The legendary British tennis player Tim Henman, who has a hill named after him at Wimbledon, has this week been competing in the Legends Cup, an ATP Champions Tour Event, at the Palma Sport and Tennis Club. It is the third consecutive year he has participated in the event alongside many of his old rivals on the tour and he says he absolutely loves it here.
"I had never been to Majorca prior to this event and it’s excellent. I love it. The guys here do such a good job, the attention to detail is amazing. We’re looked after so well, we’ve got great players and we’ve all become like one big family which gets together once a year here in Majorca to play some tennis, have some fun, entertain the crowd and enjoy the great facilities this club has to offer.
"There’s such a good atmosphere and I was so lucky to have been invited that first year and been able to have come back since, and it’s such a great bunch of guys playing. We all knew each other well on the tour so, yeah, happy to be back."
This year marks a decade since Tim retired from professional tennis in late 2007, although he obviously remains active in the ATP Champions Tour (a tour for former professional tennis players) and says that there have been a lot of changes, some for the better and some for the worse.
"I guess the dominant forces have not really changed. Since 2007 it has been Federer and Nadal and then you throw the likes of Murray and Djokovic into the equation, but I think the style of play has become even more one-dimensional. Yes, it’s aggressive but it’s baseline-dominated. But in terms of power and the way in which the players hit the ball from the back of the court it is incredible.
"It’s come a long way in ten years. I think it’s slightly different now. We were all just as fit in our day but I think it was more about shorter and sharper dynamic movements with more coming to the net, especially for me with my style of serve and volley. There was more variety, especially how I played the game. But now it’s more about brute force and there isn’t quite that variation which, in some respects, I think is a bit of a shame.
"For me the great match-ups are when you have contrasts in style. That’s what Federer and Nadal are about, it is what Agassi and Sampras and Borg and McEnroe were about and I think to have different playing styles is important. So, if I could probably try and change one thing, I would make the conditions have a little bit more variety because I think there are times when the courts and the balls are a bit too uniform. When you play on a hard court, indoor court or even a grass court at times, it’s all relatively similar."
And Tim agreed with comments Henri Leconte made to the Bulletin about the current situation of the game in general.
"The Grand Slams, the real pinnacle of the sport are extremely successful, but when you get to the other events, yeah, some are struggling to turn a profit and that throws up the question as to whether there are too many tournaments. You know, having three tournaments in the same week, does that help the clarity of the sport?
"I also think there are too many professional players, and I say that in inverted commas. I don’t think the ranking system should go down to 2,100 or whatever the number is. For me, you can’t quantify those players as professionals as they are not making a living out of the game and I think if we had a cut-off much higher up and streamlined the tour that would benefit the game.
"It is a long season and a busy calendar but I would not say it is too long because the players can pick and choose when and where they play. There is a lot of tennis that can be played, especially for those coming through the ranks, but they’ve got to put the hours in if they want to break in to the top 100 or make it even higher. That’s the nature of the game and it would be very difficult to change the calendar.
"So, managing your schedule is very important. You’ve got the Grand Slams at the top of the event and the nine Masters 1000s and then below that you’ve got to have a group of tournaments which are in different regions but perhaps we need to make the challenger tour bigger so we can get more money in to the level below so the players ranked say between 125 to 250 have a better chance to earn a living from the sport than they do now. They are great players and that is where it is not quite right; they are not getting the opportunity to break through. Being on the board at Wimbledon I’ve seen it myself. Wimbledon has very much supported the left-hand side of the draw, backing the people who are qualifying in the first couple of rounds. If you are qualifying for Wimbledon, then you’re a great player.
"So, to up the prize money on that side of draw has been very important. You’ve seen the increases in prize money in qualifying, it’s been significant and it’s had an effect. You know, to win Wimbledon, does it matter if you win half a million, a million or two million pounds? Does it make much difference? I think to support that generation of up and coming players is very important.
"And we still need to make the game more accessible to people, to young kids in the UK. There are still too many obstacles, clubs are too expensive, not enough tennis played in schools, etc. I’ve been down to the Rafa Nadal Academy and I was very impressed. For such a new academy and to see what they’ve built so far with so many kids there is fantastic. It offers them a great opportunity and I also loved the sense of community because the different elements and facilities are open to the public and I think that transcends from Rafa. This is his home. He wants to give back to the community but he is also giving back to the future of the game because I’m sure it’s going to produce a lot of good players.
"And I have to admit that back at the beginning of the year, I didn’t see Rafa ending the year as world number one. It’s incredible that Roger and Rafa have won four slams between them, but then again, and I’ve said this a few times about both, I’ve given up being surprised by them. They are just exceptional athletes, they are two of the greatest sportsmen in the world. We are so lucky to have them in our sport."
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