EXCLUSIVE: Gilles Muller Talks Injury, Confidence Issues And Retirement Plans - UBITENNIS
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EXCLUSIVE: Gilles Muller Talks Injury, Confidence Issues And Retirement Plans

The player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbledon last year looks at the present and to the future during a special interview with Ubitennis.

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LONDON: Blessed with one of the most effective serves on the tour, Gilles Muller’s first round win at The Fever-Tree Championships appeared routine. Until you look at the wider picture.

 

The 35-year-old veteran is currently ranked 46th in the world. Prior to this week, he had only managed to win one match in six tournaments. Suffering most of his losses to players ranked outside the top 50. His losing streak came to an end at Queen’s following a tense 7-6(7), 7-6(6), triumph over Denis Shapovalov. Muller claimed the victory with the help of his blistering serve, firing a total of 13 aces and winning 96% of the points behind his first serve.

“It wasn’t the best performance that is for sure. It is never easy to start a new tournament. It’s the first round and you have to get used to the court.” Muller told Ubitennis.net afterwards.
“It wasn’t easy, especially after not winning many matches. So I can’t say my confidence is high.
“I’m very pleased to have won it.”

Monday’s clash with the Canadian Next Gen star was very much a match of fine margins. During the opening set Muller missed out on three chances to clinch a 7-5 lead, before snatching the tiebreaker with the help of a Shapovalov forehand into the net. Then a case of Deja vu occurred in the second with both players remaining resilient behind their serve. Nevertheless, Muller managed to seal victory on his third match point after a return of the Shapovalov serve forced the Canadian to produce an unforced error.

“The serve today was working quite well. That always helps, especially against a guy like Denis, who is always hitting the ball very hard from the baseline. Once we were in a rally it was very hard to take control because he was hitting the ball so hard.” He evaluated.
“It was always important to dictate the points from my serve onwards and that was working quite well today.“

The injury woes

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A lot has changed over the past 18 months. 2017 was a year filled with delight and heartbreak for 6’3” Muller. After ending a 15-year wait for an ATP title at the Sydney International, he claimed his second five months later in ‘s-Hertogenbosch. Then at Wimbledon he downed Rafael Nadal 15-13 in a five-set marathon encounter. Finally the Luxembourg No.1 was on the up. That was until an elbow injury cut short his season. An issue that continues to hinder him.

“To be honest, my elbow isn’t 100 per cent. I’m always trying to find a way to be fit for the matches and not work too hard outside of the matches.” Muller openly admits.
“It is tough to find that balance and I haven’t found it yet.”

In order to continue playing, a plan has been implemented. Muller conducts daily treatment on his elbow, which may need attention multiple times during some days. Earning $5.79 Million in prize money throughout his career, he has ability to to hire a Physio to travel with him. Although it is more a necessity than a luxury.

“I have treatments every day, a couple times a day. I’m travelling with a Physio because otherwise I think it wouldn’t be possible to play.”

Fortunately, he can seek solace in the fact that he is playing during one of his favorite times of the year. The grass is the perfect surface for Muller to capitalize on his service game.

“It’s the nicest moment of the year when the clay (season) finishes and I’m ready to play on the grass. This year I haven’t had the best start on the grass. But with the win today my confidence is going up and I hopefully be able to keep on performing like I have done today.” He reflected.

Life after tennis

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Muller is a late bloomer on the tour. Not winning his maiden ATP title until the age of 33. He is one of the growing numbers of players playing later in their careers. Although he knows that he is approaching the finishing stages of his career. When he made his ATP debut back in 2002, Shapovalov was just three-years-old.

So what does the future hold for him? Muller confirms that he has been thinking about his retirement, but remains committed to playing for now. As to what they might be, he is aiming to one day elevate the sporting profile of his home country. According to the ATP, Luxemburg has two plays of the official ranking system. Muller at 46 and Alex Knaff at 1283.

“I’m not sure yet. Obviously I want to stay in sport.” He said about his future retirement.
“Try to help develop a program in Luxembourg that can be helpful for young kids to fulfil their dreams in sport.”

Addressing why the talent in his country remains so limited. Muller has his own interpretation. For him, it is not due to ability. Insisting that the structure to guide young athletes “is not right.” Something he hopes to correct in the future.

“I think we have a lack of young athletes that believe in themselves. There is talent, but they never believe in themselves. I think I can help change that.” He explained.

Muller will resume his campaign at Queen’s on Wednesday where he will take on top seed Marin Cilic. Regardless of the outcome, he already feels like a winner given his recent misfortunes.

“I’m just trying to enjoy today’s victory. I haven’t thought about the next match. I just want to go home, watch football and relax.” He concluded in an upbeat manor.

Interviews

“We Hope to Convince Federer to Play”: the Presentation of the 2022 Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters

Director Zeljko Franulovic talked about next year’s tournament, scheduled from April 9-17

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Stefanos Tsitsipas - ATP Montecarlo 2021 (ph. Agence Carte Blanche / Réalis)

The 2022 Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters will take place from April 9-17, so it’s difficult to guess what the pandemic situation will be in six months. At the moment, however, the prevalent hypothesis is that all spectators will need a Covid Pass or to bring proof of a negative test before being allowed in the Montecarlo Country Club at Roquebrune, France. If some players will refuse the vaccine, then they will need to be tested regularly in accordance to the rules devised by the French government.

 

Other than that, there will be no surprises when it comes to the event’s logistics, since the Country Club has already added a new players lounge and a new press room in the past few years. In 2020 the tournament was cancelled, while in 2021 it took place behind closed doors (while still being televised in 113 countries); the last edition staged with a crowd, in 2019, sold 130,000 tickets, constituting 30% of the total revenue – another 30% came from the sponsors, 30% from media rights (a number that tournament director Zeljko Franulovic hopes to see increase) and 10% from merchandising.

While it’s early days to know whether the tournament will operate at full capacity, Franulovic has made it clear that the organisers are already planning to provide a better covering for the No.2 Court, whose roof has not been at all effective in the past in the event of rain.

The tournament’s tickets can be bought on the official website of the event, but Franulovic has already vowed to reimburse immediately every ticket “if the government and the health authorities should decide to reduce the tournament’s capacity.”

Ticket prices have increased by 2 to 3 percent as compared to 2019, ranging from £25-50 for the qualifiers weekend, £32-75 for the opening rounds, £…-130 for the quarterfinals and semifinals, £65-150 for the final, £360-1250 for a nine-day tickets. Franulovic claims that the prices are in line with those of the other Masters 1000 tournaments.

Finally, Franulovic supports Andrea Gaudenzi’s decision to create a fixed prize money for the next decade. While tournaments like Madrid and Rome are trying to increase their duration from 8 to 12 days, the Monte-Carlo director has claimed that he prefers to remain a week-long event, especially because his is not a combined tournament. As for the players who will feature, Franulovic hopes to convince Roger Federer to participate: “I’m certain that he will give everything he has to be able to stage another comeback on the tour, ma no one knows where he’ll play. However, I think that on the clay he should opt for best-of-three events like Monte-Carlo and Rome rather than the French Open.”

For this and more information, you can watch the video above.

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Editorial

EXCLUSIVE: How The ATP Plans To Make The Tour More Welcoming For LGBT Players

The governing body of men’s tennis has received praise for taking a proactive approach to the topic with the help of a leading LGBTQ+ organisation and a top research university.

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Guido Pella during a Men's Singles match at the 2021 US Open, Wednesday, Sep. 1, 2021 in Flushing, NY. (Manuela Davies/USTA)

During the first week of the US Open, there was an abundance of rainbow-theme flags and wristbands worn by both players and fans to mark the tournament’s first-ever Open Pride Day.

 

The event was part of the USTA’s Diversity and Inclusion strategic platform which aims to make tennis more inclusive. Unlike the women’s game, there are no openly LGBTQ+ players on the men’s Tour and there have been few historically, even though various players have spoken of their support for anybody on the Tour who decides to come out. Including Stefanos Tsitsipas and newly crowned US Open champion Daniil Medvedev, who were questioned about the topic following their second round matches. Meanwhile, Canada’s Felix Auger-Aliassime revealed that there is an ongoing survey related to LGBTQ+ issues being conducted by the ATP.

“Recently I’ve started doing a survey inside the ATP about the LGBTQ+ community,” he said. “It’s important these days to be aware of that and to be open-minded and the ATP needs to do that, in today’s time it’s needed.

“The reason we don’t have openly gay players on the ATP Tour, I’m not sure of the reason, but I feel me, as a player, it would be very open, very welcome. Statistically, there should be some, but for now there’s not.”

In response to Auger-Aliassime’s comment, UbiTennis looked into the work currently being done by the ATP alongside two other parties. Their decision to venture into LGBTQ+ representation on the Tour is part of their recent commitment to support the mental health and wellbeing of their players and staff. Last year, in May, they formed partnerships with Headspace and Sporting Chance.  

The survey currently being conducted by the ATP started after the governing body of men’s tennis reached out to Lou Englefield, the director of Pride Sports, a UK organisation that focuses on LGBTQ+phobia in sport and aims to improve access to sport for all LGBTQ+ people. Through their connection, they contacted Eric Denison, a behavioural science researcher at Monash University’s School of Social Sciences. Denison was the lead author of the Out on the Fields study, the first international study on homophobia in sport and the largest conducted to date.

“I have been personally impressed with the initiative of the ATP and their desire to find ways to mitigate the broad impact of homophobic behaviour (in particular), not only on gay people, but on all players.” He told UbiTennis during an email exchange.

“We know of no other sporting governing body in the world that has been proactive on LGBTQ+ issues, and has taken a strong focus on engaging with both the LGBTQ+ community and scientists to find solutions.”

Denison says the norm has been for sports bodies to address this issue after they have been either pressured to do so or if the LGBTQ+ community got the ball rolling themselves. Incredibly, research conducted as part of the Out On The Fields initiative documented 30 separate studies which found sports organisations ignored discrimination experienced by LGBTQ+ people in sport.

Monash University has supplied the ATP with a series of scientifically validated questions, which they are using to ‘look under the hood’ at the factors which supports a culture where gay or bisexual players feel they are not welcome. The methodology is similar to a study Denison conducted in 2020 that focused specifically on the team sports rugby union and ice hockey.  

“We suspect that tennis isn’t inherently more homophobic than other sports, or traditionally male settings. Instead, there is a disconnect between people’s attitudes towards gay people (e.g. the recent pro-gay comments by top players) and their behaviour, specifically their use of homophobic banter and jokes,” said Denison.

“This behaviour, which is largely habitual, creates a hostile climate for young gay/bi people who drop out or hide their sexuality. This means gay/bi players are invisible in youth tennis and leads to the downstream problem of no professionals. The banter/jokes continue because people think it is harmless.”

The hope is that players will also agree to be interviewed by the researchers for them to get a better understanding. All of the results will then be used by Pride Sports and Monash University to recommend evidence-based solutions. It is unclear as to how long the study will take or when the findings will be ready. 

Former top 100 player Brian Vahaly is one of the few players to have been both openly gay and played at the highest level of the men’s game. However, he didn’t fully come to terms with his sexuality until after retiring from the sport at age 27. Speaking to UbiTennis earlier this year, Vahaly shed light on the potential barriers for gay players.

There were a lot of homophobic jokes made on Tour. It’s a very masculine and competitive environment,” he said. “You don’t see a lot of gay representation, except for the women’s Tour. With me not having the personality of an outspoken advocate (for LGBTQ+ issues), certainly not in my twenties, I needed some time to understand myself. To me, in tennis I didn’t feel like there was anybody to talk to or anybody that was going through anything similar.”

The ATP has spoken with Vahaly about their initiative and he has become ‘quite involved.’ Through their discussions, he got acquainted with Denison for the first time. As a professional, Vahaly peaked at a ranking high of 64th in the world and won five Challenger titles. After retiring from the Tour, he has served on the USTA’s board of directors since 2013. 

“I am happy to hear that the ATP is finally taking action to address this issue.  I’m impressed they are taking a thoughtful, data-driven approach to make a meaningful difference here,” he told UbiTennis. 

The ATP aims to make the men’s Tour more welcoming to potential LGTBQ+ athletes playing either now or in the future. For those who question if such an initiative is important in 2021, you only have to look at the younger demographic.

Sportsnet quoted CDC data from 2019 which showed that 26% of American LGBTQ+ teenagers aged 16 or 17 has contemplated suicide, five times more than those who identify as straight (5%). Among those teenagers who heard homophobic terms, 33% self-harmed and an additional 40% considered doing so.

More than 2000 players around the world currently have an ATP ranking.

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Featured

2020 Tokyo Olympics, Djokovic on the heat and the new scheduling: “I’m glad they listened to us”

Speaking to Ubitennis, the world number one describes the work that he, Medvedev and Zverev (among others) have done to obtain better playing conditions

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So far, the tennis tournament at the 2020 Olympics has made headlines less for the match-play than for the difficult conditions in which it has been taking place due to the heat and the humidity. In the women’s draw, for instance, four players have been forced to retire during their matches: the last one has been particularly shocking, as Paula Badosa was taken off-court on a wheelchair after collapsing late in the first set of her quarter-final match against Marketa Vondrousova. Luckily, these issues appear to have finally caught the attention of the International Tennis Federation: starting tomorrow, no match will be played before 3pm (7am in the UK).

 

Part of the credit for this (still belated) decision goes to the lobbying and the complaints of the players, as world N.1 Novak Djokovic explained while speaking to Ubitennis CEO Ubaldo Scanagatta in Tokyo: “I’m glad the decision was made to reschedule tomorrow’s opening matches at 3pm. Today we went to speak to the supervisor – when I say ‘we’ I mean myself, Medvedev, and Zverev, along with the team captains. I have spoken to Khachanov and Carreno Busta as well, so the majority of the players who will feature in the quarter finals was of the same opinion.

“Of course I would have wished for this decision to be made a few days ago, but it’s still a good thing,” he added. “Nobody wants to witness incidents like the one that occurred to Badosa.

“The conditions are really brutal. Some people might think that we are just complaining, but all resistance sports (and tennis should be included among them) are taking place later in the day because the combination between the heat and the humidity is really terrible.”

He then concluded: “I’ve been a professional tennis player for almost 20 years and I’ve never experienced such hard conditions for so many consecutive days. It may have have happened once or twice in Miami or New York, but just for one day, whereas in Tokyo the situation is like this every day. I think that this decision will benefit the fans as well, because playing later allows us to play our best – these conditions were just draining for us.”

Article by Lorenzo Colle; translated by Tommaso Villa

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