Tennis – Not just for Wimbledon…

If you are a tennis fan, you will be very aware of the spectacular end of year WTA Finals that have just taken place in Singapore, involving the biggest names in women’s world tennis, players such as Venus Williams, Simona Halep, Garbine Muguruza and Caroline Wozniacki.

When I think back to some of the conversations I had with my wife, Elena Baltacha-Severino when we were on the world tennis tour, I can remember some of the very funny questions she could be asked. The funniest one I remember came just after Wimbledon one year, when a lady asked Elena,

“What do you do now that Wimbledon has finished for you, do you have another job to go back to?”

I’m sure that for many people in the UK, tennis awareness in is all about Wimbledon, and then for the rest of the year it’s forgotten until the world’s top tennis players once again arrive in Wimbledon.

Wimbledon brought Elena and I so many privileges and experiences, and one of the events that stands out was when the Queen visited Wimbledon.

Elena was one of the players chosen to meet the Queen along with players like Serena and Venus Williams, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. It was truly fantastic to see the crowds react in such a positive and supportive way to the Queen.

This could not be further from the truth, I travelled the world tennis tour by Elena’s side for eight years and our tournament schedule always started in December. I remember this vividly as we would always have to tear ourselves away from the family after Boxing Day Lunch at exactly 3pm, when our transport arrived to take us to Heathrow Airport.

This was a bittersweet occasion, it was the start of the new tennis year and everything we worked so hard for, but it was also the beginning of a six-week block away from our home and family, starting with the hugs and kisses and the goodbyes which ended the Christmas period for Elena and I.

Elena at the Australian Open, ready to compete against the best in the world.

Justine Henin, arguably one of the best tennis female tennis players ever, giving Elena the respect she so rightly deserved.

This trip was a long one. From our door in Ipswich to our hotel in New Zealand took 33 hours – that’s pretty mind blowing when I think about it now. Back then, we took it in our stride as it was part of our very abnormal life on the world tennis tour, which always delivered many strange, interesting and funny experiences.

One year we were in the lounge in Dubai, waiting for our connection, relaxing and having a coffee, a bite to eat and a chat, when ex Ipswich Town Manager Roy Keane and his family came into view.

It was a striking sight, Roy striding forwards to the restaurant area with the rest of the family all behind him trying to keep up with the pace, his wife and all five children. It really is quite amazing who you can bump into, literally on the other side of the world.

Playing on the WTA Tour and at the biggest tennis tournaments in the world such as the Australian Open, a Grand Slam, means you work around some of the best players in the world, such as the one and only Rafael Nadal.

The tournament in New Zealand started a relentless year for us which included around 40 weeks of travelling, from New Zealand we would travel to Australia for the first Grand Slam of the year in January.  This would lead into another run of tournaments which would lead to the French Open in May, which would be followed by another run of tournaments which included a phase, affectionately known as “The Grass”, which of course leads into Wimbledon.

This period included tournaments in Birmingham, Eastbourne finishing with the The Wimbledon championships in July. We would leave the grass courts to go back on the hard courts and the phase entering into the last of the four Grand Slams, the US Open in New York, which started at the end of August. Our competitive year finished with tournaments in Asia and Russia taking us to the end of October.

As you walk down the hall to the competition courts, the walls celebrate past glorious champions such as Monica Seles, Boris Becker, Steffi Graf, Ivan Lendl.

The Tennis Tour finale would include the World’s top eight players all competing in the end of year WTA Finals which has just been completed last week.

The two players that made the final were Caroline Wozniacki and the tennis legend Venus Williams, who is an incredible 37 years old. It’s strange, as life on the tennis tour is one big travelling sporting family, and both these players were a big part of our lives as we played our role on the world tour.

Both players, I must say, are incredible individuals, great athletes, competitors and great champions who know how to handle their responsibilities as tennis role models and sporting celebrities, always treating their support teams and fans with great respect. It’s a shame only one could come out of the finals in Singapore a champion, on this occasion it was Caroline Wozniacki.

It was an incredible victory for Caroline, as she entered the final having lost to Venus seven times, in their last seven encounters, it took the Dane 89 minutes to achieve this victory, which was accompanied by a fantastic trophy, 1,375 ranking points and a staggering $2,247,000 in total prize money. I think Caroline has now deserved her close season and some family time, before it all starts again for her in December!

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