“A pro tennis team costs a fortune”: Gilles Simon on money distribution in pro tennis

From the print edition of l’Équipe April 7, 2015. Interview by Vincent Cognet.

“A pro tennis team costs a fortune,” – Gilles Simon, vice-president of the ATP Players’ Council, says what he thinks about the the money distribution in tennis and the difficulty of balancing a three-tiered tour.

Does the pro tour have different tiers?

“I’d say it has three tiers: there are those who make a lot, those who make enough to live on, and those who are still investing. It doesn’t shock me that there are three tiers. The question is: at which tier do we want to point fingers? Everyone agrees that the ATP number 1000 shouldn’t make a living.”

Why not?

Because it’s not professional. Every player will give you a different number: one will say the top 200 deserve to earn a living, another the top 300. The only certainty is that there’ll always be a three-tiered tour.

Unless it’s changed in a way that everyone can make a living!

There are more than 2000 guys on the ATP tour. That would be difficult. Of course, I’m in favour of the maximum number of players being able to make a living. But what I find more shocking is that there’s too big a gap between players at the same category of tournament.

Which means?

The best in the world travel with their coach [sometimes two], their stringer, their doctor, sometimes their hitting partner. On the other hand, you have number 80 in the world who gets there without being able to afford a coach. Those two types of players face each other in the first round of a Grand Slam. To me that shouldn’t be possible. That’s what I was teasing Roger [Federer] with: “Under these conditions, isn’t it a little easier to win?” It’s even worse on the women’s circuit. By not offering enough money, they don’t have a chance to train and improve. So, obviously, the best, who are already stronger, will stay the strongest! They changed that by getting more prize money for the first rounds of a Grand Slam. To clarify, that pays for your coach.

What have you done for the “second tier”, meaning the qualie players?

We haven’t forgotten those who are ranked between 100 and 300. Everyone says that we should increase the Challenger prize money. OK, but how do you do that? In ten years, from 2007 to 2017, their funding has already doubled. The paradox is that we can demand that the Grand Slams double their prize money (which is already huge), but can’t do anything about a Challenger.

Why?

Because a Grand Slam generates enormous revenue and a Challenger generates none. Because the players ranked between 100 and 300 generate none. So, logically, the same thing applies to them that applies to a world number 80: how to train and improve. We’ve increased the qualie prize money for Slams 120% in four years. In four years, you’ll make the same for the last round of qualifications as you did for the first round of the draw.

Does doubling the prize money for each round made make sense?

Doubling for each round is too much. That’s my own personal opinion. The general feeling in the locker room is that they agree with that. But, should a guy who wins a Slam earn twice what someone who makes the final does? We can discuss that ..

Why doesn’t the system change at the Futures level?

Guys competing there aren’t considered professionals. They’re considered to be players who are investing in their futures. Most importantly, we, the ATP, can’t do anything – it’s run by the ITF. We have zero hold, zero power with Futures. I love my sport, I want there to be competition, I fight for that, but I see how difficult it is.

Why is dividing the money differently so difficult?

If you function like a business, you base yourself on the ratio of highest paid to lowest paid. I know for example that Gilbert [Ysern, Director General of the French Federation of Tennis] wants to reduce it to 1:80. To clarify, that the winner of a Slam earns 80 times what the first round loser earns. Today, the Indian Wells winner earns 150 times what a guy who loses in the first round earns. For the tournament directors the logic is: “I want the big cheque at the end.”

Why not put a bit more money into the Challengers?

First of all, it’s already done. Next, we, the players, have already looked at taking, say, 3% of the profits of a Masters 1000 and put them into a small tournament.

And?

And now the ball is in the tournaments’ court.

OK, lets ask the question in a different way: are the top 100 players ready to give up some of their prize money to subsidise the lesser tours?

I may be wrong, but I’d say no. I know this will cause some screaming, but the players reckon that the Masters 1000’s make too much money compared to what they give us. The Slams were reproached for the same reason, though to a lesser extent. Everyone is interested in how much money the players make. No one talks about who’s pocketing the money at the end. Because no-one knows who that is. So, if you have to find money, the players will tell you that’s who should give to the Challengers.

There’s always a worry there …

I sometimes have a problem with players who ask for more money than they generate. Is it in our tour’s interests, seen as a whole, that those guys make more money? I’m pointing out that I use the same reasoning for the women’s tour and for doubles. It’s more of a general reflection than simply a question of money for the rich and the poor.

There isn’t a single player ranked outside the 100 in the world represented on the Players’ Council.That’s a clearly elitist composition …

I agree 200% in theory. We could take a doubles representative and give it to someone outside the 100. And then, what do we talk about on the Players’ council? The calendar, prize money for the ATP 250’s, 500’s, and 1000’s …Things that don’t directly concern them.

So you’re not the Players’ Council, you’re the Top 100 Council. And you only look at the problems that concern you.

-We’re the council for the Top 100 because we’re the council for the tour. Because, today, the tour is the ATP 250’s, the ATP 500’s and the Masters 1000. In fact, there is a Challengers section. I went there. We talked for two hours about that. Me, I say: instead of talking about prize money which, in any case, isn’t generated, let’s talk more about the expenses.That might move things along a bit. The only thing we can do is to make the transition between the three worlds less distinct, more fluid. A pro structure costs a fortune. It cost me 250,000 Euros last year. That’s for a coach, a physical trainer for around 20 weeks and a kinesiologist from time to time. If a guy who is 50 in the world had my structure, he’d be not far from earning zero.

Translated by MAN

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Pauline Parmentier on playing the ITF tour: “Some players ask to live with a host family”

From the print edition of l’Équipe April 7, 2015 page 11. Interview by Sophie Dorgan

“Some ask to live with a host family” Pauline Parmentier explains the differences between the women’s tour, which has less money, and the men’s.

Fallen to 250 in the world November 2013, Pauline Parmentier had to fight on the secondary tour to get back into the well-known top 100. She weighs the differences between the WTA and the ITF secondary tour and shines a light on a very relative parity.

“Everything is very complicated at the small tournaments. We play without ball persons and without line umpires until the semi-finals, sometimes the finals.  There are two shuttles a day to get to the site. If you play at 17.00,  you need to leave at 10. But we shouldn’t complain in France. We’re lucky to have GDF-Suez which sponsors numerous tournaments. A Bulgarian has zero where she lives. You need the drive and the sponsors, because money-wise it’s tough. If you travel outside the country, you lose money playing the $10K’s. Lodging is rarely taken into account. Some players ask to live with a host family to avoid paying for a hotel; others live 3 to a room.

On the secondary circuit, many players have no staff. You open up more to other players, you eat together, it’s nicer. At the big tournaments, everyone’s on their own, eat with their teams and nothing much happens. On the other hand, it’s complicated in terms of programming. We have far fewer tournaments than the men. During a WTA meeting, a player, who is ranked around 130, explained that if you don’t get into the qualies at Indian Wells, there’s zero choice of tournaments for a month and a half. The ATP tries to make sure everyone is playing. The WTA revolves more around top players.”

Translated by MAN

Interview with Umpire James Keothavong

From an interview with chair umpire James Keothavong conducted by B92’s Saša Ozmo during the first round of Davis Cup in Serbia.  Brit Keothavong earned the ITF’s “gold badge” rating in 2010.

On officiating the 2014 Wimbledon final between Djoković and Federer.
“You know what, it was my first Wimbledon men’s singles final.  To be given that assignment is a great honor.  That the All England Club and the Grand Slam committee believe in my performance as a chair umpire—it’s great to have that feeling walking out on that court.  It was  fantastic: a classic five-set match between the two best players in the world, Novak and Roger.  It was about four hours and ended up being one of the greatest finals of all time.  For me to be part of that was a great feeling and an honor.”

On his impressions of Serbia.
“This is probably my fifth time here, all for tennis: Fed Cup and Davis Cup.  It’s great to be back.  The previous ties have been in Belgrade, so this is the first time we’ve actually experienced life outside the capital.  It’s slightly different, slightly smaller, Kraljevo [laughs; the city’s population is 70,000].  But it’s great for the federation to bring the tie here and promote tennis in this part of the country as well.  As you could see, it was a capacity crowd—everybody wanted to see Novak, of course, Viktor, and the Serbian team.  Overall, it was a great atmosphere.”

“Unfortunately, we haven’t had that much time to go on a tour—we’re here for four days and three of those days are for work.  But what we’ve seen so far has been really nice. . . . The people, above all, have been really warm and friendly to us, which makes our job worthwhile.  As you know, we get to see quite a bit of the world, we travel to many different countries, meet lots of different people; so, it’s great to come back to Serbia and have good memories.”

On working with “Hawk-Eye” & the challenge system.
“When it initially came out [in 2006], the chair umpires didn’t know what to expect.  But, over the years, we’ve all found a way of umpiring on a ‘Hawk-Eye’ court.  How I deal with it is that I pretend it’s not there; so, I step in when I have to, I overrule when I have to.  I think that’s the way officiating is going at the moment—all the top chair umpires are doing that.  It’s not just about calling the score or sitting there and not seeing anything.  I think it’s important that we still do our job, and we use ‘Hawk-Eye’ as a tool for officiating.  The players appreciate that and we appreciate it; but, at the same time, we still have to do what we have to do and not just rely on technology.”

“Obviously, when you sit up in that chair and things are going right, it can be the best seat in the house.  But when things start going wrong, it’s a lonely place.  There’s only you sitting up there.  Occasionally, you have players on your back—or, in Fed Cup and Davis Cup situations, captains on your back.  You know, that’s part and parcel of what we do.  If we make a wrong overrule, then we have to deal with it.  We’re human, just like the players—they make mistakes; umpires make mistakes.  But we try to keep those mistakes to a minimum.  The majority of the players now, they don’t really mind when we step in; and if we get it wrong by one or two millimeters, it’s not the end of the world.  I think they prefer us to officiate the match like that than not do anything.  I don’t think there are many mistakes made by the top chair umpires, but it’s a good officiating tool and we’re glad to have it.”

Did he refuse to shake Xavier Malisse’s hand in 2013?
“No, I have to say on record that it’s not true.  It was a misunderstanding.  It was a long match, and I shook the opponent’s hand, Garcia-Lopez, to the right-hand side and I didn’t realize that Xavier had offered his hand. Somebody got hold of it and made it news. . . . Touch wood, there hasn’t been too much controversy [in my matches].

On match fixing
“No, I haven’t had any connection, any communication, or noticed any players doing anything out of the ordinary.  So, I can’t comment on that….  You know more than I do.  To be honest, we have to do what we do—we concentrate on our matches—and whatever happens outside the matches is up to whoever decides [those matters].  But I’ve never been approached and I don’t know of any players who’ve been approached.  I haven’t umpired a match that’s had any sort of suspicion.”

On relations with players
“Let’s face it, we travel with the players week in, week out, and we see them at the tournament hotels.  As I said before, we’re human as well: it’s not us versus them.  But they have their teams, their entourage, and we have our colleagues.  It’s all civil: “Hello, how are you?”  The only thing we don’t do is go out for breakfast, lunch, or dinner with them.  It’s a professional set-up, as you would expect from organizations such as ITF, ATP, WTA.  We do our job, they do their job, and we like to keep it that way….  We don’t have friends or favorites—we treat the players equally.”

On his favorite tour destination
“I love Australia… You know, it’s winter over here in Europe during that time—the end of December, January—and it’s always cold.  Then you go to Australia and it’s right in the middle of their summer-time—it’s just great.  Straight after Christmas for us, we go over there and there’s sunshine, everyone’s happy, everyone’s wearing shorts and t-shirts, you can play tennis outside.  I couldn’t think of anything better.”

On officials’ salaries
“That’s the million-dollar question.  All I can say is that we don’t get paid enough.  You can write that” [laughs].

“I can be very tough on myself”: Interview with umpire Louise Engzell

“I can be very tough on myself”

From an interview by Johanna Jonsson on Tennis.se.

After the Swedish tennis miracle, a new blue and yellow has taken over the tennis world. In an interview, umpire Louise Engzell talks about the work behind the scenes on the international professional tennis tours. “We take a lot of crap sometimes,” she says.

Umpiring Grand Slam finals on the tennis world’s greatest scene was far from a childhood dream.  As a youth, Louise Engzell had her eyes opened to umpiring when, much against her will, she umpired matches at her home club of Sollentuna.

“We were forced to take a course when we were quite small, and that’s the way it went. I didn’t think much of it at all at the beginning. Later on we took another course and it began to be fun. We could take part in the Kalle Anka (the present SEB Next Generation Cup) in Båstad, start to travel a little and then take part in the Swedish Open and the Stockholm Open,” says the 34-year-old whose career starting point came after taking an Elite-level umpiring course.

No one needs to force her into the umpiring chair today. She said yes to going home to Sweden for the Davis Cup tie in Jönköping to work during her holidays.

“The best part of being an umpire is the challenge. You never know what awaits you when you go to work,” says Engzell, who has lived in Paris for the last few years.

What is the worst part?

“We take a lot of crap sometimes. But you learn and grow all the time. We talk a lot with our colleagues and bosses, we go through and analyse what you did or didn’t do and always try and better ourselves. Sometimes it isn’t even a mistake and there’s still an uproar.”

Scolded by Berdych

One good example was at last year’s US Open when she was yelled at by Tomas Berdych. The Czech exploded after a correct umpiring decision but said he was sorry on Twitter the day after. Only she knows what went through her head, as she won’t talk about particular situations or individual players. On the TV screen, she looks like a calm umpire in the chair—something which Engzell sees as one of her strengths.

“I can keep my cool without getting too stressed. I can read different personalities quite well and see how to tackle the different players and their personalities.”

Are you good at taking criticism?

“It’s something I can improve on. I can be very tough on myself, which can also be good. I get angry and it takes a while to get myself together. Especially if you’re not 100% sure if you could have explained things in a better way and had the match better under control. In those situations you can sit and ponder and think,” she says.

“Swedish umpires have become a thing on the tours”

Together with, among others, her fellow Swede Mohamed Lahyani and Lars Graff as well as a group of tournament officials of a high international level, Louise Engzell is part of Swedish umpiring elite.

“I don’t know why we have so many umpires. It’s actually become a thing on the tours—especially now, when we don’t have so many players at the top levels, but a lot of top umpires.”

The 34-year-old has umpired Grand Slam finals at the French Open and the US Open, as well as the Olympic final in London in 2012, but still thinks she has a ways to go to reach the status of fellow Swedes Lahyani and ex-umpire Graff.

“I’m on my way there. I haven’t been at the job that long yet. It takes many, many years to get the same respect. It’s very much about trust, that they can trust you. You can win a lot with trust. It means you can handle a match better.”

After the finals in Paris and New York, Engzell has two matches on her dream list.

“I’d like to do one final in all the different Grand Slam tournaments. So Wimbledon and the Australian Open are there.”

Louise Engzell on …

Hawkeye:

“It’s just positive. The advantage with Hawkeye is that it’s a final judgement. Whether the player agrees or not, there no one to complain to or yell at. They accept it and play goes on. It’s fantastic and makes things so much easier.”

Psychology in the umpiring chair:

“Different players react in different ways. Some players you need to be harder with right from the start, others you can use a softer approach with. Some players want you to tell them if they’re taking too long between points while others just want the warning directly. It’s about getting to know the players.”

Relations with the players:

“We have no relations with the players. Those are the rules. There can’t be any semblance of a reason to doubt your fairness because you’ve had dinner with a player. There cannot be any question. And you don’t, if at all possible, umpire a player from your own country. You try and avoid all problems that could possibly arise.”

Her best matches:

“The US Open final in 2012 between Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka. I think it was one of the longest women’s matches ever.”

“The Olympic final in London is a special memory. The atmosphere was fantastic even if the match was rather short. Serena won 6-0, 6-1 against Sharapova.”

“One of my best matches was the 2012 Davis Cup match between Romania and Finland. It was the deciding match and it took almost five hours. It was extremely close and tense, a really good atmosphere and ambiance. It doesn’t need to be top players playing each other, it can even be at a lower level. The atmosphere is one you can only get at a DC match.”

Her favourite tournament:

“I hadn’t been in Båstad for a very long time, so I was there this (last) year. It was really cool coming back to Sweden. I like the atmosphere, the mood; everyone’s equal and eat together no matter what their job is. Besides that, I like the Grand Slam tournaments a lot. Each one is different from the other.”

Translated from the Swedish by Mark Nixon.

Many thanks to Victoria Chiesa for the tip.

Denmark – Police investigating match fixing in tennis

Translation of  http://www.b.dk/nationalt/politiet-undersoeger-matchfixing-i-tennis

by Mette Dahlgaard and Eva Jung, December 28, 2014

Police investigating match fixing in tennis

The Fraud Squad are investigating an attempt to pay up to 30 Danish players money to lose

The Fraud Squad, who investigate and press charges in cases involving economic and international crime, are now for the first time involved in a case of attempted match fixing in tennis. It happened in the late summer at Futures tournaments, the lowest tennis level, held in Aarhus and Copenhagen.

The Deputy General State Prosecutor Per Fiig has stated that the State Attorney for Special Economic Crimes and International Criminality has found cause to start an investigation, but at the moment cannot say anything about the current investigation.

The Danish daily Politiken had a story earlier that there was an attempt to bribe with large sums of money tennis players to lose a set on purpose. Berlingske can now publish details in the case, such as how the match fixers went about it.

“It’s gratifying the the Danish prosecutors are looking at the case. I’m looking forward to what might happen. I’m very satisfied that this is being taken seriously because the problem won’t disappear on its own,” says Sune Irgens Alenkær, who is a director of the Danish Tennis Association (DTA).

The Danish Athletic Association (DAA) is also gratified by the news that the Fraud Squad is interested in the case.

“It’s super positive. It hasn’t been pleasant to see that there have been foreign match fixers willing to operate in Denmark in connexion with competitions. Because everything points to it being foreign match fixers, we haven’t, as a Danish association,  had jurisdiction over it, so we couldn’t investigate the case directly. If the police have taken up the case, we can only welcome it,” says Jesper Frigast Larsen, who is head of the DAAs Match Fixing Committee.

The Danish Tennis Association, who arranged the tournament together with Århus 1900 and Copenhagen’s Ball Club, have since the late summer been unable to gain any insight into where the case stands. The International Tennis Federation’s (ITF) own investigative arm, the Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU) gathered evidence in the form of e-mails, Facebook messages and text messages. The Danish association has since been kept in the dark of it’s own parent organisation, which, despite numerous enquiries, hasn’t found time to meet with the DTA.

Berlingske has been in contact with several of the tennis players who all tell the same story: they were offered around 30,000 Danish Crowns ($4,500 US) to lose a set, but they haven’t heard from either the TIU or the Danish police about making statements. They handed over all evidence to an ITF supervisor who was at the tournament. But the German supervisor, Nico Naeve, has been muzzled, he wrote in an e-mail to Berlingske.

Asked directly what the status of the Danish case was, the TIU answered: “We are aware of the accusations at the tournaments in Denmark, but we cannot answer specific questions,” they wrote.

The Danish Athletic Association understands that there needs to be quiet about ongoing investigations, but “clamming up” isn’t the way forward.

“We don’t believe at all that one’s sport is protected by pretending the problem doesn’t exist. We tip our hats to football/soccer that has doen a lot to address the problem.”

Translated by @markalannixon

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:

8098238-saxo-photo
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:

8098237-saxo-photo
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