Uncertainty, Anxiety And Optimism: What It Is Like To Work In A Sport That Has Come To A Standstill - UBITENNIS
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Uncertainty, Anxiety And Optimism: What It Is Like To Work In A Sport That Has Come To A Standstill

From travelling the world for tennis to self-isolation with an uncertain future, Ubitennis sheds light on those in the tennis industry directly affected by COVID-19…

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Just three months ago tennis coach and tactical analyst Mike James travelled the globe providing his expertise on the ATP Tour.

 

The founder of Tennis Data company Sportiii Analytics is working with the team of former world No.1 junior player Miomir Kecmanović, who reached the semi-finals of the New York Open in February. James’ job is to provide relevant data to Kecmanović based on the matches he played and travelled to the Doha Open in January.

“The year started well. I was out in Doha with the team. Miomir made the semi-finals, he beat (Jo-Wilfried) Tsonga, (Marton) Fucsovics and it was a really good tournament. He lost to (Andrey) Rublev, who has been on fire this year,” James reflected.
“The last tournament I was involved with was Acapulco and he had a great win against Alex de Minaur before losing to the champion Rafael Nadal.’
“He has had a good year in the sense of making good progress with his development and analytical side.”

Relishing in his job on the Tour, it all started to come crashing down on March 9th. A date that triggered the beginning of the longest suspension of play in the history of modern tennis. In what had originally been thought to be a serious health threat in China alone, the coronavirus swept through the world in devastating fashion. It is no longer safe to travel to certain areas as experts continue to research into a remedy to contain the previously unknown virus.

In light of the serious health threat, it was only a matter of time before the global sport of tennis would suffer. At first Indian Wells was cancelled, then Miami, then all events until April and now the suspension has been extended to at least July 13th. Leading the lower ranked players anxious about how they will make ends meat over the coming weeks. Some have already returned back to studying and others have embarked upon the online coaching.

James isn’t a pro, but he is one of the hundreds of behind the scenes workers affected by the suspension. At a glance, some would think tennis starts and stops with the player, but there’s much more to that. There are their physios, coaches, hitting partners and so on. In most circumstances, if the player cannot generate any income, their support staff will not get paid. The exceptions are those making big money at the top.

“My role is predominately based on playing matches on the Tour. So when he (Kecmanović) is not playing, there is not too much for me to do,” James explained.
“I am doing a lot of work behind the scenes with the game development and helping support him. But obviously there is a limit to how far that can go when he is not playing.”

Leicester-based James is not immune to the hardship despite his credentials. His previous role was supporting Magnus Norman for team Stan Wawrinka and other players he has worked with include doubles specialists Ante Pavic and Tomislav Brkic.

Fortunately, he and other British coaches has been given a lifeline by the British government and their pledge to support self-employed people like him. Although in other countries, it is a very different situation.

“Tennis coaches, physios and players are a self-employed entity. So everyone has their own individual case,” he explains.
“I’m from the UK and our government has been amazing in supporting self-employed people and furlong 80% of my last tax return.’
“I’m doing some online consultancy and a few other things to keep me busy, but the reality is my main income comes from the professional Tour.”

From worldwide travel to virtually house confinement

James pictured with Magnus Norman (left) and Jonas Arnesen (middle)

Like most of the world, James finds himself in lockdown waiting for the pandemic to reach a point where he can soon return back to everyday life. When that will be is unknown. Coming to terms with the prospect of being told what you can and can’t do it tough for anybody regardless of their job.

Perhaps the biggest issue a person may encounter at this time is their mental health. In one survey conducted by the American Psychiatric Association, 36% of respondents have said the pandemic has had a serious impact on their mental health. These findings will differ between countries and even sports, but the issue remains very much a serious factor in all forms of life.

“Personally, I am going through positive and negative moments of emotion,” James commented on his own circumstances.
“The positive thing is that we are all in this together and the coronavirus is not discriminated against in any walk of life.’
“Originally when Indian Wells was cancelled there was a mini panic in my household. Everybody around me was saying why was I getting so upset and anxious. I was aware then that I could see into the future and the domino effect that could be happening.”

The tennis community appears to be uniting in order to support each other through these times. For example the top 100 players on the ATP Tour have their own WhatsApp group, but it is secret as to what they discuss. James himself is also seizing the benefits of technology.

“I’m over-communicating with everybody at the moment, I’m speaking on WhatsApp, Zoom, Houseparty and everything I can do to communicate with guys around the Tour,” he said.
“Everybody is trying to feed off each other in regards to what the Tour will look like when we come back. I think that will be down to the length of time the Tour is away will affect what the Tour looks like when it comes back.”

As to when the sport will come back, it is very much a case of the unknown. The United States Tennis Association recently published a statement saying they intend to host the US Open as scheduled later this summer. Something that former players such as Amelie Maureasmo and Janko Tipsarevic have doubts about.

James also shares the view that the current July deadline of tennis returning will not happen. At present there has been more than one million cases of COVID-19 worldwide, according to John Hopkins University. More significant for tennis, is that America is yet to reach its peak of the epidemic. A country that is currently scheduled to host no fewer than six ATP events between July-September.

“Do I think it (the tour) will be back on July 13th? No, because of the current situation. I think if it gets postponed until September and if the first tournament is the US Open, the issue with the tennis tour is that it can’t start back at 25 or 50 percent capacity with tournaments because it would affect the rankings too much,” he believes.
“The tennis tour has to start back fully – ITF’s, Challengers, main Tour. If that doesn’t happen then basically the Tour can’t start back. So my concern is maybe 2020 is now finished.”

The LTA lifeline

On Friday the British Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) announced a £20 million aid package to support players, venues and coaches around the country with the help of grants to players outside the top 100 (as long as they don’t have an existing governing grant). Britain has 11 male players in the world’s top 400, but only three of those are in the top 100 – Dan Evans (28), Kyle Edmund (44) and Cameron Norrie (77).

Support staff like James are also set to benefit from the scheme that aims to maintain the standard of British tennis throughout the ongoing crises.

“What the LTA did was unprecedented from any federation. I think it is an amazing gesture with them (the LTA) putting £20M back into the game. Supporting coaches with £4 million set aside. That will hopefully support somebody like myself, but I don’t know yet how much I could receive.”

It is understood that the ATP and WTA are also coming up with their own plans as to how they can help compensate players who have lost earnings. It is unclear as to if this will extend to anybody else working in the sport.

There is also another element to all of this. The Tour has been able to grow over the years due to their sponsorship deals, but with the economy taking a battering there could be more problems ahead.

“Tennis is a global sport and massively relies on sponsorship. From ATP 250s down. On the WTA side, it is even more. If there is a global meltdown the first thing companies stop doing is putting money in sponsorships. The longer this goes on, the more it will change the way the tennis tour looks.” James warns.

Light at the end of the tunnel

James pictured with Tomislav Brkic (left) and Ante Pavic (right)

Six weeks have already passed since the last ATP Tournaments were played. During the last weekend of February Nadal triumphed at the Mexican Open and Novak Djokovic was triumphant in Dubai. Undoubtedly those involved in the sport are now suffering mentally, physically and financially. But can it be possible that the devastating pandemic could have a silver lining for the future?

Tennis is a unique sport due to the way it is structured. No fewer than seven bodies are involved in the sport. Each with their own objectives and agenda. A situation that has previously proved problematic when it comes to reaching a mutual agreement. So it may be that COVID-19 ironically unites them once and for all.

“I want to say that it will be different for the better and I think if the organisations actually communicate and come together during this period and create more solidarity. I believe tennis could come out in a much better way,” James says with optimism.

So what could the future of the Tour look like? That depends on who you ask with various personalities in the sport having their own view. As for James, how the sport changes will depend on how long the Tour suspension lasts for.

“I think in regards to prize money, International travel, rankings, Tour structure that could all very well change. But this all depends on the length (of the suspension).” He said.
“If the whole year is written off there are a whole lot of people behind the scenes who have got to look at what 2021 looks like and how we get tennis back. Which is the most important thing.”

With people fighting for their health around the world, it all seems very trivial to consider what may happen to a sport in the coming weeks.

At the time of his despair, James does see the bigger picture. Whilst he resides at home, somebody close to him is in the midst of the covid-19 battlefield, providing him with a stern reality check.

“My wife is a nurse and they are on the front-line. The job they’re doing is unbelievable.” He said.
“I think I’m quite fortunate to be at home, safe and waiting for this to ride out.’
“You have to stay positive and over-communicate with people.”

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Anett Kontaveit beats Petra Martic to reach the final in Palermo

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World number 22 Anett Kontaveit from Estonia upset number 1 seed Petra Martic 6-2 6-4 to reach the final at the Ladies Open in Palermo. 

 

Martic has scored her third win in her seven matches against top 20 players after beating Belinda Bencic and Elina Svitolina. 

Kontaveit avenged her defeat against Martic in their only previous match played in Dubai last February before the lockdown. 

Kontaveit had to fight to hold her serve in the first game of the opening set at deuce and took control of the match by breaking in the fourth game to open up a 4-1 lead. 

Martic won only 56% on her first serve in the opening set. Kontaveit came back from 0-30 down to hold serve in the seventh game before breaking for the second time in the eighth game to win the first set 6-2. 

Martic earned an early break in the first game of the second set at deuce, but Kontaveit broke straight back to draw level to 1-1. The Estonian player saved a break point before holding serve to take a 2-1 lead. Kontaveit saved five of the six break points she faced. Kontaveit broke for the second time in the fourth game to open up a 4-1 lead. Martic held serve at 2-5 down before breaking serve at 15 in the ninth game to claw her way back to 4-5. The Croatian player received a medical time-out before Kontaveit for the third time in the tenth game at love to close out the second set 6-4. 

Kontaveit will chase her second title in tomorrow’s final three years after winning in S’Hertogenbosch in 2017.

“I felt like I played a very good match today. I was quite aggressive, consistent, and I served especially well in the first set. It got a bit close in the end, but I played a good game at 5-4 and I am happy to be in the final”, said Kontaveit. 

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Petra Martic comes back from one set down to beat Ludmila Samsonova in Palermo

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Top seed Petra Martic from Croatia came back from one set down to beat qualifier and world number 117  Ludmila Samsonova 5-7 6-4 6-2. 

 

Martic saved six break points in the 10th game of the opening set, but Samsonova converted her third break point in the 12th game to win the first set 7-5. 

Martic earned an early break in the first game to open up a 2-0 lead. Samsonova broke back at love in the eighth game to draw level to 4-4. Martic broke for the second time in the ninth game to win the second set 6-4. The Croatian player broke twice in the third and seventh games to close out the third set 6-2. 

Martic will face world number 50 Aliaksandra Sasnovich from Belarus in the quarter finals. Sasnovich came through the qualifying round before beating Jasmine Paolini in straight sets. 

Former top 30 Camila Giorgi rallied from losing the first set to beat Slovenian teenager Kaja Juvan 3-6 6-2 6-4 after 2 hours reaching her second WTA quarter final of the season. Before the outbreak of the Covid-19 outbreak Giorgi reached the top 8 in Lyon. Juvan qualified for the Main Draw at the Australian Open and beat five-time Wimbledon champion Venus Williams in three sets at the Abierto Mexicano in Acapulco. 

Giorgi started with an early break at deuce at the start of the first set and opened a 2-0 lead. Juvan broke twice to take a 4-3 lead. Giorgi dropped serve for the third time after a double fault on the set point. 

Giorgi came back from 1-2 down by winning five consecutive games with two consecutive breaks in the fifth and seventh games. 

Giorgi broke twice to race out to a 3-0 lead at the start of the third set. Juvan pulled one break back at love in the fourth game but Giorgi got another break to race out to a 5-1 lead. Juvan broke at 30, when Giorgi was serving for the match at 5-2. The Italian player earned two match points and sealed the win on her second chance. 

“I think I was more solid in playing my game. I was moving more forward, so it was much for me. At the start of the match, I was making too many tactical mistakes because I was trying to finish points for no reason. I started to adopt better tactics in the second set and that’s when things started working for me”, said Giorgi. 

Number 4 seed Anett Kontaveit from Estonia came back from one set down to beat Laura Siegemund 3-6 6-2 6-2 after 2 hours and 20 minutes booking her spot in the quarter finals at the Palermo Ladies Open. 

The Estonian player has reached her third quarter final this year after the Australian Open and Dubai. 

Kontaveit set up a quarter final against Elisabetta Cocciaretto, who became the youngest Italian player to reach the quarter final of a tournament since Sara Errani in 2006. 

“I am quite happy about the way I was handling close situations, playing the close games and turning the close games around. I thought I actually handled that sort of pressure, that I didn’t think I would be used to, quite well”, said Kontaveit. 

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Andrea Gaudenzi recognizes the contribution of the Italian Tennis Federation in staging the Internazionali d’Italia

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ATP President and former Italian tennis player Andrea Gaudenzi spoke in an interview to Italian TV channel Supertennis about staging the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome before the French Open and recognised the contribution of the Italian tennis Federation (FIT) in staging the tournament in the Italian capital. 

 

The Rome ATP Masters 1000 and WTA Premier 5 tournaments will be held from 20th to 27th September one week before the French Open (27th September to 11th October). 

“We are grateful to everyone, holding an event this year is difficult from an organizational and financial point of view. We thank the Italian Federation and those who organize the Challengers. Italy is making a great contribution. I think the players are waiting for the BNL Internazionali d’Italia. The Foro Italico is among the most beautiful venues in the world. Rome is splendid in September”, said Gaudenzi. 

During his tennis career Gaudenzi scored wins over Roger Federer in Rome 2002, Pete Sampras in the first round of the 2002 French Open, Jim Courier in the 1994 US Open, Goran Ivanisevic, Thomas Muster, Michael Stich and Yevgeny Kafelnikov. Gaudenzi claimed three ATP titles in Casablanca in 1998, St. Poelten and Bastad in 2002. He graduated in law at the Bologna University and obtained a MBA with Honours at IUM.

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