EXCLUSIVE: Russian Anti-LGBT Laws Make Journalists Think Twice About Covering Daria Kasatkina - UBITENNIS
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EXCLUSIVE: Russian Anti-LGBT Laws Make Journalists Think Twice About Covering Daria Kasatkina

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Daria Kasatkina has been a prominent figure in Russian tennis for years. 

The 26-year-old has been ranked as high as eighth in the world, reached the semi-finals of the 2022 French Open and has won six WTA titles. She was also part of the team that won the 2021 Billie Jean King Cup title, winning her singles match in the final. During the same year, she was also the first home player to win the St Petersburg Open. 

Kasatkina is also openly gay which is rare for a Russian athlete due to the authorities in the country who have in force rules prohibiting pro-LGBT gestures. The strictness of these laws has intensified so much in recent months that those working in the media now have to be cautious when covering her. 

The Professor

Alexander Kondakov is an assistant professor at the School of Sociology, University College Dublin, Ireland. Kondarov has extensively covered the case of LGBT issues in Russia with one of his publications finding that 297 people between 2011 and 2016 were victims of a hate crime based on their sexuality with 122 of those being killed. It is important to note that there is no official count kept by authorities and his findings don’t include Chechnya’s alleged purge of gay people. He Is also the author of the book, Violent Affections: Queer sexuality, techniques of power, and law in Russia

To understand the predicament Kasatkina is in, you have to look at what has happened over the past decade in her home country. In 2013 Russia banned the “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships and (or) preferences and propaganda of sex change” to minors before expanding that ruling to the adult population in 2022. So for example, a TV channel would be liable for a fine if they broadcast a programme showing a same-sex kiss. However, President Vladamir Putin has intensified his anti-LGBT law significantly within the past couple of weeks following a high court ruling.

“It’s a Supreme Court ruling to regard the international LGBT movement as an extremist organization. This is done in response to the Ministry of Justice’s request. This means that the ministry is interested in applying this definition in its everyday work,” Kondakov explained to Ubitennis.
 
“The court’s ruling relates to a much more dangerous law than the gay propaganda; it is the law on extremism. If gay propaganda is just an administrative regulation aiming at censorship of information, the extremism law is a criminal statute. This criminal law applies to people who can be arrested for contributing to the dealings of any extremist movement by, for example, arguing for the rights of people associated with the movement.’

“The fact that the international LGBT movement does not actually exist makes it even more dangerous because anything can be considered an international LGBT movement in this case.”

The journalist 

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It is the ambiguity that is perhaps the most difficult. For example, during Kasatkina’s 2022 interview with blogger Vitya Kravchenko when she publicly came out as gay, she touched on the subject of being LGBT in Russia.

“This notion of someone wanting to be gay or becoming [gay] is ridiculous. I think there is nothing easier in this world than being straight. Seriously, if there is a choice, no one would choose being gay. Why make your life harder, especially in Russia? What’s the point?” She said.

Under the new law, would a journalist in Russia be able to report this without any repercussions or could they be accused of promoting the so-called LGBT movement in some way?

One journalist working for a major sporting publication in Russia has agreed to speak to Ubitennis but on the condition of anonymity due to the nature of the topic. This person will be referred to as A in this article. Whilst Kasatkina is not defined by her sexuality, she and her girlfriend Natalia Zabiiako run a popular video blog that provides plenty of newsworthy articles. The two also post pictures of them together on social media. 

“On the 30th of November, Russia’s Supreme Court ruled that the “international LGBT movement” is an “extremist organization,” jeopardizing all forms of LGBT rights activism. Under Russian criminal law, participating in or financing an extremist organization is punishable by up to 12 years in prison. That’s why due to the new terrible law, now it’s risky for journalists to write anything about Kasatkina’s sexuality or relationship with Natalia Zabiyako in Russian media.” A told Ubitennis. 

“I’m working for a big Russian Sports website and we can only talk about her in the context of tennis. It’s very hard sometimes to write ONLY tennis articles because there are lots of different themes that touch on the topic of sexuality. And, unfortunately, as a journalist, I don’t feel freedom of speech. My colleagues also say that definitions of the new law are vague and indistinct, and enable the government to use them against anyone it dislikes.”

Sports.ru is one of Russia’s biggest sports websites with a following of more than 666,000 people on the social media platform VK. They used to have a tag ‘ЛГБТ’ (LGBT) on their website where users can click on it to bring up stories related to that topic. Shortly after the latest anti-LGBT ruling came into effect, that tag vanished

There is also the question of what happens in the worst-case scenario. Say Kasatkina is for some reason found guilty of breaking this LGBT movement ban, how would it affect her tennis career? Would this exclude her from receiving awards or funding from her home country?

“If we speak about her possible deprivation of the state awards or being ineligible to receive such honors in the future because of breaking the ban on LGBT propaganda, it’s better to ask Russian sports functioners (organizers) to comment on this topic cause these decisions are the responsibility of Russian sports officials and government,” A commented.

“For quite some time now, the Russian government has used the extremism law in its crackdown on political opponents. I suppose this is how the law will expand its application in relation to the LGBT community.”

How Russia is using the law

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So how is the law banning LGBT propaganda being implemented? There have been two notable examples with one of those involving Google. In December a court issued them with a fine of 4.6 billion rubles, or over $50 million, for refusing to remove what they claim is “disinformation” about the Ukraine war and hosting LGBTQ content on YouTube—which Russia now brands as “extremist.”  RIA Novosti, which is owned by the state, reported that videos on YouTube (which Google owns) “spread LGBT values” and sought to convince “minors to commit illegal actions.” 

Meanwhile, an ‘almost naked party’ held by a high-profile celebrity promoted backlash from conservatives in Russia and many attendees have since issued public apologies. Rapper Vacio was jailed for 15 days after a court ruled that he ‘violated public order, used crude obscene language and distributed publications in telegram channels aimed at promoting non-traditional sexual relationships.’ He was also fined 200,000 rubles ($2,171) for “gay propaganda.” 15 days have passed since the sentence but he received another 10-day jail term for alleged ‘disorderly conduct.’ 

Kasatkina has plenty of support

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Representing a country that deems your sexuality as inferior to heterosexuality is something that has never seemed to bother Kasatkina. She continues to express herself how she wants and there has been minimal backlash from those involved in Russian tennis. However, few speak about LGBT topics in the mass media unless they are asked to do so by those outside of Russia. 

“I’m not used to it because I’m from somewhere where, it’s, you know, not a very nice thing,” Kasatkina told Eurosport of what it was like celebrating Pride month during the 2023 French Open.

 “In Europe, I feel like it’s something bigger. I think it’s important to let people know we’re all equal and all the same. There’s no difference.” 

Kasatkina began her 2024 season at the Brisbane International where she reached the quarter-finals before losing to world No.2 Aryna Sabalenka in the semi-finals. 

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EXCLUSIVE: Ex-No.1 Ana Ivanovic Backs Jannik Sinner To Wins More Slams

The former tennis star shares her thoughts about Italy’s new sporting sensation with Ubitennis.

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Image via https://twitter.com/anaivanovic/

Jannik Sinner’s triumph at the Australian Open was ‘incredible’ in the eyes of fellow Grand Slam winner Ana Ivanovic. 

At Melbourne Park Sinner became the first Italian player to win the tournament after staging an epic fightback against Daniil Medvedev in the final where he clawed his way back from two sets down to win. Something that has only been achieved in a title match at the Australian Open once before by Rafael Nadal. Earlier in the tournament, he also scored wins over fifth seed Andrey Rublev before ending Novak Djokovic’s 33-match winning streak in the semi-finals. 

The triumph of the 22-year-old has been hailed by Ivanovic who was two years younger than Sinner when she won the 2008 French Open. Ivanovic was one of the stars of women’s tennis during her playing days, winning 15 Tour-level titles and spending 12 weeks as world No.1. She was also runner-up at the 2007 French Open and 2008 Australian Open. 

It was incredible,” Ivanovic tells Ubitennis of Sinner’s latest achievement. “The way he played the whole tournament. He really showed mental strength and endurance. The way he strikes the ball with such a sweet spot was great to watch.”

One of those guiding Sinner on the Tour is experienced coach Darren Cahill who has also coached Ivanovic as part of the Adidas Player Development Program. Cahill has worked with some of the biggest names of the sport with his past clients also including Andy Murray, Lleyton Hewitt and Simona Halep. 

While the Australian is known by many in the sport, what is it like to work alongside him?

I always enjoyed working with Darren because he is so knowledgeable about tennis,” Ivanovic explained. 
“He was always giving me the best advice in the moments when you are the most under pressure. He always found words to calm me down and to point me in the right direction. 
“I was very happy when I saw him in Jannik’s box.”

Besides Cahill, Sinner’s team also includes co-coach Simone Vagnozzi, physio Giacomo Naldi and fitness trainer Umberto Ferrara.

Fame and the future 

Sinner was already a popular figure in his native Italy with thousands cheering on his run to the final of the ATP Finals in Turin last November. Shortly afterwards, he led his country to the Davis Cup title which was celebrated by a visit to the Quirinale Palace (residence of the Italian president) where he and his team mates were greeted by President Sergio Mattarella. 

However, his popularity has surged following his Australian Open win with his Instagram following reportedly increasing by around 800,000 to a total of 2.4M. To put that into context, the only active ATP players to have a larger following than him are Rafael Nadal, Djokovic, Carlos Alcaraz and Nick Kyrgios. 

He has held a one-to-one meeting with the Prime Minister of Italy, received congratulations from the Pope and visited the historic Rome Colosseum alongside two government ministers (Gennaro Sangiuliano and Daniela Santanché). 

It is fair to say that the tennis star’s profile is exploding which itself could pose a new challenge. Fortunately, Ivanovic has some advice for Sinner to follow in the coming months.  

“Now it is a different time with much more assent on social media vs in 2008 (when Ivanovic won the French Open),” she said. 
“I think the most important is to follow his path and his training, but I am sure he is doing that. He has a good team and support system behind him, so he can focus on his goals and rhythm.”

Should he stay on his path, the question remains how good could he become in the future? He is only the fifth Italian player to win a major singles title and the first man to do so since 1976. He also has 10 other ATP titles to his name and reached the semi-finals at Wimbledon last year. 

“He has a really good overall game style. He is mentally and physically super strong,” Ivanovic commented.
“If he just keeps doing what he is doing there are many more Grand Slam titles for him. I really enjoy watching him. He seems like a very nice person, which is very beautiful to see.”

Ivanovic, who married former football player Bastian Schweinsteiger and has three children, attended the Linz Open in Austria last week as a guest of honor. She recently announced a partnership with haircare company Schwarzkopf and has served as a National Ambassador for UNICEF Serbia since 2007. 

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EXCLUSIVE: The ATP, Tennis Data And It’s Growing Demand

Ubitennis speaks to the Head of Product at TDI. An independent joint venture between ATP and ATP Media that was formed in 2020 to manage and commercialise data across a variety of global markets

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By Federico Bertelli

Another Grand Slam is over. As customary, the days following the event is a good time to catch our breath. 

Ubitennis brings to our readers an interview with Anthony Taylor, Head of Product at Tennis Data Innovation (TDI). TDI is a branch of the ATP Tour. In our exclusive Q&A we discuss what Tennis Data Innovation is and why it is becoming a key component for every player. 

UBITENNIS: First of all, thank you for your time, Anthony. Let’s start with a brief overview about TDI and your role there. 

AT: It’s a pleasure to discuss TDI’s role in the tennis world with Ubitennis. I am the head of product at TDI, a role that encompasses promotion and development of initiatives by TDI. TDI, a joint venture between the ATP Tour and ATP Media created in 2020, is responsible for collecting, managing & commercialising data & streaming across all ATP events from Challengers to Masters 1000s.  As for data, we collect it from various sources, including chair umpire data and optical tracking (like Hawk-Eye data). We aggregate all available ATP-level data points and derive informative products for the market from them, operating in the realms of betting, media, and player performance.

UBITENNIS: You’ve given us a great overview of your operations. Speaking of data analysis, just to be clear: Can we say TDI is now the sole official entry point for ATP level data point registration? 

AT: Yes, TDI is the single source of truth for ATP event data. We collect data point by point from the chair umpire, what we call “level 1” data. But we don’t stop there. We collect deeper data to create advanced, easily understandable metrics that can enhance fan engagement and be used for player analysis. This approach is already established in other sports, like the NBA or Premier League football. We use various data sources beyond chair umpire data, including optical detections like Hawkeye and other providers. These provide spatial tracking of ball movement, player positioning, and shot physics (speed, spin, net height, etc.). With this comprehensive data, we fuel a range of metrics like winners, unforced errors, shot distribution (forehand/backhand, rally length, net points won), and even game pattern analysis (offensive and defensive shots, counterattack exchanges). 

We also focus on synthesizing these metrics into significant, easily interpreted numbers that reflect shot quality. We’re showcasing infographics on our X and Instagram accounts that do just this: offering comparative indices and ratings for shots on a scale of 0 to 10. The aim? To quantify how well a player is performing in a match compared to themselves, their opponent, and the tour average. 

Another interesting metric is on-court attitude: is a player predominantly offensive or defensive? Here too, we offer a condensed representation based on speed, spin, and shot depth. And we assess how well a player exploits offensive situations or manages defense. These insights are distributed through ATP media, enabling ATP TV commentators to provide advanced insights during broadcasts. We also make these metrics available to players via ATP TennisIQ, our player performance portal. 

UBITENNIS: You mentioned an analytics platform available to players, Tennis IQ. I’m curious to know more about what it offers to players and how they’re using it. 

AT: We have staff at tournaments providing support and guidance on using the platform, and the feedback has been positive. For instance, data expert Mike James, who works with Holger Rune, has utilized it. The idea is to democratize data analysis access, which often involves high costs. Now, players can download raw Hawkeye data for their data analysis teams or directly use the metrics and insights we provide on Tennis IQ. This opens access to certain types of information for everyone. There are service providers who continue to offer more refined analyses, but in any case, we’ve freed access to ATP data for player performance purposes. Our next step is to link game footage tags to shots, allowing coaches to recall video of each shot type.

UBITENNIS: Speaking of data’s role in engaging the public, what do you think is in store for the media? Do you have a strategy to standardize the use of new metrics, like expected goals in football? 

AT: Certainly, this is something we’re very aware of. Looking at American professional sports (like the NBA, NFL, MLB) and European football, statistics flow through media and betting spaces and are easily consumed by the public. It’s part of the storytelling. You can’t flood people with statistics, but a few targeted metrics can lay the foundation for a narrative that highlights new aspects or objectively explains trends. After all, our name signifies our ambition; we’re TENNIS Data Innovation, not just ATP Innovation. 

We want to help elevate the use of data & analytics across the sport. ATP Media commentators can also request on-demand statistics on dimensions they deem relevant; for example, analyzing Djokovic’s return performance across sets. We think it’s important to make these tools available to other broadcasters to elevate the entire experience. From an editorial perspective, it’s useful to provide these insights for constructing stories across the media ecosystem. Here too, we’re thinking not just about making tools available, but also about their ease of use and flexibility, possibly allowing for ad-hoc information requests through parametric query interfaces. The idea is to enable journalists to validate their story about a particular match and add depth to the narrative by highlighting and quantifying game patterns that are difficult to discern and quantify by eye. For example, we’ve presented analyses on social media about Sinner’s serve improvement in the second half of 2023 through succinct infographics.

Immagine

Source: X account ATP_insights

The goal is to move beyond elementary statistics like break points and first serves. We want to show the real reasons why a player performs a certain way or why a match has gone in a particular direction.

UBITENNIS: The objectives are clear, but what would you say is the strategy for implementing this ambitious plan? 

AT: At TDI, as you mentioned, we have social media accounts where we develop our analyses, which serve as laboratories to experiment with new ideas and gauge reactions to new metrics we propose. This testing ground helps us introduce these new ideas to ATP media, incorporating these nuances and perspectives into the content of ATP and ATP TV accounts. These aren’t for everyone; the idea is that we reach the public through commentaries, regardless of the platform (pay TV, free-to-air TV, OTT, etc.). The goal is to work closely with ATP media, where we have a significant fan base. It’s an organic strategy that touches on all points of contact, aiming to incorporate our insights into the narrative.

UBITENNIS: Moving to the betting space, what developments do you foresee and what metrics might bettors be looking at in the coming years? What could be the killer analytic in tennis? 

AT: We work closely with our partner in this space, Sportradar, to surface additional statistics for betting clients. We’re developing new products to provide more in-depth insights. In my opinion, performance rating, which synthesizes overall player performance into a single number, could stand out. For instance, in the Turin final between Sinner and Djokovic, Djokovic played an outstanding match: according to our performance rating, which ranges from 0 to 10, he recorded the highest value ever in an ATP match since we began our measurements. 

This validates the quality of the match and demonstrates that Djokovic’s victory was more due to his own merits than his opponent’s underperformance. Another example: Rune versus Djokovic in Turin. Rune played a high-level first set, and Djokovic was slightly below his level. However, when Djokovic raised the bar, Rune’s level began to drop, indicating his level was dropping. Finally, “momentum” could be another valuable metric for betting, as it provides immediate trend indicators for live betting.

UBITENNIS: Lastly, I’ve noticed that for some tournaments, ATP live scores provide richer statistics than others, particularly for ATP 250 and 500 clay tournaments where Hawkeye might not always be implemented. Can you confirm this? 

AT: We work closely with ATP tournaments. Historically, ATP data was presented by Infosys, and where Hawkeye was present, the statistics are complete. Any event where Hawkeye wasn’t present, Infosys were unable to present full statistics. However, I can say that we are now collecting richer data across all ATP tournaments.  In 2024, we aim to achieve uniformity in data collection and analysis for all ATP events.

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EXCLUSIVE: Ukrainian Tennis Chief On Historic Australian Open Run, Russian Flag Incident And Exhibition Controversy

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Marta Kostyuk - Roland Garros 2023 (foto Roberto dell'Olivo)

The performances by a group of Ukrainian players at this year’s Australian Open have been hailed as a ‘fantastic example’ for future generations but a senior tennis official from the country. 

The executive director of the Ukrainian Tennis Federation (UTF), Evgeniy Zukin, has praised the historic breakthrough at Melbourne Park where three female players from his country have reached the fourth round of the same major for the first time in history. Marta Kostyuk, Elina Svitolina and Dayana Yastremska have all made it through to the last 16 of the tournament. Lesia Tsurenko also made it through to the third round before losing 6-0, 6-0, to Aryna Sabalenka. 

“We are incredibly happy and proud as this is an example of the fighting spirit and a fantastic example for future generations of Ukrainian players,” Zukin told Ubitennis.

The triumphs come during what is a difficult period in Ukraine’s history due to their ongoing war with Russia which has resulted in the deaths of at least 10,191 civilians, according to figures provided by the United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU). As the Russian invasion approaches its second anniversary next month, Kostyuk and her peers continue to use their platform to ensure that the world is not forgetting what is happening in their homeland. 

“If there was never a war in my life, I don’t think I would be able to grow this much as I grew in the last two years.” the world No.35 said after beating Maria Timofeeva on Sunday.

“I think it’s about the perspective, how you take it, because there are different things that are happening. But I think if you take them as a burden or, like, ‘Oh, why is it happening to me and it’s not happening to other people,’ or if you victimise yourself, which I think is normal. I think every person goes through this kind of feeling from time to time… I think the more you can minimise this feeling of being a victim, I think the easier it is to get through life.”

It isn’t just Kostyuk who has spoken out. Svitolina serves as an ambassador for the United24 campaign that aims to continue to bring awareness—and donations—to Ukraine’s ongoing war. Meanwhile, Yastremska spoke about the conflict during her on-court interview after beating Marketa Vondrousova. She revealed that earlier this year a rocket hit her grandmother’s house but she wasn’t hurt in the incident. They all also continue the practice of not shaking hands with Russian or Belarussian players following their match as a sign of respect to their army. 

Like his players, Zukin hopes the conversation around tennis and the war will continue to happen in the coming weeks. 

“Our girls try hard not only to win their matches but to send the World a message regarding the continuous war in Ukraine,” he said. “The UTF appreciates these efforts by the professional players a lot.”

The US Open flag argument

After her latest win, Kostyuk hit out at the US Open after its social media account published a post featuring her and the Russian flag of her opponent. Under current rules set out by the governing bodies, Russian and Belarussian payers are allowed to compete on the Tour but only under a neutral status. The tennis star accused the US Open of promoting ‘a murderous country and a country that uses its athletes as part of its propaganda.’ In a lengthy statement, she urged her sport to stop ‘promoting Russian peace.’ 

The United States Tennis Association, which runs the US Open, has not publically commented on the incident but the post has since been removed. Furthermore, in other posts featuring Russian and Belarusian players, they have not used their flags. Suggesting that human error could have been a reason behind the presence of the Russian flag. 

“I believe it is a human factor or the social media manager wanted to show that Ukraine beat Russia in particular,” Zukin commented.

“All Grand Slams, pro tours and the ITF continue no flag policy and no official teams policy.” He added.

Criticism should be towards those who play in Russia

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Zukin is less understanding when it comes to a controversial event that was held last month during the off-season. In St Petersburg, the Northern Palmyra Trophies exhibition was held which features two teams facing each other. The event was sponsored by Gazprom which is an energy giant that is majority-owned by the Russian government. 

Among the participants was a group of non-Russian players which included Adrian Mannarino who has since defended his decision to play in the event. Other players included Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut and Serbia’s Laslo Djere. Whilst Tour events are suspended in Russia, players are allowed to play exhibition events there if they wish to as they are independent contractors. 

“I’m a professional tennis player. I’m not into politics or anything. I just went there. I did my job. That’s what I did.” Mannarino recently stated. 

“I’m not supporting anything. That was a private event. That was not anything about political support. There’s nothing to talk about.”

However, Zukin believes players such as Mannarino have ‘something wrong with their ethics and morals‘ for choosing to play there. 

“When pro players are coming to play an exhibition event in a country which started an absolutely unnecessary war that lightened up into the biggest war in Europe since WWII, there is something wrong with their ethics and morals,” he said.

“This country (Russia) is responsible for the death of hundreds of thousands of people* and wiped out cities from the face of the Earth. And these guys are running after the big buck. They are putting a big stain on their reputation and show disrespect to all that has been affected by this terrible war.”

*NOTE: The exact death toll for the ongoing war is unclear. Besides the UN records of civilian casualties, reports claim that over 40,000 Russian soldiers and almost 9000 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed. Although these numbers have not been officially verified.  

Ukraine’s journey at the Australian Open continues on Monday with Svitolina taking on Linda Noskova and Yastremska playing two-time champion Victoria Azarenka. 

Meanwhile, Kostyuk has already booked her place in the quarter-finals and will play fourth seed Coco Gauff.

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