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

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“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

Gala León and the battle over her appointment

Original source: http://www.tennistopic.com/rod-laver-arena/noticias/el-caso-gala-leon-llega-la-moncloa/

The Spanish Tennis Federation has asked for an audience with Spanish President Mariano Rajoy after the National Sports Council recently requested the written proceedings of the meeting at which Gala León was selected as captain for the Spanish Davis Cup team. According to Fernando Fernandez-Ladreda, vice-president of the Federation, “This is a ploy by Miguel Cardenal, Secretary of State for Sport, to dismiss the first female captain of a male national team.”

“We’ve sent a telegram – attached to her election certificate – to the President of Spain , Mariano Rajoy, who has always supported this sport, and was present at the Davis Cup semi final in Cordoba – a match that gave us our entry to our last Davis Cup in Sevilla – asking him to straighten out this mess, considering that this manoeuvre of Miguel Cardenal comes eight months after the appointment,” explained the Federation in a press release. “Since July 2014,  Miguel Cardenal has neither visited nor congratulated Gala León, and she was forbidden from using the Sports Council room for her introduction, acts for which Cardenal has been reported to the National Court; and now he casts doubts about the legality of her appointment by demanding proceedings that have never been asked for previously, for example with Albert Costa, Alex Corretja or Carlos Moyá, just to mention a few examples.”

“In sport there must be people who know about sports,” Nadal said after beating Simon at Indian Wells. “In sports there must be people that understand. It’s as if you put me as a director of a hospital! I don’t know anything about medicine and how things work there,” continued the world number three when he found out about the situation in his press conference. “The people who run, who make the decisions, must know about the sport. It’s always a good thing when the people that make decisions have experienced all the levels of the sport: as coach, as a player, as a kid when you go and play a tournament … it’s important to have experienced all those levels to make important decisions,” continued the winner of fourteen Grand Slams. “And not only in terms of Davis Cup captaincy, but also at the federal level. It’s complicated, the way of choosing the people that make decisions in our sport. In my honest opinion, it’s complicated to find people that really understand what they need to do.”

How did we get to this point? Two regional federations (Castilla Leon and Aragon) reported to the Sports Council that the election of León as captain of the Davis Cup team wasn’t done according to the regulations. The policies of the organization that rules tennis in Spain say that the board of directors must vote on the appointment of the person who will direct the team. However, after Carlos Moya stepped down as captain last September, Jose Luis Escañuela offered León the position without a vote, even if the federation insists she had been ratified by the directors twice and they have shown “total unanimity” in supporting the first female coach of the men’s team.

That’s how the conflict came to the Senate, where the government had to answer the question of how they would fix the mess. “Prior to any possible action in the matter, it should be noted that the Royal Spanish Tennis Federation [RSTF] should clarify and examine the appointment of Gala León as Captain of the Davis Cup team as doubts have been raised about its legality. That is the responsibility of the board of the RSTF,” replied the government in a statement to Narvay Quintero Castañeda, Canary Coalition senator. “Independent of this issue, proposals and sports projects of the RSTF, monitoring and approval, are coordinated with the General Department of High Competition Sports Council, like the rest of Spanish sports federations. Finally, regarding the debate generated by the designation of Gala León as captain of the Davis Cup team, the players have already stated publicly that they have focused on sporting criteria, not gender.”

Now, while León tries to convince tennis players in Indian Wells to take part in the next event in July (Spain travels to Russia looking for their first win to return to the World Group, and many of them haven’t even talked to her) smoke is seeping out of the offices and trenches are being dug for what is coming. The message is clear: the Federation, with the men’s team in the second division and the women’s fighting relegation to the third,  is in a war that is not being played on the court.

~

Translated by https://twitter.com/MSharapovaWeb with an assist from @markalanix

“I have a father who put me in a cage,” Timea Bacsinszky opens up about her childhood interviewed by @flaberne

From the print edition of l’Équipe, March 19 2015 page 13. Interview by Frédéric Bernes

The Swiss Timea Bacsinszky hasn’t stopped winning in 2015. And yet she’s come from a long way back.

Last night Timea Bacsinszky challenged Serena Williams on Court 1 in the Indian Wells quarter-finals. Before the shock against the world number one, the 25-year-old Swiss, 26th in the world, was coasting on a series of 15 wins in a row. It’s been twenty-one wins and two losses [Halep in the final at Shenzhen and Muguruza in the third round of the Australian Open] since the beginning of the year for Bacsinczky. It’s impressive in itself, but is brought even more into relief by the knowledge that she had stopped playing tennis two years ago with a career in the hotel business in mind. At the time, it wasn’t so much tennis but her father she was escaping from. And then she got an email asking her to sign up for the Roland Garros 2013 qualifications. She told herself, why not?  And she was off again. For herself and no one else this time. She tells her story:

Exactly two years ago I was arranging the date to start my internship in a five-star hotel. For me it was over, I wasn’t going to play any more. I told my friend: “Ok, fine, I’m going to serve coffee in cafés.” And I would have loved it.

That’s when you find out that you aren’t aware of the resources a human being can have. I still can’t get over having put together those two weeks in Mexico [she’d just won Acapulco and Monterrey back-to-back] and to win even more matches here. It’s almost unreal.

Considering the athlete I was before – really, athlete in quotation marks, because I was in really sub-standard condition – I don’t even know how I managed to get up to 37th [in 2010]. I was ultra clever, I read the others’ games well but I never worked on my own. It was just a continuation of the world I’d been put in. It’s one thing to want celebrity, money, all the shiny stuff, but I wasn’t a happy person. I was hiding from reality. I had my little tennis success, I imagined kids wanted to do what I did, but they didn’t really know. I couldn’t go all out because I had a father, really just a sire – I know the words are rough, but it’s an objective view of the situation – who put me in a cage. A prison. I don’t want to complain, that people say: “Oh that poor girl!” By telling my story, I tell myself that it might help other people. Open eyes.

My mother is a dentist. So it wasn’t likely to be her who would show me how to hit a forehand. My dad is a tennis pro. I was three when he brought me onto a tennis court for the first time. He saw quickly that the project that was unsuccessful with his two other kids [by another mother] was possible with me. My mother didn’t say no. Did she sense what I was feeling? I don’t know … I’m not upset with her. She brought in the money so her family could live, she couldn’t see everything, know everything.

I didn’t have a cool childhood. I remember there were hotlines for children who were not being treated well and thinking about calling them ate me up. But I was afraid that he [her father Igor] would see on the bill that I’d dialled that number and I would have problems … I was never hit. I got a few slaps, he pulled my hair … But it was mostly psychological. I thought about running away. I’d searched the Internet to find out about how to run away successfully. I suffered from the “pushy parents” syndrome, which is pretty widespread in tennis. And we still don’t know everything. The WTA prefers to show all the nice stories. But if I look around me, if I look at the stats … To me, parents, they’re not made to coach. Any parent can teach a kid how to play tennis. It’s enough to read books. After, you have to step down.

My father never took care of me except on the tennis court. Taking care of your kid isn’t throwing a tennis ball at her. I didn’t have a father. I don’t see him any more, I don’t talk to him and that’s the way it will be to the end. I’m not lacking in anything. My childhood was stolen. My adolescence was stolen too. You couldn’t take Timea out of tennis. Me, I only had one wish: to get away. The worst thing is, I’d certainly have played better if he’d let me breathe. On the court I had a moment where I could escape his control. He told me, “play crosscourt there.” And I’d play down the line. Except there would come the moment where I had to win the match, otherwise he’d make me pay [she twice won The Little Aces, the official World Championship for under 14’s, as Martina Hingis did]. When you’re afraid of what might happen to you if you lose, you develop a special thing. But I think I loved competition when I was a kid. What kid doesn’t like to win? I’m convinced that when I was very small, I loved tennis. But he made me hate it.

He had this unhealthy desire to shine, to be known, that people would say he was the best coach. To do that it was no problem for him to scream at me. Money? He surely wanted to end his life in a palace. When I got my first sponsor, he quit work to become my coach. It was the worst moment of my life.

He took a nice little salary with his girl’s sponsor. He bought me one or two pairs of jeans because he needed to give a carrot to the donkey.   When I was fifteen, I forced my mother to divorce him. If she didn’t, I didn’t want to see either of them ever again. Happily, I had school. I was so happy to learn new things, new Swiss things I couldn’t learn at home because my father is Hungarian. I lied to my father to take part in intramural competitions. I’d hidden my running shoes under my history book. I’d become a professional liar. I had to get around him all the time just to live, or survive. I don’t know. I was lucky to have nannies at home. One of them gave me the love of cooking. I made soups for my mother in the evening with my nanny. I was happy then.

I’ve been working with a psychologist for the last two years. I’ve finally understood why I couldn’t do more before. Because if I shone, “he” shone too. With what I’ve endured, people who know me ask me how I managed to stay out of drugs and alcohol. At one time, I went out a lot in Lausanne. I must have been a sorry sight. During the day I was glued to the settee. In some ways it was good I got injured [a foot in 2012]. In 2013, I started an internship in a palace in Villars. In September I was supposed to enter hotel school. Maybe later, I’ll go back.

Translated by Mark Nixon

“It’s more the French who are teasing me” – Amélie Mauresmo interviewed by @fLaberne in lÉquipe

From the print edition of lÉquipe March 16 2015. Interview by Frédéric Bernes

Amélie Mauresmo isn’t talking much with Andy Murray about the upcoming Davis Cup meeting between the UK and France. She won’t be there, but she has a rock-solid alibi.

After a break of a week for the Davis Cup, Amélie Mauresmo has met up again with “her” Andy Murray at Indian Wells, where the Scot imposed himself from the start by defeating Vasek Pospisil [6-1,6-3]. Very relaxed on the California soil, the Frenchwoman says she’s delighted and proud of soon entering the tennis Hall of Fame and is happy about the arrival of Jonas Björkman at her side to coach Murray.

18 July, perhaps on grass at Queen’s, it will be Davis Cup doubles day between Great Britain and France. But you, where will you be?

Not there, that’s certain. I’ll be making an unscheduled trip [smiles].

You’ll be then at Newport in the United States for your induction into the Hall of Fame …

– Of course. It makes me super proud. It’s recognition from my peers. You see that not everyone gets in, it gives you an exclusivity and selectivity that’s not disagreeable. It’s good for the ego [laughs]. It’s a time to look back at what you’ve done. Me, I hadn’t been looking back. Now I notice that I’ve made a mark on the history of my sport.

Without this ceremony, would you have gone to this Davis Cup quarter-final?

Really, no. I have a whole series of things to do between the Fed Cup in April [semi finals in the Czech Republic with France] and Wimbledon. I want to be quiet and rest. And if I went, all my reactions would be scrutinised, so …

Do talk about the Davis Cup with Andy Murray?

-No, we haven’t talked much about it. We’re here and we have to manage his post-Davis Cup. He gave quite a bit in Glasgow [3-1 win over the United States]. It’s more the French who are teasing me [laughs].

When the challenge draws near, will it become taboo to talk about the French players with Andy?

Of course not. He knows as much as I do about the guys. They’re his generation, he’s played them all tonnes of times. I don’t know how I could tell him anything new.

I hope he’ll (Björkmann) will be in Miami.

What do you know about his lieutenant James Ward, the hero of Glasgow last weekend?

He was with us last winter in Miami during the preparation. Andy pulls everyone up. Suddenly James and the kid Kyle Edmund want to show him that he’s not all alone. Right now, Ward is a guy who’s hitting well. He doesn’t have a flashy game. He’s not very consistent yet.

We know that the Swede Jonas Björkman [ world number 4 in 1997] will join you very soon on Andy Murray’s team. How are you taking it?

Very well. When Dani [Valiverdu, now Berdych’s coach] left, it was obvious we needed someone. I would have preferred to have found someone between the seasons, but Andy likes to take his time and think over things. I gave him a few names [Loïc Courteau was among them], Andy offered others and Jonas’ name came up.

Do you know him?

Not well, but I work quite a bit on instinct and I feel he’s a guy who could stick. We’re awaiting his arrival. I hope it will be in Miami, but I don’t know if he’s finished with Dancing With the Stars [Swedish Version].

You’ve already spoken on the telephone?

Of course. We talked about Andy’s game, how things work … Now they have to try things out together. If it works well, we’ll offer to share the tournaments. I think it would be a super addition. I even wanted Jonas to go to Dubai [in February] with Andy.

For the Hall of Fame, you need to choose someone to make an introductory speech. And if you chose Andy Murray?

– Oh yeah, not a bad idea [laughs]

Translated by Mark Nixon

Please use the comments section for comments and suggestions. They’re always welcome.

“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.

Timea Bacsinszky: Flying high and getting noticed

Translation of this piece http://www.srf.ch/sport/tennis/wta-tour/timea-bacsinszky-ein-hoehenflug-mit-ankuendigung by Svenja Mastroberardino

Timea Bacsinszky is the high-flyer of the WTA. In Monterrey, the Vaud Canton native celebrated her second tournament title of this season – https://twitter.com/svenja_mastro — and proved that hard work and commitment pay off in the long run.

Once again Timea Bacsinszky needed to give a victory interview. Overcome by emotion, the player from Lausanne couldn’t hold back a few tears: “It’s unbelievable, I have no words,” she said, visibly moved.

12 wins in a row, titles number 2 and 3 – Mexico was truly a good place for the 25-year-old. Bacsinszky is really the player of the moment on the WTA tour. With an impressive 18 wins on the balance sheet against only 2 defeats, she is clearly the most successful player right now. Only the Czech Karoline Plíšková can match her for wins in 2015 (against 6 losses). In the last 4 tournaments she’s played in, Bacsinszky has reached the final 3 times – and that’s a record.

Fed Cup captain Gündthardt is impressed

Two tournament titles in a row with quality play. SRF tennis expert and Fed Cup captain Heinz Günthardt had only praise: “Over such a time span you’ll always have matches when you’re not at your best. For Timea  to still find a way to win says a lot about her.”

Günthardt never had any doubts about Bacsinszky’s abilities, but the way she would explode upwards in the rankings was something no one dared expect (from 285 at the end of 2013 to 26 on Monday). “She is an immensely talented tennis player. Earlier she lacked consistency – during training too, partly due to injuries but also because of problems with motivation.”

A model pro even in training

A statement Beni Linder can attest to. Swiss Tennis’ head fitness coach has worked with the sensitive Romande [someone from the French-speaking parts of Switzerland]. “The Timea of today can’t be compared with the old Timea. Now she’s completely professional about her job, whereas before she struggled with others but especially with herself.” Driven by her ambitious father, she often lacked the joy of sport. This can now be just a catalyst: “There is so much joy in Timea. That’s what gives her so much energy.” said Linder.

In the last 12 days Bacsinszky has played 10 matches and spent almost 22 hours on the court – some of them well into the night. But there were no signs of fatigue or physical exhaustion. “The physical effort it has taken to get to this level shouldn’t be underrated,” said Günthardt. “Timea has run a lot of metres and spent a lot of time in the weight room. That can’t be stressed enough.”

Linder added: “Her performance is a product of continuous daily work. Timea winning a tournament didn’t come as a surprise for us. But we didn’t expect it to lead to such a continuously high level.” This from the fitness coach who is in regular contact with Bacsinszky’s coach Dimitri Zavialoff.

Next exploit at a Grand Slam?

She wanted to see what her limits were, Bacsinszky has said repeatedly after being “near quitting”. Where does Günthardt think they lie? “If she keeps this up, she can get into the top 10. To do this, she needs to play where the points are — at the Grand Slams. She has the level in any case.” The next chapter in this story is waiting to be written.

Translated by Mark Nixon with corrections by Svenja Mastroberardino

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