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
Novak Djokovic On Why He Didn’t Post Details Of Lockdown Training
The Serbian tennis star has shed some light on his recent training routines as he outlines plans for a Balkan tennis tour.
World No.1 Novak Djokovic has been training almost daily since the world of tennis came to a halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic but opted to keep his activities out of the limelight to avoid any potential backlash from fellow players.
The ATP Tour has been suspended since March due to the Pandemic with officials hoping to restart the sport in some capacity during the summer ahead of the US Open. Nevertheless Djokovic, who started 2020 by winning 18 matches in a row, has been able to continue practicing in Marbella. He and his family were staying in a house located next to a tennis court.
Speaking with Serbian reports on Monday, the 17-time grand slam champion admitted that he didn’t want to ‘anger’ others by posting updates on social media of him training. Showing that he has been able to stay active more than other players during the lockdown.
“I had the opportunity to train almost every day during coronavirus because we stayed in a house next to a tennis court. I played a lot of tennis on a hard surface, but I didn’t upload anything on the net so as not to anger other players,” he told The Telegraf.
“I started recently on clay, I had two training sessions here, I feel good physically. I was quite active, I followed my program. Of course, the intensity decreases because I was not preparing for tournaments.”
With uncertainty surrounding when the Tour may start again, numerous countries have created their own domestic tournaments. In Djokovic’s case, he is the founder of his own event that will be played across the Balkan region. The Adria Tour is set to take place between June and July with three top 20 players set to participate. Besides Djokovic, Alexander Zverev and Grigor Dimitrov are also taking part.
“I started the whole idea of the project and I communicate every day with TSS (Serbian Tennis Federation) and the company that organizes all this,” said Djokovic.
“The current international competitions, ITF and ATP will not happen before the first of August, and even that is uncertain. Afterwards, I will have time again if things resume on a hard surface in America, because I will have a month to prepare for the continuation of the season.”
Should it all go to plan, the clay-court tournament is set to be played in Belgrade (Serbia), Zadar (Croatia), Montenegro and Banja Luka (Bosnia and Herzegovina). Although it has been confirmed that the locations of the Bosnian and Montenegrin events are still not fully confirmed with the possibility of Sarajevo hosting one leg of the tour. Sarajevo hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics.
Prior to the Tour suspension, Djokovic was unbeaten in 2020. He started the season by winning three consecutive titles at the ATP Cup, Australian Open and Dubai Tennis Championships. Those triumphs enabled him to earn prize money of $4,410,541. He also earned just over $70,000 from playing doubles so far this year.
Nikoloz Basilashvili Domestic Abuse Case: Extraordinary Claims Emerge From Both Sides
One journalist says she has ‘inside knowledge’ that the tennis pro has a history of domestic abuse, but his family has issued a statement claiming the accuser has a record of making false allegations.
On what has been a dramatic day for tennis star Nikoloz Basilashvili, his family has now issued a statement in which they have made a series of allegations against his ex-wife.
The world No.27 was arrested on May 22nd over allegations that he ‘physically attacked’ Neli Dorokashvili during a confrontation on the outskirts of Tbilisi. Prosecutors have launched charges against him under the article ‘Domestic violence in the presence of a minor against a member of his family.’ Officials have confirmed that the alleged incident took part in front of their son.
After his initial hearing on Sunday, Basilashvili denied any wrongdoing and paid for a bail. His lawyer, Irma Tchkadua, has said that there is ‘no evidence’ in this case. However The Prosecutor’s Office of Georgia is demanding a pre-trial detention of the 28-year-old.
In a new twist to the case, Basilashvili’s family has now issued a statement to news agency IPN in which they have accused Dorokashvili of deliberately making false allegations. Claiming she has made similar claims in the past in order to damage the reputation of the tennis star. Revealing that Basilashvili’s mother, Natalia, have previously faced child abuse accusations.
“We want to respond to the allegations made against Nikoloz and our family today,” the statement begins.
“First of all, we want to apologize to the fans for the false allegations. We declare with full responsibility that the information about violence is not true and there is no evidence that would prove any violent action.’
“It is not happening for the first time that Neli Dorokashvili, Nikoloz’s ex-wife, is trying to inflict moral, financial and reputation damage on Nikoloz and his family’
“After the divorce, Neli Dorokashvili sued Nikoloz Basilashvili’s mother about child abuse. The court considered the complaint and acquitted Basilashvili’s mother.”
Touching on the incident that is alleged to have taken place, the Basilashvili family has said that Dorokashvili broke into the property and tried to start a fight. However, the family statement didn’t address reports that Nodar Basilashvili, who introduced his son to tennis at the age of five, was issued with a restraining order.
“As for the May 21 incident, Neli Dorokashvili broke into the property of the parents of Nikoloz Basilashvili without permission, where she deliberately tried to provoke a conflict. Nevertheless, there was no any violent action against her, not even an attempt. Fortunately, there is evidence for this and the court will consider it on July 16, 2020,” the family insists.
“The trial continues. We believe that Nikoloz will prove his innocence very soon.”
The claims made by a journalist
Despite the calls to dismiss the case, one Georgian journalist has made an extraordinary claim in which she said that Basilashvili has a history of domestic abuse. Magda Kldiashvili, who is the former editor-in-chief of goal.ge, has claimed that the two have been separated for some time and there was a contract drawn up in which he has to pay his ex-wife 100,000 Georgian Lari per month. Their contract is said to be kept confidential according to the journalist. Furthermore, Kldiashvili claims the argument between the two started when Dorokashvili asked for her monthly payment to be increased from 100,000 to 300,000 Lari.
“I have behind-the-scenes information that Nikoloz Basilashvili has been abusing his wife for many years and they have been separated for many years,” newsreport.ge quoted Kldiashvili as writing on Facebook.
“Neli Dorokashvili had a formal contract with her husband, according to which Basilashvili paid her one hundred thousand GEL every month. Basilashvili saw the child with the permission of a social worker and rarely!”
‘It might have been an axe’
The Recorder is one of the first news outlets to obtain a testimony from Dorokashvili herself on the incident. Contradicting a comment previously made by Kldiashvili, she said she has no idea as to why the alleged confrontation occurred. Although she claims that she was chased after by Basilashvili’s father Nodar who was holding what she ‘thought was an axe’ but is unsure.
“The reason for the controversy is still unclear to me, I just went to fetch my son,” Kldiashvili told The Recorder.
“An examination (investigation) has been conducted and is still ongoing. I was not expecting (him) to be released on bail.’
“At my sight, when I visited my son, I don’t know what happened, he (Nodar) was drunk or what he needed, I don’t know, he and his son chased me with some weapons.”
” I can’t confirm what it was, because it had some big tarry, I think it was an axe.” She later added.
It is important to note that all three statements have not been verified and the police investigation is ongoing. The Public Defender of Georgia, Nino Lomjaria, is examining the case.
"Special bond with my son obligates me to not respond to unsubstantiated allegations, but I believe that I'll prove the truth in court with the help of my lawyers." – said #Georgia|n tennis player Nikoloz #Basilashvili in regards to allegations of domestic violence on his ex-wife pic.twitter.com/BwmW4LFyEc
— Formula News (@FormulaGe) May 24, 2020
World No.27 Nikoloz Basilashvili Facing Domestic Violence Charges
Multiple reports have confirmed that the former top 20 player has been released on bail ahead of a court hearing later this year.
Georgian tennis star Nikoloz Basilashvili has been arrested and will face court later this year over allegations of violence against his ex-wife.
The Georgian Prosecutor’s Office has confirmed that the tennis star was arrested on May 22nd. A day after he allegedly attacked his former partner, according to an official statement from the prosecution. The incident is said to have taken place on the outskirts of Tbilisi where Basilashvili has been accused of ‘physically attacking’ his ex-wife.
In the wake of the allegation, the world No.27 was hit with a 100, 000 GEL bail, which equates to just over $30,000 in US dollars. Although it has since been confirmed that the Prosecutor’s Office of Georgia is demanding a pre-trial detention. Following the initial court session, lawyer Irma Tchkadua has said that Basilashvili denies any wrongdoing.
“He denies charges, as he has not committed anything. There is no evidence in the case”, Inter Presse News quoted the lawyer as telling reporters.
Radio Tavisupleba, which is the Georgian branch of Radio Free Europe, have obtained a statement from the head of the country’s national tennis association. Former Soviet player and 1973 Wimbledon finalist Alexander Metreveli has stated the organisation is firmly against all cases of violence.
“Everyone condemns the fact of violence. For us, because we all know Niko, it is an incredible topic … When a husband and wife leave (separate), there is always some disagreement, not only with Niko. I knew there was a problem,” he said.
The same news network has also reported that the father of Basilashvili has been issued with a restraining order in the wake of the alleged incident. It is unclear how that order is connected to this situation.
Basilashvili peaked at a career ranking high of 16th in the world last year. He has won three ATP 500 titles with two of those occurring in Germany where he won back-to-back titles in Hamburg. His best run at a grand slam was back in 2018 when he reached the fourth round of the US Open.
According to Georgian criminal code, if Basilashvili is found guilty he could face 200 to 400 hours of community service or between one and three years in prison.
A photo of Basilashvili attending his initial court hearing can be seen in the below tweet.
— Radio Tavisupleba (@RTavisupleba) May 24, 2020
Since the publication of this article, The Public Defender of Georgia has confirmed that the alleged incident involving Basilashvili and his ex-wife took place in front of their child. Nino Lomjaria has already started to examine the case.
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