Men’s tennis boss Chris Kermode says London will remain the home of the World Tour Finals because no other city’s sporting fans can provide the same level of enthusiasm and support for the season-ending event.
Speaking in an exclusive interview, ATP president Kermode said tournament organisers had considered offers from other cities to host the illustrious event, but London’s ability to sell out tickets made signing an extension until 2020, with the O2 Arena, host since 2009, a no-brainer.
This year’s men’s tour finale, featuring the top eight singles players and best eight doubles partnerships, takes place from November 12-19.
“It’s a tournament which has a tradition of being moved around [the Tour Finals were hosted in Shanghai and Houston in the mid to early 2000s],” said the ATP chief.
“We had offers from three big financial cities. We weighed up the benefits and negatives and decided to stay in London.
“For the reason being that there’s no other city in the world that would sell 250,000 tickets for two sessions a day.”
The standing of the World Tour Finals has elevated hugely since its move to London eight years ago, so much so, that it is now considered the unofficial ‘fifth major’.
Yet, in the early years at the O2 Arena, many questioned whether the tournament would be a success.
“Very few people thought this tournament would work in London at the level it is now,” said Kermode. “Many doubted that the O2 Arena would work as a host, too.
“People said nobody is going to travel out there to watch tennis. It was a risk. It’s primarily a west London market, Queen’s and Wimbledon, it’s a summer sport. ‘Can tennis work in the winter in the UK?’ was a question that was frequently asked.”
Federer and Nadal
Incredibly, veteran pair Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer will head to the season’s finale in London as the world’s top two after a year which has seen both players return to dominate the game’s premier prizes.
Ominously for the sport, the duo are still the main attraction for tennis fans, despite being now in their 30s.
Kermode, however, doesn’t think the game needs to worry about their eventual retirement.
“I was in Australia at the start of the year and there was nobody there who would have thought we’d get a Federer/Nadal final [Federer won the Australian Open over five sets],” said Kermode.
“Everybody was shocked by the final and the level they were playing at. It’s incredible that they’ve continued play like that for the whole season. To do that is astonishing.
“They’ve been huge icons for tennis. They’ve transcended the sport. Clearly the game will miss them. But I’m old enough to have seen quite a few generations of equal standing. Our sport has this uncanny ability to produce another superstar. There will be one after Federer and Nadal.”
Big names missing
Elsewhere, some other big names like reigning ATP champion Andy Murray, Career Slam holder Novak Djokovic and three-time Grand Slam winner Stan Wawrinka will be missing from the O2 this year after suffering long-term injuries earlier in the season.
“In the early years we would have missed them in the finals massively,” said the 53-year-old.
“But now the tournament has established itself, I think we can cope. Ticket sales are at the same level as last year.
“With the likes of Zverev qualified this year we are in a good place. He’s very young but he’s incredibly focused and driven. Wants to be number one. Wants to win multiple Slams and leave a legacy.
“So the new storylines we have got with exciting new faces like him will make up for the absence of Murray and the others.”
For more information about the Nitto ATP Finals at the O2 Arena, visit the ATP website.