“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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Sunday fun with “The Monf-Bennet-Simon Show”

From the 14 September 2014 edition of l’Équipe. Quoted by Frédéric Bernès after the French team beat the Czechs 4-1 in the Davis Cup semifinals.

It’s never insignificant when the substitutes of a team, some of them legitimately offended by being cut out, improvise a comedy show at the press conference.

Julien Beneteau, called “the bridge player” by the two other provocateurs, who don’t need much convincing to make fun of his old age; Gael Monfils, teased for his baroque tournament scheduling; and Gilles Simon, called the “lemon slicer”; the three benched players of this semifinal were laughing like madmen when they arrived in the press room. It was a mess, but it was hilarious. We tried to reconstruct, as best as we could, this fun moment which says a lot about the atmosphere in this group. As we didn’t have any alcometers, we won’t take position on the nature of the liquids that were consumed in the secrecy of the locker room. But we have some idea.

Julien Benneteau [supposed to reminisce on this Davis cup campaign]: “Fuck, I don’t even remember who played in Mouilleron-le-Captif [against Australia in the first round].”

Gael Monfils: “It wasn’t me! (laughs)”

Julien Benneteau: “We’ve lost our memories. We’re all drunk (laughs). And we know that this is going to be a long evening. Pff, with the two beside me, it’s going to be very tough. We have to hope that we will all be healthy for this final. For those two, it’s not a good start. [We ask JB a question that starts with “as a doubles specialist…”] That’s nice! Like: you’re 30 in the single rankings and you suck.”

Gael Monfils: “Gillou, you smell of beer—you’re drunk.” (laughs)

Julien Benneteau: “The difference between Guy Forget and Arnaud Clement? Easy: twenty centimeters. One is a lefty with a slice backhand . And the other is not. ”

Gilles Simon: “My schedule until the final? Well, the Masters, it’s going to be hard to go, no?”

Gael Monfils: “You had a pretty bad start, yeah”

Gilles Simon: “But we have time before we have to think about this final. If we are going to compete with each other? What competition? Also a three-months-away match, it’s a pretty long time. Who do we want to play in the final?  It’s nice, Naples, in November. It’s warm. How are we going to adapt our scheduling? Well, for Gael it’s simple.  He does it all year long. [“As his new coach, reference to the last US Open, what schedule are you going to plan for him?”] You really like this one! Well, Gael, even if you don’t like going to China, you are going to go for five weeks!”

Gael Monfils: “Ah, coach Gillou! You’re laughing but you could make a lot of money in false advertising!” (laughs)

Gilles Simon: “For the advice, it depends on how much he pays me. We haven’t discussed it yet.”

Julien Benneteau: “It’s hard to tell ourselves that we’re not going to play too much and preserve ourselves for the final. If you only play a little, there’s the chance that you won’t be as good. Well, ‘la Monf,’ he can do it, he’s used to it. How does the competition between us manifest itself? We settle it at Fifa. And it’s violent.”

Gilles Simon: “Exactly, the winner plays the match.”

Gael Monfils: “Guys, no! It looks like I have lost at Fifa! I never lose at Fifa!”

Julien Benneteau: “It’s true, you’re better at Fifa than on the court.” (laughs)

Gilles Simon: “You’re the doubles specialist and me, I slice lemons.”

Julien Benneteau: “It’s going to be war, the competition. We are going to push each others down the stairs. It has already begun.”

Gilles Simon: “I’m totally drunk (laughs). Where’s the Corona?”

~

Translated by Suze.

Jan de Witt talks Gilles Simon at the 2014 US Open

Original source: L’Équipe 2 September 2014 quoted by Vincent Cognet

Interview 

It’s 13h30. In half an hour, Gilles will leave for his practice session that he’s been sharing almost exclusively with Gael Monfils since the beginning of the American tour – a session that’s neither technical nor tactical, only focused on the quality and intensity of strokes. While he’s waiting, his German coach, Jan De Witt, sits himself down in the players’ garden with a cappuccino to talk about the fourth round against Marin Cilic and many other things.

Q : Were you surprised by Gilles Simon’s success against David Ferrer?

Absolutely not, because his level of play has been excellent since Rome. But he was affected by a lot of injuries and he had trouble translating it. I knew that he was in great physical condition. Against Ferrer, it’s nothing but a matter of managing emotions.

Q : Yet their head to head was not in his favor…

It’s not that important. If Gilles is in good physical condition and feels relaxed, he has the level to challenge those guys. You only have to remember his match against Nadal in Rome. It could have been the same scenario against Djokovic at Wimbledon but he got tense too early in the match.

Q : Why?

Stress can arise at any moment, before or during a match. The whole issue for players is to control it. Against Ferrer, he didn’t get tense for one second. We saw the result. And yet, the intensity of the match was extraordinary. I saw David after the match an he told me that he was physically dead despite feeling in good form. It says a lot about Gilles.

Q : Does this physical condition come from the training in Halle, last winter?

There is a connection. But it’s not the only reason. Since the beginning of the season, we organized three training periods. In the US, Gilles trained very hard physically for about ten days. Really demanding work. But if you get tense, it’s all for nothing. Stress is terrible because it makes you battle against two opponents : the player in front of you and yourself. It’s crazy how much energy it consumes.

Q : For him, how does being fit manifest itself?

By his speed: How fast he moves on the court, and the speed of his strokes. If he unleashes his forehand down the line, it goes really really fast. The problem is to do that for three and a half or four hours. The key is to maintain this level of intensity.

Q : Is it the best Gilles Simon you’ve seen since the beginning of your partnership?

Hard to say. He has already played some big matches. But it’s true that his consistency is very good at the moment. It’s linked to the fact that he doesn’t have any injury. His shoulder is fine, his knee as well.

Q : What would you say is Gilles Simon’s playing style?

It’s not monolithic. His style is to adapt. He plays a different type of tennis depending on his opponents. You’ll see, against Cilic, he won’t play the same tennis he played against Ferrer. Against Delbonis, it was yet another type. You have to play slowly (as to not give Delbonis the speed he likes) and high. Maybe that’s why he didn’t serve well : his game plan asked for so much discipline that it consumed a lot of his energy.

Q : How do you foresee his fourth round against Cilic?

It will be a very easy match to prepare tactically because of Cilic’s way of playing, which suits Gilles perfectly. He’s not scared of big servers because he returns very well and he’s better than them in the rallies. Marin can’t hurt Gilles. Impossible. And I don’t think he will. Goran is surely preparing his player to develop a new approach. I won’t talk about tactics for hours with Gilles, I’ll talk of state of mind. I’ll tell him that Cilic is a very good player, that he’ll surely have some surprises prepared, that he’s capable of high level shots. Gilles will have to accept to be led, at least for a certain period of time, even if he plays a great match. It will be up to him to stay calm and think about his options. Because it’s his biggest strength : he’s smarter than the majority of players (smile). But if you’re stressed, you’re not smart anymore.

Q : But it’s unlikely that Simon will start to feel stressed now…

False. A player can very well be calm the first three matches and lose his self control during the fourth.

Q : But where does it come from?

From the expectations that he puts on himself . We’re always talking about the fans, the media etc. who put pressure on the player. I don’t believe that. Even better, I don’t care. Our only objective is the performance. In elite sport, the only real danger is to put pressure on yourself.

~

Translation by Suze (@halyggaly)

Gilles Simon, post-loss to Berdych in Rotterdam

Interviews by Franck Ramella from the 15 February 2015 print edition of  l’Équipe.

“Tomas served hard, he hit bullets.  I just couldn’t do anything against him.  He was flawless in all areas, and his returns really impressed me.  He even hit shots he doesn’t know how to hit, especially cross-court chips.  Sometimes it felt like I was playing four people… When it’s going badly against that kind of player it can go quickly—something like against Roger.  I can bother him, but I also remember getting taken 1 and 2.

“I’d say I’m playing well right now.  Everything’s fine physically.  But I’d put Montpellier and Rotterdam on the same level.  There and here, I lost the two big matches against Janowicz and Berdych.  I didn’t manage to raise my level.  I was missing something when the other guy gave me something tough. And I’m normally pretty good at that.”

Jan de Witt’s perspective: “A very disappointing match.  A very bad quality of play against a very good Berdych.  The worst thing was the high number of unforced errors before Gilles sort of started panicking a bit.  But against Murray, he played well tactically.  He played quicker without missing very much.  Andy could even change his game plan three times during the match and Gilles found a solution each time.  That was good, and it will still be a good week.”

~

Translated by Mark.  Feedback and criticism are welcome; please let us know what you think in the comments.

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