The International Tennis Federation Wins Battle Over New Davis Cup, But Loses Its Credibility - UBITENNIS
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The International Tennis Federation Wins Battle Over New Davis Cup, But Loses Its Credibility

Why the governing body should not be praised for their latest reform.

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OPINION: Ever since the news of a multi-billion dollar deal to revamp the Davis Cup broke, I felt that it was only a matter of time before it happened.

 

On Thursday, the International Tennis Federation won their battle to revamp the men’s team tournament after winning 71.43% of support. From 2019, the event will be turned into a 18-team tournament taking place in one location at the end of the year. Either in Lille, France or Madrid, Spain for the first two years. It will be funded by two key stakeholders. Gerard Pique’s Kosmos investment business, who has vowed to invest $3 billion over 25 years, and American billionaire Larry Ellison. 74-year-old Ellison is coincidentally the owner of Indian Wells, where the tournament is likely to be hosted in the future.

“In addition, the new revenues for nations that the event will generate will have a transformative effect on the development of tennis in all nations. Our mission is to ensure that this historic decision will benefit the next generation of players for decades to come.” ITF president Davis Haggerty said in a statement.

In the immediate aftermath of the vote, there were scenes of jubilation at the AGM meeting in Orlando with Pique’s camp celebrating their milestone. Creating an atmosphere that the revamp promises to revolutionise tennis. The only thing is that this is far from the case.

One of the biggest arguments for the new format has been to meet the needs of players scheduling commitments. The packed ATP World Tour calendar has made it hard for some high-profile players to play in the team tournament in recent years. From this view, it appeared that the concerns of players have finally been addressed. That was until Haggerty spoke about his future plans.

“A significant proportion of Kosmos’ funding is to be invested into the transformation of the Davis Cup. There is a substantial investment into the development of national associations and wheelchair tennis.” He told The New York Times.
“The remainder will be invested into two brand new properties: a mixed team event in April and a winner-takes-all event in September. The precise details of these events will be released in due course.”

Few details about these events are available, but it is clear that trying to reduce the scheduling demands placed upon players are not one of the ITF’s priorities. As to when these events will take place? One presumes that it would occur during the same weeks as the current Davis Cup takes place. Leaving players no better off with their scheduling.

Money makes the world go round

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It is clear that money is the main driving factor. An unsurprising revelation as organisations needs money to survive. The only problem appears is that this is the sole focus of the ITF. Even though it is not publicly known how Kosmos can guarantee $3 billion over 25 years.

Shortly after the vote, it was announced that the ITF has been given power to change the format of the Davis Cup and Fed Cup itself. Meaning that in the future, a change to the women’s equivalent will not require such scrutiny. It amazes me that in a sport that prides itself on equality, nobody has spoken out about this. Why is it acceptable for a year-long debate to take place on reforming the Davis Cup and only a group of board members deciding about the future of the Fed Cup? I suspect the only reason is that the ITF no longer wants to go through the hassle of voting is in case they lose in the future.

The ITF has done many brilliant things for the sport in the past, but their management of the Davis Cup has only created uncertainty. Federations have been promised extra finance, but even that has been disputed by the head of Tennis Europe.

“I cannot see the real benefit for European nations or for tennis in general as a result of the deal in the proposed format. I am particularly concerned that there is hardly any information received from the ITF regarding bank guarantees for the proposed US$ 120M per year which would be the $3 billion deal over 25 years, according to the original proposal.” Vladimir Dmitriev, President of Tennis Europe, wrote in a letter.

Another concern I have is the Olympic eligibility criteria. Players have to play in a set number of ties in order to be available for selection at the multi-sport event. After Thursday’s announcement, Lucas Pouille has said he will no longer play in the tournament. Meaning in the future he may not be eligible to play at the Olympics. I fear that the ITF will tighten this criteria to force players play the Davis Cup. Something I think needs to be urgently addressed by all of the governing bodies and the ATP Players Council.

I do not consider myself a massive traditionalist. I fully appreciate that new things needs to be implemented in tennis in order to attract a new fans and broaden its appeal. Yet at the same time, isolating those traditionalists is bizarre. It is that group who fund the Davis Cup through attendance. The Davis Cup has sold itself on their tradition since its birth in 1900. Having a final in a neutral location only pays off if it is between two prestigious teams. A Davis Cup final between Belgium and Russia in Indian Wells will be a hard seller.

As for Pique, I do partly sympathise for him. He has been blamed for ‘destroying the Davis Cup.’ Something I disagree with. To his credit, he has seen a opportunity and capitalised on it. It is the ITF that should be in the firing line. It is their responsibility to protect the sport and not just cave in when they are offered an injection of money. Something I feel that they have done with little hesitation.

Looking ahead, of course I will watch, report, comment and cheer for the players in the Davis Cup. Although for me August 16th was the birth of a new men’s team tournament and the death of another one.

Only time will tell if the ITF’s gamble has paid off.

ATP

Andy Murray, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic’s Big Four reunion in Cincy

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ATP Cincinnati, Andy Murray, Western and Southern Open
Photo Credit: Western and Southern Open Twitter

A few years before, there existed a quartet called Big Four in men’s tennis. At certain points in their time-line of dominance, injuries plagued each member of this four-member group. However, the severity of their affliction in one player, Andy Murray, saw his name erased from this elite pocket. Thus, the Big Four was reduced to the Big Three with Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer making up the troika.

 

At the 2019 Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati, three of the erstwhile Big Four troupe reunited as they re-entered the circuit’s circus. And each player had a different path leading up to the event, too, underlining how divergent their careers had become despite overlapping scheduling.

The 2016 season was the common catalyst leading to this divergence. From Federer’s injury to him pausing his season to focus on rehab after Wimbledon, to Djokovic pushing his boundary as a marauder and completing the non-calendar Slam, and to Murray ending the season as the world no. 1. The year in consideration also threw up other names – Nadal’s season ended in an agony of injury, while Stan Wawrinka won his third Major at the US Open. In its bounty of giving and taking, 2016 changed how we looked at these players – especially the first four – and the irrevocability of assumption that these guys could get past any hurdles stopping their way.

Juxtaposing with Cincinnati, in the three years since 2016, Federer and Djokovic have vaulted past their share of physical problems. Yet, in the Ohioan city, they have different motivations guiding them. This is the first time that Djokovic has entered the Cincinnati draw as the defending champion. Meanwhile, after having been drawn in the same half as the Serbian, Federer has the proverbial score to settle against him. “I can’t wait for my next rematch with Novak or my next time I can step on a match court and show what I can do,” the 20-time Slam champion said in one of his pre-tournament media interactions in Cincinnati.

There are a few opponents to get past before their slated semi-final meeting occurs. Nonetheless, their sustained competitiveness adds its fervour to the already-hefty top-half of the men’s draw. In the midst of their respectively successful opening rounds, Murray’s first-round defeat to Richard Gasquet in straight sets became a contextual misnomer for comebacks.

Yet, Murray’s was the most stirring return. This was not because of the emotional crossroads that had sprung up at the 2019 Australian Open regarding his retirement. But on account of how farther Murray had leapt to put his physical frailties behind and re-join the singles Tour. And, the Briton’s determination to do so is reminiscent of 2016, all over again. It’s the completion of the circle of how Murray had pushed hard to become the world’s best player and now, he is trying just as much to regain his footing back.

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ATP

Nick Kyrgios’ Washington win is about good vs bad: Of situations and opinions

The Australian’s Citi Open win brought forth a wave of positiveness about him. But its enduring or lack thereof is a test for his viewers, hereon.

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Nick Kyrgios
Photo Credit: Citi Open

Nick Kyrgios picked up two titles in 2019 – in Acapulco and Washington – in the time it took opinion to swing between “He is not good for tennis” to “Tennis needs him”. And, in the days after his win at the 2019 Citi Open in the latter city, the subject continues to be a favoured topic of editorial conversation vis-à-vis his importance to the sport.

 

The player in question though does not care for any of these. Yes, after his win in the Washington final against Daniil Medvedev, Kyrgios admitted, “I’ve just been working really hard, on and off the court, to try and be better as a person and as a tennis player. And as I said, I wasn’t exaggerating. This has been one of the best weeks of my life, not just on the court but in general. I feel like I’ve made major strides.” But this came with an addendum of sorts. “And I’m just going to take it one day at a time and hopefully, I can continue on this new path.”

As Kyrgios heads into the Rogers Cup in Montreal, these words need to be stamped onto onlookers’ minds, with their significance getting highlighted each time he steps on to the court, hereafter. Especially, when describing his antics that often tend to be over-the-top.

This past week in Washington, Kyrgios came up with some idiosyncratic behaviour. He shimmied, he put himself in the shoes of the prince while conjuring up an image of Stefanos Tsitsipas as Cinderella, and he asked fans for their opinions about which way to serve on match points, following that with heartfelt hugs after winning the match. All of these were endearing gestures with their enjoyableness magnified by his run of triumph thereby leading to thoughts of why Kyrgios was so important to tennis.

Had these same actions come before a result – in any round – that had not gone in his favour? It is not hard to say, after observing past trends that the reactions would have been about how Kyrgios had disrespected the sport and how he did not do much with the potential he has been gifted. The opinions would have changed that quickly.

It is because of these that the Washington result comes as a timely reality-check monitor. That instead of analysing Kyrgios’ every move, both tactical and non-tactical, the world at large needs to just view him as part of the whole of tennisdom. He is like the others who have taken up tennis professionally. But if his route on the Tour is to be measured by others’ straight-line standards, then, he is not the guy to follow that precedent.

And, why should he? Kyrgios is the way he wants to be, not the way people think he should be. Moreover, if it is that easy to accept him as he is when he wins not being able to accept Kyrgios for who he is when he loses is not his lookout. It’s the viewers who need to pore over their preferences.

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Cori Gauff: The Finest Example Of The Williams Sisters Legacy At Wimbledon

$1 million in endorsements and a win over Venus before her 16th birthday. America has a new sporting sensation on the horizon.

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photo by Roberto Dell'Olivo

WIMBLEDON: A star was born at the All England Club on Monday as the latest teenage talent sent soundwaves around the women’s circuit.

 

Just over a week ago 15-year-old Cori Gauff found out that she has received a wild card to play in this year’s Wimbledon qualifying tournament. Battling through three rounds, she reached her first main draw at a major. The youngest player in the Open Era to have ever done that. Little did the public know at the time, that was only the start.

Taking to Court 1, Gauff took on her idol, Venus Williams. A seven-time grand slam champion who made her debut at the tournament almost seven years before she was born. In a battle of the generations, youth prevailed as Gauff roared to a sensational 6-4, 6-4, win. Producing a mental and physical display that went well beyond her age. Hitting 18 winners to eight unforced errors and saving two out of the three break points she faced.

“I’m super shocked. But I’m just super blessed that Wimbledon decided to give me the wild card. I mean, I never expected this to happen.” Said Gauff.
“I literally got my dream draw, so I’m just super happy I was able to pull it out today. She played amazing, was just super nice. She’s always been nice the couple times I met her.”

Gauff is one of the many who have benefitted from the legacy created by both Williams and her sister Serena. The most successful siblings in the entire history of the sport. Just seconds after the biggest win of her life, Gauff spoke with Venus at the net. Paying tribute to what she has achieved in the sport.

“I was just telling her thank you for everything she’s done for the sport. She’s been an inspiration for many people. I was just really telling her thank you.”

It could be argued that too much hype is gathering around the youngster, who had to take an online science test on the eve of her final qualifying match. However, Gauff is not an ordinary teenager. Even before Wimbledon, she has earned the reputation of being a teenage prodigy. As a junior, she contested the final of the US Open at the age of 13 in 2017 before winning the French Open the following year. At the Miami Open in March, she won her first match on the WTA Tour.

“Cori is such an exciting young player. She’s so cool. She’s a great girl. I love her dad. There’s just really cool people.” Former world No.1 Serena said on Saturday.

The rise of the American hasn’t gone unnoticed in the corporate world. She already has endorsements with food manufacturer Barilla, clothing brand New Balance and sports equipment maker Head. Forbes magazine lists her endorsements as being worth in the region of $1 million.

The Williams sisters aren’t her only heroes. Another is Roger Federer, who also has an endorsement deal with Barilla. It was a conversation from the Swiss maestro that Gauff links with her grand slam triumph in the juniors.

“Roger Federer definitely inspired me. When I lost in the first round Australian Open juniors, I talked to him. Gave me kind of a pep talk. The next tournament was French Open juniors, and I ended up winning it, so I guess it helped.” She said.

The desire to be the greatest

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Fresh off her win over Williams, Gauff was questioned as to what her goal was next at The All England Club. She responded by saying, `to win it.’ The determination is something past onto her from her family. Her father, Corey, played basketball at Golden State University. Meanwhile, her mother, Candi, excelled in Track and Field whilst at Florida State University.

“I want to be the greatest. My dad told me that I could do this when I was eight. Obviously, you never believe it.” She explained.
“I’m still, like, not 100% confident. But, like, you have to just say things. You never know what happens.”

Williams is one of those who think Gauff has what it takes to rise to the top. Visibly frustrated by her loss to the rising star, the 39-year-old was impressed with what she saw on the court.

“I think the sky’s the limit, it really is,” Venus said of Gauff.
“She did everything well today. She put the ball in the court, which was much better than I did. She served well, moved well. It was a great match for her.”

Only time will tell how great Gauff can become. It isn’t all down to ability. How she fair over the coming years mentally under the spotlight will be a stern test. As it was for previously teenage talents of the game such as Martina Hingis and Jennifer Capriati. Although the signs are good.

“This is just a tournament. I’ve played a lot of tournaments. Obviously, this one is a little bit different. But I’m just right now relaxing, then focus on the next round tomorrow.” She stated.

Now the talk of the entire tournament, Gauff will play Magdaléna Rybáriková in the second round. A former semi-finalist back in 2017 who knocked out 10th seed Aryna Sabalenka in her opening match. Like Venus said ‘skies the limit’ for the new star of women’s tennis.

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