Thursday, November 29, 2012

Clash of Continents - November 25, 2012

I’ve been in Singapore for just over 4 months now and in that time, I think I’ve seen a wider variety of sports than any similar period I spent in Japan. Locally I’ve seen soccer, water polo, golf, rugby sevens, and F1, and taken a couple of quick overseas trips for cricket and basketball. Many of these events may not have the media recognition of their more famous counterparts in Japan, but it has been a lot of fun to be part of them anyway. As a result, I’ve become more interested in seeing things that I would have dismissed as “amateurish” just a few months ago. The most recent example is the inaugural Clash of Continents tennis tournament that was held this past weekend at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.

The format of this tournament was a 2-day round robin between four top stars, each representing their continent. World #8 Janko Tipsarevic of Serbia represented Europe while Japan’s Kei Nishikori was the Asian entry, Argentina’s Juan Monaco came all the way from South America, and Yank Sam Querrey played for North America. Mardy Fish was originally slated for that spot but his personal issues forced him to withdraw just a week before. I would have preferred to see Canadian Milos Raonic instead but I’m guessing the organizers had limited choice and took the first big name they could find.

The indoor stadium is one of several facilities that will make up the Singapore Sports Hub, a sports complex with five distinct venues along with retail and residential space. Scheduled to open fully in 2014, it will be highlighted by the new National Stadium which promises to be the best in Southeast Asia. For now though, it is still under construction.

The indoor stadium is old by comparison, having first opened in 1988. Despite its age, the stadium seems brand new and is one of the nicest venues I’ve seen in Asia. It is also the home of the Singapore Slingers, a team that plays in the Asean Basketball League, so I’ll be back for a couple of their games next year and provide a more thorough review at that time.

Instead of discussing the stadium itself, I’ll talk about the event, which was OK for a first attempt but needs to improve to become a regular part of the sporting calendar. Saturday featured four of the six round robin matches. I did not attend as I had flown overnight from Chennai after a tiring business trip and I had no energy to even get out of the house. I did follow online and each match was won by the higher ranked player. Tipsarevic won both his matches, Querrey lost twice, while Monaco beat Nishikori in the other.

Sunday was the more interesting day, with an exhibition match between Daniela Hantuchova and Peng Shuai (serving above), who are apparently more famous for their looks than their tennis talent. I showed up as this was getting started and watched a few games before doing my stadium tour. Peng won in two sets.

After this, British pop star Leona Lewis (above) gave a brief concert which was much more enjoyable than I expected. A great number of fans were there for her rather than the tennis and it made for a very diverse crowd. Lewis sang 5 or 6 songs in her first live performance in Singapore which took about 30 minutes. I enjoy when live music is mixed with sport in these circumstances (i.e. an exhibition tournament) as I get to see something I otherwise would have no interest in.

After Lewis left the stage, Kei Nishikori came out looking very sad (above). The evening was supposed to end with the final two round robin matches. First Querrey would take on Monaco and then Tipsarevic would face Nishikori. I was quite looking forward to the second match but it wasn’t to be as Nishikori announced (in perfect English) that had hurt himself the day before and had to withdraw. The fans were not happy but there was little that could be done. We all waited patiently for the other two to get ready, but there was not much enthusiasm from the crowd or the players.

Monaco defeated Querrey (above) in a bizarre battle that seemed to indicate both players just wanted to go home. Querrey won the first set 6-1; Monaco won the second set 6-1, setting up a first-to-10 tiebreak for the match. At this point, it seemed like play began for real and Monaco came away with a 10-7 win to take the match and second place.

Nishikori’s withdrawal was not the only disappointment. The availability and cost of food and drink was simply not worthy of a sporting event of this stature. The major issue is that the hot food was served at 10:30 and had to be consumed by 2:30, so if you arrived after that (like I did), there were slim pickings indeed. Even if there was hot food, I don't know if I would have bothered; hot dogs were listed at $8.

Alcohol, on the other hand, was widely available, but rather overpriced with two bottles of beer going for $25. Booze is expensive here in Singapore due to high taxes, but this was crazily overpriced. Cocktails and wine were also on the menu but I saw very few patrons trying any sort of potent potables. Most preferred Coke at $4 or mineral water at $3.

The price of tickets ranged from $150 for arena seats to $60 for balcony (from where the above picture was taken), with the terrace seats in between at $90. Given that this would allow you two full days of tennis (seven matches in all) along with the concert, I think that the lower priced options are fair value for tennis fans, but if you only want to go one day, then it gets a bit much. I think they need to include single-day options for those of us who don’t want to spend our entire weekend watching the same players over and over again.

On the positive side, there were some "kids' courts" (below) at the south entrance where children could practice with soft tennis balls, as well as a section sponsored by "Tennis for the Blind" where you could be blindfolded and try to hit large tennis balls that were equipped with bells. This was not marketed as well as it could have been, but was still crowded with fans throughout the afternoon.

Overall, this was the first Clash of Continents and it was deemed a success with around 7,000 fans showing up each day. There is no guarantee that the event will be held in 2013, but if it is, organizers will have to improve their offerings to make it more attractive to tennis fans who have high expectations as Singapore becomes more and more of an international sporting hub.

Next Up

Nothing remaining for this year, although I am still planning my Christmas trip and that could end up somewhere with a sporting event. As well, the 2013 schedule is being firmed up and should include some new destinations and events and no NHL regardless of how the lockout finishes. Check back on occasion for announcements on both fronts.



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