ATP Chairman Gaudenzi: “We Need To Stop Infighting; Everything Is Forgiven With The French Open” - UBITENNIS
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ATP Chairman Gaudenzi: “We Need To Stop Infighting; Everything Is Forgiven With The French Open”

The Italian sat down for his first conference call with the press and stated that the fate of the season revolves around the North American summer swing. He also vowed to re-think the business model of the game: “We have a billion fans but just 1.1% of all TV sports rights worldwide.”

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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

 

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Kei Nishikori Issues Fitness Update Ahead Of New Season

After a difficult season where he could only win two matches, the world No.41 is hoping to get back on track next year.

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Kei Nishikori (photo by chryslène caillaud, copyright @Sport Vision)

Former US Open finalist Kei Nishikori says he is eager to start competing against the best in the world again after what has been a troublesome season.

 

The 30-year-old has only been able to play four tournaments this year due to a combination of injury, the pandemic and illness. Nishikori underwent surgery on his shoulder in October 2019 which subsequently resulted in him missing the start of this season. Then he was forced to pull out of his planned return at the US Open after testing positive for COVID-19. Eventually he returned to action in Kitzbuhel during September but had to close his season early a few weeks later after injuring his shoulder at the French Open.

“We had a few tournaments (due to the pandemic) and my season came to an end when I was beginning to get my feel back,” Kyodo news quoted Nishikori as saying on Friday. “I really can’t wait for next year.”

Overall, Nishikori won just two out of six matches played on the Tour in 2020. Scoring wins over Spain’s Albert Ramos-Vinolas in Rome and Britain’s Dan Evans at Roland Garros. The highest ranked player he faced was No.22 Christian Garin, who he lost 6-0, 6-3, to in Hamburg.

Despite his setbacks, the Japanese player insists that he is now back on track and his shoulder is at ‘a decent level.

“(My shoulder) has recovered to a decent level. It’ll be definitely okay for next year,” Nishikori said. “I’ll prepare (for the Olympics) assuming that they will take place.”
“I couldn’t face top-10 ranked players this season. I want to compete at that level again as soon as I can.”

One of Nishikori’s goals for next year will be the Olympic Games which are taking place in Tokyo for the first time since 1964. The Games have to be postponed until next year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Nishikori is the only player from his country to have won an Olympic medal during the Open Era after winning bronze in 2016.

I think it’s hard for athletes and the public to think about the Olympics right now. I just want to prepare well,he said in reference to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nishikori has been ranked as high fourth in the world but is currently in 41st position. So far in his career he has won 12 ATP titles and earned more than $24 million in prize money.

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The ATP announces the nominees for the 2020 ATP Awards

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Nominees have been announced for the ATP Awards for all player-voted categories (Comeback Player of the Year, Most Improved Player of the Year, Newcomer of the year, Stefan Edberg Sportmanship Award) and Coach of the Year. 

 

The Fans’s Favourite Award and and the Arthur Ashe Humanitarian Award Award will be announced later this month. Fans can vote for their favourite singles player and doubles team through 11 December. 

Three-time winner and 20-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal will be up against 2020 Rome finalist and Roland Garros semifinalist Diego Schwartzman, US Open champion Dominic Thiem and John Millman in the Sportsmanship category. 

Schwartzman is among the nominees in the Most Improved player category and will be against Ugo Humbert, five-time ATP Tour titlist Andrey Rublev and 2020 Sofia ATP Tour champion and 2019 Next Gen ATP Tour champion Jannik Sinner. The Most Improved player of the Year reached a higher ATP Ranking by year’s end and showed an increasingly improved level of performance through the year. 

The nominees for the Comeback Player of the Year are Kevin Anderson, Andrey Kuznetsov, Vasek Pospisil and Milos Raonic. The Compeback Player of the Year has overcome a serious injury in re-establishing as one of the top players on the ATP Tour. 

The contenders for the Newcomer of the Year Award are Carlos Alcaraz (winner in three Challenger tournaments in Trieste, Barcelona and Alicante), Sebastian Korda (winner of his first Challenger title in Eckental), Lorenzo Musetti (title in Parma and third-round in Rome Masters 1000), Jurij Rodionov (first Challenger titles in Dallas and Morelos) , Emil Ruusuvuori (semifinalist in Nur Sultan) and Thiago Seyboth Wild (first title in Santiago de Chlle)

The Coach of the Year Award contenders are Juan Ignacio Chela (Diego Schwartzman), Gilles Cervara (Danil Medvedev), Nicolas Massu (Dominic Thiem), Riccardo Piatti (Jannik Sinner) and Fernando Vicente (Andrey Rublev). 

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French Legend Leconte Speaks Out On Upcoming Return Of Roger Federer

The Grand Slam finalist gives his view on Federer’s chances for 2021.

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A former star of French tennis says he is hopeful but wary that Roger Federer will be able to return to the pinnacle of sport next year.

 

Henri Leconte, who is a former French Open finalist that achieved a ranking high of No.5, admits that the Swiss Maestro may find it tough on the Tour given the rise of what he describes as the ‘younger generation.’ This season Dominic Thiem won his maiden Grand Slam title at the US Open at the age of 27. More recently Daniil Medvedev defeated both Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal en route to the ATP Finals title.

We want to believe it. We all want to believe it! It’s been a long and difficult year. Will the motivation still be there? Will this break, the fact of having been able to enjoy his family, have changed something or will he still have that renewed motivation that has always fascinated us?” Leconte told TennisActu.

Federer hasn’t played a competitive match since his semi-final loss at the Australian Open in January. Since then, he has been sidelined from action due to a right knee injury which required two surgical procedures. The second took place after the first failed to produce the desired results.

Despite the setbacks, 20-time Grand Slam champion Federer is eyeing a return to the Tour in 2021. He is currently the oldest player in the world’s top 100 and one of two to be aged 39. The other is Spain’s Feliciano Lopez.

No one can say it. We all wish him, we would like him to stop on a Grand Slam title but the train (momentum) is gone with this younger generation which has put in an extra speed,” said Leconte.
“I would like to believe it. Roger has done so many things, that’s why he makes us dream, we would like to see him at the top. It will be very, very hard. ..”

It is not the first time Federer has taken a lengthy break due to injury. He missed six months of the 2017 season due to another knee issue before returning to action the following year when he won the Australian Open.

Earlier this week it was confirmed that Federer will head into the new season being able to use his iconic ‘RF’ logo. He hasn’t been able to use the logo for the past two years after switching from Nike, which held the rights, to UNIQLO. However, he has managed to regain control of ownership which means he will be allowed to use it on his apparel once again.

“The RF cap is back,” Federer said in a video message to fans on Twitter.
“After a long wait and extensive fine-tuning, UNIQLO and I are extremely excited to announce the return of the RF hat in 8 fresh colours starting December 8th, 2020,” he also wrote.
“This hat has meant so much to me and to my fans over the years.
“It has given us a way to visibly connect, and I have appreciated the opportunity to thrive off this supportive energy.”

As it currently stands Federer’s first tournament is set to be the Australian Open. The tournament had been scheduled to start on January 18th but it is believed that the date has been delayed until February 8th due to travel and quarantine arrangements.

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