Around noon, Andrea Gaudenzi has spoken with a group of Italian journalists, calling from his London house. The conference call lasted a little over 45 minutes, but the ATP embargoed it until 9 pm. This was the first official chat between Gaudenzi and the Italian press since the former ATP N.18 was elected as the new ATP Chairman on October 24, and I suspect that, if it weren’t for this crisis, he wouldn’t have felt the need to speak to his native country’s news outlets before the Internazionali d’Italia in May.
My first impression, after dealing with several Chairmen who were always trying to cater to different parties at once, without ever letting you know what their real opinion was, is that Andrea Gaudenzi would have defeated his predecessors handily, just as much on-court as off-court. His competence, the clarity of his projects, and the long-sightedness with which he plans on accomplishing them, all of these qualities make him stand out, after years of vague speeches on the unresolved scheduling issues and after years of conflicting interests. The ATP of Gaudenzi (and of CEO Massimo Calvelli, who’s very much on the same page) seems to have taken the right path, even in these euphemistically troubled times.
Even the simplest of realities, which is that the game needs to restart from its showpiece assets, e.g. the Slams, had never been stated with such clarity and lucidity by an ATP Chairman. And his decision to halt the season before Indian Wells, despite most players already being on-site, has been timely, brave, and ahead of the game, when compared to other sports, both in American and overseas.
The call began with a short introduction by the interviewee, which is transcribed over the next few lines: “Italy is the country that has suffered the most because of the virus, along with China. The ATP season has stopped, as has tennis as a whole. There are many concerns, many questions – “when will we resume play?” – and very few answers, since nobody knows when we’ll be able to resume.
One thing is for sure: our immediate strategy has been to protect public health and safety. We cancelled Indian Wells when the NBA season was still ongoing, a risky choice when we consider that the players were already in California, and eager to compete. We thought about hosting the tournament behind closed doors, but after some consideration we decided against it.
“After a few years away from the game, I saw that some incredible opportunities were opening up for the development of the game, but this was certainly not the scenario we were hoping to work in. My tenure began with the Australian bushfires, which were followed by the Coronavirus outbreak – by now, I’m expecting World War III to happen at any minute! Therefore, these first few months played out differently than I expected, as all my plans were obviously delayed and slowed down. Huge opportunities could arise from this crisis, one of which is the chance for the main stakeholders in the game (the ATP, the WTA, the ITF, and the Slams) to cooperate more, since we are all expressions of the same game, we cater to the same fans, we are part of a story we are telling together, even if tennis is a very fragmented game, both with regards to the types of competitions and media-wise.
My idea was to nurture a collaborative spirit. We don’t need to worry about our day-to-day business or about resuming play during such a crisis – witnessing what doctors and nurses are experiencing every day helps us put things in perspective. We need to use this time for self-reflection and for long-term planning, to create the future we want for our sport, but there are clearly much bigger issues.”
After that, the interview began, with many pressing matters being discussed.
Q: What happened with the French Open, and how are you going to react to what they did? Is it true that you’re threatening not to allocate any ATP points this season and the next? Are you currently in communication with the tournament’s organising committee?
A: What happened proved that tennis needs stronger regulations, so that the tournaments can co-exist, and not just scheduling-wise. Our main focus has to be our fans, the people who buy newspapers and tickets, these are the people we need to cater to. Customer centring is the future, since customers are always right. For instance, the four Slams have different rules for fifth set play; media rights, data, and TV rights are all allocated separately; the Slams and some Master 1000 events are combined tournaments, but the fact remains that the game is very fragmented. The French Open’s move is understandable: I watched Macron’s speech, and he was very direct about the direness of the situation, so his constituents panicked and the French Federation felt the urge to plant their flag in that September slot, regardless of what might happen. This in turn sparked a very open and frank conversation with the Chairmen of the other stakeholders, and we came to the conclusion that we are all part of the same story and we live in the same “building”, so there’s no room for prevarication. Nobody knows when we’ll be able to resume play, so it makes no sense to talk about August or September. It’s all hypothetical, so there’s no use in banging our heads against the wall for something that might not happen, because it might very well be that play won’t be resumed until next year.
The French Open took a few steps back, understanding the importance of dialogue [Editor’s note: while talking about this, Gaudenzi hinted that there won’t be any sanctions]. The US Open is planning to push the tournament back if the situation doesn’t improve before the summer. Our operating principle is very simple: we have to try and play as many tournaments as we can in the weeks we’ll have at our disposal, in order to preserve the rankings and the prize money, and above all in order to provide the entertainment for our spectators. I represent the ATP, but the Slams are the Slams. We have the ATP Finals in November, but my wish is that the players in London will have had the chance to prove that they are the best across three Slams and seven Master 1000 events, and that we will be able to crown the world’s best player as we usually do…
Q: The French are bent on those dates, but what’s the players’ opinion?
A: The players agreed with me. I talked to every member of the Player Council, I talked to Roger, to Rafa, to Djokovic, and they all agree that our philosophy should be to host the most prestigious events. So, even if it’s all hypothetical, it still makes sense to move the French Open to September, whereas there would be no point in pushing the US Open back by two or three weeks. If play won’t be resumed by early September, I highly doubt that it will be later in the month. Now we are talking about the season’s calendar, but you should know that we’ve come up with about 50 different versions, and we’ve had to re-shuffle them on a daily basis. We also need to consider that a few things are already set in stone: for instance, the O2 Arena is available for the ATP Finals exclusively during that week (from 15th to 22nd November), and the same goes with most indoor arenas such as Vienna or Basel. These are all multi-purpose arenas, so it wouldn’t be easy to get different dates, especially because everyone is currently trying to re-schedule their own events. We are trying to cooperate with the WTA as well, since the women’s tour has such an extended Asian swing. Ideally, we’d like to re-schedule two Masters 1000 on clay, either before or after the French Open.
Q: The current hypothesis is to have a clay swing in mid-September. Could Rome be re-converted as an indoor event?
A: We are working on the possibility of a four-weeks clay swing after the US Open. The best-case scenario would be to have the North American swing during the summer, then the clay, then Asia, and then the ATP Finals. If that were to happen, it would mean that we saved 80% of the season after cancelling the grass tournaments. With seven Masters 1000 and three Slams taking place, there wouldn’t be much room for complaints. If the US Open gets cancelled, the complexity of the situation would grow exponentially, because we should consider playing in November and December too, but at the moment we are focusing on a re-start after the Wimbledon slot.
Q: Have you thought about limiting the events to just one area, be it Europe, North America or Asia, so that the players wouldn’t have to travel too much between continents? In case the season was cancelled entirely, what would be the financial fallout?
A: Yes, we are considering different formats in the event of stringent travelling restrictions. However, tennis is a global sport, and that would be very problematic for us, more so than it would be for football, where everyone plays in the same country without travelling issues. Even if tournaments were to take place behind closed doors, we are still talking about 2,000-3,000 people moving from one place to another, and that would make it difficult to guarantee safety for everybody. Our job is to put a smile on people’s faces, we are part of the entertainment business. Sure enough, we don’t want to become a regional sport, because that would mean taking a step back, and that would also create a ranking problem, since the best players would be competing in different leagues instead of against each other. However, it is certainly an option, even if it’s not our preferred choice.
As for the financial side, there are several budgeting plans, about 20 per day! We have three main sources of income: TV/media rights, advertising, and ticketing. The latter will obviously take a big hit, and advertisers will demand lower prices too, especially if play were to be resumed behind closed doors. We can hold on for a year, and I’m quite optimistic about resuming play in autumn, and to a certain extent even during the summer. If we can sit tight and have the chance to host the Finals, that’s good, we’ll survive. Would we survive for two or three years? Definitely not! The longer it takes to solve the situation, the worst our condition becomes. As for the idea of hosting a lot of tournaments over a span of a few weeks, we are considering every option in order to help everybody.
On the matter of financial support, we’ll deal with Challengers and 250 events first, along with the players whose ranking is comprised between 250 and 500, because they’ll be the ones in need. There’s no point in providing support for the Top 50 or for the Slams.
Q: What do you think of the virtual tennis idea that was pioneered in Madrid?
I think it’s a good initiative, but it can’t make up for the real thing. It works better for other sports such as the F1 or the Moto GP. I’m definitely not against something of the sort during these sad times, but it’s not a definitive solution, even though those who organise this sort of things should be thanked for the income they generate.
Q: Could some 32-players draws be extended to 48? If play doesn’t resume soon, could some tournaments take place during the off-season?
A: We need a head-start of six to eight weeks before we make a decision, because we need some time on an operational level. It will depend on how many tournaments we’ll be able to re-schedule. The hypothesis of extending the draws is certainly valid, but many will find it impossible to play so many weeks in a row. An alternative might be to push back the ATP Finals, but we’d need to find another location, and that creates another problem. The players are having a long off-season already, so we’ll definitely play in November and December if necessary.
Q: What would you change about the current situation, if you could? Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, they all seem to have their own private interests.
A: I decided to run for this position because I saw an amazing opportunity for the game, which is not fulfilling its own potential. Tennis is in a healthy state, very solid from a business standpoint, but if you compare its TV space to others, it takes up less than 1.2% of the available room, despite having over a billion fans! We are a Top 5 sport both in the men’s and in the women’s game, while other sports revolve almost exclusively around men. We can spend the next few years fighting over leftovers, while there is a world of opportunity out there. Our competitors aren’t just other sports, but also entertainment platforms. Nowadays, you are competing against people’s time, attention, and income disposal. If a young man is sitting on his sofa, he’ll have the chance to watch Netflix, listen to some music, watch a football match, or a tennis one. So far, we’ve been doing well, but we need to stay focused, because the world is changing from a linear broadcaster state to a digital one in which there are enormous opportunities, especially for our sport. The duration of a tennis match was a nightmare for TV channels, but the broadcasting direction we are moving towards might benefit us from this point of view, provided that we can grow the game instead of narrowing our perspective to a few internal squabbles sparked by the lack of transparency and trust.
Right now, you need three or four different subscriptions to watch tennis, the situation varies depending on the country, everything is fragmented. We can’t keep asking this of our customers, it goes against every commercial logic. Moreover, the data on the hundreds of millions of ticket-buying fans are scattered across national federations and tournaments, there is no central database for them, so we don’t know who our fans are. Even the big events will suffer from this situation in the future, even if they have more resources at their disposal, spanning over a fortnight. There are some huge investments that need to be centralized. We need to dream big, as a collective unit. We need to speak the same language, and to speak the truth. Some small sacrifices are required of everybody.
I think it won’t be easy, we all tend to put our own interests above everyone else’s. This crisis has us at a crossroads: it can either elevate our game or divide us up even more. I always use the same example: in the 90s, music labels sold CDs, then Internet came along, and people stopped paying for music, and therefore stopped paying musicians. Steve Jobs then launched iTunes, and everyone called him mad for selling songs for 99 cents. That model didn’t work, but then Spotify was created, and by paying 9.99 dollars people could listen to as many songs as they wanted. What matters is the experience. Artists need to be paid, so thousands of publishers and labels came together. Music was even more fragmented than tennis, and labels united because of a crisis. True, everyone in tennis is doing fine or slightly better than fine, the Slams do well, the Masters 1000 too… but what needs to be the motivation for our game to come together?
Q: In the event of a postponement of the ATP Finals, could they take place in Turin a year in advance?
“We have a deal with London. If the US Open takes place, then there should be no problems. If not, then everything’s possible, if we find someone to host us, but at the moment we don’t have an answer. Let’s not forget that there are fines to pay in order to move an event somewhere else.
Q: How did you react when Federer announced that he wasn’t going to play in the ATP Cup? Did you ask for reassurance about next year? Or is he going to play even less?
A: I talked to Roger before I got elected, and I told him: Roger, I retired 17 years ago, and I don’t know you can move like you do, I’ve been watching your matches on TV and I have absolutely no clue as to what your secret is. I was done at 30, both mentally and psychologically. To be playing at that level, at that age, that’s just for otherworldly talents like him, so I really can’t complain if he decides to skip a tournament. I prefer to look at the bright side, and to be thankful for the fact that he still does play. He could have retired a while ago, and instead is still playing, I was a pro and I can tell you it’s not easy. True, we’d like to watch him every single week, but that’s impossible, so let’s rejoice for the fact that he’s still playing, let’s thank him for what he gives us, wherever he plays, whenever he feels like wanting to play.
Q: Multi-year contracts have been signed for both the ATP Cup and the Davis Cup, but many, including Djokovic, have said that just one team event might be enough. What’s your plan for that, given the money and the interests that are at stake?
A: Again, the fans come first. What’s good for the game? The ATP Cup was a successful event, I went there, it was great. We have 52 weeks to plan a season in. The players enter between 18 and 22 tournaments on average, so it’s not an easy situation. Personally, I’m very fond of Davis Cup’s tradition, the history of our sport. I’m definitely not against sitting down with Tennis Australia and with the ITF to discuss the creation of a unified event, and that would probably be the best solution. However, I’m not sure we’d be able to achieve that, because the deals are slated to run for many years and we have a great relationship with Tennis Australia, a relationship that we’ll respect and maintain, because it’s the right thing to do. I think it’s great to start the season with a bang, then a week off, then the Australian Open. It’s not the end of the world, if we can come up with a solution we will, or else it will just stay this way.
Translation by Tommaso Villa
Denis Shapovalov Handles Opelka To Reach Australian Open Fourth Round
The Canadian managed to get past his 6ft 11 American opponent in a match that lasted over three hours.
Denis Shapovalov is into the fourth round of the Australian Open after beating 23rd seed Reilly Opelka 7-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 in three hours and two minutes on Margeret Court Arena.
The Canadian hit 39 winners and served 10 aces while limiting Opelka to just 17 aces. In contrast the American finished the match with a costly 46 unforced errors as Shapovalov booked his spot in the second week of the tournament.
” I think I did a really good job against Reilly (Opelka) today and I took a lot of my chances and managed to get a read on his serve,” said the world No.14.
Both players were doing a good job early on when it came to holding serve and at 3-3 it was the Toronto native who had three chances to break. On his third opportunity broke serve with his trademark backhand winner.
However, that break didn’t last long for Shapovalov as he struggled to consolidate the break and ultimately gave the break right back with a poor service game and it was back on serve at 4-4.
The first was decided by a tiebreaker and Shapovalov got the crucial break to take a 3-1 lead in the breaker which was enough for him to take the first set.
The second frame was much like the first with both players holding serve until 3-3 when Opelka broke serve. He was able to consolidate and serve out the set to level the match.
The third set stayed on serve until 3-2 and the momentum swung back in the Canadians favor. He got the break of serve this time using his forehand to great effect and served out the third to take a two sets to one lead.
Just like the third set the fourth set had no breaks until 3-2 when again the number 14 seed broke Opelka serve again and that break of serve was enough for him to serve out the match and the win.
After the match in his post-match interview, he was asked how he was able to limit his opponent to just 17 aces in the match.
” It’s never easy against Reilly (Opelka) but I am happy I was able to pull through and make it to the next round”. He said.
Shapovalov will face the number three seed Alexander Zverev in the round of 16.
Felix Auger-Aliassime Survives Australian Open Marathon
For a second time this week the Canadian was pushed but managed to win a tough four-set match against his Spanish opponent.
Felix Auger-Aliassime booked his spot in the third round of the Australian Open after beating Alejandro Davidovich Fokina 7-6, 6-7, 7-6, 7-6 in a match that lasted four hours and 20 minutes.
The Montreal native hit 58 winners and served 28 aces while Davidovich Fokina hit 51 unforced errors. It is the second time the 21-year-old has reached the last 32 in Melbourne Park in what is his third appearence.
The first game of the match was a nervy one for the world number nine as it lasted six minutes and it involved him saving two breakpoints before being able to hold serve. The opener stayed on serve until 2-2 when the Fokina came up with an impressive passing shot to set up two more chances for the first break of serve of the match and this time managed to convert. Three games later the Canadian fought back and broke right back to go back on serve.
It was a tiebreak which decided the first set. The Montreal native jumped out to a 3-0 lead before the Spaniard came back again to win the next four points but the Canadian responded again winning three straight points to take the breaker 7-4 and the first set.
The second set was another impressive performance on serve by both players and once again was decided by a back and forth breaker that this time was won by Davidovich Fokina to level the match.
The third frame was much the same as both players kept their level up and not much differentiated the two. This tiebreaker was much more straightforward as the Canadian jumped out to a 5-1 lead before closing out the third set 7-5 and taking two sets to one lead.
The fourth set stayed on serve until 2-1 when the world number 50 had a chance to break and was able to get it for a 3-1 lead before the Canadian was able to break back the following game to go back on serve.
For the fourth time, the set was decided by a tiebreaker and this one was super tight with the Canadian getting the crucial break to take a 4-3 lead and that one break was enough for him to serve it out.
Auger Aliassime will now face Dan Evans in the third round after the Brit was handed a walkover against Frenchman Arthur Rinderknech who pulled out of the match due to injury.
‘Best Feeling I’ve Ever Had’ – Underdog Christopher O’Connell Stuns Schwartzman At Australian Open
Prior to this week the 27-year-old had never won a main draw match at Melbourne Park or beaten a top 20 player.
World No.175 Christopher O’Connell has pulled off a major upset at the Australian Open by knocking out 13th seed Diego Schwartzman.
The 27-year-old wild card had only ever won one match in the main draw of a Grand Slam prior to this year but illustrated the talent that he has with a 7-6, 6-4, 6-4, win over Schwartzman. A player who is currently ranked 162 places above him in the rankings. Against the Argentine he fired a total of 44 winners and won 75% of his first service points on route to claiming his first win over a top 20 player.
“It’s the best feeling I’ve ever had on a tennis court. I’ve been playing tennis since I was four. To have moments like this it’s a dream come true.” O’Connell said during his press conference.
Despite the straightforward score, the match itself was a marathon. The opener alone lasted for almost 90 minutes with the underdog saving three set points whilst down 4-5 before prevailing in the tiebreaker. Then in the following two sets he broke Schwartzman three times in total.
“I knew how crucial that first set was. It was really warming up out there. It was really a battle back and forth. It was crucial to get that first set, especially in the heat,” he said.
A late bloomer on the men’s Tour, the Australian started to make a breakthrough last year by reaching his first quarter-final at the Atlanta Open where he defeated Jannik Sinner. During that year he also reached the final of a French Challenger event before withdrawing due to injury and reached the second round of the US Open.
O’Connell, who has been ranked as high as 111th in the world, credits his coach for helping him reach new milestones in the sport. He is mentored by former player Marinko Matosevic who reached a ranking high of 39th back in 2013 and made more than $2M in prize money during his playing career.
“The process didn’t start yesterday. It’s been happening all of last year,” he stated.
“I’ve been working with Marinko. He’s just really confident with how I want to play tennis now. It’s the first time I’ve really had a one-on-one coach literally every day with me.’
“Marinko was such a great player. All his knowledge of the game, he’s just putting it onto me.”
Next up for O’Connell will be the in-form Maxime Cressy who lost to Rafael Nadal in the final of the Melbourne Summer Set just over a week ago. The American defeated Czech qualifier Tomáš Macháč 6-1, 3-6, 6-1, 7-6(5), in his second round match.
“I knew I had good results in me. It’s just being consistent. I felt today was a consistent match from me,” he reflected.
“But the biggest thing for me is just staying healthy, not having these injuries where I miss two months of tournaments. I nearly missed five or six months last year. I can’t be doing that.’
“The belief is always there, but I just got to make sure my body’s healthy this year. I want to play a full year.”
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