Rio 2016 took a tantalising step closer after Barra Olympic Park finally opened its doors to the Brazil Mastercup tennis tournament – the 20th and last of this year’s test events for the Games.
The event, which concluded on Saturday, December 12, was the first ever to be held at Barra Olympic Park, the centrepiece of next year’s Games, and its final day marked the inauguration of the breathtaking new Olympic Tennis Centre. Seventy-five Brazilian tennis players took part in the competition – played across men’s, women’s, seniors, juniors and wheelchair categories – and some famous figures from the past were there to watch, too.
Named after Brazil’s most decorated tennis player, 19-time Grand Slam winner Maria Esther Bueno, the new centre court played host to an entertaining series of competitions. Among the winners were Thiago Monteiro (men’s singles) and Gabriela Ce (women’s singles) – and among the 2,000 guests invited to watch was Bueno herself, now 76 years of age and delighted to see the facility that bears her name.
“This is one of the happiest days of my life,” she said. “It’s a beautiful tribute for me, but also a great victory for all women, as it shows that we can also do great things.
“[The stadium is] so beautiful and grandiose that I actually thought this could not be just the tennis stadium – I thought it must be the Olympic Stadium!”
©Rio 2016/Alex Ferro
Joining Bueno in hailing the new complex was Gustavo Kuerten, the three-time French Open champion and quarter-finalist at Sydney 2000. Kuerten, who is Brazil’s most successful player of the last 40 years, said it made him wish he was joining the likes of Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams in competing at the 2016 competition.
“The sensation of entering this beautiful arena is indescribable,” he said. “It makes me want to play again. Imagine what it’s going to be like next year – we’re going to put on a great tennis show.
“It is a very important development, for the attention that the Olympics will bring and because we will now have facilities of this level for our players [in Brazil].”
The new centre court has a capacity of 10,000, while there are two other show courts with 5,000 and 3,000 temporary seats and another seven competition courts. Six training courts complete the picture and, demonstrating the complex’s versatility, it will also be used during the Paralympic Games to host wheelchair tennis and five-a-side football.
Rodrigo Garcia, the executive sport director of Rio 2016, said he had been pleased to hear positive words from those competing last week and knew where a few slight improvements would be needed, too.
“We received a lot of feedback from the players, about the speed of the court etc.,” he explained. “Everything went well and the outcome was very positive. Of course we still need to make some adjustments, for example in the colour of the panels at the back of the court, but this is why we have test events.”