© Ella Ling

Net detail

The billionaires with a passion for tennis


Four tennis enthusiasts richer than Roger Federer (several times richer):

Bill Gates:
You will be surprised – or maybe not – at the interest that the Olympic tennis players have in the geeky founder of Microsoft. Laura Robson tweeted the other day about the excitement of practising on the next court to Gates – it was never really explained what he was doing there in the first place – and Anne Keothavong asked him to pose for a picture when she looked over and saw him on the next table at a restaurant in Wimbledon. On Monday, Gates was in the front row to watch Roger Federer play Julien Benneteau on Centre Court. If the Royal Box hadn’t been transformed into the Olympic Family Box for this tournament, that baseball cap would have ripped from the American’s head.

Sir Richard Branson:
The women’s tour host a pre-Wimbledon party every summer at Branson’s nightclub, the Kensington Roof Gardens. Branson disclosed earlier this year that Virgin Group turned down the chance to sponsor Andy Murray when the Scot was 16. “He’s the one that got away,” Branson has said. “A 16-year-old tennis player and his Mum came to see me in Oxford a few years ago to ask if Virgin would sponsor him. We had a wonderful lunch but couldn’t get enough support from our health clubs.”

Larry Eillison:
Forbes magazine have estimated that Ellison, the co-founder of Oracle, is the third richest man in America with a fortune valued at 36 billion dollars putting him behind only Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. Ellison owns the Indian Wells Tennis Garden and the tournament played there every spring. He also plays regularly. “I play five days a week. It’s usually on clay,” he has said. “I love it.” During this year’s tournament in Indian Wells, Rafael Nadal stayed at Ellison’s “place”. “I hit with him for an hour and a half the other day,” Ellison told The New York Times this year. “The ball, when it hits the ground, people think it just kicks up high to Roger Federer’s backhand. That’s kind of not the problem. The problem is it kicks away from you sometimes, kicks towards you sometimes. It’s really a difficult shot. He puts just massive amounts of spin, and he can obviously go very big. He’s the best athlete to ever play tennis.”

Ion Tiriac:
A former tennis player who went on to manage Ilie Nastase, Guillermo Vilas, Mary Joe Fernandez, Goran Ivanisevic and Boris Becker. And to have his own bank,  his own airline (Tiriac Air) and to make a billion. His most recent contribution to tennis has been his involvement with the Madrid Masters. It’s a matter of taste whether you like his innovation of hiring unemployed models as ball-kids. Having blue clay this year was even more controversial and won’t be used again next spring.