The hallowed grounds of Wimbledon gave tennis its most memorable stage at the Olympics this past year, and home-grown gold medalist Andy Murray adding to the British fervor.
But as 2013 ticks closer and the Rio Games sit just three-and-a-half years away, little is known about what the first South American country to host the Olympics will conjure up for a tennis facility.
Over the last 10 days, Brazil has staged what could be seen as a testing tour for the Summer Games with the Gillette Federer Tour, a sponsored batch of exhibition matches headlined by — you guessed it! — Roger Federer.
The exhibitions taking place in Sau Paulo, Argentina, and Colombia were wildly advertised across South American TV and media outlets, with Gillette creating a viral video featuring Federer as a Brazilian soccer and volleyball star that garnered over seven million clicks on YouTube.
From a fan perspective, the swing has widely been viewed as a success, as near-sellout crowds watched six exhibitions that also featured Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka, Juan Martin Del Potro, Maria Sharapova, Tommy Haas, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Brazil’s highest-ranked player, Tomaz Bellucci.
The tour, which took place over ten days, cemented the players’ support behind Brazil’s hosting of the 2016 Games. No support was greater than Federer’s, who said during his time there that he would cut back his schedule over the next few years, but still aim to play in Rio come 2016.
Lucia Hoffman, a Sao Paulo native and New York-based journalist, said the tennis world has turned its attention to a new source of money and fan interest.
“The players came to check out this new world of tennis that they have been told will become the new tennis destination on the tour,” Hoffman wrote in an email. “Almost like Asia became many years back… The new ATP CEO now he has his eyes on Brazil.”
The loss of two U.S. tennis events (in San Jose and Los Angeles) over the next two years is South America’s gain with the tournaments finding a new home there. Yet it remains unknown what surface (clay, most likely) or what sort of facility the Brazilians will construct or re-purpose for tennis in Rio.
While Federer voiced support for the fan turnout in Brazil, he noted that the aging Ibirapuera Stadium didn’t hold muster compared to ATP event sites when it comes to modern-day amenities.
“I think some things need to be improved if you want to make sure the fans have the best experience possible,” Federer told Estado de Sao Paulo. “This venue is a little old and it needs to be bigger, but the atmosphere is great and the fans incredible. There is no need to worry about that side of things.”
Hoffman said the fans not only treated Federer like royalty, but more like a soccer star, the ultimate South American compliment.
“This tour was huge, like a tsunami, for tennis in Brazil,” she wrote. “Brazilian TV was totally invested in it. So, from all social classes, all ages, people knew about the Gillette Federer Tour as much as they knew about their soccer. And in a country of 200 million, that’s huge.”