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The ever-expanding world of tennis exhibitions

Necker Island, home to the Necker Cup
by Mark Hodgkinson
Friday 22 November 2013
It's the off-season, which always means plenty of exhibition tennis to boost on court practice time and bank balances in exotic locations. Wimbledon.com examines who is playing where when...
 
So Andy Murray won't be smoting tennis balls in the Caribbean sunshine later this month, after the unsanctioned Dream Cup in Barbados was cancelled. But perhaps the Wimbledon champion’s first public appearance since the operation to his back – we’re not going to count sitting on Jonathan Ross’ sofa - will be at another exhibition event, the Mubadala World Tennis Championships which begins in Abu Dhabi on Boxing Day. (On a side note, no one could ever accuse those two exhibitions of underselling themselves with their names.)
 
Before the sport starts up again for real in the New Year, Murray is one of a group of leading players helping tennis fans to get their fix during the off-season; in return, they receive match practice, exposure to different markets, and, of course, appearance fees.
 
And no one is busier than Rafael Nadal, who, after a regular season in which he achieved the greatest comeback in tennis history, is still working. After leaving London, where he was the runner-up to Novak Djokovic at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, the Majorcan flew to Sir Richard Branson’s Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands. Joining Nadal at the Necker Cup, which regards itself as the most exclusive tennis exhibition in the world, were Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli, Ana Ivanovic, Boris Becker, Martina Navratilova, Petra Kvitova, Daniela Hantuchova and Sorana Cirstea. Oh, and Princess Beatrice.
 
Nadal then played an exhibition match in Peru against fellow Spaniard David Ferrer, before meeting up with Djokovic for an event in Chile in honour of former player Nicolas Massu, and then matches in Argentina to mark David Nalbandian’s retirement. Like Murray, Nadal will be stopping off in Abu Dhabi after Christmas, as will Djokovic, Ferrer, Stanislas Wawrinka and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. As Djokovic has noted, he sees more of Nadal than he does of his own mother.
 
Nadal has acknowledged that his schedule hasn’t left him with much time to prepare for the 2014 season. “It’s going to be very short, the period of time,” Nadal has said. “I will go back to Spain around Nov 26, and I’m going to be doing checking, especially the knee. I’m probably going to be doing a little bit of recovery on the knee and try to have the chance to work hard for 15 days in December, no more.”
 
Ivanovic, a former French Open champion, is probably the busiest women’s player on the exhibition circuit; as well as her appearance on Necker Island, she is due to play Maria Sharapova in Bogota next month, and to also appear at Kim Clijsters’ event in Antwerp, along with Kirsten Flipkens, a semi-finalist at this year’s Championships.
 
And what of Roger Federer, who at this time last year was on an off-season tour of South America? Well, this year he has decided to take a full break, to prime himself for the season ahead. But he is putting on an exhibition before the Australian Open, with an event at Melbourne’s Rod Laver Arena in January to raise money for his Foundation.
 
But perhaps the most intriguing exhibition is one that is yet to be confirmed; it began as a joke on Twitter, but there is still the possibility that Murray could play Serena Williams in Las Vegas next year for what would be a modern take on ‘The Battle of the Sexes’. 

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