Boris Becker and Justine Henin: “Off-court pressure might have made Djokovic lose his cool” - UBITENNIS
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Boris Becker and Justine Henin: “Off-court pressure might have made Djokovic lose his cool”

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Eurosport invited UbiTennis’s CEO Ubaldo Scanagatta to join a Q&A with the former Slam champions and world numbers ones, who dicussed the 2020 US Open (but refused to pick a winner for either draw).

 

Justine Henin and Boris Becker need no introduction: seven Slam titles and three years finished as the world N.1 for the 38-year-old Belgian, six and one for the German, now 52 (he was never actually ranked at the top at the end of a season, but won the ATP Player of the Year award in 1989, when he won two Majors). They are definitely cognizant of what it takes and means to get to the end of a US Open fortnight (Henin won it twice, Becker once), although the 2020 milieu is a bona fide unknown for pretty much everybody in tennis. 

This is why they have accepted to join a Q&A session of about half an hour, organised by Eurosport (the channel that they both work for, and that we thank once again for the invite), during which they tackled many subjects, mostly revolving around Novak Djokovic, his default loss at the hands of Pablo Carreno Busta, and the future of the PTPA, his new players’ union – Becker coached the Serbian for three seasons (winning six Slams).

Here’s the full transcript:

D: We are almost at the end of the tournament, and we have seen many controversial decisions. What will be the most important lesson to be taken for the rest of the season?
HENIN: I don’t know, it’s an interesting question. We are all wondering how we feel about this tournament. I’m glad that it took place despite the absence of the fans, who can still watch on TV, while the players can still do their jobs and are fully aware of the situation. What we can learn is that this is a unique situation fo everyone. We need to remember that nobody is perfect and that these are exceptional circumstances, but we all need to adapt – players, officials, tournaments, everybody. Our job is about adapting, so I think it’s normal to have witnessed all these ups-and-downs. Anyway, we also need to keep in mind that we are only talking about tennis, which gives us great emotions but is not the most important thing right now. The tournament hasn’t been perfect, but it’s a good start, everyone is okay, and we all need to learn our own lessons.  

Q: I was at the O2 when Djokovic was booed for double faulting, and we are talking about someone who has won 17 Slams. Does he get the respect he deserves?
BECKER: I don’t think so, it’s a very good point. In men’s tennis, fans are divided between Federer and Nadal. And then here comes Djokovic who crashes the party – this is why he gets so much criticism. Right now, he is in a s**tstorm because of what he did against Carreno, but he took responsibility for his actions and apologised, firstly to the woman, then to the USTA and to the players. Nobody is perfect. Roger double faults, Rafa double faults, they don’t get booed. 

Q: How does he take it?
BECKER: He doesn’t like it, nobody would. He’s a people person, he does a lot of charity work in Serbia through his foundation. And yet people only talk about him when he breaks the rules. He is a champion, he always wants to win, but sometimes he makes mistakes too.

Q: Justine, do you think that there is a lack of respect for Djokovic and for what he has achieved?
HENIN: It’s very strange. Personally, I respect the champion he is. You can like or not his on-court personality. We are witnessing a golden age in men’s tennis because of the Big Three, but also because of all the players who are coming up behind them. Novak is different from Rafa and Roger, and he also broke onto the scene a little later, ma we have to have the utmost respect for what he’s doing in tennis.

D: Will this premature elimination in New York help him at the French Open?
BECKER: I like your positive attitude, very forward-looking! Novak is still digesting what happened, but he has to view this episode as an opportunity to make some noise on the court and to win more. The question is whether he will play in Rome before Paris – he is very popular in Italy. I think he is a contender at the French Open, he and Thiem can challenge Nadal.

Q: Will the players be more careful because of what happened to him?
HENIN: We are all human beings. It reminds us that we need some humility and that players can make mistakes. In the end, even if Novak is a champion, he can still make mistakes. It’s not easy to control the pressure and one’s emotions during a match. It’s a lesson for all of us, not just for the players. The rule is good because we have to protect the officials and the fans. Maybe some people think that it should be changed, but I don’t agree, because it pushes the players to control their emotions and frustrations. However, it was bad luck in Novak’s case.

D (UbiTennis): I’d like to ask Justine what she thinks about the PTPA, and whether it will be successful.
HENIN: I think Boris has more details about it, I’m not too informed on the subject. We want the players to be united and to be represented in the right way in tournaments. It’s hard for me to judge which is the best way to achieve this. There are many different opinions on the matter. Boris, what do you think?
BECKER: The ATP was founded in 1972 by the players. Over time, it became the ATP Tour, which has two sides: the players and the tournaments. Apparently, many players don’t feel that they are being well-represented by the ATP, and this is the reason why the new association was created. I would like to see them involve female players. I would like for the ATP and the WTA to do something together. This is the only mistake I see. But in principle I think it’s right that the players should have a voice within the ATP, whose structure is different than it was in 1972.

Justine Henin – Wimbledon 2010 (Credit: @Gianni Ciaccia)

Q (UbiTennis): Why do you think Nadal and Federer didn’t concur with Novak’s message? I don’t think he wants to fight with the Players Council, and I think he wants to involve some women as well, from what I understand.
BECKER: I think that Federer and Nadal have different agendas. They are making history, and they also don’t have a personal history of political involvement, which is a smart thing to do, according to some. But they are also the most famous faces in men’s tennis. There should have been a unanimous decision over the new association, but there are many different opinions. Therefore, Nadal and Federer’s interests are not the same as Djokovic’s. I’d like to see the ATP and the WTA unite, but I don’t think we have that right now.  

Q: Could the ball abuse violation be softened in some cases, in order to avoid episodes like the one involving Djokovic, who hit the lineswoman in a clearly unintentional way?  
HENIN: I think that the rule is fair, but this is just my opinion. Where would we draw the line, were we to soften it? Many people think that the decision with Djokovic was too harsh because Bedene wasn’t disqualified the previous week, but I think that the two episodes are completely different. I have never seen anyone on a tennis court who tried to hurt somebody intentionally, but you can hurt people even unintentionally, and we need to control these cases by creating limits that shouldn’t be broken. It also serves as a message to everybody else. We are not perfect, but we need to be examples and to inspire people. I also think that this is an experience that can be used to grow. I have never been involved in something like this, but I’m sure it will be tough for Novak’s ego. It also means that he isn’t a machine, and I like that. Back to the point, I wouldn’t change the rule.

BECKER: I mostly agree with Justine. It was tough for Novak, and you know I’m a fan of his, but in a certain way he has been lucky, because that woman could have been hurt a lot worse. The rule is clear. Novak had already hit a ball against the wall, and he was clearly frustrated, he was dominated by his own emotions. We shouldn’t think that he is a bad person, we both know that emotions come out during a match, and that it is part of human nature to misbehave when things are not going our way. I wouldn’t change the rule, because players are role models. This was an unfortunate instance, but the decision was right

On page 2, the interview will shift to the mental toll that tennis players have to shoulder, as well as to Becker’s vacation with Bjorn Borg and to Kim Clijsters’ comeback

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ATP

EXCLUSIVE: Full Details Of Novak Djokovic’s Letter To Players As Stand Off With Federer And Nadal Emerges

UbiTennis can reveal full details about what the world No.1 wrote to fellow players in a bid get them to join the newly created Professional Tennis Players Association.

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World No.1 Novak Djokovic has said players have been ‘disrespected’ in their efforts to advance their interests within the ATP structure in a letter obtained by UbiTennis.

 

On Friday, rumours circulated that Djokovic had resigned from his position as the president of the ATP Players Council to spearhead a new Players’ Association. The Association, which is co-founded by Vasek Pospisil, is designed to enable ‘better and stronger representation in the tennis ecosystem.’ As for the legal side, the newly named Professional Tennis Players Association will be supported by firm Norton Rose Fulbright and its chairman Walied Soliman.

Addressing his peers, Djokovic interestingly states that the initiative is not a new move by saying various generations of the past have tried to do something similar. However, he goes on to describe the current structure of the ATP as ‘flawed’ with players not being treated as fairly as they should. Something the governing body of men’s tennis heavily denies.

“There are many reasons and factors why it didn’t happen until now but probably biggest reason is because players were not united,” the letter reads.
“(The) ATP structure that is flawed for players. I don’t think ATP structure and system is helping players. It has been proven many times in the past that this system is going against players.’
“I am not blaming anyone individually. Various presidents and managements tried to do different things over the years. And of course, some good things were done for our tour, without the doubt. But I think that most of you who have been on the tour for a while would agree that players are not regarded and treated as they should be in this system.”

In his lengthy statement, the 17-time Grand Slam champion sets out three primary reasons as to why players should join. The first he says is due to unhappiness expressed over the management of the ATP regarding some of the decisions they have made in recent times ranging from ranking points to the scheduling of tournaments. Andrea Gaudenzi started his role as ATP chairman at the start of this year. Although a critical Djokovic writes ‘It’s the process of lack of communication with players in big decisions and exclusion of players that is bothering me/us.’

Secondly, the move has been made in order to help players generate what is being described as ‘executive power.’ Or in other terms the absolute right to have a direct influence on decision-making. The role of the ATP Players Council is advisory only to the board. They can influence decisions, but they do not have the final say. Djokovic also says there are ‘conflicts of interest’ within the current structure.

Finally, supporters stress that this move isn’t intended to form a conflict with other governing bodies and their aim is to ‘enable stronger player representation.’ Djokovic claims the ‘majority’ of those in the top 500 in singles and the top 100 in doubles want this to happen. Although UbiTennis can’t verify this.

“We need to start from somewhere. We need to show our unity and strength. Not because we want to fight but because we want to be consulted, valued , respected on all big decisions that are happening in our sport and so far that has not been the case. We all know how many Agents, Federation people, business people have been on the Board and/ or another influential positions in sport have been there for decades working on their own interest, not caring too much about players. It’s a monopoly and that why in order to change something in favor of players we need to show unity ..”

Reaching out to his fellow tennis stars, Djokovic states that the Association ‘is perfectly legal in all jurisdictions’ and those who join will not be excluded from the ATP for whatever reason. Although in the following sentence, they say no job action will be taken ‘at this time.’ A vague reference but one that suggests that should things reach a low-point, strike action may be a possibility.

Those players interested in joining have been invited to sign up at a meeting in New York on Saturday evening at the Billie Jean King Tennis Center.

UbiTennis can also confirm that there is a big divide on the ATP Tour over this move and even a drift between the prestigious Big Three contingent. A letter co-signed by Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Kevin Anderson, Jurgen Melzer, Sam Querrey and Bruno Soares have formally opposed the move. They are all current members of the ATP Player’s Council. In a two-page statement issued less than 24 hours after Djokovic’s letter, the group voiced huge opposition.

‘We are not against the players. We are not against a united player approach. We are all for the players but do not risk it all down this path with such little information,” the letter from Federer and Co reads.
We are against this proposal as we do not see how this actually benefits the players and it puts our lives on the Tour and security in major doubt.’

It reportedly expected that a photo of those signing up to Djokovic’s and Pospisil’s Association will be made public within the next 24 hours.

Read full letter on Page 2 :-

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