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.
Also @ITF_Tennis the reason you say the average ranking on the ATP is down at the ITF level is because players all lost their ATP points from@15k’s. Take @aidymchugh he doesn’t have a ATP ranking anymore cos you nicked them all so clearly the average ranking will be down
— Mark Petchey (@_markpetchey) February 11, 2019
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.
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.
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.”
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
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.
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.
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?
‘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.
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.
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