x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Sabre-esque trophy may rattle some award purists' cages

The Ion Tiriac Trophy has more than a hint of Star Wars in its appearance, writes Paul Oberjuerge.

Serena Williams takes a swing with the Ion Tiriac Trophy after winning the Madrid Open. She likened the award to a light sabre from the
Serena Williams takes a swing with the Ion Tiriac Trophy after winning the Madrid Open. She likened the award to a light sabre from the "Star Wars" movie franchise.

Fans tend to think of tennis trophies as clunky cups and plates of the sort duly distributed at the conclusion of grand slam events.

For much of the rest of the season, however, winners are handed unconventional trophies, from silver dhows (Dubai) to crystal rackets (Toronto) to chunks of alpine rock (Gstaad), and perhaps none is as curious as the Ion Tiriac Trophy awarded at the Madrid Open.

Roger Federer and Serena Williams got their hands on the bizarre trophy over the weekend, and a bemused Williams decided it reminded her of a light sabre from Star Wars and began swinging it.

The Ion Tiriac Trophy is the gift to tennis of, well, Ion Tiriac, the former doubles partner of Ilie Nastase. The Romanian, now a quirky billionaire, is president of the Madrid tournament, and blue-clay playing surfaces as well as fashion models as ball girls are two of his more controversial ideas for making the game more compelling.

His namesake trophy was created last year by Roland Iten, perhaps best known as the designer of the mechanical belt. Really.

Iten modestly describes it as "the most expensive trophy ever created for any sport", perhaps because it includes 6.5kg of "white rose gold" and 33 diamonds of 10.9 carats.

Where the "what is it?" confusion comes into play is the core design of the trophy.

What looks vaguely like shiny spikes are the handles of 32 stacked tennis rackets, meant to connote a circular staircase to a summit, and upon each of the rackets is inscribed the name of one of the 32 players who have won the most grand slams.

Iten said the idea was to honour previous champions, as well as create a compelling design. The orb at the top is in the shape of a tennis ball, and meant to remind everyone of Tiriac's tennis background, and the base is of black obsidian, with the continents of the world displayed and a diamond placed where Madrid would be.

It makes more sense when it is explained, otherwise it looks like a particularly cruel cudgel.

Madrid champions are not allowed to take home the Ion Tiriac Trophy. Not with more than US$350,000 (Dh1.29m) of gold in it. It stays with him.

They get their names inscribed on it, however, and are given a small silver replica of it, which should not take up much room in otherwise bulging trophy cases. (Imagine the glittering clutter of the trophies taken home by Federer and Serena, who between them have won 115 ATP or WTA championships.)

In two weeks, they will be pursuing something dully (or perhaps solidly) familiar: the cups awarded to the winners at Roland Garros.


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