Most of us have, at the very least, heard the names of today’s top international tennis players…but do we know who ultimately decides their pay and runs their tournaments ? Probably not. If a single person were named the holder of this power in the tennis world, it would be Andrea Gaudenzi, executive chairman of the ATP (the Association of Tennis Professionals – the governing body that runs the men’s professional tennis tour). I went to Monte Carlo to make his portrait for Bloomberg.
Monte Carlo Country Club
The magazine’s photography director had chosen the Monte Carlo Country Club as the location for the portraits. Monaco-based professional tennis players train here alongside Monégasque amateurs on the many outdoor, sun-soaked tennis courts, and work out using gym equipment installed on terraces overlooking the sparkling sea below. The Club is one of Gaudenzi’s regular haunts.
I arrived early to recce and to carry, with my assistant Honor, all the photography and lighting equipment to the chosen spot. I am regularly commissioned to make portraits of professional athletes (see posts about photographing a cyclist, rugby player, racing car driver, boxer and freedivers) and although I’d made a portrait of player Milos Raonic, working on a tennis court was new to me. I was keen to see the colours, lines and net – and explore how I could work with them.
As it turned out, Honor and I didn’t have to carry anything anywhere. We received a warm welcome from Eric (the Club’s director), and his assistant, who informed us that they were “entirely at our disposal“, and we were quickly joined by the executive vice president of the ATP and a colleague.
Green or blue?
“On which court would you like to take the portrait?” Without seeing the options, I couldn’t be sure, so our growing party, trailed by groundsmen lugging my lights, lenses and a ladder I’d requested, did a tour of all the courts. A couple were blue, most were green, a few were empty and all were in full sun. As South of France portrait photographer, one of the first things I look for on a recce is shade, to be able to control the light and limit the subject’s sweating and squinting, but it was clear that today, we would have to make our own shade – or do without it.
All the courts were reserved, but Eric swept an extravagant arm before him and said I could use whichever spot I wanted. I chose one of the blue courts and asked whether the adjoining one, in shot, could also be emptied. The unlucky trainer, who’d booked his slots weeks ago (blue courts have a different surface to green ones and there were only two available), was not impressed. As he gathered his things, he hissed at me “When did you book it?!?” “Just now” I answered, truthfully.
Andrea arrived bang on time. A former pro tennis player, he was once ranked No. 18 in the world and knows what it is to beat Federer and Sampras. That was 20 years ago though, and today, his tall, athletic physique was immaculately clad in a sharp, perfectly-tailored suit (he is Italian, after all). The Bloomberg Businessweek article was about a crisis in the business of tennis (to sum up: due to organisational in-fighting, the world’s 4th most popular sport is massively underachieving in revenue from global media rights) and Andrea Gaudenzi’s proposed reforms to sort everything out.
The photography director had asked me to “use lines and angles, a bit differently” in this tennis portrait. I’d found a ball in the gutter at the Club’s entrance and planned to ask Andrea to use it, but didn’t have a chance to test it out. The sun had been alternating quickly between fierce, and hidden behind chunky clouds, so Honor and I had to prepare two lighting set-ups. When Andrea arrived, I climbed the umpire’s chair to shoot and Honor perched atop the ladder with a panel to create a patch of shade. Almost immediately, the sun went in. We switched to Plan B, only to have it come quickly out again. “New balls please!” My joke was greeted with the Poof!! of a tin of new balls actually being opened by one of the efficient Club staff members, so I left the somewhat duller ball in my pocket. Andrea gamely juggled, pushing the athletic limits of his business attire to create a neat metaphor about his role in tennis. In the end, throwing just one ball worked best.
Lord of the locker room
I worked indoors for a second set of portraits. The Monte Carlo Country Club’s vestiares (changing rooms and lockers) were built in 1923, and the wooden furniture and wall panels haven’t been touched since, apart from being lovingly polished. When my investigation of one changing area resulted in a sharp shock for both myself and the naked Monégasque concerned, the safest spot to work seemed to be the locker room. This elegant time capsule could be a perfect representation of Andrea’s behind-the-scenes position in the tennis industry, I thought. I was reeling in metaphors.
After the shoot, Andrea asked whether he might use any of my portraits for social media. I guess when you’re hidden away behind the scenes, you don’t have so many photographs at your disposal…
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