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

Interviews

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.

Published

on

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

Embed from Getty Images

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

Embed from Getty Images

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.

ATP

EXCLUSIVE: Daniil Medvedev On His Saudi Arabian Debut, No.1 Dreams And Russia’s Olympic Ban

The US Open finalist sat down with Ubitennis earlier this week.

Published

on

Within the past 12 months Daniil Medvedev has gone from a promising future prospect to one of the top players in the world of men’s tennis.

 

Up until June this year the 23-year-old was yet to crack the top 10, win a Masters title or reach the second week of a grand slam event. Then shortly after the conclusion of the Wimbledon championships, Medvedev enjoyed an emphatic period of success to achieve all three of those milestones. Within a three-month period he reached six consecutive finals at tournaments ranging from ATP 250 level to a grand slam. Enabling him to peak at a high of fourth in the world back in September.

Unfortunately for Medvedev, his surge came at price towards the end of his season. Losing in the first round of the Paris Masters and then all three of his matches in his ATP Finals debut. Something he blames on mental tiredness.

Not to be disheartened by the loss, the Russian is back on the court this week. He is one of eight players participating in the brand new Diriyah Tennis Cup. An exhibition tournament in Saudi Arabia, which has on offer $1 million for the champion.

“I do think in the middle of a pre-season a tournament like this is good. You can’t just practice for four weeks without knowing how your game is at the moment. Last year I also participated in one in France (Open de Caen).” Medvedev told Ubitennis.com about his decision to play.
“This is how we (my team) decided to do the preparation this year and are going to see how it works out.”

Kicking off his campaign on Thursday against Germany’s Jan-Lennard Struff, Medvedev enjoyed an emphatic start. Disposing of his rival 6-3, 6-1, in less than an hour. Whilst the prize money is undoubtedly an appeal for all of those taking part, the Russian sees this week as a golden opportunity to evaluate his game.

“It is going to be important to see how my game is right now in the middle of the pre-season. To see what I need to improve more, what I need to work more on with my team.” He explained.
“Obviously after my last season, I have a lot of big expectations for 2020, but first of all I need to stay lucid and take it all match-by-match.”

Future dreams

Medvedev and Gael Monfils – Diriyah Tennis Cup (via Twitter, @DiriyahCup)

Given his recent breakthrough, Medvedev is being mentioned as a potential candidate to one day claim the world No.1 position. Since 2004 only four players have managed to hold the honour – Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray. To add to the pressure, former player Marat Safin has backed his compatriot to achieve the milestone in the future. Safin will be the captain of the Russian team in the ATP Cup, which Medvedev is participating in.

“I believe he can be number one in the world.” Safin told Russian media earlier this week. “His all-around game… we just need to work on certain small things.”

Despite the backing, Medvedev is staying grounded about the prospect. Insisting that he isn’t ‘obsessed’ with the world No.1 ranking. At present, he is more than 4000 points adrift from Nadal in the ATP standings.

“I have been thinking about it (the No.1 spot) since I was six-years-old, but the thing is that I’m not obsessed with it,” said Medvedev. “For example, if I was 40 and during my career, I achieved a best ranking of number two in the world, It would not change my life completely.’
“Of course working hard and playing so many tournaments you want to achieve the best ranking possible.” He added.

With his eyes on the grand slams next year, 2020 also gives Medvedev the chance to make his Olympic debut. However, it isn’t as simple as that. Earlier this week the Russian sporting federation was banned from major sporting events by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) due to various violations. An investigation found that the Russian Anti-doping agency (RUSDA) deliberately tampered with athletes samples to hide positive tests.

The ITF notes that Russian tennis has never been linked to the controversy, however, players such as Medvedev will be under sanction. Unless the ban is overturned, they are only allowed to play at the event as neutral athletes.

“To be honest as a tennis player it is a little bit tough to talk about these things because I live in Monaco and we get tested in every country around the world. From 20 to 30 doping tests.” Medvedev states.
“I know what happened, but I don’t know how to react to it because I’m not in this (the Russian) federation.”

Asked if he will still play in the Olympics, which will be held in Tokyo, Medvedev cautiously replied ‘I think so.’ Although he is far from certain in doing so.

“Looking at this decision, it’s disappointing that me as a Russian player, who hasn’t nothing to do with this, will have to play without a flag. It is a little bit strange for me. I don’t know why this decision was made exactly so I don’t know if it was the right decision.” He concluded.

Medvedev ended 2019 with 59 wins on the ATP Tour. More than any other player this year.

Interview conducted by Alessandro Stella in Saudi Arabia

Continue Reading

Interviews

EXCLUSIVE: The Big Business Of Data Analytics In Tennis

Ubitennis speaks with the founder of Tennis Data company Sportiii, whose company is currently working with Stan Wawrinka’s coach Magnus Norman.

Published

on

Mike james with doubles player Ante Pavic and Tomislav Brkic at a Challenger tournament.

As tennis players head into their off-season, it is normally the same routine. A couple of days of rest followed by numerous training blocks to get them ready for the following season. They are guided by their coaches, physios and for a growing number with the help of a computer by their side.

 

With technology continuing to rapidly develop, the use of data statistics is becoming big business in the world of tennis. A method where players analyse the numbers behind their performance. Ranging from their service percentages to the average length of rallies they are playing. The idea being that their training is then customised to take into account those figures.

However, how much of a big deal is it?

Mike James is the founder of Sportiii Analytics. A company that provides detailed information on player’s strategies and patterns. They have a partnership with the prestigious Good To Great Academy in the pipeline and supply information to Stan Wawrinka’s coaching team. British-based James has more than a decade of experience in coaching and has previously travelled on the tour with the likes of doubles specialists Ante Pavic and Tomislav Brkic. At present Sportiii are working with several ATP and WTA players, but are unable to name them due to a confidentiality agreement.

“We are fortunate enough to be able to use Dartfish. Dartfish created a tagging part of their software package around 10 years ago. It allows us to make customized tagging panels or coding as they say in football or rugby. Essentially, we can tag or code whatever the player, coach or federation wants to look for.” James explained during an interview with Ubitennis.
“We are taking 30 KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators) of information which allows us to take the data and move that into a strategy for the players and their teams to know what is working and what isn’t.”

Tennis is far from the only sport to be influenced by the rapid rise of technology. Although, is it really a necessity? During the 1980s with the likes of John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors, they both managed to achieve highly successful careers without detailed statistical information. Some would argue that they most important aspect is a person’s talent on the court and how they mentally cope with different situations. Not how many rallies they win in under five shots.

Although James points out that without services like his, there is a chance that player’s could be training the wrong areas of their games. Therefore hampering their own development in the sport.

“If we know the 70% of the returns are going back into the court in the men’s game, then we know the first ball after the serve is extremely important. Also, if we know that 70% of the match is between zero and four, the serve and return is vitally important.” He said.
“Players hitting 20, 30, or 40 balls in a row before they have a break. They are not training the game, they might be training the technical aspects of their game but they cannot train tactically playing this many balls without a break.”

A method for the many, not the few

There are still a few stigmas when it comes to companies such as Sportiii. Many would think this service would be something mainly of interest to coaches and nobody else. However, James reveals that this isn’t always the case.

“Of course, some coaches want to know the information, but we have players we deal with without their coaches because they are the ones interested. If it’s going to work best with statistics, numbers and strategy, you’re going to want both the player and coach fully buying in to this way of thinking. That’s going to get the best result for sure.”

Novak Djokovic has previously worked alongside Craig O’Shannessy, who is the founder of Brain Game Tennis and writes numerous statistical articles for atpworldtour.com. Meanwhile, Alexander Zverev once said ‘all the big guys are using data analysis, they just don’t like to talk about it.’ There is clearly a market, but is it only for those who can afford it?

Despite the rise of prize money earnings, the disparity on the tour remains substantial. Rafael Nadal was the highest earner of 2019 on the ATP Tour with $12.8 million in winnings. In contrast, the 300th highest earner, Federico Coria, made just over $81,000. Less than 1% of Nadal’s tally. According to one report from The Telegraph, leading agencies in the tennis data industry are selling their top packages in the region of £80,000 ($103,000) per year.

“We look to do individual tailor made packages depending on a player’s ranking, age, experience, support team, if they are funded by their federation or if they are funded by private sponsors.” James commented on how Sportiii handles the situation.
“But at the end of the day, of course the first part of a player’s budget is for their coach and then maybe the Physio. But I think having an analyst or strategy consultant is becoming higher in the pecking order for players going into 2020.” He added.

The future

James pictured with Magnus Norman (left) and Jonas Arnesen (middle)

Next year Sportiii will officially begin their work with Swedish tennis academy Good To Great, which is located to the north of Stockholm. Regarded as one of the top academies in the country, it was founded by Magnus Norman, Nicklas Kulti and Mikael Tillström. Their role will be providing information to those who use the facility.

“We’re really looking to steepen the learning curve and support their academy pro team. But also help develop their junior players they have coming through.” James explained about the collaboration.
“We support their team with educational workshops and I think this is the next phrase for data analytics. That will be going into junior tennis and not just looking at the top of the game.”

The desire to focus more on the younger generation of athletes emulates that of the ATP with their Next Gen Finals in Milan. An end-of-season event that features the eight best players under the age of 21. At the tournament, they use a series of new innovative methods. Including electronic line calling, the use of a handset to speak with coaches during changeovers and wearable technology.

There is no doubt that the new generation of players is more comfortable with the use of technology. But what does that mean for the future of coaching? Would it be possible that one day the profession could be replaced by a computer instead? This could appeal to those looking to save costs, however James isn’t convinced the complete removal of the human element will happen.

“If players are more certain and confident in knowing what they need to do, in my opinion the level goes up.” He states. “Then, if the level goes up, maybe we are not at the pinnacle of the sport seeing Rafa, Roger, Stan and Novak playing video game tennis. I think we are still going to get another level of tennis in 5-10 years, which is very exciting for the sport.”

It is inevitable that technology will have a greater presence in tennis over the coming years in some shape or form. The only question is where do you draw a line?

To find out more information about Sportiii you can visit www.sportiiianalytics.com or check out their social media pages.

Continue Reading

Interviews

‘We Try To Fix Each Other’ – Aryna Sabalenka On Turbulent Relationship With Coach

The world No.11 speaks to Ubitennis about the reason why she departed and then reunited with her mentor.

Published

on

2019 has been a roller coaster season for Belarus’ Aryna Sabalenka both on and off the court.

 

The 21-year-old has claimed a trio of titles on the WTA Tour with all of those occurring in China. Overall, she has won 39 out of 61 matches played, as well as winning the doubles title at the US Open with Elise Mertens. On the other hand, she has also lost her opening match at seven tournaments this year and failed get back-to-back wins in three out of the four grand slams she played in.

Sabalenka is currently guided on the tour by Russia’s Dmitry Tursunov. A former top 20 player on the ATP Tour who retired from the sport in 2017. They have been working together for more than a year. It looked as if the partnership had come to an end back in August when both announced on social media that they are ending their collaboration. Sabalenka wrote ‘Thank you for everything and all the best in your future.’ However, the two soon changed their minds after.

“After the US Open, I realized that there was a problem, too many things off the court was diverting my attention from the game and this helped me to win something and find certain sensations.” Sabalenka told Ubitennis.com earlier this month in China.
“I realized how stupid it was to give Dmitry the blame for my failures, so I found a way to recover my relationship with him .”

The mixed season experienced by Sabalenka is one she hopes will help her in the long term. She ends 2019 inside the world’s top 20 for the second year in a row. Becoming one of only four players under the age of 21 to do so on the women’s tour.

“I hope that all this can help me start the next season in a more… intelligent, more experienced way.” She explains. “There is a bit of disappointment with what happened in these months, but at the same time I said to myself, ‘ok, you finally understood’. This means you can work on it and move on. Every player spends moments like that and usually always learns something, I hope it can happen to me too.”

Despite still being a relatively newcomer in the world of coaching, Sabalenka isn’t the first player Tursunov has coached. He had previously worked with compatriot Elena Vesnina and guided her to the 2018 Australian Open doubles finals. During that same year, Vesnina also reached the finals of tournaments in Indian Wells and Madrid under his guidance.

There remains a question as to what the future has in store for Tursunov’s latest partnership. Was their brief break a blessing in disguise or is there more trouble ahead for their working relationship?

“I hope to continue working with Dmitry.” Sabalenka stated.
“We tried to ‘fix’ each other a few things and this helped me stay positive. The intention is simply to move forward because our collaboration is very good and working great, I don’t want to lose him as a coach. If things are going so well, why should I look for someone else?’
“We tried to solve all the problems we had and I think we did it quite well.”

Sabalenka closes out her season with three wins over top 10 players. Defeating Kiki Bertens twice and Ash Barty once.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

Trending