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  • Zhi Hong

Game. Set. Eurovision: Tennis stars with connections to the Contest



Australia's summer of tennis has commenced with a series of warm-up tournaments already underway across the country, culminating in the Australian Open in Melbourne at the end of the month.


It is an exciting time of year for us Australians, with almost all of the world's brightest tennis stars arriving here to compete. This got us at Aussievision thinking: do any of these players have connections to Eurovision?


The answer is yes, some of tennis's biggest names have had interactions and are even fans of Europe's biggest singing competition.


Novak Djokovic (Serbia)


The Serbian tennis star and winner of 21 Grand Slam singles titles is an avid follower of Eurovision. Novak is so devoted to the Contest that he appeared on-stage at the first semi-final of the 2008 edition held in his native Belgrade, just days before the French Open.


He stated: "I feel so privileged to be here and honoured. This is [an] amazing event. The whole [of] Europe is watching, the stage is unbelieveable."



At the instruction of hosts Jovana Janković and Željko Joksimović, and after an impromptu duet with the latter, Novak then threw a large tennis ball into the crowd which the signalled the commencement of the 15 minute televoting window.


Since then Novak has continued to show his affinity to Eurovision. In 2020 he was in the audience of the Sanremo Music Festival, Italy's Eurovision national selection, with his wife Jelena one evening before the hosts coaxed him to join them on stage. He was subsequently interviewed and again demonstrated his own singing (and possibly Eurovision) credentials by performing with the hosts. Novak is fluent in Italian and has a residence in Monaco which is around a 45 minute car drive away from Sanremo.



This year he tweeted a video of himself watching Serbia's Konstrakta perform live at the Eurovision grand final, before urging his followers to support her.



Ana Ivanovic (Serbia)


Novak's fellow countrywoman Ana almost had a very prominent role at Eurovision 2008. The now retired tennis star was the first choice of the then head of Radio Television of Serbia, Aleksandar Tijanić, to be the female presenter of the Contest as she was regarded as one of Serbia's most recognisable celebrities globally. At the time Ana stated she was "honoured" to be considered, but due to the Contest's close proximity in terms of timing with the French Open it would be "a little bit difficult" to take up the offer.


Photo credit: Jimmie48/WTA

Ana ultimately did not host the 2008 edition of the Contest, but did appear in a pre-recorded video in the second semi-final giving viewers a tour of her native Belgrade. In hindsight, given she won what turned out to be her only singles grand slam title at that year's French Open, declining Eurovision hosting duties was perhaps a wise personal decision.


Ana's connection to Eurovision has prompted much curiosity from fans and reporters in subsequent years. At the post-match press conference at the 2016 French Open after her second round win, Ana was asked for her thoughts on Serbia's 18th place result at that year's Eurovision. She remarked that she thought Sanja Vučić ZAA's performance of 'Goodbye (Shelter)' was "great", deserved a "much, much better position", and that she "liked the song a lot." Ana also stated she enjoyed Russia's entry that year, which was 'You Are the Only One' performed by Sergey Lazarev.



Rafael Nadal (Spain)


He may be busy accumulating what is currently the most number of singles grand slams (22) by a male tennis player in history, but that hasn't stopped Rafa taking time to chat to some Eurovision hopefuls.


In 2018 he met Spain's Eurovision contestants that year, Alfred and Amaia, who would perform 'Tu canción'. At their meeting Rafa mentioned he was a huge fan of Spain's Eurovision national selection Operación Triunfo and asked how the duo's preparations for the Contest were going. Unfortunately Rafa's winning ways did not rub off on Alfred and Amaia and they finished in 22nd in the 2018 Eurovision Grand Final.



Kim Clijsters (Belgium)


The retired four time grand slam singles champion, affectionately known as "Aussie Kim" due to her previous relationship with Australian tennis star Lleyton Hewitt, also appears to follow Eurovision.


Often calling it the Eurovision "song festival" on Twitter, in 2010 she tweeted her support for Tom Dice who was representing Kim's native Belgium that year with 'Me and My Guitar'. Kim's good wishes worked as Belgium finished sixth in the Grand Final which was the country's best result in seven years.


In 2013 she posted to her followers "Eurovision song festival starting soon ... Anyone going to watch?".



Stefanos Tsitsipas (Greece)


The Greek tennis sensation has been a big Eurovision fan for many years. In 2017 he showed his admiration for Salvador Sobral's 'Amar Pelos Dois' by tweeting "Congratulations to Portugal for winning the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest. Well deserved!".


In February 2020 Stefanos invited Stefania, the Greek Eurovision representative to watch his matches at Rotterdam Ahoy. The venue has hosted an Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) Tour 500 tournament since 1977, and was where Eurovision 2021 was held in which Stefania competed.



Later in 2020 at the Ultimate Tennis Showdown - an exhibition event in Nice, France - during a changeover Stefanos was encouraged to sing by the commentators. After performing a short rendition of Timbaland and One Republic's 'Apologize' he declared: "My dream was to make it to the Eurovision representing Greece ... I will keep fighting until I make it ... let's apply right?".



Stefanos has been a consistent top five singles player for several years now, but is yet to win a grand slam singles title. We hope he does not have to wait as long as it took his beloved Greece to win Eurovision (a lengthy 31 years!).



Caroline Wozniacki (Denmark)


The 2018 Australian Open champion has in the past tweeted patriotically about Eurovision. The now retired Danish tennis star congratulated her fellow countrywoman Emmelie de Forest after the latter won the 2013 Eurovision Song Contest.


When Denmark hosted Eurovision the following year Caro tweeted: "Copenhagen can be proud of the setting for this [year's] Eurovision! Stage and arena looks great!" When prompted she also remarked Basim's 'Cliche Love Song' representing Denmark that year was "pretty good" and "catchy!".



Matteo Berrettini (Italy)


A Wimbledon singles finalist in 2021 and perennial top 20 player, Matteo was chosen by Sanremo Music Festival presenter Amadeus to be a special guest on the first evening of Italy's Eurovision national selection show.



In an interview after the show Matteo suggested he was so nervous and excited to be on the Sanremo stage that before he walked on he measured his heart rate at 120 beats per minute. He also stated: "As a child I never missed [watching the Sanremo Music Festival], even if at a certain point they sent me to sleep. Now, at least I can watch it all." The length and late finishes of Sanremo over five consecutive nights, although extremely entertaining, can indeed require viewers to have great stamina.



Laura Robson (United Kingdom)


An Australian connection here: Laura was born in Melbourne to Australian parents before moving to Singapore at eighteen months and eventually settling in the United Kingdom. At one point she was the UK's leading light in the ladies' game having won the 2008 Junior Wimbledon singles title at just 14. A series of unfortunate injuries curtailed her promising career and she retired in May 2022 at the age of 28. She has provided tennis commentary on television for a while, including for Australia's Nine Network and Stan Sport Australia.


Laura happens to be perhaps the most prolific tweeter of Eurovision out of current and former high-profile tennis players. She has been a huge admirer of Loreen's 'Euphoria' ever since it won in 2012, and has continued to laud its merits as recently as 2021.


Laura also appears to have particularly enjoyed performances by Conchita (Austria 2014), Amir (France 2016) and Barei (Spain 2016) - apparently even discussing the disappointing result of the latter with tennis drug testers. She seemed less enthusiatic though about Dami Im (Australia 2016), or perhaps the notion of Australia participating at Eurovision.



The British sarcastic sense of humour also characterises Laura's Eurovision twitter commentary. In 2014 after Donatan & Cleo's risqué performance of 'My Słowianie – We Are Slavic' Laura wrote "Poland knows how to win votes." 2021 saw her remark "I’d like to know how Flo Rida’s manager explained Eurovision". Laura herself seems to have a hard time describing Eurovision to Americans, tweeting in 2016: "Trying to explain Eurovision to [American former top 10 player and US Open finalist] Madison Keys ... Not going well".


Jokes aside, Laura is clearly a big supporter of Eurovision once remarking "Graham Norton/ Eurovision combo is my happy place". With her own experience in tennis commentary perhaps one day she should broaden her resume and try her hand at commentating on Eurovision for the BBC.


We wish the active tennis players in this article good luck in Australia this season, the retired ones a happy post-tennis life, and most importantly hope all of them continue to watch and enjoy Eurovision.


Have you found any other connections between tennis and Eurovision? Let us know on our socials.


For continued updates on all the Eurovision Song Contest news follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok. All links at: https://linktr.ee/aussievisionnet

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