It’s 1987; a 13-year-old boy sits at home in Queensland, Australia, watching in awe as Pat Cash defeats Ivan Lendl in three straight sets. Although a tennis enthusiast, this boy could have never imagined that he would grow up to be a World Number 1, yet this was to become a reality for Pat Rafter.
Rafter recalls fond memories of first walking onto the Wimbledon grounds in 1992 as a qualifier, and walking onto Centre Court in 1993 for the first time. This was also to be his first ever match against Andre Agassi, a great challenger throughout his career, whom he defeated in both the 2000 and 2001 Wimbledon semi-finals, to reach the all-important championship decider matches. Whilst he recalls the subsequent finals as “great to walk out to”, becoming a Wimbledon Champion was never to be for Rafter, one of the few disappointments in his glittering career which saw him achieve 11 career titles, two of which are US Open titles.
Now 43, you’d perhaps expect Rafter to be happily enjoying a relaxed retirement, but this is most definitely not the case. Since his retirement, Rafter has gone on to become an underwear model for ‘Bonds’ and a successful business man, all whilst raising a family and still playing tennis.
This November, Rafter is set to play at Champions Tennis at the Royal Albert Hall, the season finale of the ATP Champions Tour. Returning this year for the fourth time, and going for his third win at the iconic venue, Rafter has credited the tournament’s “unique atmosphere” as “special, exciting, historical and fun”. For Rafter the Royal Albert Hall is one of his top three destinations to play at, alongside Madison Square Gardens and the Sydney Opera House.
Rafter explains why:
“I am thrilled to return to Champions Tennis at the Royal Albert Hall and have the opportunity to play tennis in front of the British fans again. Through my years on tour, Wimbledon was a major highlight because of the amazing appreciation that the fans have for the sport and I can’t wait to return and help celebrate the 20th anniversary of Champions Tennis.”
Rafter is most definitely out to win, and admits that he very much sees the Championship as “a competition”. He can’t wait to play alongside ‘Johnny Mac’ (John McEnroe), who plays “a million miles per hour” and Timmy Henman (Tim Henman), a “great fellow”.
Is he scared that McEnroe might lose his temper like the old days?
Racket-throwing? Shouting? “Yep; I love him!”
McEnroe too is looking forward to the tournament:
“Every year I look forward to coming back to London and playing in Champions Tennis at the Royal Albert Hall event, which over the last two decades has become one of my favourite stops on the Champions Tour. I am grateful to be able to compete in front of amazing British fans that have such a great appreciation for our sport. I can’t wait to return in November.”
It all starts again this November.
Pat Rafter, John McEnroe and Tim Henman will be playing Champions Tennis at the Royal Albert Hall from 30th Nov – 4th Dec 2016.
Find out more at www.championstennis.co.uk