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Earle: Rock can be gem

Justin Marville

Earle: Rock can be gem

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The man who helped put Jamaican soccer on the world stage believes Tennis Pon De Rock is about to do likewise for Barbados.
Tennis isn’t his speciality but Robbie Earle knows a first-class event when he sees one, and the former international midfielder thinks the country’s premier exhibition series has the ability to one day attract Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
Earle expressed the sentiment as a member of ESPN’s commentary team for the festival’s second edition, which featured former world No. 1 Venus Williams with fellow Top 20 players Victoria Azarenka, Gael Monfils and John Isner.
“I think it can become an international event that people would travel from across the world to come and see [because] TV companies like ESPN are very keen to get involved,” said the English-born of the exhibition’s potential.
“This is an event that can grow [but] at some stage you need the very best being prepared to come down here.
“However, the four players who were here over the last weekend will go away and sell this as something that can become massive.
“And that’s the most important thing; not what we say in the media or what other people say but what the players themselves feel, and I think they had a fantastic experience of the Caribbean,” he added.
A charitable event initiated to raise funds for the development of the sport, Tennis Pon De Rock first made major waves when 13-time Grand Slam champ Serena Williams and current world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki headlined its debut series two years ago.
And the festival promised to be an even bigger affair the following year as former US Open king Juan Martin del Potro confirmed his participation along with Isner and Monfils.
But the 2010 edition was called off due to the latter’s withdrawal, leading to widespread speculation over the exhibition’s viable future.
However, the series enjoyed a highly successful return, with the four Top 20 stars showcasing their elite skills to rave reviews.
So big was the potential surrounding the event that ESPN reportedly signed a multi-year deal with organizers Barbados Invitational Tennis Exhibition (BITE), while sports management group IMG had offered to partner in staging future editions of the exhibition.
“These are the sort of things that will develop sport in the Caribbean and that’s something I’m passionate about, so I think this is the start of what could be a really big event down here in the region,” reasoned Earle.
“I’ve done a couple of events in the Caribbean before but I like the vibe because it shows off the island and shows everything good about the Caribbean.
“And it’s all about building a brand and building a reputation in the Caribbean that stands for something and I think that Tennis Pon De Rock will stand for excellence in tennis across the region.”
A former player for then English Premiership side Wimbledon, Earle is best known for scoring Jamaica’s first ever World Cup Finals goal in a game against Croatia in the 1998 Finals.
The 46-year-old midfielder has since made a name for himself as a football commentator with ESPN.