SPECIAL REPORT: The Fight To Preserve Andy Murray’s Legacy - UBITENNIS
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SPECIAL REPORT: The Fight To Preserve Andy Murray’s Legacy

Coach Mike James gives his insight into the significance Murray’s career has had on British tennis and the challenges that lies ahead for the nation.

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You don’t know what you have until it’s gone might be the best phrase to describe the relationship between the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) and Andy Murray.

Earlier this week Murray announced his intention to retire from the sport in 2019 with the possibility of the Australian Open being his final tournament. The decision ends a career that has rewritten history in British tennis. Murray is the only British man in the Open era to win Wimbledon, reach number one in the ATP rankings and defend an Olympic title in tennis. In total he has won 45 titles on the ATP Tour, including three at grand slam level.

“I can play with limitations but having the limitations and the pain is not allowing me to enjoy competing or training,” Murray said during an emotional press conference in Melbourne on Friday. “Wimbledon is where I would like to stop playing but I am not certain I am able to do that.
“Not feeling good. Been struggling for a long time. I’m not sure I can play through the pain for another four or five months.
“Pretty much done everything that I could to try and get my hip feeling better and it hasn’t helped loads. I think there is a chance the Australian Open is my last tournament.”

It is without question that the 31-year-old has been his country’s most successful player of all time, but how will his legacy influence the next generation? In November 2017 the LTA announced a 10% decline in participation levels compared to the previous year. Despite the successes of Kyle Edmund during that period. Meanwhile, a YouGov survey ranked the British Davis Cup team as the 32nd most popular sports team in the country. However, the younger the age group, the lower down the rankings they were placed.

Millennials Generation X Baby Boomers
Positive opinion 26% 30% 36%
Popularity ranking among group 42nd 32nd 23rd

Coach Mike James is well aware of the influence his compatriot has had on the sport. James has worked on the ATP World Tour with players ranked between 200-1000 in the world rankings over the past four years. Within the past 20 months, he has been working alongside Croatian Davis Cup player Ante Pavic. His role has taken him to an array of tournaments ranging from Futures level to grand slams.

“He’s been way more successful than Henman and Rusedski, who were excellent professionals. Henman was top 10 in the world for ten years, Rusedski made the US Open final. But Murray has done it all.” James said during an interview with Ubitennis.
“His impact as a career compared to his predecessors is by far better. He is the greatest British tennis player of all time.”

A legacy remembered, but not built on

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It is no secret that the relationships between Murray and the LTA has been a rocky one. He once said in 2015 that it was ‘a waste of time’ to talk with the governing body of tennis because ‘nothing gets done.’ Meanwhile in Scotland, Murray’s birthplace, the Chief Executive of Scottish Tennis recently told the BBC that building on Murray’s legacy ‘has not quite happened.’

“We are way short of where we should be for indoor and outdoor courts,” Blade Dodds told BBC Scotland’s Sportsound on January 6th.
“If you compare us to England and the rest of Europe, we are about 1,000 courts short of where we should be per capita.
“If you look at indoor courts, providing that all-year-round tennis that is absolutely vital if we are going to be world class, then we have 109 indoor courts in Scotland, which is one per 48,000 people. In England, it’s one per 24,000 people.”

So what needs to be done now? According to Leicester-based coach James, the media will play a vital role. In order to maintain interest in the sport in Great Britain, the public needs to be made aware of the other players. Entering into the first grand slam of 2019, British No.2 Cameron Norrie reached his first ATP Final in Auckland. Meanwhile, Dan Evans has successfully come through three rounds of qualifying at the Australian Open to reach the main draw.

“If you look at France from their point of view, they are very jealous that we had Andy Murray over the last 10 years winning big titles.” He explained. “But they have nearly the most amount of professionals in the top 100, particularly on the ATP Tour, so I think tennis needs to stay in the news.”
“For sure Edmund, Konta and Norrie can keep tennis relevant and on the back pages for many years to come.” James added.

It is without a doubt that there will need to be a collective group of players to fill the void left by Murray with not a single British player yet to have a fan base as strong as the former world No.1. For example on Twitter and Facebook, Edmund has a combined following of roughly 65,700. An estimated 110 times less than Andy Murray’s total of 7.29 million.

Time for the women to show their stuff

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Perhaps the future of British tennis lies within the women’s circuit. There are currently two British women in the top 100 and six in the top 200. More crucial is the fact that four of those are aged 22 or younger.

“If you look at the Fed Cup team at the moment, we have a very young team coming through. I think this is exciting.” Said James.
“We have Katie Boulter who has just broken into the top 100, and I think there are several girls – Katy Swan, Gabi Taylor, Francesca Jones, Harriet Dart – that can also break into the top 100 as well.”

James believes that the tides are turning and it is the female players that perhaps have the best chances of success in the future. At the upcoming Australian Open, four women are in the main draw – Konta, Boulter, Dart and Heather Watson.

“I think we could be having a shift from the golden era of men’s tennis with Andy, and moving into the women’s. From the men’s side, we don’t really have that many coming through apart from Edmund and Norrie.” He concluded.

Britain’s top 200 players (as of 13/1/19)

MEN

Ranking
Player
Age
14 Kyle Edmund 23
93 Cameron Norrie 23
187 James Ward 31
190 Daniel Evans 28

WOMEN

Ranking Player Age
38 Johanna Konta 27
97 Katie Boulter 22
108 Heather Watson 26
131 Harriet Dart 22
175 Katie Swan 19
182 Gabriella Taylor 20

On the other hand, it can be argued that Jack Draper could be a big name in the future. The 17-year-old was a finalist in the Wimbledon Boy’s tournament and won three Futures titles during 2018. He is at a current ranking of 562 on the pro circuit and seventh in the juniors.

“What has come through is the way he has competed throughout his whole career,” world No.38 Konta said in tribute to Murray. “That is something which is very unique to him and we will probably be waiting decades for another person to be like that.”

Whilst the future of British tennis may be a bit murky, there is one thing for certain. Murray’s service to British tennis will end soon. Whether that will be at the Australian Open or Wimbledon remains to be seen.

Only time will tell if his legacy in the sport has been one others have been able to capitalise on.

Murray will take on Roberto Bautista Agut in the first round at Melbourne on Monday.

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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EXCLUSIVE: Thomas Enqvist On The Fight To Revive Swedish Tennis

The world No.4 tells Ubitennis why he is hopeful that Sweden can once again become a powerhouse in the world of tennis.

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This year’s Australian Open marked the 20th anniversary of Thomas Enqvist’s finest moment in a grand slam as a player.

The Swede, who was 25 at the time, entered the 1999 draw at Melbourne Park as an unseeded player. He had never progressed beyond the quarter-finals of a grand slam before, but stunned everyone with consecutive wins over Patrick Rafter and Mark Philippoussis. The run saw him reach the final of the tournament where he had a 6-4 lead against Russia’s Yevgeny Kafelnikov, before losing in four sets. That was to be Enqvist’s first and only taste of what it is like to play in a major final.

“Result wise, this was the best one. It was a good memory.” The 44-year-old said during an interview with Ubitennis. “Of course it is always hard to look back to a final that you lost, but it is still a good memory.”

Enqvist played during a time where Swedish men enjoyed extensive success in tennis. At the time of his run to the Australian Open final, the country had eight players ranked in the top 80. Besides Enqvist, there were Thomas Johansson, Jonas Bjorkman and Magnus Norman all making their inroads on the tour. Sweden were also the reigning Davis Cup champions. Unknown to them at the time, that would be the last time the country would win the team tournament.

It is without a doubt that the country has a rich tennis tradition. In the past Sweden has also produced tennis stars such as Mats Wilander, Stefan Edberg, Jonas Bjorkman and Robin Soderling, who was the last player to win a ATP singles trophy back in 2011. So where did it all go wrong for the Swede’s?

“I think we still have a very strong tennis tradition in Sweden. We have a lot of people involved in Swedish tennis that have good knowledge and their heart in the right place.” Enqvist explained.
“We definitely need a player that can break through and can generate a little bit of hype because it’s all about getting the sports channel in Sweden to show tennis again.”

At present there are just four players from the Nordic country that has an official ATP ranking. Their star players are brothers Elias (22) and Mikael (20) Ymer. Both are yet to break into the world’s top 100. Elias came the closest at 105th last June. Further down the field, there is Markus Eriksson at 523rd and Linus Frost at 658th.

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Due to the lack of top players, trying to maintain mass interest in the sport has become a problem in recent years. As pointed out by Enqvist, who noted the lack of mainstream Swedish media covering the Australian Open this year.

“I think it is a shame that we cannot have more media here (in Melbourne), even if we don’t have any players.” He said.
“If we can’t create enough interest at home how can we get kids interested in tennis? I think everybody has a little bit of responsibility, but it is not an easy situation.” He added.

Despite a seemingly dismal situation, hope lies with the next generation of players. There are currently two Swedish boys ranked in the top 100 on the junior circuit. Meanwhile, others are also gradually coming through.

“We have a bunch of players, who are 15 now. It’s one of the first generations that we have more than one or two.” Enqvist explained.
“This is actually a group of five or six that are international competitors. Hopefully one or two of these perform.”

Whist Enqvist is hopeful, for the foreseeable future, it looks like the lull in Swedish tennis will continue. A somewhat sad situation for a country that once dominated the sport.

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