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Official Review by Anluan Hennigan, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
The O2 sits on the Greenwich Peninsula in South East London. It was originally called the "Millennium Dome" and was built in order to celebrate the last millennium, housing an exhibition to celebrate the passing of the last thousand years. The Dome was widely derided and fell into disuse, even being used as a homeless shelter in 2004.
While many think that would still be a better use of the space, the Dome has operated as a multi-purpose entertainment venue for the last six years. It is now the place to go if you want to see the world's biggest pop stars. Since 2009, it has also been the home of the ATP World Tour Finals which brings the world's Top 8 singles and doubles players together to round off the tennis season in style over eight days in November. The tournament will be held at the O2 until 2013 at least, and on the evidence of its spectacular success, a longer stay will hopefully be in the offing.
Because the Olympics do not allow for sponsored stadium names during the games, O2 Arena will be known as North Greenwich Arena when they host gymnastics and basketball.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
One of the main advantages of seeing sport in a tented city is that you are spoiled for choice in terms of places to eat and drink. The eye-wateringly named "Entertainment Avenue" is lined with famous high-street chains and a sprinkling of high-end establishments, ensuring that most budgets are catered for. Queues will be inevitable as everyone rushes to eat once a session has ended but from what I could see, most restaurants seemed to operate a quick turnover so you shouldn't be held up unduly.
If my experience was anything to go by, one place to avoid would be the Spur grill - a place that drips with faux authenticity and considering it cost Ł8, managed to serve up one of the most appalling burgers of all time.
For such a large arena, the O2 does manage to maintain a degree of intimacy. It has also been commended for this when musical concerts are held there. The indoor nature of the event gives the organisers more opportunities to build the atmosphere through lighting changes and music at the change of ends. However, it all becomes a little trite and predictable once you have been there for a few hours. When there was some truly exciting tennis on the Sunday night between Rafael Nadal and Mardy Fish, the denouement was soured by the need of thousands of spectators to depart early so they could board the last train.
It must be said though that I attended the tour finals when it was still in the group stage so one would imagine that the atmosphere improves as the stakes get higher and the crowds get bigger. What the O2 will never be able to attain is the unique drama that only historical sporting cathedrals such as Wimbledon's Centre Court can engender.
There simply has to be something to catch the eye of any visitor to London. The main attractions such as the London Eye and the Houses of Parliament are only a short train ride away and that doesn't even begin to scratch the surface. It was however difficult to see much to do in the immediate vicinity of the O2, not least because it was immersed in fog/smog for the entire day.
As with nearly any tennis tournament, the majority if the fans were tremendously respectful, greeting flourishing winners with raucous cheers and respecting rallies with reverential silence. Unfortunately they were let down by the predictable minority determined to place the spotlight on themselves rather than the world-class tennis which everyone had come to savour.
Another disappointing feature was the arrival of fans into the arena as play was in progress. This is less a criticism of the fans but one would expect the stewards to hold them at the entrances until there was an appropriate break in play.
The O2 really cannot be faulted in terms of transport. Once you have arrived in London, the underground "tube" system will leave you almost at the entrance of the complex. North Greenwich station, which is situated on the Jubilee Line, marks the end of your journey. From there it is only a few hundred metres walk to the entrance - which gives you the opportunity to try and take in the cavernous structure which is before you.
London being London, a one-day travelcard costs Ł7.30 but this nevertheless entitles you to travel on all of London's rail systems. The convenience of the journey certainly outweighs the damage to your bank balance. One note of caution would be that trains only run until around midnight which may cause a problem if the evening session runs late into the night. The mad rush to the exits when the evening matches are still going on has become an unfortunate feature of the tour finals.
Once in the area, it is another five minute walk to arrive at the actual arena. It is impossible to get there without being gently jostled by the competing hands of restaurant chains, coffee shops and cinemas - a slight downside of going to watch sport at a multi-purpose air hangar.
Nevertheless, your route to the arena is well signposted and even if you are sat in the Gods, there is an escalator to take you most of the way up. Bear in mind that seats on Level 4 are exceedingly high so a fear of heights might cause problems. It took one or two of my companions a long while to adjust to the steepness.
As a way of seeing the world's best tennis players in a renowned tennis tournament, the tour finals at the O2 are really unparalleled. For a group stage session, tickets start at around Ł25 and this entitles you to see one doubles match and one single match. The likelihood is that you will have to buy the tickets without knowing who is playing but by definition, you will see some of the world's top players. What's more, even the cheapest tickets ensure a terrific view of the action. It is a brilliant alternative if tickets for one of the four majors have proved beyond your reach.
In the arena, multiple screens convey scores, stats and hawkeye challenges to all parts. Outside, there is what amounts to a tennis village. There are practice courts where the public can watch the players prepare for their upcoming matches as well as the normal merchandise stalls. A number of child-orientated activities are also laid on such as the opportunity to play the game itself against top coaches. Programmes are available for Ł10.
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