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The Giorgio Armani Tennis classic might just predict Wimbledon’s winner this year…

Inside the tennis world's best kept secret

The Hurlingham Tennis Classic is almost more Wimbledon than Wimbledon. Those rolling green lawns, thick and soft like cashmere carpet, and manicured to within a millimetre of their lives; that West London leafiness and those crisp, proper whites; an ease with the Pimm’s and the soft warm glow of England in June.

The players see it as the ideal warm up to SWI9 — one last opportunity to gather some grass stains before the gaze of the TV cameras and the glare of the Royal Box. (The secret is in the perennial rye grass, which is a perfect match to the variety used at Wimbledon). The spectators see it as the tennis world’s best kept secret — a rare chance to get within a loafer’s throw of some truly world class ground strokes. (Not that anyone would dare throw a Crockett & Jones near the lovely Greg Rusedski, I should add.) And absolutely everyone who’s ever been agrees it’s completely the best way to spend a hazy summer’s evening, as the pock-pock of match point rings out over the mature rose gardens and bounces off the awnings and echoes happily across the Thames.

If I sound excitable, you’ll have to forgive me. Over 26 balmy years, the beloved Giorgio Armani Tennis Classic has produced some corking match ups and unexpected delights — with legends like Tim Henman serve-volleying like it’s 1999, and the arch entertainer Mansour Bahrami serving up magic in possibly the finest moustache Parson’s Green has ever seen. If you add up all of the Grand Slams of the tournament’s illustrious alumni, you’ll top 250 — not to mention 1,500 collective weeks as world number one. Plus, there’s the off-court action. This has long been a firm fixture of the summer social calendar for SW6 types — a set that is chic, lightly louche, and intensely relaxed around large format champagne.

But this year’s contest may do more than simply blood rising stars or re-animate frozen icons — it may genuinely predict the winner of its big brother down the road. Alongside young upstarts Caspar Ruud and Carlos Alcaraz, this year Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have been added to the roster at the last minute.

This will be the first time Rafa has hit the court following his French Open win and the first time Novak has played in the classic — and the pundits and tipsters will be watching every stroke with microscopic scrutiny. Both players are hotly tipped for success this year, with that sense of potent inevitability that often surrounds the true greats. So to see them up-close-and-personal seems like a complete and rare indulgence. (And that’s before you get to the fountains of champagne or the mountainous high tea…) Anyone for tennis? Well, if you insist!

Read next: Order on the court! Under the net of Wimbledon

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