Greg Rusedski: Barclays ATP World Tour Finals is like “fifth grand slam"
Greg Rusedski took a break from his commentating duties to give us the lowdown on how the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals has established itself on the pro calendar as “the fifth grand slam”. In an exclusive interview, he also talks about the importance of Barclays Ball Kids, the “feel-good factor” surrounding British tennis today – and his predictions for this year’s competition.
Greg, thanks for taking the time to chat to us today. How would you sum up the impact of this tournament?
The impact of the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals on tennis in this country, and globally, has been incredible. It continues to grow in stature, and the players we get to watch today have probably been the greatest of all time in the history of the sport. This is what makes the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals one of the premier events in the world – in any sport.
What’s it like for the top players to compete at such a prestigious event?
For me, this is like the fifth grand slam. More than 250,000 people come every year to this amazing venue to watch eight days of world-class tennis. You’ve got to start strongly from the first match, otherwise your tournament will be over pretty quickly. At no other event do you start playing number one in the world in the first match, and then number four against number two, and so forth, so that extreme competitiveness in itself is very unique. All the players love it. Talk to Federer, Murray, Djokovic, Nadal. This is what they’re working towards throughout the year.
Has Murray got what it takes to win his first title here?
I’m a little biased! But I definitely think Murray – the new world no. 1 – has what it takes. My dream scenario would be a Murray vs Djokovic final for the year-end no. 1 spot and I think it could come true. Murray’s on a 20-match winning streak and playing brilliantly. There are a few questions marks around Djokovic at the moment, so I think Murray will capture his first title here – and what a fitting way for Barclays to finish their great eight-year run [as sponsors of the event].
All 30 of the ball boys and girls working at the tournament have come through the Barclays Ball Kids project. How important are initiatives like these?
Very important. It gives different kids from across the country the opportunity to be around the best players in the world at the end of season championships. It’s great that Barclays brings all these kids together to work in a team.
It will teach them discipline and teamwork, while getting to see the world’s best players in action and having a wonderful time. Lots of the kids are keen tennis players too, so sharing the court with the very best is an extra special experience for them. Maybe we’ll see one of them here in one of the finals in a couple of years from now. Don’t forget a certain guy, by the name of Roger Federer, was once a ball boy. He did a great job…
Were you ever a ball boy?
No, but I wish I was! You get a lot of special access to the players and tickets to the matches; it would have been a wonderful opportunity. It worked well for Federer... that was probably my mistake!
What does a top player expect from a Barclays Ball Kid?
The ball kids have to anticipate the play as it’s happening, understand the game, and recognise each player has their own habits and ways. I’m being blamed for a terrible habit – being served the towel. I was the first to start that, demanding they bring the towel to me!
What’s the key to developing future British talent?
We’re going through an incredible period at the moment – for example Kyle Edmund is in the top 40 at 21 years old – but it’s about sustaining that work, and ensuring consistency. It’s important to find a formula that works in the long term and not change every few years, having a project that’s in place for the next 10 to 20 years. It’s a magical time for British tennis right now. We have lots of reasons to be optimistic, a lot of feel-good factor at the moment, which needs to be taken advantage of in the future.
Since retiring nine years ago, you’ve taken up punditry. What’s your favourite part of being a commentator?
I love it when something surprises me. I’m usually not surprised too often, but it’s great when you get a magical match. There’s a few stand-outs that I remember, especially here at the  Finals, when Murray played Rafa in the semis, one of the longest matches they ever had, an epic which Nadal went on to win. For me, it’s those magical moments when you see tennis pushed to another level, and the crowd is so involved and vocal. That’s what I live for as a commentator.