Tennis dream now a reality for city businesswoman

Viki Mendelssohn has a three-year plan for the prestigious Brodies Champions of Tennis tournament at Stockbridge. Picture: Neil Hanna
Viki Mendelssohn has a three-year plan for the prestigious Brodies Champions of Tennis tournament at Stockbridge. Picture: Neil Hanna
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VIKI Mendelssohn could be forgiven for feeling a few nerves. In just two days, her dream of bringing a world-class tennis tournament to Edinburgh will be realised.

The likes of John McEnroe, Tim Henman, and Goran Ivanisevic will step out onto a specially-created court at Raeburn Place to play in an event which, 18 months ago, few would have said was possible.

The site of the tournament at Stockbridge. Picture: Toby Wiliams

The site of the tournament at Stockbridge. Picture: Toby Wiliams

The strawberries have been ordered, the ball boys and girls trained to perfection, the stage well and truly set. And as the umpire calls “play” in the first game of the first set on Thursday, more than a few people will be holding their breath.

Not all eyes will be on the court, some will be casting a glance towards the stands. Are the £50-a-head seats full? Has the gamble paid off?

Mendelssohn though, well, she is not the sort of person who does nerves.

“Once you have put yourself out there you have to have the courage of your convictions,” she says.

“I don’t know if I have put my business, Big Blue PR, Sponsorship and Event Management, on the line but I have put myself on the line.

“My credibility IS good, I hope, and I’ve had a good career so far but when we launched Champions of Tennis last year everybody was like ‘that will be great’ but all the time thinking ‘will it work out?’

“There were some people who thought ‘yes, if it happens. We’ll see’...”

She insists she has done the sums which will mean the Brodies Champions of Tennis and its temporary home at the Accies rugby ground will be a success.

The doubters will be answered, she says, with motivation which is borne from her school days, first at Davidson’s Mains and then after gaining a bursary to the Mary Erskine School.

“They recognised early I was not going to be a doctor or a lawyer but I was captain of hockey and basketball and in drama productions,” she says.

“In that regard I hope I was an asset but I’m embarrassed to say my academic qualifications amount to one Higher and three O levels. I was far too busy playing sport and playing the clown.

“So, yes, doing this event well is what drives me now.

“Some of my friends went off to university, and I felt I missed out before going to work at 16 with my dad in financial services and then going travelling.

“Every time a report card came through, my mother would say ‘you get an A for basketball, and hockey and but your English and Maths are rubbish’. I got this great opportunity and I was brilliant at all the things I shouldn’t have been.

“I don’t feel scared about taking a chance like this, though. I’d be more scared about not taking a chance and regretting it.”

She adds: “I don’t think you get anywhere in this life without taking a bit of a risk. I have always been a little bit out there in terms of things I have done in sport like starting up women’s rugby . . .

“I am a big gut feeling person, whether that is business or personal.”

The 42-year-old believes the key is “keeping my head”. Indeed, she has the rights to the ATP Champions tour for the next three years which makes getting year one right all the more important.

Why take on such a huge gamble?

“Some people have suggested I could have gone out and got a few more accounts but I wanted to do something impressive, something that is going to be good for Edinburgh, for Scotland. Something new,” she said.

Her initial plans for the event, which she has masterminded from scratch, began around the time her father, Louis, died.

He had retired to look after her mother, Sandra, when she was dying of cancer 16 years ago. Louis’s passing made Mendelssohn think about her own mortality, and ultimately spurred her to create something really special.

“It was a turning point for me,” she admits. “It made me focus on what I want to do.

“It is such a sad thing that Dad is not going to see this event but my Auntie Marion has taken over the mantle.

“It is going to be really emotional when it comes to this whole thing being the culmination of a bad few years.”

It would be wrong to even hint, though, that she is in any way melancholy.

She is bright, vivacious and incredibly determined.

“I’d describe the project as being like trying to nail jelly to a wall.

“Something that keeps on moving but well, well worth it not least because 99 per cent of the businesses involved in helping bring together the threads are Scottish.

“Although my social life has largely been on hold for 18 months since I signed up without a sponsor or a player arranged, I have managed to keep playing tennis [she is a champion at the Next Generation Club, Newhaven] partly because it is cathartic and, of course, there is the band.”

The band turns out to be a 12-piece seventies retro group which will be strutting its stuff at an after-tournament party as an alternative to appearing in venues such as the Voodoo Rooms.

“I sing because I have always loved singing and the Retrophones is an outlet having started in the police choir.

“There is a bit of a showgirl trying to get out.”

Away from the business world, Mendelssohn is single and – yes – wouldn’t mind sharing her life and two Hungarian vizsla dogs called Rua and Tinto.

“This could be a really good way of getting a new boyfriend. This is only the reason I am doing it . . . only joking.

“You are, of course, constantly meeting new people in this job but, joking aside, it would be nice to meet somebody. It’s been a tough old three years and I’m ready to meet somebody new.”

For now, she is focused on the next few days in Stockbridge as the city watches the latest major event on the events calendar play out – thankfully under a roof to ensure rain cannot stop play.

Mendelssohn says success won’t all be down to ticket receipts and income.

“I’ll gauge success from the feedback of the people who have bought tickets, sponsors, players and trying to get as much back as possible that will tell us how in years two and three what they want to see more and less of.

“It’s got to be commercially viable but success in year one will come from feedback and keeping the people who come this year happy so that they will re-engage.

“At the moment I feel like I am throwing a massive party and I am not sure if people are going to turn up.

“The ticket sales say they are going to turn up, but it is like sitting in the house waiting on people to arrive.”

The four-day Brodies Champions of Tennis tournament is being billed as “unlike anything Scotland has seen before”.

John McEnroe will be back on a Scottish court for the first time in 24 years, alongside Goran Ivanisevic, Tim Henman, Greg Rusedski, Carlos Moya and Mark Philippousis.

To compete on the ATP Champions Tour, established in 1997, players must have been world No 1, won a Davis Cup, or played in a Grand Slam final. Each tour event is also allowed two wildcard entrants from its own country and one from elsewhere. The wildcards in Edinburgh are Olympic finalist Wayne Ferreira and former Great Britain No 1s Henman and Rudeski.

Other names competing include Australian Open finalist Thomas Enqvist and French Open finalist Mikael Pernfors.

Bill Drummond, managing partner at sponsor Brodies LLP, said: “We see this as an opportunity to get behind an event that is a first for Scotland.

“In the current economic climate, we also believe that businesses such as ours should be trying to help stimulate activity by bringing people together and creating something new – what better way to do this than through an event with such wide appeal that we hope will capture the imagination of sports fans of all ages?

“This tournament will provide the perfect opportunity for sports fans to have fun watching some of the most talented players in the history of the sport, whose passion for the game and determination to win remains undimmed.

“It promises to be a tournament to remember.”

Four local charities are also set to benefit from the event – Maggie’s Centre, Edinburgh Dog & Cat Home, Fresh Start, and LifeCare. Each charity has been allocated a day each at the event in which they can raise funds and introduce the work they do to the spectators.