Toni Nadal, interviewed in l’Équipe by @djub22, on why he’s worried about the direction modern tennis is taking

From this article online at l’Équipe Julien Reboullet.

Does today’s tennis, the game you see while travelling around the world with your nephew, please you?

–- In general, not very much. I like games of strategy, of skill, not a game for the game’s sake. I like when there’s thought. Thinking a bit, that counts, no?

You think there’s too much hitting?

– In contemporary tennis, we had a long period with a Roger Federer as the best in the world, of course. A fantastic technician. But there’s recently been an evolution towards a very quick game without strategy, where it’s boom boom boom on every point. Today, clay specialists are considered labourers who push the ball back. Then, on the other hand, we have those who just hit shots. But a game that just consists of hitting, that’s baseball!

Isn’t that just an evolution that suits the times?

– I’ve read some books about the civilisation of spectacle. The role of sports in our epoch can’t be compared with its role in Antiquity. Those who attended the Academy (the school of philosophy found by Plato in Athens in the 4th century AD . Ed) understood sports in a very clear manner: physical activity complemented intellectual activity. It developed certain positive aspects of character like effort, discipline, strategy. All that differentiates us from animals, no? Today our sport is moving away from all that.

But why?

– My view is that perhaps the bosses don’t decide who’ll win or be number one, but at least the type of game that will dominate. The rules imposed give direction to the game.

Tennis may have a rule problem?

– The rules of many sports have changed because the size of the athletes has changed, or their power, or their equipment. But I haven’t seen change in tennis. Since the introduction of the tie-break in the 1970’s, I haven’t seen any. The physiques of the players now is nothing like it was twenty years ago. Neither is their equipment. The training intensity is nothing like it was, neither is the professionalism. But the bosses have kept the same difficulties in the game. Which leads to this inconsistency: in what other sport does a point start with a penalty? Because that’s the case in tennis with the serve. The returner looks like a goalkeeper during a series of penalty shots.

But if your nephew Rafael was two metres tall and served at 250 kph, perhaps that would suit you, no?

– Careful! If you think that you’re confusing everything. You’re being personal. What I’m telling you isn’t about Rafael. Whether he’s still playing or isn’t has nothing to do with my way of looking at things. I’m speaking as a spectator who’s thinking about the game in general. Besides, as Rafael’s coach, I don’t want anything to change. He’s won fourteen Slams and has had an extraordinary career with the rules I’m criticising and the evolution I’m regretting. I’m not an idiot! I’m someone who has preferences and isn’t alone.

Which means?

— I’ll put a question to you: which points get the most applause?

The most spectacular ones …

— And? …

In general, the longer rallies …

– Exactly. Do you know which player got the most applause in IPTL matches during its Asian swing last December? Fabrice Santoro! Because he can do everything, a stop volley followed by a lob … everything … Which players do we choose to like: those who can create like him, or a player who just hits everything that moves super hard?

You think that other sports have been better to adapt?

– Obviously. Look how football (soccer) has evolved! At the World Cup in Italy in 1990, what happened? A tonne of matches with very few goals. 1-0 or 1-1 if we were lucky. It was obvious that it was necessary to produce something more entertaining for the spectators. So in the wake of that World Cup, two things were changed: the pass back to the goalkeeper was forbidden and three points for a win – instead of two – were awarded. That changed the quality of the spectacle completely. And who’s the best in football today? The strongest physically? No, the most skilled. Messi, Neymar and others …

You would never go and watch Raonic-Kyrgios, if we follow you properly …

– I’ll go because they’re a part of the present game. But if I weren’t involved in tennis at a high level like I’ve been for more than ten years, it’s certain that I’d would watch a skill player rather than a player who hits. Because I like strategy. In football, a Cristiano? He’s phenomenal, no doubt about that. But I prefer a Messi, or a Xaví, who undoubtedly play with more thought. That’s the way I feel in any case.

After Rafael’s losses to Rosol or Kyrgios at Wimbledon, you let it be understood that their game wasn’t tennis …

– No no no, I never said that. It’s tennis because it’s according to the rules of tennis. I’m saying it’s not a tennis that pleases me, but I didn’t say I was right. I said tennis is getting faster, that hitting winners is getting easier. Like Kyrgios is a super player who could end up number one. Take Zverev, for example. He’s a formidable player with very good control. He’s plays quick and serve hard. Happily, there are still players that control like Djokovic. But I think evolving, adapting is essential in present society. Everything goes so quickly in life. Paying to watch a match without rallies? To me, that’s a poor programme. But I don’t claim to have the absolute truth, heh!

Let’s go back to changes. Toni, what should be changed in tennis?

– There are plenty of things we can change, but we have to choose. To me, we need a change in equipment above all. Before, the racquets had very small heads, which required a much greater mastery of technique. But you need to look at the debate from a larger point of view: what counts is not what I would change, it’s more encompassing. It’s what type of player do we want to watch, what sort of spectacle do we want to offer? And by answering that fundamental question, we can evolve the rules. We criticise the time taken between points, but it’s relative. If that time taken leads to longer rallies rather then 3-4 shot rallies, like the large majority of those we saw at the last Australian Open, who wins by it?

If there were only one serve, for example? …

– I don’t think that would be too radical. We need a more general consideration of the importance of the serve. But, again, I’d prioritise more though about the materials – smaller racquet heads, larger balls or at least less quick, and some other things. The conditions of the game lead to great difficulty in controlling the ball, and I’m including the amateur level there. When you’re playing a sport, why are you doing it? To sweat, to have a good time. In tennis today, you hardly even sweat. And you seldom have a good time. Because the ball goes out too much.

Why not be a part of committees about the future of the game?

(Makes a face) The present leaders have a problem, they’re generally old. Very conservative about changes.

You’re starting your tennis academy in Manacor. What will its philosophy be?

– Apply what the current game tells me, quite simply. If it tells me that you absolutely need to hit hard, than they’ll learn to hit hard.

It’s the world tennis bosses that tell you, in some way, how you form your players?

– Obviously, yes. I see a lot of young players at the academy. Oh my! That hit at 2000 at everything, even without any control. They hit, hit, hit. I’ll adapt to what my sport demands. I’d rather insist on the technique, determination, on how, with your spirit you can overcome technical problems, for example. But if it’s another sort of tennis that works, let’s teach that. After, you risk that people applaud less and less. It’s working right now, because people come to see the personalities and there are phenomenal ones. But never forget they also come to watch a match.

Translated by MAN

Stan Wawrinka in l’Équipe on playing Novak Djokovic, friendship and his career

Translation of this piece by Julien Reboullet @djub22 in l’Équipe.

CONFIDENT

‘Novak: I can’t wait to play him again’

‘What does it give me, concretely, to be introduced as the “anti-Djoko” solution? Pleasure, obviously. But, having beaten him twice in Slams and pushed him to the limit at other times, it especially gives me confidence. In fact, I completely shook up Novak at Melbourne in 2013 (12-10 loss in the fifth set), our Slam matches have always been very close. USO semi in 2013 lost in five sets, quarter at the AO 2014 win in five, semi in Melbourne in 2015 lost in five, and finally my Roland win (4-.6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4) of course …

‘But as I often say, you still have to play him, and considering our rankings, it can only happen at the end of big tournaments. Most of the time, he’s there and I’m not .. It’s too bad, because I love playing him. Because playing the best is what I love the most. They’re the ones who give you the most problems. Playing Roger (Federer) in the semis of the last US Open ? I loved it. I lost in three, but I loved it. Novak, obviously, I can’t wait to play him again. My regret last year was not winning my QF at Wimbledon (lost to Richard Gasquet) to meet him in the semis, because then I’d have played him in every Slam.’

OPTIMIST

‘Some sand can get into the machinery’

‘I’m not the only one who has the weapons to bother Novak in a Slam. Roger has everything necessary. Was it because of mental problems or playing level recently? Only he knows, because he’s the one who lived through the matches. He he didn’t miss by much, he had so many chances. (loss in five sets, Wimbledon final 2014, then in four, Wimbledon final 2015, US Open 2015 and the semis at the last Australian Open). How long will Novak’s grip last? One thing that shouldn’t be forgotten: Roger dominated in the same way for a long period. And during the years he was largely on top of everyone (between 2004 and 2007, especially) we heard people say: “But there’s no one who will beat Federer in the next five years”. Except that didn’t happen. And Nadal, the year he imposed himself (2010), we heard them say: “OK, he’s going to win three slams a year for the next four years.” But the year after, his level dropped.

‘I think some sand can get into the Djokovic machine. When Novak is 100% and everything is working, like right now, no one can take him. What he produces is incredible. And that’s not going to change from one day to another. Just look at what happened after his Roland loss last year, he was huge (only three losses for the rest of the season) …

‘But getting back to the question: if, in 2016, finally, he only wins two slams, will we still say he’s dominating or it’s changed compared to last year? A little grain of sand, two losses in the semis at Slams and that would change his year, which would still be exceptional and he’d still be world number one. I think the change will mostly come from Novak himself. Just like Federer at the time: we didn’t see how he could lose, and the answer came from himself.

ALTRUIST

‘If I can help them, I try’

‘It’s true that I played a role in Mikael Tilstrom’s (Swedish coach) and Gaël Monfils’ association. Gaël he’s a friend, and we talked about it in August of last year. I saw that he was uncertain (about whom to work with), so I tried to add some depth to things. I asked him to name me some coaches he’d like, and he mentioned Tillström, saying he’d asked him two years ago, but Mikael had said no. And Gaël didn’t want to ask again, thinking he still didn’t want to. That’s when I acted a bit as an intermediary. I tried to convince Gaël to try again, and, at the same time, I tested the waters with Magnus (Norman, who works with Tillström at the Swedish Good to Great academy). I went back to Gaël and told him the answer might be different this time. He was trying to find himself, he didn’t know in which direction to go but he wanted to. I hope it works out.

‘Friends? If I can help them, I try. I don’t think about competition. In Chennai, at the start of the season I talked a lot with Benoit (Paire), and gave him my thoughts on a lot of things.And then Yannick (Fattebert, a friend his own age from Valais, Switzerland who follows him on the tour for a few weeks every year as a hitting partner) who was there told me: “It’s incredibly cool what you’re doing, because he’s an adversary.” Maybe, but Benoit is a friend. OK, he’s a potential adversary, but first of all, so much the better if he progresses and, secondly, how many times will we face each other during our careers? If Gaël improves because of Tillström and beats me, it won’t change my life, it can just change my week [smiles].

NO LIMITS

‘I hope to be at a very high level at 35’

‘I don’t look ahead but my goal is to play for a long time. I hope to be at a very high level at thirty-five. But is this very high level 15th in the world, and that would be good because I’m not Federer? Or is it top 10? I know how fast things can change. So I don’t set goals, but I don’t set any limits either. And that’s why I won the Australian Open in 2014 and Roland in 2015. I never tell myself: “I’d like to win this Slam” or “I’d like to win this Masters 1000”. That’s not me and, in any case, I’m not strong enough to do it. My goal is to be in top form each time I go on court. That’s my way of managing things so sometimes, like last year at Roland, something big happens. I’m not as strong as the best. They’ve been there for ten years, me, I’m new. I feel strong enough to beat everyone, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to do it.

‘With Magnus (Norman, his coach), we haven’t set any time limits. It’s important that we both want to see each other, to train and to look a bit further ahead. I think we’ll both know immediately when that’s no longer the case.’

Translated by MAN

 

Frederik Løchte Nielsen: Revelations make me mentally stronger. Part one of three.

Part one of a three part interview by Philip Ørnø on the Danish tennis site Tennisavisen.dk with Danish pro Frederik Løchte Nielsen, who won the Wimbledon doubles title with Jonathan Marray in 2012.

Frederik Lløchte Nielsen has managed the transition from junior to senior as few other danes have done. So it seemed natural to ask him how he tackled the mental side of the game. In this conversation he spoke of the “revelations” and tennis player can get – both on and off the court.

When I here revelation, I think of a turning point in your live where you suddenly see things from a new angle and in an extremely constructive way. It’s an “aha” moment or a moment of clarity.

Løchte Nielsen has had an astonishing number of revelations, but three stand out for him:

A couple of weeks ago, just before the Davis Cup, I saw a documentary about football in Colombia, about drug money and players who were killed when they lost. It struck me that they were playing for their lives, and that tennis had absolutely no consequences for my life. I play because I choose to and because it makes me happy.

The only consequence tennis can have for my life is that every time I don’t compete happy or with peace of mind, it’s a match lost on my record. The only consequence ihas is that I can lose the opportunity for many more experiences. There are no existential consequences.

I have a roof over my head, food and a bed, and even when things go badly, I’ll likely figure something out, so that aspect of my life is never in danger. So why do I get nervous, why do I get angry and disappointed in myself? The are no consequences with losing. They’re imaginary.

That revelation goes seems to segue into the next.

Problems are imaginary. They don’t exist. They’re only problems when I make them problems.

There are no bad balls

It’s likely happened to most players that their forehand or backhand is suddenly a problem. But it’s only something we pretend, thinks Løchte Nielsen. If we conclude that we’re hitting the ball badly, then we’re hitting it badly because we choose to.

It’s the same with bad conditions – bad balls, courts, situations, that my opponent is cheating – “bad” is a value you attribute to it which doesn’t help you as a player. It’s something I’ve become very aware of.

Løchte Nielsen has a rule: he mustn’t use adjectives with words like balls, courts, tournaments etc. He must only use constructive sentences like: “the court is slow so I need to prepare myself to play longer rallies.” That way he’s simply trying to control what he can control.

No one is afraid of losing

The third and last revelation for Frederik was as much a theory as a revelation:

No one in tennis is afraid of losing. I think players are afraid of facing their demons, which are much more exposed by a loss than a win. We can disguise it better when there are good results on the board. We can forget our demons when we win, or we can in any case be blind to them.

With a loss we’re reminded of our demons and the things we don’t like about ourselves. I think we’ve all had the experience of leaving the court as losers when we’ve played really well. So it isn’t losses were afraid of – we’re afraid of performing badly. And that’s also why so many defence mechanism come out.”

Instead of throwing excuses around, you need to prepare yourself, thinks Løchte Nielsen. Accept the level you’re at, accept that there are limitations. In that way you can be fair to yourself and not be so hard on yourself when things go badly. Or as Løchte Nielsen says:

When things go badly, it’s not because I’m doing it on purpose. I can’t control the outcome, so I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. I can be hard on myself for only three things: intention, intensity and concentration. Those are the three things I can control.

Translated by MAN

The Complete Package – The Netherlands’ Indy de Vroome

Original article by Abe Kuijl (abe@tennis.nl), published in print in Tennis.nl, special edition, April 2015

She’s been known as a mega-talent for years now, but 2014 was a year of stagnation for the still only 18-year-old Indy de Vroome from The Netherlands.

In February she suddenly showed her huge potential with a big week in Antwerp.  Kim Clijsters still remembers it very well – the moment the Belgian, herself at the top of her game, hit some balls with a slender blonde girl, just 14 years old, in Rosmalen (site of the ‘s-Hertogenbosch grass tournament).

“Let’s just say I was blown clean out of my socks,” the former number 1 says with a big grin.”She played so well. I’ve always said that if there is one girl whom I think can be really good, and that I would like to help in one way or another, it’s her.”

That moment has finally arrived. Since the end of last year the Netherlands’ biggest tennis talent is training at Clijsters’ academy in her birthplace, Bree. “I’m very happy she’s training with us now, and that I’ve got to know her in a different way than just matches and a few words here and there. She’s a beautiful athlete. A girl with a goal, willing to work all out for it, with a lot of discipline.”

De Vroome got a wildcard from her new mentor for the qualifying draw in Antwerp, where Clijsters is tournament director now.   She grasped the opportunity with both hands. What followed was a string of firsts: with three consecutive wins de Vroome qualified for a WTA main draw for the first time on her own merit. This included her first-ever win over a Top 100 player.

Still, de Vroome acted like this success was business as usual.

“I don’t think the results are that important, those will come anyway,” she said with conviction. “Of course I’m proud of reaching the main draw, but the way in which I did it is more important to me.”

Focusing on the process, working towards long term improvement, that’s what every conversation with de Vroome comes back to.

In the past, she spent a lot of time looking at her position in the rankings. Early last year she said she wanted to finish 2014 inside the top 150. “I’ve been focused on that way too much in the last year,” she confesses.  “I think it’s better for me to let that go and work at how I want to play and how I can improve.”

The disappointing results in 2014, where, after making a brief appearance inside the top 200, she finished the year at number 213, can’t be judged without looking at the instability of her coaching staff.

Early in the year, just a few weeks into their partnership, she was abandoned by Belgian Wim Fissette, himself a former coach of Clijsters and the man who took Sabine Lisicki to the Wimbledon final.  Fissette couldn’t say no to an offer from Simona Halep, and is now working with Victoria Azarenka.

Peter Lucassen, after a few months, turned out not to be the right man for De Vroome, and the season was pretty much done when she finally decided to try her luck at the Clijsters Academy.

“I know Indy somewhat, and she really is a very nice and friendly girl. But I think there’s been too much going on around her,” says Michaëlla Krajicek. “A few years back everybody thought she would be much further along than she is right now, but I think the people around her have built those expectations up too high. I was really good at a young age too, but my dad never expected me to win a certain match, never wanted me to reach a certain ranking. She must find her own way eventually, she doesn’t need parents that tell her this or others that tell her that. How is it possible to have a coach for just a couple of months, time after time? That makes you restless, does not make you better. Every coach tells you something different, and in the end you just don’t know any more. She doesn’t need a supercoach, just someone who guides her, gives her confidence. The last thing she needs is people saying that, after just two bad results, the coach isn’t good enough.”

De Vroome was signed by Nike and IMG when she was just 12 years old. For a few years now she’s been wearing the Maria Sharapova clothing line. It’s fair to say her results have been followed internationally with interest. All the more reason for Carl Maes, the experienced coach who worked with Clijsters for 10 years, to want to have some peace and quiet around the young player.  Maes is head coach of the Clijsters Academy these days and works with de Vroome on a regular basis.

“The first time I saw her play internationally was in the Under 14’s. I’m glad I get to see her more now, and glad I don’t hear as much about her. She’s somewhere in a small village in Belgium, just let her play tennis there for a while. She doesn’t need the added pressure right now. We need to work on some things so she can play her matches differently. If that means lowering the pressure compared to the past, maybe that will be the key.”

When asked about de Vroome’s qualities, it’s hard for Maes to contain himself.  “I think her best serve is unbelievable, her best forehand is unbelievable, her best backhand unbelievable, her best footwork is unbelievable, but, those things don’t show up all that often. She’s got tools every player would be jealous of. When you look at Indy, you think Big Stage, playing big tournaments and Grand Slams. She must start with getting into the top 100, because I think at practice she plays a higher level than that. I want to see her play matches like she plays in practice.”

The biggest challenge for Maes right now is getting De Vroome to drop her “wanting to be perfect” attitude. “What every player has to learn, not just Indy, is that being perfect does not exist. If you play ten matches, 2 will be really good, and 2 will be really bad. Those four matches are not going to determine your career. It’s those 6 other matches that determine if you will be a Top 100, Top 50 or Top 20 player. Indy has to learn to play within that.”

“You can play the best match of your career, and still lose 45% of the points during that match. That’s normal. Tennis is a game for losers, more than any other sport. You must be able to take a hit. Even when you are a Top 50 player, you win about as many matches as you lose. Indy feels like she has to be perfect and in control all the time. That’s impossible. I don’t want to see her play perfect tennis. I want to see her play average tennis, and still win. That’s when the fun starts.”

The fun continued in Antwerp, where, in the main draw, de Vroome got a surprise win over Top 50 player Tsvetana Pironkova. That was her first win on the WTA Tour. Like Clijsters before her, the Bulgarian hardly knew what hit her during her first confrontation with de Vroome.”Her level was Top 10,” the 27-year old, semi-finalist at Wimbledon in 2010, said. “She’ll be one of the future big stars in women’s tennis.”

In 2015 de Vroome will travel the tour with an Argentinian coach from the Clijsters Academy. 35-year old Mariano Pettigrosso, a former Top 5 junior in Argentina in a generation with David Nalbandian and Gaston Gaudio, can’t really point to any weaknesses in his new protégé.

“Both technically and physically, she doesn’t really have any limitations. That’s a rare thing, even among top players. Everybody has a weaker stroke or lacks fluidity when moving. I don’t see those things with Indy. Now she has to bring all that into her matches, that is the main thing right now.”

Maes elaborates on that: “We must find a way to make her play more efficiently during a match. The most impressive shot from the sidelines may not be the most impressive shot from the other side of the net. It’s not like the other side of the net goes ‘wow’ when the people on the sideline go ‘wow’. Maybe they’re just thinking ‘oh nice, I’ll just steer that one back across’. I’ve compared Indy to Mary Pierce once. She was someone who played a very impressive game, but wasn’t very efficient in getting results. I think that might be the case with Indy too.”

Although neither Maes, nor Pettigrosso, nor Clijsters have any complaints about de Vroome’s technique, there is one glaring problem in her game.  For years now the number of double faults per match has been astonishingly high.  Sometimes she hits 20 or more in a match. Fissette once blamed this partly on female hormones. Confronted with this, his countryman and colleague Maes has a good laugh. “I don’t know women well enough to say that,” he says, winking.

Maes is, and this sounds strange, in favour of hitting double faults. “When I worked with Yanina Wickmayer last year, I told her: Yanina, the day you come to me and tell me ‘I played well, I didn’t hit any double faults’, I will probably tell you you didn’t serve well, you probably just pushed the ball across.”

While softly tapping his fist on the table for emphasis, Maes says:”Indy must hit double faults. Otherwise she isn’t hitting through the ball. That is a different approach, one which will set your serve free. You can miss a whole series of forehands by playing risky shots. After the match nobody will talk about 20 missed forehands, whereas 20 missed serves are looked at as a disaster. Sharapova won Roland Garros while hitting 12 double faults. Indy potentially has one of the biggest serves in the women’s game. She must hit double faults.”

De Vroome’s adventure in Antwerp ended, after four victories, in the second round of the main draw, but not before taking a set from Top 20 player Dominika Cibulkova. After the match, she dismissed the ‘dream week’ qualification about what happened. “I learned a lot during this week, something I can build on for the coming tournaments. It’s good to see I can play at this level and I feel I belong here. I’m disappointed I’ve lost, because I feel I could have gotten more from this match.”

De Vroome isn’t surprised by the level of her play. “During practice I play at this level all the time, and now it is coming through in matches too. If you only think about how you want to play and what you want to do on court, instead of thinking about winning points or whatever, things will happen automatically. I’m glad that is happening now.”

Where can this lead?  Fissette mentioned in the past a place in the Top 20. Clijsters thinks that’s a bit premature. “As a player I would never say those things, because I know how hard you have to work to get there and to stay there. It’s easy for the outside world to put a label on it and to put pressure on it. She is a girl that has everything to play beautiful tennis. We’ll see how far that will take her, because it takes a lot, including a big dose of luck.”

~

Translation by Marco van Elst (@Backstop5)

The Lighter side of Timea Bacsinszky – an interview by Svenja Mastroberardino @svenja_mastro

Interview by Svenja Mastroberardino from this piece on Lets Talk Tennis.

With 21 wins this season, of which 13 are consecutive, Timea Bacsinszky is off and running. The high flyer took the time to answer some rather more unusual questions from us at Lets Talk Tennis. In our interview we asked the 25-year-old about being mistaken for another, autographs and her music “sins”.

When did you last get an autograph?

It’s been quite a while. Several years ago I met Roger Tennis in the car park near Swiss Tennis in Biel. But I didn’t dare ask him for an autograph myself, so I sent Pierre Paganini after him and he came back with the autograph.

Hmm … it just occurred to me that wasn’t the last time. At the US Open in 2007 I had sore foot, so Martina Hingis lent me a pair of her shoes. I put them back in her locker after the match. The next day they were lying in my locker. Martina thought she had enough shoes so I could keep them. Then I asked her to autograph them.

When was the last time you were confused for someone else?

-That happened just recently in Acapulco. I was jumping rope to warm up and someone went up to my coach Dimitri and asked if I was Maria Sharapova. That made me laugh. Thank you so much, dear fan, but I’m not that big [laughs].

When was the last time you shared a room with a player?

It was quite a while ago. The last time I shared a room was with Imane Maelle Kocher at the Swiss club competition in 2010. She’s super nice and we laughed a lot together. On the tour it’s even farther back than that, 2007 I think. A former coach once told me that eating and sleeping are the most important things and to get enough of them. Whenever it was financially possible I’ve taken single rooms. Privacy is important for a tennis player.

When was the last time you bought a souvenir?

In Acapulco I bought about 20 small stuffed parrot key fobs. I’ll take them back to Switzerland to give to my nieces, my mother and my friend as small souvenirs. I always try bring a small keepsake from each place I’ve been to. Usually they’re magnets for my fridge – I have about 40 of them. So if someone doesn’t know what to give me, I’m always happy with magnets [laughs].

What was your worst experience travelling?

That would be in 2010 from Los Angeles to Miami. Fires broke out twice on board in the middle of the flight. They turned out to be nothing serious, but there was real panic on the plane. I was very happy when we landed safely.

When was the last time you were complemented by a player?

I have to say I received a lot of congratulations for my two tournament wins, from Aleksandra Krunic among others. I had a long talk with her last year at the ITF tournament in Kreuzlingen. We talked about how difficult it was to come back and climb up the rankings. After my win in Acapulco she hugged me and said, ‘Do you remember our talk? This is great, I’m so happy for you.’ At Indian Wells, Lesia Tsurenko, whom I beat in Acapulco and Monterrey, also congratulated me. It’s nice to hear that from opponents. It doesn’t happen often. I’d like to take this time to thank everyone for the many kind words and messages.

When did you last follow a tennis match on a scoreboard?

Last week for the Davis Cup. I followed all the matches and almost missed breakfast. Huge congratulations to the guys who almost made the impossible possible. Congratulations too to Henri for his performance, it was unbelievable. It was quite exhausting, almost fever-inducing [laughs].

Which musicians/bands on your Ipod are most cringe-worthy?

Hmmm … I have a song by Justin Bieber on my Ipod I thought was pretty good a few years ago, now I hardly listen to it. I have two songs by the Backstreet Boys I never play unless I’m with friends. They give me very funny looks. I still have some Britney Spears, but I’ll delete them soon.

How did you celebrate your wins in Acapulco and Monterrey?

After the win in Acapulco I had dinner with Dimitri and Andreas [Timea’s friend – Ed.] They both drank a glass of wine. I didn’t  because I had a flight the next morning. We captured the moment with a couple of Polaroids. It’s a very nice memory.

In Monterrey we got back to the hotel a 3.30 AM. I then spent 10 minutes alone outside. It was cold but it did me good. I listened to a Massive Attack song then enjoyed the peace and quiet. Then I had to go quickly back to my room and pack my things. Our transportation to the airport was arriving at 5. So we’ll celebrate properly when we’re back in Switzerland. We’ll organize something lovely and invite our friends. I’m really looking forward to it.

Who is your dream partner in doubles and mixed doubles?

With the women, it’s obviously Kim Clijsters. I found her super nice. I’m convinced we’d have a lot of fun together. Justine Henin would also be a great partner. With the men, it’s Roger. But it would be cool with Stan too. What do you think, should I ask him for the Olympic Games in Rio [laughs]? I’d like to play with Nadal too. He’s a defensive wall.

Translated by MAN

Élie Rousset, convicted of ‘match-fixing’ wants to move on with his life – and see the ITF rules changed

From l’Équipe print edition April 7 2015 page 11 by Sophie Dorgan

During a Challenger tournament in Morocco in June 2014, Élie Rousset agreed to give the Italian Walter Trusendi his first round prize money [$352] for the latter, who was ill, forfeiting his match. Rousset would then replace him as first lucky loser. Without the arrangement, the Italian would have started the match then quickly withdrawn, pocketed the prize money and not given Rousset a chance.

Suspended from competition for three months because of this benign arrangement with an ill colleague, the Frenchman has been able to feed off the solidarity of the community.

We’ll be able to see Élie Rousset in a Futures tournament or in a Challenger qualie in June, but not before. The 25-year-old Frenchman, ranked 642 in the world this week, has become, despite himself, a bit of a symbol of this business where it’s sometimes difficult making ends meet. And he’s been comforted in his feeling that he hasn’t done anything wrong by the reactions to the announcement of his three-month suspension two weeks ago. He’s looking forward.

Good for morale

On top of the $2,000 fine, which was covered in a few hours thanks to the solidarity from other players on the circuit, the many positive messages have enabled Élie Rousset to get his morale back. “I was very surprised and happy to get so much support. It really did my morale a lot of good and it confirmed my idea that I didn’t do anything wrong and that the sanction was out of proportion.” The native of Lyon also rang Gilles Simon up. He “took the time to listen,” and he was touched by the tweets on Twitter from certain well-known players like Alizé Cornet, Nicolas Mahut and Adrian Mannarino. He was especially reassured about his fear that he would be considered a dishonest person. Several players told him they would have done the same thing.

OK for national competitions

The Frenchman was afraid of receiving a double penalty by also being suspended from national competitions. But he can breathe easy – the French Federation won’t persue the matter and he can take part in the club competitions in May. “If I’d been stopped from playing the team matches, that would have hurt. Not only financially because it’s a quarter of my income, but also emotionally because I would have had the feeling of letting down the team I’ve been with since I was a kid [Saint-Just Saint-Rambert] where I’m the team number one and where we have our sights set on promotion [National 3 in 2015] every year.”

Good for after

He hesitated, but decided in the end not to appeal. “It would involve me in a long seven or eight month process. I could have done it out of pride, to be able to explain myself to them. But the generally favourable opinions were in the end just as important as an appeals decision. Reason won out over my feelings of injustice. I’d rather use my energy to train rather than get involved in a long procedure. My real victory would be that this rule would be changed.” To do that he’d like for the players in Futures to get together and create a union to “enter into a talks with the ITF and propose a constructive dialogue.”

Translated by MAN

Riches and poverty on the ATP tour

Translation of Russian article appearing in Tennis Weekend, January-February 2015 edition, pages 46-49 by Vitaly Yakovenko
http://tennisweekend.ru/sites/default/files/tennisweekend_01_2015.pdf

Dazzling riches and poverty on the ATP tour

(Part II)

We continue our discussion about prize money in tennis (see also TW edition 10/2014). The first part of our feature discussed the vast budgets at the disposal of the Grand Slam championships, but on this occasion, we are going to discuss the earnings of the simple “journeymen” of the global tennis circus.

How much does a “decent journeyman” earn on the men’s tour? What kind of income does he earn and how much actually ends up in his pocket? Let’s do the math. Fortunately, Benjamin Becker, ranked 40 in the ATP rankings, is quite happy to estimate what his actual earnings are for us along with our colleagues from the German monthly “Tennis Magazin”.

Benjamin, who is not related to the great Boris Becker, although he shares the same surname, is quite a modest man. He’s not one for sports cars or wearing a “flashy” Rolex. Although, based on his earnings, he could afford these items. His total prize money during his career is USD 3.5 million. But this 33-year-old pro from Saarland in Germany is sensibly looking to the future. After all, the end of this career is not that far off. But, in his own words, he still hasn’t managed to secure himself a comfortable living for when he retires. How come? Well, let’s start from the beginning.

In his time, Benjamin was a promising junior, but as he embarked on his professional career, he didn’t win any particular honours. The young German left for the United States where he attended Baylor University in Texas, majoring in Finance and International Business. At the same time, he competed in the university tennis team, leading them to victory in the national collegiate championship. But he stopped harbouring any thoughts of a proper professional career until a benefactor appeared and decided to sponsor Benjamin’s return to the professional tour. The famous coach Tarik Benhabiles, who had worked with Andy Roddick, became his mentor. “Without the financial support I wouldn’t have made this second attempt,” Becker admits. Incidentally, his sponsor has already had a full return on his money. And more besides. When he took to the court again, the Saarland native felt much more confident. Indeed, at the US Open in 2006, Becker beat Andre Agassi in 4 sets, which was to be the last match in the brilliant American player’s career.

But let’s return to Becker’s days as a junior, when he received support to continue his career after not too successful a start. But very few are lucky enough to have such far-sighted benefactors. “Many talented players fall by the wayside because they’re not able to pay for travel to tournaments off their own racquet,” says the German. “The prize money is too little in the lower categories of tournaments – Challengers and satellites.”

This is also one of the main reasons for the dissatisfaction felt by tennis players, which almost led to open conflict with tennis bosses and a boycott of the Australian Open in 2013. The organisers of tennis’s “Big Four” tournaments barely had time to respond, and after an emergency “summit” with players’ representatives, the total prize fund for their tournaments was increased after agreeing to redistribute the total prize fund “for the benefit of poor players”. But the main issue still remained unresolved. What things are professionals still unhappy with today?

In actual fact, since 2006, the prize money at the Grand Slams has almost doubled, whereas the money at ATP 250 tournaments has only increased by 20%. Not to mention that the Grand Slams pay players an abnormally low percentage of their income in prize money. For instance, the US Open spends 4-6% of its income on prize money, compared with ATP tournaments which spend around 30% on prize money. Since 2004, the prize money at major tournaments has grown at lower rates than inflation.

“If you’re in the top 100 in the rankings and you travel with just one trainer, you’ll end up with a modest surplus of USD 20-30,000 a year,” reckons Ukrainian Sergiy Stakhovsky, a member of the ATP Player Council, and one of the active leaders in the movement for fair prize money. If you take the top 100 football teams or golfers, or top 100 players of any sport broadcast on TV for that matter, their earnings will be disproportionately more. Who’s at fault for this? “The Slams put the squeeze on everything. If they start to share out the income more, it will make sense to break into the top 100,” states Stakhovsky. “But, it’s possible that some people will think it’s absurd that a player who has lost in the very first round can earn USD 50-100,000. But think of what he has invested just to get there and play. Flying to Australia is a feat in itself as it takes 24 hours. I certainly wouldn’t think of flying economy there. That’s just unrealistic.”

“All the Grand Slams and ATP 1000 tournaments are mandatory for the stars,” explains Benjamin Becker. “That’s why their organisers don’t pay any appearance money. But the lower-level tournaments – “250” series – which barely make ends meet, need to pay out huge sums to attract the top players.”

According to his own calculations, Becker spent last year around EUR 130,000 on a trainer, food, flights and equipment. Sergiy Stakhovsky spends even more – around EUR 170,000 all in. “After the Masters tournaments in Indian Wells and Miami, I was around 5,000 in the red,” says Stakhovsky. “And, basically, there are no cheap hotels in Indian Wells. The cheapest room costs USD 144 a night. Prize money is also taxed at 38%. So, you arrive there at least four days before the tournament starts. You spend a minimum of three and a half weeks in the States. You pay for a trainer (weekly salary) plus food, hotel… And what about flights?”

Transport costs account for a significant proportion of the expenses incurred by professional tennis players. “I mainly fly economy”, says Stakhovsky. “We can’t actually buy tickets early. And you can’t buy cheap tickets either. We often buy them on the day we’re flying. We’re talking about different figures again. Last year 85,000 [translator: not sure if this is euros or dollars given that amounts were quoted in euros previous paragraph.] went on tickets alone. I earned USD 428,000. We deduct, on average, 30% from this amount for tax. These are the sums involved.”

Winners of Challenger tournaments are paid USD 5-15,000. This means that, just to offset their transport costs, players need to win almost every week. “Playing at Challenger level, you can just about still retain professional status, which is not the case with Futures,” comments Becker. He uses the term “professional” to mean that a player can pay for the services of a trainer and transport costs only from prize money.

Unlike the highly lucrative advertising contracts enjoyed by elite players such as Federer or Djokovic, who travel around the world with a whole entourage including trainers, physios and stringers, Benjamin Becker makes do with the services of one trainer. He’s never had his own physio. Most of his fellow players, like him, share one physio provided by the ATP. This obviously doesn’t help reduce the level of injury suffered by players on the tour, who come out on court and play with injuries that haven’t healed until the pain becomes unbearable. In the lower echelons of the world rankings, where players can only rely on prize money, it becomes a desperate battle for survival. “It’s getting even tougher,” admits Becker, fully aware of the practices that go on in Challengers and Futures from first-hand experience.

Apart from being excessively motivated, one of the main features of the life of those typically featuring at the lower ranking levels is total thrift. As Becker explains, “Everyone tries to save as much as they can. In the US I have always stayed with families. I arrived at one tournament in Ecuador in a taxi without any doors. The road twisted and turned through the mountains and I was glad to get there alive!”

And one final recollection from Becker. In the soup he was served in the players’ restaurant he found a… screw. True enough, it’s not just the players that are scrimping and saving, but the poor tournaments too…

~

Translation by GJM