At the champagne reception I attempted to nonchalantly waft through the Olympic gold medal winners, Rugby World Cup champions and Wimbledon legends surrounding me. It was being like the green room of ‘Question of Sport’; Judy Murray, smaller than expected but very lovely and twinkly in pink, mingled with the ever so fabulous Sir Steve Redgrave and dapper Tim Henman. Andrew Castle ever so kindly picked up my dropped handbag and former women’s Wimbledon Champion Virginia Wade had a glass of champagne in one hand, a twinkle in her eye and was bounding across the room having a ball. In a clichéd scenario, rugby players Lewis Moody and Kieran Bracken were hoovering up the canapés and tennis players Jamie Murray and Greg Rusedski were having pre match interviews and chatting to old friends. Katherine Grainger, back in training to retain her Olympic Gold in Rio was in fine form and rowing colleague Anna Watkins was showing some impressive triceps and biceps in a sleeveless dress.
The Royal Albert Hall lends itself brilliantly to accommodating a tennis court and brings together a fabulous sporting event and great night out in one place. First on court were Tim Henman and the broody 6’5 Mark Philippoussis, whom I’d earlier attempted small talk with over a white truffle and carrot macaroon. Seven games in Philippoussis did his back in, and much to the envy of the female audience one lucky physio got to massage his back whilst we contemplated if our press lanyards would allow us access to the changing rooms. The doubles included Pat Rafter and Mansour Bahrami taking on Greg Rusedski and young Jamie Murray, who was whipped around the court by Bahrami (who is probably old enough to be his granddad). With high jinks ensuing a tennis ball got stuck on the famous Albert Hall ceiling discs after enthusiastic lob went wrong, so if ever you hear about a future opera or concert being interrupted by falling tennis ball you’ll know why!
For more information on Statoil Masters Tennis visit www.statoilmasterstennis.com/bestbeginnings or www.royalalberthall.com
Last night’s grand opening was in support of Best Beginnings, a small national charity working to give every baby in the UK a better, healthier start in life. For more information visit www.bestbeginnings.org.uk
Words and photography by Kitty Buchanan-Gregory