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
Alexander Zverev Powers Past Erratic Nadal To Set Thiem Showdown
Alexander Zverev secured his best win of his career on a clay court by beating Rafael Nadal in Madrid.
Alexander Zverev powered past an erratic Rafael Nadal 6-4 6-3 to reach the semi-finals in Madrid.
After a slow start Zverev produced some stunning tennis to knock out the five-time champion Nadal, who had an error-prone day at the office.
The German will now play Dominic Thiem in the last four in a rematch from the 2018 final.
It was the 20-time grand slam champion who started off the fastest as he looked to target the Zverev forehand early with uncomfortable spins and heights.
Eventually Nadal would get his rewards for an accurate tactical game-plan as a Zverev double fault handed him the break.
However that advantage was to be short-lived as the first point of the seventh game would change the momentum of the match with Nadal putting in simple unforced errors especially on the forehand side.
The German took advantage as he used his backhand to dictate points from the baseline. Furthermore, Zverev used his superior net play to his advantage by shortening the points and creating a faster tempo.
An unusual first set from Nadal’s perspective was complete as the fifth seed reeled off four games in a row to seal the opening set 6-4.
At the start of the second set, the Spaniard tried to up his level and intensity as he used some drop-shots at unexpected moments and attempted to bring the crowd into the match.
Despite this Nadal’s return game was lacking its usual ferocity as he couldn’t capitalise on Zverev’s second serves.
There was a lack of confidence in the Spaniard when implementing effective patterns of play as Zverev had a lot of success dictating play and winning the baseline and net rallies.
Another break in the fifth game ensured that Zverev’s dominance was being rewarded.
Although a double break advantage was denied, Nadal couldn’t deny victory for Zverev as the German sealed his first clay court victory over the ‘King of Clay.’
After the match Zverev admitted it was one of the biggest wins of his career, “Definitely one of the biggest wins of my career so far, especially on clay against Rafa. It is the toughest thing to do in our sport,” Zverev said in an on-court interview.
“Beating him in his house, in Spain, is incredible but the tournament is not over yet.”
Lots to ponder for Nadal as an error-prone performance sees him looking to improve in Rome next week.
As for the German, he sets up a 2018 final rematch with Dominic Thiem in the last four as he secured his best victory on this surface of his career.
Dominic Them reaches semifinal in Madrid after three-set battle with Isner
Dominic Thiem is into the Madrid semi-finals after an impressive three set win over John Isner.
The Austrian booked his spot in the semifinals after coming back to beat the American in three sets.
Dominic Thiem needed one hour and 55 minutes to beat the world number 39 John Isner in three sets 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 hitting 20 winners in the win while his opponent hit 26 unforced errors.
“We all know that he is one of the best servers in history and this altitude in Madrid makes it even tougher to return his serve but I was a little bit surprised by his return games, I think he attacked both my first and second serves and it took me a while to get used to it and I think the match changed when I saved those three breakpoints in the second set”.
It was the American who got off to the faster start holding his opening service game and then going on the offensive earning a breakpoint the following game and taking an early 2-0 lead.
The Greensboro, North Carolina native had a chance to go up a double break but the world number four saved both breakpoints he faced and managed to hold his first service game of the match.
That break was enough for the American to serve out the first set and he was one set away from the semifinals.
The second set stayed on serve until 2-2 when the Dallas, Texas resident had four breakpoints but failed to convert and the match was starting to turn with the American looking gassed.
In the next game the Austrian had three breakpoint and converted for his first break of the match as he served out the second set to send it to a deciding third set.
Isner was put under pressure early in the third set facing a breakpoint in the first game of the set but managed to save it and hold serve and it stayed on serve until 4-4.
That’s when the world number four earned two chances to break and on the second time of asking he would break and served out the match to book a date with either Alexander Zverev or Rafael Nadal.
After his match in an on court interview he gave this thoughts on a potential matchup with either Nadal or Zverev.
“It’s going to be a good one, I’ve played two big matches here against Rafa ( Nadal) and one big match against Sascha ( Zverev), and against either one of them it’s going to be an incredible challenge and it’s going to be exciting tomorrow”.
With the loss today by Isner when the new rankings come out on Monday it will be the first time in the open era and since the rankings came out that an American will not feature in the top 30 players in the world.
Past Cancellation Of Clay Events ‘Double Motivation’ For Norway’s Casper Ruud
The 22-year-old is on a roll after scoring his biggest win yet over Stefanos Tsitsipas at the Madrid Open.
Last year’s decision to scrap a series of clay events due to the COVID-19 pandemic was a huge blow to the world of tennis but at the same time a blessing in disguise for Casper Ruud.
The world No.22 is enjoying a surge in his form on the Tour after reaching back-to-back semi-finals at the Monte Carlo Masters and Munich Open. Furthermore, this week at the Madrid Open Ruud achieved the biggest win of his career on Thursday after stunning Stefanos Tsitsipas 7-6(4), 6-4. Registering his first ever win over a top five player on the Tour. He is yet to drop a set in the tournament.
Ruud partly credits his success on the clay to events that happened 12 months ago when he was unable to play on his favourite surface due to the pandemic. The French Open did take place but later in the year where he reached the third round.
“It was a part of the season last year that I was looking extremely forward to. I felt it was taken a bit away from not me but all the players when everything got postponed, some of the tournaments were cancelled,” Ruud said after his win over Tsitsipas.
“I think I just kept my motivation for a year and have double the motivation to be here this year luckily.’
“This (Madrid) was one of the tournaments that we didn’t get to play last year. I’m just trying to enjoy the moment and take care of the chances that I get.”
Growing up, the youngster trained at the Rafa Nadal Academy and says his time there has shaped how he plays today. Toni Nadal, who is the former mentor of Rafael Nadal, remains ‘involved’ in his tennis. Although the 60-year-old is now switching his focus to working with Felix Auger-Aliassime. Pedro Clar, who he met at the academy, is still a member of his team.
“Pedro Clar is the one that travels more often with me. We have a very good relationship. He’s here (in Madrid) this week,” said Ruud.
“He’s been with me at some of my biggest tournaments and wins. When I won my first tournament in Buenos Aires, my first semifinal in Rome last year, Pedro was with me. I think it’s helped me a lot.’
“Also getting help from Toni. Now Toni is helping Felix more personally. But he’s always involved with my tennis at some point in my career. Also Rafa, of course, he helped me a lot the last years.”
The next test for Ruud in Madrid will be Alexander Bublik who he beat in three sets in their only previous meeting back in 2019. Should he win again, the world No.22 would be through to his third consecutive Masters semi-final on the clay after Rome (2020) and Monte Carlo.
At the age of 22, Ruud has already become the highest ranked Norwegian player in ATP Tour history. Coincidentally the record was previously held by his father Christian who now his head coach. Following his latest win, he is set to break into the world’s top 20 for the first time on Monday.
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