“Tennis is taking a hit.” Amélie Mauresmo talks about the current state of her sport with Vincent Cognet of l’Équipe

Translation of this piece on the Équipe website by Vincent Cognet. (subscribers only)

Does this polemic about equal prize money interest you or annoy you?

– It bloats me, that’s for sure. It don’t see the point of raising this subject again. The cyclical side of it bothers me. Apart from that, there are some points made. At the moment, the men’s circuit is more attractive than the women’s circuit. There’s no debate: there are probably three of the six greatest players of all times playing at the same time! The women’s tour had a period like that around ten years ago. What I don’t understand is, the money the women earn isn’t to the detriment of the men … so where’s the problem? Obviously, Roger, Rafa and Novak are carrying all of tennis, including women’s tennis, which isn’t at that level. But why shouldn’t everyone profit from it? I find it to be a very sterile debate.

But you understand the players’ position …

– If you limit it to Slams, it’s understandable. They play best of five, it’s not the same format … it’s an acceptable argument. I understand in as much as I think I’m more favourable to the women playing five sets at the end of the tournament. With the men playing best of three at the beginning of the tournament. There aren’t many balanced matches in the first week. At the same time, with the women, adding a third set to be won might make the semis or the finals more interesting.

Do you think this debate smells a bit of machismo or sexism?

– Society globally is still and always sexist. We have the chance to develop in a sport where equality is defended. We may even be trailblazers. And I’m happy about that.

Have you spoken about all this with Andy (Murray)?

– Obviously. Considering the context, it was compulsory {she smiles}. I knew very well what he was going to say in front of the microphones. We’d discussed it before. I asked him what he thought before his press conference and we had a dialogue. I didn’t dictate anything. He has very strong opinions about all of it. And I find his arguments especially interesting. He has a very broad, very Anglo-Saxon vision of things. To him, a female world number 100 should have the same opportunities as a male world number 100. He thinks: why should a world number 70 just because he has a pair of balls and he’s born in the same year as Djokovic, Nadal and Federer earn more than a Serena when he doesn’t sell a single ticket? The debate isn’t about whether the men’s tour is more attractive. It’s about equal opportunity. And Andy has understood that perfectly.

The problems with the French Federation, the suspicions of match fixing, Sharapova testing positive, the polemic about equal prize money: is tennis suffering?

– Yes. The image conveyed is terrible. It saddens me enormously. I find it a pity. These things are constantly talked about. The performances, the values, the commitment, the sweat, players transcending themselves aren’t talked about. But it’s obvious tennis is taking a hit right now. Betting fixes, doping … There’s only one thing to do: keep fighting and clean up.

Will we see again one day a golden era for women’s tennis (2000-2005)?

– Hard to answer … Will a Bouchard take Sharapova’s place? Impossible to know. Two things characterised our era: First of all, it was thick with champions. We had, all at the same time, the Williams, Henin, Clijsters, Sharapova, Davenport, Capriati, me etc. It was just huge. And we had the very different personalities, stories and charismas. Do we have both today? With those who are twenty-two-, twenty-three-years old we have Bouchard, Keys, Muguruza … with the French we have Caro (Garcia)and Kiki (Mladenovic). Do they have charisma? Difficult to say. They need to show it pretty quickly in any case. But the problem is, it’s tough co-existing with the Williams or Sharapova. Often, people get a chance to bloom when the strong personalities that may be stifling them are gone. It will be easier for young players to win, but also to position themselves, to blossom, to reveal and assert themselves.

That’s important?

– It’s essential. It’s sport, after all. Sporting values are the key. What happened after Sharapova’s positive test was terrible. A champion like her implicated in a doping story is horrible for the image of tennis. You need to try and be irreproachable. The road isn’t always straight but you can be redeemed with time. For example, Serena’s done it. She’s fulfilling her role and her responsibilities better than ten years ago. The young ones haven’t noticed. At least, not yet.

Are we right to be worried about the tour post-Williams and post-Sharapova?

– In the same way we can worry about the men’s tour! What about after Federer, Nadal and Djokovic? Those guys are legends. And it’s tough replacing legends. I’d put the young players of both tours in the same basket. Men’s tennis isn’t on the brink of disinterest or love lost. Right now, Kyrgios, Zverevs, Corics don’t exist. There’s a world of difference between them and the “Big Four” But that can change.

Are the ATP and the WTA equally good as organisations?

– The one thing I can say is that the ATP seems to be more pro-active. But the era is advantageous for them. When the WTA was strong? In my time, because there was a bunch of champions. Today, the WTA is more of a follower.

Isn’t it also a bit over-protective? When the Sharapova affair happened, the WTA went as far as issuing talking-points to the players!

– I saw that. I’ll let you in on something: it’s always existed to varying degrees. They’re fearful. Apart from that, honestly, I think the players say what they want. I don’t think they should do it, but, in the end, it changes nothing. I don’t have an image of players as shrinking violets.

What’s more, it would be counter to what they’re looking for: expression and development of personality …

– Exactly. On the other hand, explaining properly the situation to a player before a press conference can only be a plus. There, the WTA has a role to play. But telling a player “it would be better to say this”, I’m pretty sure it has no effect.

Would it interest you to be a part of a working group on the future and promotion of the women’s tour?

– It should … But no! [breaks out laughing] I prefer to be on the court. I hope to contribute in one way or another. By being Fed Cup captain, foremost. I like seeing this group pulling people along. But sitting around a table at a series of meetings, that’s not my thing. I’m more of an action person. Giving direction, inculcating values, imposing respect … that’s my thing.

Translated by MAN

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Tennis match fixing in Denmark: “Are you interested in making some money on the side?”

 

From  the Danish http://www.b.dk/nationalt/er-du-interesseret-i-at-lave-nogle-penge-ved-siden-af by Mette Dahlgaard og Eva Jung

“Are you interested in making some money on the side?”

No thank you. 30,000 Danish Crowns doesn’t sound like the kind of money you’d want to risk your career for. But for constantly travelling tennis players, the offer can help pay the expensive travel costs, point out players who said no to the offer.

Do you need 30,000 crowns?

That was the question upwards of 30 tennis players were asked when they took part in a tennis tournament – a tournament at the lowest professional level – in Aarhus and Copenhagen respectively in the late summer. The person or persons behind the offers contacted the players by text message, by e-mail or by Facebook and wrote in English that they didn’t need to lose the match. Just one set would be rewarded with €4,000, the equivalent of around 30,000 Crowns.

“I’m your contact person, and I can meet you in person in Copenhagen to give you a deposit of €2,000 today,  you will get the rest after the job is done,” was the message.

€4,000 is a large sum in a competition where the women’s winner got $1,568 and the men’s got $2,160.

The 17-year-old Benjamin Hannestad is number 58 in the world junior rankings. Despite his age, he was invited to play with the seniors at the Futures tournament in the summer. A couple of weeks before the tournament he received a friend request on Facebook with a profile calling itself “ITF” and used the International Tennis Federation’s logo. With the friend request was the message:

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Benjamin Hannested accepted the friend request and gave his details.

“When I got the friend request, I thought it was part of a process for when you play for money. I could see that several I knew had accepted the request,” he says.

When Benjamin Hannestad had played and won his first Futures match, he received a text message on his phone:

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Benjamin would get €2,000 before the match and another €2,000 “after the job is done”. A contact person in Copenhagen would give him the money.

“There was no chance I would say yes to the money. That’s not like me at all. I was very surprised to put it mildly. Even though I’d heard it could happen, it was still crazy that I’d get this offer in my first tournament as a senior,” says Benjamin Hannestad, who reported the matter to the TIU, the International Tennis Federation’s investigative unit.

Large sums tempt

But other tennis players at the same level might be tempted. Seniors at the lowest levels struggle to raise the money to travel to tournaments around the world, and the money should be seen in that light. And if you don’t have a big-money sponsor behind you, match fixing can be tempting, says Jens Sejer Andersen, international head of the Play The Game initiative.

“Tennis is a sport a lot of semi and quarter professionals play. There are few who earn big money, while there are many who try. There can be lots of older seniors who can’t earn a living elsewhere and perhaps feel  that tennis is possibly their best chance.  Maybe after a few years they get fatigued and develop a certain cynicism and vulnerability to “the good offer”,” he says.

While match fixing in football/soccer requires that at least goal keeper, a defender and an attacker agree to play according to an agreed pattern, tennis is different. All individual sorts, all things being equal, are more vulnerable to match fixing. All that’s needed in tennis are a few balls into the net.

The women’s winner of the Futures tournament, Mai Grage, also received the offer to lose a set on purpose. She didn’t answer the friend request from the fake profile. She figured out the profile was fake because they had no common friends.

“You hear about match fixing at higher levels, but I was very surprised to hear about it at the lowest international level,” she says.

Translated by @markalannixon