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Tennis finale kicks off "golden decade"

By Thomas Cooper
Andy Murray on top of the O2 Arena promotes the ATP World Tour Finals.
Andy Murray on top of the O2 Arena promotes the ATP World Tour Finals.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Around 260,000 people attended the ATP World Tour Finals at the O2 Arena in London
  • Last year's tournament in Shanghai, China attracted a total of 103,941 people
  • Nikolay Davydenko won this year's tournament after beating Juan Martin Del Potro 6-3 6-4
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(CNN) -- The awarding of the 2012 Olympic Games to London in 2005 signified the beginning of a campaign to bring to Great Britain what Prime Minister Gordon Brown described as a "golden decade" of sport.

Alongside the Olympics, the United Kingdom has also been awarded the 2015 Rugby World Cup, 2019 Cricket World Cup and is bidding for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, all among a host of other events to be staged on the isles.

The hope is that all of these will help leave a greater legacy of participation among the British people, not to mention bringing them the chance to see the best sporting talent in the world up close.

In the case of the latter, this has definitely already begun with the arrival of tennis' ATP World Tour Finals at London's O2 Arena this past weekend, bringing to Britain a sport and its best players that are usually confined to the first days of summer.

"I think it has surpassed anything that we thought it could be in year one," tournament director Chris Kermode told CNN.

"We started this project two years ago and everyone kept telling us that tennis market was just Queens and Wimbledon, just in the summer, I think we demonstrated that there is a huge audience out there in this country that knows a lot about tennis."

Statistics back this up with around 260,000 people visiting the O2 over the course of the tournament's week-long run, a huge increase on the 103,941 in Shanghai in 2008.

Neil Harman, tennis correspondent of The Times, says it is hard to think the event could have been more successful with fans eager to take up the opportunity to see the likes of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal outside of Wimbledon.

"In a sense, everything you could fit into a week of tennis they've had here," said Harman.

"Crowds have been exceptionally good and the atmosphere great, I think you've seen a new breed of tennis fan as well. Different people coming in than you would normally see at Wimbledon, a different range of supporter and I think it's been brilliant for the sport."

The fans have certainly reacted positively to the tournament that saw Nikolay Davydenko become the first Russian to win the ATP World Tour Finals when he defeated Argentina's Juan Martin Del Potro 6-3 6-4.

"All the big stars, it's good to have them here in London," said Rob from North London with his friend JJ describing it as the "Champions League of tennis; they all really want to win it."

Many fans at the O2 were pleased with Davydenko's victory and the surprises this brought along the way, Kermode agrees and believes the Russian's performances were the highlight of the tournament.

"I think people are just amazed at his balance and speed of footwork, and beating Federer and Nadal and these sort of players was unbelievable.

With Andy Murray being Britain's sole representative at the tournament and only current prospect for the sport's grand slams, Harman feels that the most important benefit of the event's residence in London could be in the opportunity to capitalize on the interest and boost participation in a sport low on players compared to others.

"British tennis has got to seize the opportunity to build on the success that the tournament has generated. The question is, does Britain have the wherewithal to offer these people the chance to go off and keep playing and keep their interest up.

"That is the only way we will ever get the kind of numbers playing to five us the chance to develop more players from those numbers, that to my mind is the Lawn Tennis Association's big task after this event."

With the ATP World Tour Finals held in London now until 2013 there is certainly time to get this right.