will encourage more prominent players to participate – as well as make Davis Cup more viewer-friendly.
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