At the start of 2020 it was business as usual for Sports communications agency The Emilia Group and their partnership with tennis. January saw them collaborate with one of the sports biggest events, the Australian Open, followed by the Thailand Open a month later. It was all going to plan until the COVID-19 pandemic not only slowed down their business but forced them to find a new direction.
Tennis has been one of the heaviest affected sports due to the virus with all professional tournaments being cancelled for months during 2020. Victims included Wimbledon, which hasn’t been cancelled since the Second World War. Across the globe, players were left without any earning opportunities and businesses working in the sport faced a bleak outlook.
“We lost eleven events, most of which were cancelled or postponed in the space of a few weeks in March and April, including major events like the Olympic Games and Wimbledon,” Emilia Group director Eleanor Preston said during an interview.
“We’re a small business and in a matter of a month or so we went from being on course to having one of our most successful years since we started the company ten years ago to having our most challenging year by far.”
Over the past decade, Preston and co-director Faye Andrews have managed to establish The Emilia Group as one of the prominent businesses within the sports directory, the International Tennis Federation, two Grand Slam tournaments and an array of events in Asia have been just some of their clients in recent time. Still, their resume was not enough to shield them from COVID-19 with the company losing an estimated £110,000 in potential or confirmed business last year due to the pandemic.
On the other hand, other companies have had a different experience. LiveWire Sport is a BAFTA-winning content agency who have constructed some of Wimbledon’s most popular videos such as the ‘we cheer for them’ video which was narrated by Roger Federer.
“Working in the digital space meant that actually our ability to do our work was not affected hugely, and demand for the kind of services we offer was still high – albeit many of our clients had to balance up the decrease in revenue from live events with the desire to find a way to still engage with sports fans on a global scale and of course to deliver value for their commercial partners, often via social and digital,” Livewire Director and Co-Founder, Caroline Cheese, said.
“We worked with our existing clients to build campaigns to maintain fan engagement, whether that be via esports and gaming, or maximising archive.”
A change in tactics
Like other industries, diversification was the key for survival. Joining most of the population, The Emilia Group got on board with the use of online video chat platforms by launching their own ‘media lounge’ via Zoom. Their goal was to keep the tennis community together while there was no sport happening. Not only was the idea a success with the Tiebreak Tens group backing them, it is now something they intend to do for the foreseeable future.
“They proved to be really popular because people were really missing the informal interaction that you get at events – the chats in the coffee or the sandwich queue, the laughs and the gossip. We wanted to recreate some of that, albeit virtually,” Preston explains.
“It’s something that we plan to keep doing because we could see journalists having to cover events remotely for a while to come.
“I was a tennis journalist on the Tour before doing this job so I’ve spent a lot of the last twenty years travelling and packing or unpacking a suitcase. Tennis is a travelling circus and I love it but it’s also been nice to slow down and step away from it for a while and remember that tennis isn’t everything.”
For LiveWire the timing of the pandemic was ironically advantageous for the launch of a brand new app they have been developing. Its aim is to try and generate content from athletes quicker than before which plays into the hands of the COVID-19 restrictions with those taking part being encouraged to do so from home.
“The LiveWire Studio app is designed to get high quality video from athletes, ambassadors and fans to video editors as quickly as possible. Its launch proved timely, with many sports organisations looking for a way to film content remotely and to harness the power of user-generated content,” Cheese explained about the project.
Adapting was another key element for their survival with The Emilia Group receiving a reprieve from the Lawn Tennis Association. With professional events halted last summer, the LTA launched their own series of events for British players.
Their task was to help with the promotion of The Progress Tour which featured a female-only line-up.
“Faye was on-site for that and the tournament itself was very successful. Those early events were so important for showing how tennis could adapt to the pandemic and still host competitions in a safe way,” Preston points out.
Undoubtedly there is light at the end of the tunnel after what has been a turbulent year. Although the clouds of uncertainty are not going away just yet, Tennis’ return date in 2021 was thrown into chaos due to a plan allowing players to enter Australia in December being ruled against by the government. They will now be arriving from January 14th onwards. Besides questions being raised over the Australian Open, there are also fears even more of the smaller events could be chopped as a consequence in the coming months.
Preston is refusing to reach the point of despair as she aims to recover some of the revenue her company lost, like many around the world she hopes the rapid development of COVID-19 vaccines will help aid the recovery more rapidly when it officially comes into effect.
“There’s reason to be optimistic beyond that because even if the vaccines are rolled out more slowly than we are all hoping, the industry and the Tours have done a great job of adapting and showing that tennis can carry on in a safe and manageable way,” she said.
“I think we’ve all learned that there are different ways of doing things and that can be a good thing because it’s our job to make sure that we keep improving the service we deliver.”
Cheese is also optimistic but admits to having concerns about the long-term impact the pandemic could have on the foundations of sports such as tennis.
“The fact that we have weathered the storm so far means I think we remain confident about the future. My main concern is for the smaller sports, events, leagues and clubs, as well as for the long-term impact of the pause in grassroots sport,” she said.
The financial impact of COVID-19 on tennis has been widespread. In Britain, the LTA has seen an estimated 40% fall in income which is roughly £30 million. Meanwhile, across the Atlantic this year’s US Open took place despite a 80% drop in revenue compared to 12 months prior.
Wimbledon, a Preview of the Men’s Draw: Djokovic Is on Pace to Win His Twentieth Slam Title
The Championships are back after two years. Will Federer be fit enough to compete? If not, this could be a big chance for Zverev.
The most eagerly anticipated fortnight of the year in tennis is upon us, and now that the draw has been made it is time to analyze what might be ahead of us and who should prevail in the end on the lawns of Wimbledon. In my view, the draw is almost equitable for all of the top players and the world’s most prestigious tennis tournament ought to be a smorgasbord for all of the fans who have a reverence for tradition and an appreciation for a grass court festival that is not only beautifully run but also followed more closely by general sports fans than any other tennis event. And that is the way it should be.
Let’s look closely at the men’s draw. The clear tournament favorite Novak Djokovic will open his quest for a third consecutive title and a sixth overall against British wild card Jack Draper. Perhaps the 34-year-old would prefer to see a more familiar face across the net but surely it will not take him long to find his range and to start picking Draper apart from the back of the court. The view here is that he might have one tough set as he finds his bearings but I expect Djokovic to be the victor in straight sets.
Djokovic is likely to meet Kevin Anderson in the second round. Three years ago, the lanky South African overcame John Isner in a marathon Wimbledon semifinal which lasted six hours and 36 minutes. Djokovic also contested a hard fought semifinal that year as well, eclipsing Rafael Nadal 10-8 in the fifth set. They waged war from the backcourt for five hours and fifteen minutes but that was over the course of two days. Djokovic then cut down Anderson on Centre Court in straight sets to seal the crown.
Three years earlier on Court One, Djokovic had another memorable meeting with Anderson in which he trailed two sets to love. But he rallied to take that round of 16 battle in five tense sets on his way to a third title run at the All England Club. If they meet in the second round this year, the circumstances will be different. Anderson is not the same player he was in either 2015 or 2018. At 35, he is struggling to regain his confidence after injuries and disappointing results across the past couple of years. Anderson remains formidable, though, and he may get inspired if his serve is on against Djokovic. I will give him one set against the world No. 1 but no more than that.
In the third round, Djokovic could meet Alejandro Davidovich and his round of 16 opponent is likely to be either No. 17 seed Cristian Garin or the enigmatic No. 13 seed Gael Monfils, but ether way Djokovic should not have many difficulties making his way to a potential quarterfinal with No. 5 seed Andrey Rublev. Rublev will have his work cut out for him to make it that far. No 9 seed Diego Schwartzman and No. 19 Jannik Sinner could do battle in the third round with the winner facing Rublev in the round of 16, but I believe Rublev on form should make it through to an appointment with Djokovic.
Rublev is a big hitter and a total professional. He cares deeply about his craft and has an unwavering desire to win every match he plays. But he has never played Djokovic before. The Serbian will not allow this encounter to turn into a slugfest. He will rely heavily on his defense and ball control and throw in a lot of backhand slices to break the rhythm of Rublev. I am picking Djokovic to oust Rublev in four well-played sets.
Now that we have Djokovic into the semifinals, who will join him there? The seedings tell us that No. 3 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas will be the man standing across the net from Djokovic in the penultimate round. The Greek stylist has a tricky opening round assignment against the gifted yet underachieving American Frances Tiafoe. Tiafoe has sometimes performed commendably against top players at majors. This year in Melbourne, he pushed Djokovic to four hard sets at the Australian Open in the second round and in 2017 he took Roger Federer to five sets in a first round showdown at the U.S. Open.
Tiafoe will surely be inspired against Tsitsipas, who has yet to play his best tennis on grass. Here is a fellow who just reached his first major final at Roland Garros, where he took the first two sets against Djokovic before bowing in the title round. Tsitsipas was a semifinalist at Roland Garros last year, losing another five setter to Djokovic. He has twice been a semifinalist at the Australian Open, including an appearance in that round this year.
Will he demonstrate that he can adjust to the grass this year and improve his backhand return? I believe the answer is yes. Tsitsipas should account for Tiafoe in four sets and then he should play his way through safely over the next few rounds. In the fourth round he could find himself facing either Dan Evans, No. 15 seed Alex de Minaur or even the surging young American Sebastian Korda. Korda takes on De Minaur in he first round. That will be a blockbuster and I envision a five set verdict either way. The winner would probably play Evans in the third round, although the British player has an arduous first round appointment against 39-year-old Feliciano Lopez.
Lopez is appearing at Wimbledon for the 19th time in his distinguished career. He made his debut in 2002 and has been to the quarterfinals three times across the years. With his aggressive game and first rate volleying skills, Lopez is always dangerous on the lawns. The No. 22 seed Evans will have to return well in this intriguing contest.
My guess is that Evans will pull out a five set victory but then lose to Korda in the third round. Tsitsipas will have his hands full with Korda in he round of 16 but will win in four sets. I am picking No. 10 seed Denis Shapovalov to reach the quarterfinals against Tsitsipas, and that one could be a dandy. But I believe Tsitsipas will topple Shapovalov in five sets to set up a semifinal appointment against Djokovic.
Now let’s proceed to the bottom half of the draw. If all goes according to plan and the seedings hold up, No 7 seed Matteo Berrettini will play No. 4 seed Alexander Zverev in the quarterfinals, and No. 2 seed Daniil Medvedev is due to confront No. 6 seed and eight-time Wimbledon champion Roger Federer. Is that going to happen?
Berrettini opens against the guileful Guido Pella, the 31-year-old, left-handed Argentine who is a very capable grass court player. That will be no easy contest but Berrettini is feeling good about himself after winning the title at the Queen’s Club in London. He will succeed in four sets. But a more dangerous confrontation for the Italian player could be a third round duel with No. 28 seed John Isner.
This would be a top of the line server’s duel. Berrettini now has established himself as one of the premier servers in the game of tennis, right up there among the top five. Isner, of course, has one of the greatest weapons in the game with his serve. Both Berrettini and Isner struggle with the return of serve. So there will not be many service breaks in this compelling contest. I believe Berrettini, however, is in better form at the moment. The match will feature four tiebreakers, and the Italian will win three of them.
In the round of 16, it looks like Berrettini will meet Casper Ruud, and he will stop the No. 12 seed from Norway in four sets, moving on to the quarterfinals. Zverev in my view should move smoothly into the round of 16, but in that round will be severely challenged by none other than No. 21 seed Ugo Humbert. The Frenchman was victorious in Halle, ousting Rublev in the final. Earlier in the tournament he defeated Zverev. Humbert has the unenviable task of playing Nick Kyrgios in the first round of Wimbledon, but I believe he will get through that battle in four sets.
Can Humbert replicate his Halle performance across the best of five sets in a much bigger setting against Zverev? I doubt it. Zverev has become comfortable at all of the majors over the last year. He should have won the U.S. Open last year but squandered a two-sets-to-love lead against Dominic Thiem in the final. Moreover, he served for the match in the fifth set before losing that agonizing skirmish with the rugged Austrian.
Zverev could well have been in the final of Roland Garros a few weeks ago but he fell in five sets against Tsitsipas after taking the third and fourth and reaching 0-40 on the Tsitsipas serve at the start of the final set in that semifinal. So I am going with him to beat the impressive Humbert in five sets at the All England Club.
And so Zverev and Berrettini will meet after all in the quarters. The German beat the Italian in the final of the Masters 1000 tournament at Madrid last month. He has a 3-1 career head to head lead over Berrettini. To be sure, Berrettini has improved markedly over the past few years, and he is playing the finest tennis of his career at the moment. Nevertheless, I see Zverev securing a four set triumph over Berrettini to reach the semifinals.
Medvedev opens up against the industrious Jan-Lennard Struff of Germany. Struff is currently ranked No. 45 in the world but he is a much better player than that and a big server with a game well suited to the grass. Struff just upended Medvedev on grass in Halle. He will make life difficult for the Russian again at Wimbledon, but Medvedev will come from behind to win in four sets.
The Russian could have another tough match inn the second round against either Spanish wild card Carlos Alcaraz or Tommy Paul of the United States. In the third round, Medvedev could well meet 2017 Wimbledon finalist Marin Cilic (the No. 32 seed) and one round later he will be up against No. 14 seed Hubert Hurkacz or perhaps the Italian wizard Lorenzo Musetti. Musetti versus Hurkacz will be an intruding first round battle. None of these matches will be facile for Medvedev, yet somehow he will plod on to the quarters.
But will he face Federer? The Swiss Maestro is not heading into Wimbledon with the kind of preparation he wanted. Gone from the game for over a year while enduring two surgeries on his knee, Federer has played only four tournaments and eight matches this season. He surely wanted to go deep into the draw in Halle but he contested only two matches there, falling tamely in the final set against the gifted Félix Auger-Aliassime.
Clearly Federer will be buoyed by the British crowds who have always cheered his every move. This will be his 22nd Wimbledon and it could well be his last. Federer will surely want to make the most of it and undoubtedly he remains the most natural grass court player in the field.
He will commence his campaign for the “Crown Jewel” of tennis against the Frenchman Adrian Mannarino. This should be an ideal beginning for the Swiss, who owns a 6-0 career head-to-head record over his left-handed rival. Twice Federer has stopped Mannarino at Wimbledon, including their most recent encounter in the round of 16 three years ago.
Federer will not waltz through this match but he will win in four sets, and then he could meet another Frenchman in the second round. That would be Richard Gasquet. In the third round, Federer is likely to play No. 29 seed Cameron Norrie. He will be tested by British player. But Federer will get it done in four sets.
Predicting Federer’s fourth round opponent is no simple task. It might well be the Italian Lorenzo Sonego who is seeded No. 23. That is my guess. And Sonego will throw everything he has at Federer after having a great week in Eastbourne. The problem is that he is overmatched on grass. Federer is a four set victor in this one.
Although I have my share of doubts about both Medvedev and Federer as they head into this edition of Wimbledon, I still believe they will uphold their seedings and clash in the quarterfinals. Although Federer has won all three of their career meetings, the last time he took on Medvedev was in Miami back in the spring of 2019. Medvedev is a different player now.
This quarterfinal could be tumultuous as Federer looks to assert himself with his attacking game. It will come down largely to the quality of his first serve and the capacity of Medvedev to counter with solid and deep returns from his customary position far behind the baseline. It will be a pendulum swinging affair but in my view the better grass court player will not be victorious. His lack of match play will catch up with him as Medvedev rallies from two sets to one down and wins in five.
Both semifinals are set: Djokovic and Tsitsipas will renew their rivalry. The Serbian has won six of his eight meetings with the Greek player, including that memorable Roland Garros five set duel. I believe Djokovic will be more at home on the grass than Tsitsipas. His second serve returns will be very burdensome for Tsitsipas and the Serbian will outmaneuver his adversary from the baseline.
I am picking Djokovic over Tsitsipas in four sets after they split the first two. Zverev and Medvedev will come at each other full force. Medvedev will have the upper hand in the longer rallies while Zverev has the edge when he opens up the court and blasts winners. It will be very close. Medvedev has prevailed in his last three confrontations with Zverev and hopes to even their career series at 5-5. But Zverev is the victor here in five enticing sets.
And so it will all come down to Djokovic versus Zverev for the Wimbledon title. Djokovic has won six of their eight career meetings, including a come form behind four set win in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open this year. This will be another dandy of a duel. Zverev will feel immense pressure to get at least 65% of his first serves in because Djokovic will be all over his second delivery. Zverev will take chances from the baseline to avoid getting worn down by the precision and immaculate ball control of the Serbian.
They will split the first two sets but Djokovic comes through in the clutch to win a tight third set tie-break, and then slowly pulls away in the fourth. Novak Djokovic wins Wimbledon with a 7-5, 4-6, 7-6 (6), 6-3 triumph over Zverev, claiming a 20th Grand Slam title, tying Federer and Rafael Nadal for the record in the process. He claims his third major in a row with the victory in Great Britain. And he puts himself one title away from becoming the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to win the Grand Slam.
That is how I see it, but this much is certain: even casual sports observers will be watching this Wimbledon with heightened interest as Djokovic pursues history of the highest order and fans from every corner of the globe celebrate the return of the sport’s centerpiece event after it was canceled a year ago due to Covid considerations. The tennis world will rejoice as Wimbledon makes a spectacular comeback.
Steve Flink has been reporting full time on tennis since 1974, when he went to work for World Tennis Magazine. He stayed at that publication until 1991. He wrote for Tennis Week Magazine from 1992-2007, and has been a columnist for tennis.com and tennischannel.com for the past 14 years. Flink has written four books on tennis including “Dennis Ralston’s Tennis Workbook” in 1987; “The Greatest Tennis Matches of the Twentieth Century” in 1999; “The Greatest Tennis Matches of All Time” in 2012; and “Pete Sampras: Greatness Revisited”. The Sampras book was released in September of 2020 and can be purchased on Amazon.com. Flink was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2017.
The Other Side of Press Conferences
American author and journalist Mike Mewshaw gives his take on the controversy that surfaced at this year’s French Open
After Naomi Osaka’s withdrawal from the French Open, the debate about press conferences keeps cropping up. Pressers have been analyzed from more angles than Rafa’s forehand or Serena’s backhand. Players, both active and retired, have weighed in with their opinions, along with coaches and sports therapists. The consensus is that tennis reporters are insensitive, disrespectful, sexist, racist, and eager to provoke controversy.
The constant threat of illness, the absence of fans, the isolation, and loss of income has certainly added to impatience with reporters. Venus Williams tartly suggested she maintained her composure during interviews by realizing she could beat any hack in the room; none of them could hold a candle to her.
But this sort of disrespect runs in both directions. While players view reporters as pesky publicity machines, at best, or gossip-hounds at worst, some journalists regard players as spoiled high school dropouts who couldn’t write a grammatically correct paragraph if their endorsement contracts depended on it. With all due deference to Naomi Osaka, I would urge her and her colleagues on the ATP and WTA tours to view things from a different perspective. The coronavirus has wreaked havoc on the press just as it has on them. Plenty of tennis reporters have lost their jobs. Almost all of them earn less income. They face the same risks of infection and submit to enough Covid tests to leave them as red-nosed as Rudolph.
Under the circumstances, reporters who travel the tour, along with those covering matches remotely from their basements, have done a creditable job. Sure, they sometimes sound testy, just as the players do. Of course their questions can be repetitious, just as the players answers can be.
Over the past four decades, I’ve covered more press conferences than I now have white hairs on my head. I’ve heard racist comments, sexist remarks and massively insulting accusations. But more often than not, the putdowns were aimed at reporters or at other players. In the old days, these seldom made it into newspapers, and the really offensive quotes and admissions of rule breaking were deleted from press conference transcripts. In that politically incorrect era, Arthur Ashe, for instance, came in for a raft of prejudice. Ilie Nastase openly referred to him as negroni.
Although it’s now largely forgotten, Billie Jean King’s sexuality was accepted by the press long before many on the women’s tour spoke up in her defense. While male journalists can be appallingly insensitive—Italian Hall of Fame journalist Gianni Clerici used to print Steffi Graf’s menstrual cycle in La Repubblica—it would be difficult to find anything less “woke” than Martina Hingis’ description of Amélie Mauresmo as a “half-man” who “travels with her girlfriend.” Or Lindsay Davenport’s comment after Mauresmo beat her, “I thought I was playing a guy.”
Predictably, both women walked back these quotes, accusing the press of taking their words out of context. That’s an ancient canard on the circuit—shoot off your mouth, then claim you were misquoted. I remember Buster Mottram, then the British Number One, complaining about rowdy fans in Rome, accusing Italians of being animals. At his next press conference he carefully parsed the remark. Suddenly the voice of reason, he observed that human beings were all, anthropologically speaking, animals.
If Buster had won a few majors, his quotes might have been immortalized, like Andre Agassi’s wisecrack at the French Open, “I’m happy as a faggot in a submarine.” That line made the list of Esquire Magazine’s annual Dubious Achievement Awards.
John McEnroe’s infamously objectionable conference quotes could only be contained on a wall as vast as the Vietnam War Memorial. Even if one had the space and energy to chisel them in stone, many would have to be bowdlerized. One that barely passes the censor’s blue pencil is his barbarous backhand at a female reporter who had the impertinence to question him. “Lady, you need to get laid.”
In some cases actions speak louder and more loathsome than words. After a match in Milan, a local female journalist asked Jimmy Connors, “Why do you always touch yourself in a particular place?” Jimmy shoved a hand down his shorts and gave his genitals a good shake. “It feels good. You should try it.”
To repeat, I empathize with Naomi Osaka’s aversion to press conferences. More than she might imagine I agree that they can be frustrating, stress producing, depressing, and borderline transgressive. I accept the sage advice of deep-think editorials and socially conscious scribes that reporters need to raise the level of their game. But so do players who could profit from sensitivity training, anger management, and basic etiquette lessons. With mutual respect for all those who share a rough road toward an uncertain future, the tour could become a better place for everybody.
Michael Mewshaw is the author of 22 books, among them AD IN AD OUT, a collection of his tennis articles, now available as an e-book.
French Open, Steve Flink: “The Third Set of the Semifinal Was the Best in the Djokovic-Nadal Rivalry”
A final recap on the Parisian Major. Can Djokovic clinch a calendar year Grand Slam? Krejcikova’s double win and Zverev’s shortcomings
The 2021 French Open was one for the history books, with countless historical milestones and topics. Ubitennis CEO Ubaldo Scanagatta and Steve Flink have summed it all up, touching on Novak Djokovic’s three comebacks and the interruption to Rafa Nadal’s Roland Garros reign, while keeping an eye on the upcoming Championships at Wimbledon. Here’s their chat:
1:14 – On the Djokovic-Nadal semifinal: “The third set was the best in their rivalry, and even Djokovic highlighted this match as one of the best he has played at the French Open.”
4:40 – “I thought that whoever won the third set tie-breaker would have won the match, although Nadal came out strong at the beginning of the fourth, before running out of gas…” Was the Spaniard uncharacteristically dispirited?
08:40 – Can Djokovic win all four Majors like Rod Laver did in 1969, becoming the only man in the Open Era to complete a Calendar Grand Slam?
09:40 – On the final against Tsitsipas: “That break of serve in the third set really changed the tide for good…”
11:50 – “There were two Novaks in this tournament…”
17:00 – “The Serbian will remember this win as one of his best, both because of his win against Nadal and because of his comebacks against Musetti and Tsitsipas.”
18:50 – Djokovic was criticised for his behaviour during the match against Berrettini – are the media and the fans too tough on him?
24:45 – On Zverev vs Tsitsipas: “Had the German broken in the opening game of the decider, it would have been him facing Djokovic on Sunday.”
26:00 – “Zverev can’t really expect to beat someone like Tsitsipas after failing to show up for two sets, he needs to work on the mental aspect of his game.”
28:20 – Again on Djokovic and the Grand Slam. He’s been here before, in 2016: can he go all the way this time?
34:45 – The women’s tournament: “The Krejcikova-Pavlyuchekova final was a good match, the Czech player should be proud of what she has achieved.”
Transcript by Giuseppe Di Paola; translated and edited by Tommaso Villa
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