Victoria Azarenka: “I take it as a progress. I think there are a lot of the positive things to take from here” - UBITENNIS
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Victoria Azarenka: “I take it as a progress. I think there are a lot of the positive things to take from here”

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TENNIS AUSTRALIAN OPEN – 26th of January 2015. D.Cibulkova d. V.Azarenka 6-2, 3-6, 6-3. An interview with Victoria Azarenka

Q. You’re a glass half full kind of girl. Disappointing, but what do you take out of the whole Australian campaign?

VICTORIA AZARENKA: I take it as a progress. I think there are a lot of the positive things to take from here. It’s a good start. There was some good quality of tennis today, even though the result is not the one that I wanted and not what I was looking for. But I need to be realistic a little bit and keep working hard and try to sharpen my game. I need to be more consistent and I need to be able to take my opportunities when I have them. But overall, I can be pretty happy. But I’m such a perfectionist that I don’t want to be satisfied.

Q. You had a fall in the sixth and eighth game in the second set, did that affect you at all?

VICTORIA AZARENKA: The fall?

Q. Yeah.

VICTORIA AZARENKA: No, I just slided and it’s fine actually. I think the first time I ever did a split. So I heard a bunch of photos bursting like (indicating rapid clicking), so I want some pictures. If I did the full split that’s going to be legendary. Seriously.

Q. Is that something you’ve been working towards, the full split?

VICTORIA AZARENKA: Not really, but it surprised me.

Q. I know today must be disappointing, but would you say that this tournament has been the most fun you’ve had on the court in a while or could you compare this year to previous years?

VICTORIA AZARENKA: Definitely compared to last year it’s a big difference. But just overall, I think my attitude and my approach to matches, to tournaments, has changed. That’s more satisfying for me. I feel that I’m very honest with myself on my effort and I’m working really hard. I’m just trying to do my best, so there are things I can be pleased with. As I said, I want to be realistic and I want to do better. I don’t want to stop here and be, Okay, this was a good match. I want to strive for much better. I’m just going to work hard, try to analyze this match, this tournament, and keep working. I think that the direction where I’m heading is the right way. Just needs to — I just need to go there step by step.

Q. Nick Kyrgios won last night. Not sure how much of that match you watched. I know you developed an off-court friendship with him. What do you see in his game? Obviously he’s an up and comer not only here but on the men’s tour overall.

VICTORIA AZARENKA: I think he has a lot of potential. I think he has a great, I don’t know, hunger for success, and it’s really refreshing to see somebody so young being so confident with themself on the court. So that’s — I mean, for Australia I think it’s great to have such talent. I wish him all the best of luck. He did such an amazing job yesterday. Yeah, really proud.

Q. What is one of the best things about Dominika’s game?

VICTORIA AZARENKA: She really went for her shots today and was very fearless throughout whole match. She’s the type of player that sometimes you just get — she gets in that groove and it’s a little bit difficult to break that rhythm. But I think I still had my opportunities, and I really just didn’t — I wasn’t present enough today, and she was there. She jumped on those opportunities and really took control of that. So I think in that aspect, I have to give her a lot of credit.

Q. You don’t think her height is a disadvantage? She said she’s one of the smallest on the tour, so she has to work harder.

VICTORIA AZARENKA: Yeah, she doesn’t need to bend her legs that low as we do. So it’s 50/50. Yeah, their high balls might be a little bit tougher for her but lower balls are definitely easier.

Interviews

EXCLUSIVE: Dirk Hordorff On Accepting The New Davis Cup And The ITF Presidency

The second part of Ubitennis’ interview with the Vice-president of The German Tennis Federation.

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Croatia celebrating winning the 2018 Davis cup (photo by Gianni Ciaccia)

Two weeks ago marked the start of a new era in the world of men’s professional tennis with the revamped Davis Cup getting underway.

In August 2018, the ITF voted in favour of making a series of controversial changes to the 119-year-old team competition. A move that divided the tennis community. In November the finals of the tournament will be held over a week and hosted at one location in Madrid. Removing the tradition of home and away ties. As a compromise, the governing body agreed for the February play-offs to be still held under the old system, but the matches would only be played in a best-of-three.

Dirk Hordorff is the vice-president of the German Tennis Federation (DTB). An association that has been against the Davis Cup changes from the beginning. Hordorff had previously named the European countries that voted for the changes, which has been backed by a 25-year $3 billion investment from Kosmos. A company founded by Barcelona F.C. footballer Gerard Pique.

“For sure, if you lose a vote you want to make others responsible for this. To be honest, the ITF and Kosmos tried to Campaign for the new Davis Cup System, and they made this very professionally.” Hordorff told Ubitennis on Tuesday.
“Unfortunately, some countries only believed in the promised money and voted against their Tennis interest, other voted for the new System just because they thought, the old System needed a Reform, and some other voted without even understanding what they did.”

Under the new format, the ITF has stated that many tennis federations around the world will be better off. Pointing out an increase in nations income from the competition and a new player prize fund of $20 million will be in place for the finals.

“My only hope is that the given promises of the ITF and Kosmos will be fulfilled and the whole Davis Cup will not be damaged in reason that Kosmos will reject after they are losing money.” Hordorff reflected.

The rankings

Another new development involved the ranking of the teams in the competition. Countries have been assigned a ranking based on their results over the past four years. Something that has infuriated the Polish Tennis Federation (PZT). Poland has been placed into World Group III under the new format. Even though they scored wins over Romania, Slovenia and Zimbabwe last year to qualify for Group I under the old system. The PZT has launched an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Supporting Poland, Luxembourg has sent a formal letter to the ITF. In it, the federation said they ‘disagreed’ and was ‘disappointed’ by the new system. The letter has also been signed by the national director of the Davis Cup, Markus Stegmann. Whilst the move have been welcomed, Hordorff points out Luxemburg’s absence from the Davis Cup vote last year.

“Luxembourg should have attended the AGM in Orlando and vote against the Davis Cup Reform.” He said.
“The DTB had a clear position in Orlando, we voted against the Davis Cup Reform and we still have the same point of view.
“We also made clear, that we believe that the Transition Tour is badly planned and we are not in favour of this. But there was no vote about this, in fact that this is a management decision and they don’t need the nations vote to make this happen.” He added.

Poland’s situation is not a unique one. Both Namibia and Kenya qualified for the Euro/Africa Group II in 2018, but now they are not ranked high enough to play in that category. James Kenani, who is the chairman of Tennis Kenya, said his country has a disadvantage because they didn’t play in the Davis Cup during 2015. Therefore they were unable to win any ranking points.

Kenya, along with Poland, launched an appeal to the ITF Arbitration Committee in London, but were unsuccessful.

The 2019 election

In September there are set to be presidential elections taking place at the ITF. The position has been held by David Haggerty since 2015. A longtime tennis industry executive, Haggerty had previously served as the chairman of Head U.S.A and worked for the USTA. Under his presidency, the American has overseen the transformation of the Davis Cup and the implementation of the Transition Tour. Both of which have been controversial.

“The last four years under Dave Haggerty was a Disaster for Tennis. But it’s not only him who is responsible for this mess.“ Hordorff stated.

At the end of last year Ireland’s Dave Miley has said he would challenge for the presidency. Miley had previously worked for the ITF for 25 years and was once in charge of overseeing the juniors, veterans and wheelchair activities of the organisation.

It is unclear as to how likely it would be that Haggerty will be re-elected for a second term. Although Hordorff believes it is time for a ‘new leadership’ to be implemented.

“I only can hope that the ITF gets a Leadership which is serving the game and take care of the interest of their member nations.” He said.
“What the ITF needs is a new leadership with clear vision, with management skills, with an understanding of how to unite the nations and to work together with the different governing organisations in Tennis like WTA and ATP.”

The ITF election will take place during the annual AGM meeting in Lisbon, Portugal. The conference will take place between September 24-27.

Part 1 of Ubitennis’ interview with Hordorff can be read here – EXCLUSIVE: ‘I’ve Been Contacted By 200 Players’ – Tennis Chief Hordorff On Why The Transition Tour Must Change

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Interviews

EXCLUSIVE: ‘I’ve Been Contacted By 200 Players’ – Tennis Chief Hordorff On Why The Transition Tour Must Change

The vice-president of the German Tennis Federation (DTB) has spoken with Ubitennis about the state of the lower level tournaments in the sport.

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The newly created ITF transition Tour was set out to give players a better standard of living and cut down the costs for tournaments hosting lower level events. On the surface, the idea is a brilliant one welcomed by many. But in reality, the outcome has been one of anger and frustration.

This year a new system is in place with ITF rankings being used for the first time. WTA points are only awarded to women playing in events that have $25,000 in prize money or more. In men’s tennis, $25,000 ITF Pro Circuit events offer both ATP ranking points (later rounds) and ITF Entry Points (all rounds); while the qualifying rounds of ATP Challenger tournaments also offer both ATP ranking points (all events) and ITF Entry Points (events up to $125,000 in prize money). Players can use their ITF ranking to enter into professional tournaments.

There is a growing frustration among players with many saying that it is harder for them to get into tournaments compared to 12 months ago. Some of those have even lost their ranking from last year due to the size of the tour being reduced. On top of that, the draws have also been made smaller.

Dirk Hordorff is one of the most vocal critics of the changes. The vice-president of the German Tennis Federation has extensive experience within the sport. Besides his position as vice-president, Hordorff has worked with players such as Rainer Schuettler, Yen-Hsun and has been a Davis Cup coach for Taiwan. Today, he is working as a mentor to both Janko Tipsarevic and Vasek Pospisil.

“Right now I am in Thailand on the challenger Tour. Every day players or Coaches are coming to me, telling me they are reading my posts on Facebook and tell me how grateful they are and how much they support my point of view.” Hordorff told Ubitennis.
“Also in Germany lots of players are having the same Problems and contacting me. There is a Facebook petition against the ITF changes where over 10000 persons already signed.
“It’s very clear that all players are suffering under this new System and don’t like it.”

To be more precise about the problem, Hordorff has said he has received a staggering 200 messages from players about their concerns. Either they are in a worse situation, can’t get into tournaments or are struggling financially. It seems that the ITF Tour is becoming more like a boulevard of broken dreams for many players.

“The number of places for players to participate in these tournaments is limited, so players with no ranking or bad ranking have no chance to participate in the tournaments.” He said.
“I’ve heard from a lot of players flying around the world, going to tournaments and couldn’t get in in reason of the limited qualification size.”

It isn’t all doom and gloom with it comes to the circuit. Many accept that under the reform it is easier for junior players to make it onto the professional circuit at a young age. Should they generate enough ITF Points. However, the older a player develops the more difficulty they face.

“For players in the ITF top 50 it may be an easier way to get into the pro circuit with Wild Cards or free places on World Tour Tournaments.” Said Hordorff.
“The pathway from juniors to pro Tennis is one good point of this Reform. On the other side, if you don’t make it earlier in the junior career the way to the pro Tennis is incredibly difficult or even there is no chance. This needs to be changed.”

The Data sales Argument

Last week, both the ITF and ATP issued statements to Ubitennis after claims made about data sales. In a Facebook post, Hordorff said the ITF refused to accept an offer made by the ATP in relation to ranking points on the men’s tour. He alleged that the ATP was willing to offer ranking points to tournaments at every level. The only condition was for the ITF to not sell their data to betting companies. In accordance to a recommendation set out be the Independent Review Panel (IRP).

“The ATP supports the IRP’s recommendation to remove the supply of data at the lowest level of professional tennis, however, this is not related to the award or allocation of ATP ranking points.” An ATP spokesman said.

Responding to the statement, Hordorff remains defiant. Saying that Chris Kermode, who is the CEO of the ATP Tour, was willing to provide ATP points to all tournaments. However, it has been claimed by Ross Hutchins that the ITF never wanted those points. Hutchins is the Chief Player Officer for the ATP.

“The official Statement of Chris Kermode at the ATP Meeting before 30 tournament directors was, that the ATP was willing to provide points, but the ITF didn’t want to have points. After the Orlando Meeting he commented, that the ITF position, that the ATP took from the futures the points away, is false and not true at all. This was confirmed last week by Ross Hutchins, that the ITF didn’t want ATP points. Why you think the ITF had this position? But if you take it word for word, there is no proof that ATP didn’t want the stop of data selling against points.”

Data sales refers to the selling of live data from tournaments (e.g. live scores of matches). The reason why the IRP recommended for it to be banned is to help tackle match-fixing at the lower level tournaments. Since 2012, the ITF has had a multi-million pound deal with Sportradar. A company that analyses and collects sports data. In the terms of the contract, the company is allowed to provide live data from all tournaments linked to the ITF.

What is next?

Whilst there is an uproar among players and coaches, it is unlikely the ITF Transition Tour will be abolished. Besides the large amount of time it took to construct the concept, it would be a PR disaster for the Governing body. However, that doesn’t mean it can’t be modified.

When Hordorff was questioned about what he would do differently, the German outlined four key areas. Ranging from the size of the draws to the ranking system. His views are similar to that of Dave Miley, who is seeking the ITF Presidency position later this year.

“I believe that one of our Goals in Leadership in Tennis should be to promote the game, let more People play Tennis, grow the Sport.” He said. “This Transition tour is the complete opposite. it Limits players to participate and have a negative Impact to the players, the Coaches, to academies, Clubs around the world. There is a change needed.”

Hordorff’s four changes
– Increase qualifying draws to a minimum of 64
– Remove the new entry fee to help players financially
– Abide by the IRP recommendation and abolish data sales
– Abolish the two ranking systems and return them back into one

So where do we go now? Should players just accept their current situation and get on with it, or is change actually achievable? The answer to that question is unclear. In theory the ITF could be forced to adjust their structure should enough tennis federations voice their concerns and vote. However, it may not be as simple as this.

“The Nation Tennis associations should have the power to make changes happen. Latest they can vote a new board at the AGM in Portugal this year, which will change this Reform and take care of the interest of the players and tournaments.” Hordorff explained.
“There are to many persons involved, who have no Knowledge about Tennis and only take care of their personal interest.” He added.

The ITF AGM meeting will not take place until the end of September. Until then, players will have to continue weathering the storm in the meantime. Meanwhile, the ITF has pledged to continue their support of their Transition Tour by holding a media conference to promote it in the coming weeks.

The second part of Ubitennis’ interview with Hordorff concerning the Davis Cup and David Haggerty will be published on Wednesday.

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Davis Cup

EXCLUSIVE: Former Davis Cup Heroes Speak Out On New Changes To Competition

Ubitennis speaks with Mats Wilander, Thomas Enqvist and Mark Woodforde about the new format of the team competition.

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This weekend will see the start of a new era in men’s tennis as the revamped Davis Cup kicks off with the qualifying rounds taking place.

24 teams will battle it out for 12 places in the final of the competition in what is the new format of the event. Following approval at the ITF AGM in August, for the first time in history the finals of the competition will take place in one location over a week. A total of 18 teams are set to take part – 12 qualifiers, the four semi-finalists from the previous year and two wild cards.

The transformation has been far from simple with some players and their national association’s voicing opposition. Critics argue that the changes are too radical, ruins the tradition of the 119-year-old event, the scheduling eats into the off-season and the financial pledges that has been made are dubious. Investment firm Kosmos has pledged to invest $3 billion over a 25-year period with a promise that countries would receive more money. Something that has previously been disputed by the head of Tennis Europe.

Perhaps the best way to gage an idea of the current situation is to consult with those who has played in the competition for years. Thomas Enqvist has had the opportunity of being both player and captain for his country. The Swede compiled a win-loss record of 15-11 in the competition and won both of his singles matches during the 1996 final.

“Speaking from a player point of view, I think that all of us would say that it is a big honour to represent your country. My best memories in tennis come from the Davis Cup.” Enqvist told Ubitennis.

Sweden was one of the countries that voted for the revamp of the competition, according to a list published by the vice-president of the German Tennis Federation. The ITF never published a list of the countries that voted for or against the plans. Arguing that this was done for confidentiality reasons. Nevertheless, 44-year-old Enqvist is remaining cautiously optimistic about the changes. Arguing that people need to wait and see before they can judge.

“I think we have to give them time. We have to see. They have tried to put something on to make sure that all the top major players can play. Hopefully it’s going to be a good choice.” He said.

For Mats Wilander, the Davis Cup is one of the biggest events in a player’s career. Wilander is a former world No.1 player, who represented his country in 27 ties over a 14-year period. He helped secure the Davis Cup trophy in the final of the competition three times throughout the 1980s.

“The only reason why I am playing tennis is because of the Davis Cup.” Wilander states.
“The effect the Davis Cup has had on pretty much every player that is here today. My generation, the generation before and the generation after. The effect of the Davis Cup is much bigger than the effect of grand slams because you are watching your nation play.”

The ATP threat

If the changes aren’t enough to contend with, a new tournament poses as a potential threat to the existence of the historic competition. 2020 will see the resurrection of the World Team Cup. Overseen by the ATP,  who governs men’s tennis, the event has on offer ranking points and a prize money pool of $15 million. The tournament will be held at the start of each year, less than two months after the Davis Cup finals, in three cities across Australia.

ATP CEO Chris Kermode has previously insisted that the World Cup is not a threat to the other team events. At the official launch in November, Kermode told a crowd of reporters ‘There seems to be a fixation that the ATP Cup has caused the issue with the Davis Cup and this is not the case. If the ATP Cup didn’t exist, the Davis Cup still wouldn’t have a week in the calendar.’

Taking those words at face value, there shouldn’t be anything to worry about. Should there?

“I think only time can tell. Maybe both can prevail. I have no idea.” Enqvist admitted.

Wilander is more up front with his views. For him, the decision of hosting the Davis Cup finale in a neutral country might come back to haunt the ITF in the future. Saying that the new format has unnecessarily placed the event in a competition with the ATP Cup.

“The ATP Cup is about the team of a country’s players. The Davis Cup has a brand and it’s not about the team, it’s about the country.” He explained.
“If Davis Cup goes to a neutral ground, then there is a big competition (with the ATP Cup).
“My suggestion would be that the semi-finals and finals have to be played home and away. Whereas the first two rounds can be played during a week on a natural ground.”

The removal of the home and away element to the Davis Cup finals may have a negative effect on the younger audience, instead of their goal of trying to make it appeal more to that target market. A somewhat ironic outcome. Wilander warns that under the new situation, less children might be inspired to participate in tennis.

“Would what be the effect if, lets say, Belgium plays away on a neutral ground? What will be the effect and inspiration for the kids in Belgium. Are they even going to watch it? Because they don’t watch Wimbledon, they don’t watch the US Open, they don’t watch David Goffin lose in the quarter-finals or semi-finals of the French Open. But they will watch Belgium play at home in Belgium, maybe even away in somewhere like France. That will inspire them.”

Woodforde’s call for calm

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Throughout the entire situation, Tennis Australia has been one of the most vocal opponents. Earlier this week, team captain Lleyton Hewitt slammed Kosmos founder Gerard Pique. Telling reporters that it was ‘mind boggling’ that the competition was being run by somebody who had little knowledge about tennis. Hewitt was among a group of individuals from Tennis Australia that signed a letter last year condemning the changes.

Not all people from Australia are against the change. Mark Woodforde argues that action had to be taken before it was too late. The 53-year-old is regarded as one of his country’s greatest ever doubles players, winning 12 grand slam titles in men’s doubles and a further six in the mixed. Alongside Todd Woodbridge, the pair won more doubles matches (14) in the Davis Cup than any other Australian duo.

“I didn’t want to see the Davis Cup competition disappear and that was my biggest fear.” Said Woodforde. “If there wasn’t any changes to make it a significant event again, we wouldn’t have a Davis Cup competition at all.”

Elaborating further, Woodforde argues that there will be a more ‘exciting’ element brought to the Davis Cup. Something others dispute.

“I believe it is the same Davis Cup book, but a different chapter. I think it’s going to be exciting. It’s innovative.” He said.
“I think there has been more negative comments about the format and the competition hasn’t even started. Those pessimist out there, I like to think that a lot of good things are going to be happening top the competition.” He added.

The opinions of Enqvist, Wilander and Woodforde are ones that reflects the current situation in men’s tennis. All are passionate about the sport, but trying to find a common ground seems to be a tough task. If the legends of the sport can’t reach an agreement, what hope does the rest have?

The future of men’s team competition is complexed and unclear. The only certainty is that disagreements and arguments between the key figures in the sport will continue for the foreseeable future. Whether we like it or not.

 

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