By Chris Oddo | Sunday January 8, 2016
The French grabbed the Hopman Cup title, defeating the Americans in mixed doubles to earn the trophy for the second time in four years, but this was an event where everybody won—most importantly tennis fans.
Ten Top 50 players saw action for the eight countries represented, including 17-time major champion Federer, who drew 6,000 fans to a stand-alone practice session as he began his comeback from a five-month injury hiatus.
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Richard Gasquet and Kristina Mladenovic defeated Jack Sock and CoCo Vandeweghe in a Fast4 format to claim the title. It may sound like tennis sacrilege, and traditionalists might not have settled into the idea of shortened sets and no-ad scoring, but in reality speeding up the doubles at a time when avoiding injury and overwork is a major goal for major hardware seekers is a necessity. Furthermore, Hopman Cup--Fast4 and all--generates something else that the sport as a whole needs badly these days: a lot of buzz and positivity, and some outside-the-box thinking.
The event that brought you Serena Williams and her courtside espresso brought you Federer, Belinda Bencic and bongomania this year. But don’t be fooled by the playful façade—there was high-level tennis to be had as well.
In total, 103,167 fans visited Perth Arena for the 29th annual staging of the event (not counting Fed’s practice), which makes us wonder why every Grand Slam nation isn’t scrambling to find a way to run an event like this prior to its annual major. Federer’s appearance for the first time in 2001 no doubt ratcheted the excitement to ‘FEVER’ level, but even without Federer there’s so much to like about Hopman Cup and its format.
For one, each player gets a steady schedule and a guaranteed match. You can’t lose in the first round of a Hopman Cup, so everybody gets ample time to work on their game (with days off for practice in between—can you say tennis heaven?). And though it is dubbed as an exhibition, not many would argue that Roger Federer’s showdown with Alexander Zverev wasn’t a heated battle that was taken seriously by both competitors. Both will likely be better off in Melbourne having gone through that level of competition last week.
Plus, there’s the undeniable buoyant spirit of the event. With men and women competing together, there’s a conviviality to Hopman Cup that tennis fans only get to see in mixed doubles at the majors. But even at the majors, the players aren’t competing for their flags, so really only Olympic Mixed doubles can compare favorably to what we see at Hopman Cup.
And speaking of Olympics, the field included four Olympic medalists this year—Federer, Jack Sock, Richard Gasquet and Lucie Hradecka—and as well as ten returning players (clearly, they like it too!).
And the best news is that Perth has secured the event for at least the next five years. Imagine if tennis could put on the same thing in New York City in the weeks before the U.S. Open. Or in the English countryside, instead of that silly Boodles event. How about something in Provence in mid-May? We know we’d be watching those events more closely than the relatively meaningless tournaments that take place at those times—no offense but fans watch the practice courts of Paris more closely than the semifinals of Strasbourg. Same can be said for Winston-Salem in the States, when all eyes are focused on the U.S. Open in Queens.
If organizers find a way to build it, meaning if they can lock up the star-studded fields that the Hopman Cup always seems to bring, why shouldn’t they go for it?
Tennis will be facing a lot of challenges in the upcoming years. The greats of the game are aging out of it. We will need new ways, more than ever, to captivate audiences, to bring a buzz to the sport and to show the world our great game as it puts its best foot forward. What better way to do that than by mixing the gender and mixing the format like Hopman Cup has done?
The numbers surely aren’t lying. Hopman Cup has been a big win for tennis, and there’s room for more of the same in Europe and in the U.S.