Photo: Paul ZimmerThe All England Lawn Tennis Club receive the Philippe Chatrier Award from ITF President Francesco Ricci Bitti - World Champions Dinner 2013
It was only fitting that the Philippe Chatrier award, in the International Tennis Federation's centenary year, should go to the All England Club, given that the man who first intimated its importance was Chatrier himself.
‘Wimbledon sets the example,’ said Chatrier on the eve of the Open era in 1968. ‘The Championships in June, with guaranteed participation of the top professional players, already stirs a passion which tennis will profit from throughout the world.’
Just about anybody who was anybody in the world of tennis was in Paris on Tuesday evening to pay their respects to the All England Club and all the other award winners at the ITF World Champions Dinner and if they couldn’t be there in person, like John McEnroe and Billie Jean King , they did so in a video tribute to the old club. Chris Evert was one of several former Wimbledon champions who were present.
Francesco Ricci Bitti, the present day president of the ITF, commented on presenting the award to Philip Brook, the chairman of the All England Club: ‘As a sport, tennis is blessed to have an organisation like the AELTC, always generous and never complacent, promoting our sport around the world while continuing to set very high standards for themselves and for those privileged to compete at Wimbledon.’
Novak Djokovic, Serena Williams, the Bryan twins (for a ninth time) and the Italian pairing of Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci, were among those champions who found the time to momentarily put aside their responsibilities on the other side of the Bois de Boulogne at the French Open to attend and receive their awards.
The evening began on a sombre note with a minute’s silence for the former ATP chairman and player Brad Drewett, a man, whom Djokovic remarked, had ‘a passion for this sport’. It also marked the retirement of the incomparable Esther Vergeer, the world wheelchair champion.
The Dutch woman was receiving the award for the 13th consecutive year, during which time she was unbeaten. The inference made by Andrew Castle, the evening's MC, was that more than a few of her opponents might be relieved to see her go. Vergeer had no regrets about calling time on her career, but admitted – a little worryingly for her one-time rivals - that attending the French Open had stirred her competitive juices.
The junior champions were Filip Peliwo, of Canada, and Taylor Townsend, the first American girl in 30 years to top the year-end junior rankings. Townsend, who described herself as ‘a proud American’, was asked about her aspirations in the sport. ‘I think I could end up as No. 1,’ she said.
‘It’s a good job Serena’s gone,’ remarked Castle.