Umpiring: Aurélie Tourte, a woman in the chair

Translation of this online article

Aurélie Tourte
Aurélie Tourte,  standing on the left, the most highly ranked French umpire when she got her Silver Badge in 2014, travels around the world at the beck and call of tournaments.

It wasn’t love at first sight between umpiring and Aurélie Tourte.

“Me, I liked playing tournaments or team matches for my club in Plaisir (the Yvelines),” she explains. “I discovered umpiring via the ITF Futures organised by TC Plaisir and during team matches. Without being completely seduced.”

Around 20 at the time, Aurélie was taken in hand by two umpires who give her the chance of umpiring in Deauville during the ATP Rennes Challenger. It was the turning point.

“I was able to see professional umpires at work, and it started to interest me. Gradually, encouraged by Maryvonne Ayale, President of the CRA (Regional Umpiring Commission) and the Yvelines League, I got taken with it and started passing my certificates.”

In 2014, Aurélie umpired for 26 weeks (Roland Garros, US Open, Monte Carlo,  ATP 250s, the WTA tour, ATP Challengers), which led to her being granted the Silver Badge in December of last year.

“I was proud about getting it, but it wasn’t necessarily a surprise, as I’d umpired quite a few matches and got good evaluations.”

In 2015, her programme up to June was just as busy: Feucherolles, a Fed Cup in Sweden,  then Marseille, Acapulco, Monterrey, a break in March, the Saint Breuc Challenger, Monte Carlo, Marrakech, Aix-en-Provence, Strasbourg (WTA) then Roland-Garros. The objective was straightforward: getting to know the Top Ten players of the WTA and ATP. “I don’t know them, and they don’t know me. So I need to learn to talk to them, to get ‘run in’.”

Temping as a nurse

Despite careful planning, expenses (travel, hotels, food sometimes covered) paid, Aurélie still hasn’t made the choice between professions. A nurse by training, she takes advantage of the shortages in French hospitals to work as a temp when umpiring gives her the time. Of course, in daily life, the travel isn’t easy to manage.

“Sure, my apartment is more of a furniture warehouse,” smiles the 31-year-old woman who still lives in Plaisir. “And as a woman it’s difficult fitting it into family life.  But now that I’m the highest ranked French woman, I’d like to see where it leads, as there have been only two French Gold Badge umpires in history (Anne Lasserre and Sandra de Jenken).”

Among the necessary qualities required she cites, randomly,  excellent sight, good communication with the players and the public, but also being able to make quick decisions. And especially a strong character. What’s not obvious: “Promoting women’s umpiring is complicate in France as it is elsewhere. You need to find your place in a man’s world. But you learn about yourself, you discover countries, people, ways of life. If you have a passion for it, you must grab on to it.”

This passion has allowed Aurélie to experience some big moments such as the 2012 Olympics, where she was a line umpire for the five finals, and being in the chair for the mixed doubles final at Roland Garros in in 2013.

 

Translated by Mark Nixon

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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

“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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by MAN

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

 

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

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

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

Do you need 30,000 crowns?

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

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

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

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

8098238-saxo-photo
Benjamin Hannested accepted the friend request and gave his details.

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

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

8098237-saxo-photo
Benjamin would get €2,000 before the match and another €2,000 “after the job is done”. A contact person in Copenhagen would give him the money.

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

Large sums tempt

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by @markalannixon

17-year-old Emilie Francati is Denmark’s biggest young tennis talent

Article in the Danish BT by Jeppe Melchior Mikkelsen and Esben Drachmann Rasmussen

Emilie Francati. Remember the name. Because she just might be the girl Danes look to in the future on the women’s tennis tour. At the moment she’s in a good position at 79 in the ITF junior rankings to get direct entry into the main draw at the four Junior Grand Slams.

She’s already played the first a month ago one when she played “Down Under” at the Australian Open. Unfortunately, she went out in the first round of the singles competition when she lost in a third set tie breaker. She had to focus instead on the doubles, and she and her British partner Emily Arbuthnott reached the semi-finals. That made her hungry for more.

“It was fantastic! It was huge fun to experience the atmosphere when you reach the semi-final and final days. The crowd isn’t spread out among twenty courts. They’re all gathered around your court, so you need to get used to that, of course. And there are all sorts of emotions and nerves involved which you’ve never had to deal with before. Unfortunately I didn’t handle them well for myself on the day, but I hope I’ll do better next time,” says Emilie Francati.

Busy day

Emilie Francati, who has Italian roots, comes from a family of tennis players, and her father runs the Gentofte Tennis Club, where she trains for four hours every day, and that’s besides the strength training she also does.

The many training hours also mean that there isn’t time for a normal education. So while other young people go to upper secondary school or business college, Emily studies individual subjects over the internet. She also makes compromises about her social life when she spends most of the time travelling around the world playing tennis.

“It was hard at the start. Travelling around the world like that is very lonely. Luckily there are other Danes along some of the time, but it’s lonely sitting alone in a hotel room day in and day out. But of course you get to know others from other countries, so there’s some socialising, but obviously I don’t have a class here at home with 28 upper secondary school classmates.”

Even if Emelie’s live is different from other 17-year-olds who use the weekends to party and get drunk, it’s a price she’s more than willing to pay.

“I’m not a big party animal,” says Emilie with a smile. She explains further: “Not because I don’t want to, but it’s difficult to find time for it. It’s not like I can’t have a fun evening when I’m here at home, but when you’re travelling it’s not like you run around and find the nearest bar. It’s not as if I feel I’m missing anything. Sometimes you get a bit annoyed at saying no to various birthdays and parties, but I’d rather have what I have,” she says firmly.

With her 183 centimetres Emilie is well above average in height, and it’s tempting to compare her to the Russian Maria Sharapova. But while Sharapova won her first senior Grand Slam at 17, Emilie is still on the junior tour. It was a conscious choice on her part to wait before moving up to the seniors. as she wants to wait until she has a backpack filled with memories and experiences before trying new challenges.

“I’d like to experience playing the four Grand Slam tournaments, and it would be a bit precocious to say I only want to do that as a senior. And I’m really happy I made that choice. I’ve had some unforgettable experiences. Being in Australia and walking around with people like Federer and Nadal whom you’ve only seen on TV and looked up to a large part of your life gives me a lot of motivation.”

But Emilie wants to get even closer to the big stars. She wants to play against them – that’s her ambition for the future.

“My goal is to turn professional and continue playing full time and travel around. I hope I can get good enough to play senior Grand Slams and be up there among the really good. There’s a way to go yet, but I’m definitely giving it a shot.”

As the country’s biggest upcoming talent, it’s impossible to avoid the label of “The New Wozniacki”. But the young tennis talent takes it quite calmly.

“I have nothing against it because I have great respect for everything Caroline’s doing and has done in her career. And yes, it would be cool to be the new Wozniacki, but I’d rather be a Francati!”

Up next for Emilie Francati are two clay tournaments in Brazil at the beginning of March. Even though her favourite surface is hard court, it’s time to get used to clay so she can check off the French Open in May – the only junior Grand Slam she has yet to play.

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Translated by Mark Nixon

Susanne Celik on her disqualification in Surprise

Celik on her punishment in Surprise: “I’m very sad.”
From an interview by Johanna Jonsson on Swedish site Tennis.se.
No, it wasn’t an outburst of rage.  A disappointed Susanne Celik tells us what happened when she was disqualified—after a framed shot. “They said that the ball hit a line judge on the next court,” says the 20 year old.

Susanne Celik’s match against Cici Bellis at the ITF tournament in Surprise, Arizona ended bizarrely.

A few games into the third set, the Swedish #3 was disqualified because she hit a ball that hit a line judge.

This is how Celik explains the event: “I just wanted to hit the balls over to her after the 2-1 game and I framed one of the balls at the same time as I turned around to pick up my towel.  I had no idea what was going on.  Then they said the ball hit a line judge on the next court where they were playing doubles.”

“It was pure bad luck—everyone who knows me knows it.”

On social media, there were rumours that Celik had hit the ball at a line judge out of sheer frustration.

“Even if I tried, I wouldn’t be able to hit a line judge on the other court just like that.  It was a mishap and those who know me know it.  I would never take out my anger at a line judge.  Good God.”

“The ball bounced and then went up to him.  He didn’t even get hurt,” says Celik.

How are you doing?

“It’s not great—that’s what I can say.  An entirely wrong story has come out about me, that I hit a ball towards an umpire, which is just sick.  It’s just sad and I’m very sad about this, too, obviously.”

Her opponent, Cici Bellis, celebrated: “The most unsportsmanlike thing I’ve seen.”

The umpire called in the tournament referee who immediately disqualified the Swede.

“After the supervisor came in, he took about 20 seconds to decide, without listening to my side, and said ‘The match is over; I’m not going to discuss it.'”

Her opponent’s reaction shocked Celik.

“Bellis screamed in joy with both hands up to the sky—some of the most unsportsmanlike conduct I’ve seen in my entire life.”

“Bellis herself fired a ball without any bouncing that hit a line judge on our court just 5 games earlier, and she only got a warning.  It’s just incredibly unfair.  I don’t understand anything.”

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

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Note:  Another piece, this time by Stefan Holm, suggests that Celik sought a new meeting with the tournament supervisor to discuss the incident.  “I’ve spoken with the office in London and they say it’s odd that she (Bellis) wasn’t disqualified before I was punished.  It will be interesting to hear what she hast to say.”  Thanks to Christopher Levy for the alert.