NEW YORK – With six months to go until the US Open, it was time for New York to see some tennis.
With Caroline Wozniacki taking on Maria Sharapova in the lead-off spot and Andy Roddick facing off with Roger Federer, what was not to like in the BNP Parabas Challenge at Madison Square Garden?
Of course these were “XOs” as Roddick called them so it really didn’t matter who won (In case you were wondering, Sharapova and Roddick won in straight set.) but it was a light hearted affair between some of the best known names in the tennis world.
And since the results didn’t matter, it was entertaining. Sharapova, danced with a man between point and not to be outdone, Wozniacki grabbed her beau golfer Rory McIlvoy to the court to hit a point against Sharapova.
“He’s going to kill me for that,” Wozniacki laughed afterwards.
Roddick then was a one man show against Federer, doing his Rafa Nadal imitation and running over to actor Ben Stiller for an autograph.
“That’s something really good about exhibitions; giving that sense of entertainment and variety to the crowd,” Sharapova said. “Obviously the reason people buy the ticket to see you play is because of what you have done on the court and ultimately at the end of the day that’s what they want to see.
“To see a bit of personality in the athletes, it’s like an open door for that, especially in an arena like this.”
It’s a good time for it too. After the Australian Open in January and with Indian Wells and Miami coming up in the next few weeks, this event gives the top stars a chance to entertain without the pressure.
“An exhibition is always good fun,” Wozniacki said. “It’s good to interact with the fans and hopefully they enjoy us. I tend to think so anyway.”
Added Federer: “I like the change of the regular tournaments. After a year you go for exhibitions sometimes. I use it as a tool to promote tennis in different parts of the regions in the world.”
Well, New York obviously doesn’t need the promotion; rather this gives the tennis fan the ability to see their favorite stars outside of the Open. Since the women’s championship is no longer held at Madison Square Garden, this event also gives the World’s Most Famous Arena a chance to host the sport one more time.
All in all, it was a success with 18,079 attending the event. It was the right amount of tennis and humor, especially this year when they played full matches, unlike the past few Challenges that had modified rules.
It also helps to have players in their primes. Last year the match between Ivan Lendl and John McEnroe ended in a thud with McEnroe withdrawing due to an injury and Lendl showing the rust of his age.
But all four players this year here are top stars and that definitely improved the quality of the play.
There is a downside, though. After a great night of tennis, New York now has to wait until the end of August to see these stars again.
Sigh. See you in six months.