In the 1970s and 1980s when it staged the season-ending men’s championships, known then (and for many players even now) as The Masters, Madison Square Garden was the iconic venue in tennis. The buzz of New York City was captured by the players who dominated the sport at the time – the likes of John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors having everyone on the edges of their seats.
On Monday night, “The Garden” will stage its fifth BNP Paribas Showdown – an exhibition which will see Roger Federer taking on Andy Roddick and Maria Sharapova playing Caroline Wozniacki. As someone who has only been there once – and not for a sporting event– there is something unique about it. I found myself gazing around the arena, thinking back to the great boxing fights it staged and trying to picture McEnroe and Connors going toe to toe in front of a raucous crowd.
At that time, the sport was dominated by the Americans, especially McEnroe, Connors and Chris Evert. But a generation of European stars – inspired by Bjorn Borg, in the case of the men – saw a real shift and the Masters was staged in New York for the last time in 1989, when Stefan Edberg won the title.
After that, the power of Boris Becker took it to Frankfurt, since when it has been played in Hanover, Lisbon, Sydney, Shanghai, Houston, Shanghai again and for the past three years, in London, at the O2. The success of London as the host venue for the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals makes it likely that it will be extended beyond the last two years of its current deal but it was interesting to hear Roger Federer talking about the possibility that the season-ending championships could be back at The Garden one day. “I would love for it to happen,” Federer said. “There are many great places I think the world tour finals could go, but obviously to sort of go back to the roots as well, where McEnroe, Lendl, and Borg and all these guys used to be playing, I think it would just be amazing.
“I don’t know if it’s going to happen. I hope the tour will consider and New York will have interest in hosting it, because I think it’s an amazing event and the players and fans and media will love it. We’ll see how it goes, but especially after playing Pete (Sampras) and now Andy (Roddick), you could imagine that I would love to have the World Tour Finals in New York again, hopefully in the near future.”
Federer loves few things more than proving his critics wrong and so since turning 30, he seems to be ageing rather better than most of the former greats. So much for the theory that the powers wane once you’re out of your twenties in tennis. Federer was a deserving winner in Dubai and though he may be vulnerable against the very best in best-of-five setters at the end of grand slams, in regular tour events, he remains as potent a force as ever.