Tired of watching the cohort of British heroes cast rudely aside at the world's premier tennis event each year, London has finally given our boys a fighting chance by creating a tournament that surely offers Tim Henman (pictured), Andy Murray and his doubles-specialist brother Jamie their best ever hope of hoisting individual silverware aloft in the capital. They've only got three dangerous foreign types to overcome this Saturday in Betfair Turbo Tennis and you're not going to get better odds on a home victor than that outside of the national championships.
But the organisers haven't stopped there. Sensing Tiger Tim's incredulity that they had repeated the Wimbledon committee's error of taking pity on an ageing Goran Ivanisevic they quickly made sure it couldn't rain by staging the matches indoors at the O2 Arena and, mindful of Andy Murray's tendency to succumb to cramp, dehydration, shin splints, tennis elbow, hyperextended eyebrows and some of the rarer strains of plague if a match goes beyond a set and a half they slapped a 30 minute limit on all the matches and gave him a bye to the semi-finals for good measure.
Former rock guitarist and sometime grand slam singles champion, 42 year-old Pat Cash has been invited, too, possibly because he actually lives here, but he's been nobbled by the new ruling that says if he takes longer than 15 seconds to towel down between rallies, or 30 seconds between games when he faces Jamie Murray, a man half his age, he starts forfeiting points. If he's still somehow ahead after 27 minutes of play a dirty great klaxon goes off, presumably as he's shaping for a vital serve, which should startle him into incoherence long enough for the Scot to carry the day. Actually, given the organisers' intent to drench the whole afternoon in "speed, colour, lights and noise" it might actually be the Mercury-clutching Klaxons who burst onto the court belting out a nu-rave number during the last three minutes and the athletes have to play round them.
Other grass court niceties to be trampled into the Dockland carpet include playing on if there's a service net cord, deuces settled by sudden-death points, clothing colour restricted to at least 80% non-white, taking the first two balls you're given and serving them regardless of whether your throw is lousy and having to stretch and warm up in public adjacent to the main action.
Rule 11 states that "All players must remain courtside for the duration of the evening," which seems a harsh punishment considering that the final two combatants will have hit the last ball in anger round about 6:30pm. The same rule goes on to indicate that "Physiotherapy will also take place courtside unless, in the opinion of the medical team, the treatment should be carried out in private," so maybe this is the Arena folks insisting that every event staged there in the wake of Prince's three week residence has to have an appropriate after-show party for the paying punters who will have been allowed into the building from 10am with continuous play scheduled to commence at 2:30 in the afternoon. Ticket prices range from £10 to £60 and the official ticket seller notes that "Seats located on Level 4 are not recommended for those who have a fear of heights," but fails to add that they are ideally situated for those wanting a souvenir ball as volleyed by the Brit of their choice.
Despite the promoters' best efforts on behalf of the home trio, however, Londonist still feels Saturday's winner is inevitably going to be "The Other Guy", James Blake. Our plucky chaps simply don't stand an earthly against a six foot American who's recently had shingles, broke his neck three years ago and had to wear a full back brace for half of his teenage years.
Picture of The Tiger prowling in his cage via Graffiti by Numbers's Flickr stream.