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Tennis: Early season tournaments a hit with fans

Rafael Nadal out to continue impressive comeback from injury on European clay courts

Gulf News

Dubai: The 2013 ATP World Tour season is barely three months old, yet is already packed with unforgettable highlights.

The sport’s brightest stars, including the likes of Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, have been making headlines once again.

After seven months out of competition due to a knee injury, Rafa’s return has been stunning and he has taken little time to restore a familiar aura of invincibility. His first tournament back saw a final showing in Vina del Mar, followed by three consecutive wins in Sao Paulo, Acapulco and the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 event in Indian Wells.

Every match at ATP Masters 1000 level is hard fought and Rafa had to beat three top-10 players at Indian Wells — Federer, Tomas Berdych and Juan Martin del Potro — to succeed.

A record-breaking 400,000 people attended the Indian Wells tournament, which keeps growing every year. The ATP Masters 1000 tournament in Miami immediately after also saw more than 300,000 fans turn out. The final was especially thrilling, with Murray saving a match point to defeat David Ferrer in a final set tie-breaker.

Joint pillars of the US spring hard court swing, both the Indian Wells and Miami tournaments will undergo transformations in the coming years. Indian Wells tournament owner Larry Ellison makes it well-known that he wants to keep investing profits from the tournament back into the facilities for players, fans and media.

Indian Wells has approval to build, amongst other things, a permanent second stadium with 8,000 seats, two restaurants, a new box office, a massive 19,000 square foot shade structure and four additional practice courts.

Miami will also start its $50 million (Dh183 million) redevelopment of Crandon Park next year with the construction of permanent show courts, landscaped green spaces and new park facilities. All this is fantastic news for our sport.

There have been other exciting developments in recent weeks, including landmark changes at the US Open. Prize money will reach $50 million by 2017 and the men’s semi-finals will move to Fridays from 2015 to give players a day of rest before the final.

In an immediate move, the USTA will boost prize money for this year’s US Open by an additional $4.1m above the previously announced increase of $4m, taking the 2013 combined men’s and women’s purse to $33.6m — an $8.1m increase over last year.

The prize money increases are the largest in the history of the sport, representing a significant step forward in truly recognising the input the players have in the success of the US Open.

The negotiations with the Grand Slams regarding player prize money have been a priority of mine since I became ATP Executive Chairman & President at the beginning of 2012. The progress that has been made over the past 12 months has been extremely significant for the ATP and for our sport as a whole.

The results we have achieved, including significant Australian Open prize money increases, are a true testament to the efforts of the leadership within the ATP, the ATP Player Council, as well as the unity and support of our players. We also appreciate the productive manner in which the USTA, as well as Tennis Australia relating to the Australian Open, have engaged with the ATP and its players over the past 12 months.

Elsewhere, we also recently announced the creation, from 2014, of a new ATP World Tour 500 clay court tournament in Rio de Janeiro, a renowned destination that will be the focus of the sporting world in the coming years with a series of major events. I’m sure that Rio will be an extremely popular event among our players, who will be looking forward to competing at the highest level in front of the passionate Brazilian tennis fans.

With the 2013 clay court season about to start in Europe, Rafa will undoubtedly look to reassert his dominance and rewrite those record books as well. The statistics surrounding Rafa are phenomenal and there is no tournament on the ATP World Tour more synonymous with the Spaniard than Monte Carlo, where Rafa is chasing an astonishing ninth consecutive singles title.

The clay court swing will take us through some of the most beautiful and typically traditional tennis venues in Europe, such as Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Madrid, Rome, Dusseldorf and Nice — tournaments that are always popular with players, fans and sponsors.

— Brad Drewett is ATP Executive Chairman & President