2010 will go down as a really big one for Viken Hampartzoumian. This was the year that ended on a genuine high for him in the company of six of the world’s best tennis players. As you know, opportunities like this don’t land on your doorstep too often in life and when this one did, Viken grabbed it with two hands and jumped on a plane bound for Abu Dhabi.
It all began back in September 2010, a director of IMG the famous sports managEement team, who is incidentally the man in charge of Roger Federer’s fortunes, contacted Viken and made him an offer he just couldn’t refuse. Viken was asked if he’d like to spend three days in Abu Dhabi as a coach in charge of the clinics that the pros would be handling. This meant that Viken would be on court standing side by side Ferderer, Nadal, Baghdatis, Soderling, Tsonga and Berdych. In all the excitement of saying yes, only one negative thought edged into his mind ““these men being mighty specimens and in comparison our pint-sized Viken would look decidedly “vertically challenged.”
Looking diminutive is a small price to pay. So racquet in one hand, Viken set off for the Middle East and the Mubadula World Tennis Championship. This is the last pro tournament of the year and an invitational one. The winner takes US$250,000 and the five losers have to be content with “show up” fees. Rafa and Federer’s appearance money was close to US$1m so for them at least it was worth showing up. Incidentally Rafael Nadal was this year’s winner so took the prize money as well.
As a 24 year-old he must be one of the world’s top earners in any arena.As part of the deal, the “stars” have to run tennis clinics in the mornings before the tournament proper got under way. For this, they need six professional coaches to assist. The clinics were organised with two coaching teams, each with one of the coaches in charge. One of these was Viken and his job was to organise the other coaches, decide on the drills and tell the pros what to do! So to run you through a typical day for Viken, he’d start with a 9a.m. briefing with the coaches and organisers, then the clinics conducted with the pros went from 10am-12pm on the morning of those 3 days and before lunch there’d be an autograph session for the public. After this hectic schedule, Viken would lunch with the pros and their entourage before matchplay at 3pm.
All this took place at the International Sports Complex, Zayed City. The lucky participants in the clinics spent 15 minutes being warmed up by Viken and his team and then one of the professionals came onto court, got introduced by Viken and then did the drills with the participants. There was a very strict protocol in place, the participants were kept at arm’s length from the pros and spectators were not generally allowed. Amazingly, Elsie had special permission to sit in the stands and watch all the action. She took over 3000 photos and who can blame her, in the same spot wouldn’t anyone?
Meanwhile on court, Viken got to know the “boys” quite well. In the beginning he was clearly over-awed, if not a little tongue-tied. However, as the event progressed he relaxed and felt really easy in the presence of such sporting giants. His first encounter was with Rafa. Viken remembers feeling just a tad overawed and very deferential and in retrospect he is not too sure why as Rafa, despite being shy, is a genuinely nice guy. Nadal, he found, was a little reticent as his English is not so hot; preferring to be asked questions rather than initiating conversation. Baghdatis, the shortest of the crowd, is also a little on the shy side as well.However in the friendliness stakes, Federer comes out tops as Viken found him so easy to work with and apparently Federer is naturally a joker. For those of you who don’t know, Dubai is Roger Federer’s home and he practises every day in the afternoon at the Medina Jumeriah. This was on Viken’s travel itinerary and he spent a part of an afternoon sitting beside the hotel court watching the maestro in action. Apparently this is accessible to anyone who is interested in getting a close up of the action Federer in training!
Those taking the clinics were the sponsors, the high and mighty of the region, radio competition winners and the winners and runners up of a regional age group competition held two weeks before the main event. The most notable ones were the U8, U10, U12 and U14 winners and runners up of a regional tournament held just two weeks before the main tournament. These young guns are apparently serious players and Viken reckons they would give most juniors in Singapore a good run for their money. Like the pros, these youngsters are devoting many hours a day in pursuit of a tennis career; far more time than we allow our children to spend on court. The rising stars of the region were keen to show their mettle and hit the ball directly at poor ol’ Rog as hard as they could. Unfazed, he’d slip his racquet behind the ball and send it back ready for the next shot all the while keeping up a banter with Viken. According to Viken no four-letter words got uttered. Just “yours” “No” “yours”! What happened to “mine”? Just one or two shots slipped through the expert defence making the young guns delirious with joy at getting one past a pro. After this experience, those 24 plucky youngsters will have a conversation stopper for a good few years to come, I expect.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga did a clinic for Special Needs youngsters which are definitely worth a special mention. Again, there will be families talking about this mighty Frenchman for some years to come. Viken sees all these men as fantastic role models; they are at the height of their profession, good at communicating with the general public and genuinely enjoy the game that they are so good at.Viken also got to meet the tennis entourage. He was particularly impressed by Francis Roig, Nadal’s other coach when Uncle Tony is not present and by Soderling’s coach, Claudio Pistolesi. Viken lunched in the players’ lounge and had free tickets for the tournament. I suppose this aspect of the trip must have made him feel rather like minor royalty.So it is little wonder that the tourist part of the trip to Abu Dhabi has faded into distant memory by comparison. Seeing the sights of Dubai, having a Bedouin dessert experience, watching Elsie buy gold bars from a vending machine in the Emirates Palace Hotel ““ surely you could only do this in the Middle East ““ and visiting the World’s tallest building, Bourj Khalifa are nothing in comparison to spending three days in the company of Nadal, Federer, Soderling, Berdych, Baghdatis, and Tsonga.
Viken reckons he has learnt a lot from this experience and intends to take life as it comes from now on, be more relaxed as a coach and certainly leap at future chances to do something like this. He even feels his tennis style has changed mentally.
So there you have it fame could become the bona fide tactics for future Grand Slams now that Viken has rubbed shoulders with some of the best players of the twenty-first century. Just one last thing, if you hit with Viken, you hit with someone who has hit with the best!
Andrea D Woolhead.