Interview with Alessandro Motti

Original: http://tennisportalen.se/alessandro-motti-i-oppenhjartig-intervju-med-tennisportalen/

The Italian doubles specialist Alessandro Motti was at the centre of controversy yesterday (Wednesday) when he and partner Albert Ramos were robbed of victory against Lindstedt /Brunström .  Alex Theodoridis from the Swedish tennis site Tennisportalen.se chats with Motti a day after the game.

Alessandro Motti is a 36 year old doubles specialist who is a regular face of the Challenger Tour, but who had sufficient ranking to get into the week’s doubles tournament in Båstad. Motti lined up with Spaniard Albert Ramos and the couple went out after a very questionable verdict in the final supertiebreak, where Motti afterwards could not understand how a judge could make such mistakes at the ATP level. We sat down in nearby café in the harbour just steps away from the center court.  Despite the disappointing loss from yesterday the Italian was in a good mood.

How is it that you played with Albert Ramos during this week’s tournament?

– Me and Albert know each other, and since my ranking made it possible to compete this week we talked and decided to play.

How is the process when finding doubles partners on the tour?

– We use WhatsApp, emails and social media. I have after many years on the tour bumped in into a lot of people and since I play a lot of the tournaments in Italy, I already know most of the players.

Motti turned pro in 2003 and during his 12-year-long career, has made a little over two million Swedish crowns – a salary that works out below the average cut of what a Swede earns in a month, and, when adding all expenses over the years on trips and hotels, the amount isn’t something to show off with.  Motti quickly becomes depressed when he describes the low prizes at the Challenger Tour.

– I am pleased that we have so many Challenger tournaments in Italy because I then travel by car and stay with acquaintances and thus save money. I also play a lot of national tournaments in both singles and doubles and it provides an extra income. Something must be done about the low prizes!

How often do you practice as a doubles player compared to single player?

– Really, it’s almost the same but in recent years I have been focusing less on tennis in the pre-season and more on taking care of my body in the gym – because it becomes more important the older I get.

How often do you think fixed matches on the challenger tour occur?

  • Sure there are, absolutely. It is a big problem on the Challenger circuit because of the low amounts of prize money and if they raise the amount in the future, we will find a solution to this problem. You have to understand why the problem occurs though, people do it to survive. It happens everywhere, look at football for example. Rich people do it to find new incomes.

A tennis player in Umag gets ten times more money if he loses in the first round compared to the Challenger tournament in Scheveningen this week, a frightful difference where the level of the players aren’t significantly different.

How is it that you mostly play doubles?

– I played a lot of singles earlier in the Futures tour and tried to regularly qualify in various Challengers but since my ranking rose fairly quickly in doubles and I started making money on it, I simply continued with it.

What can you tell us about Bolleli, Seppi and Fognini?

– Bolelli is more reserved and keeps mostly to himself. Seppi is a good friend of mine and we have known each other since we were young. A very nice and funny guy. Fognini is a bit younger and I do not know him so well but I know he’s a different person off the court.

Which players do you hang out with from the tour?

– Cipolla, Robert, Starace. I was very good friends with Di Mauro, Vagnozzi in the past but they are no longer competing at a professional level.

You met Enrico Becuzzi, a player that we have previously written about, in qualifying for the San Benedetto a few weeks ago. What was it like to play against him?

– (Laughs) Well, he’s wonderful. In training, he is good but the game unlocks it for him. He is not used to winning matches and does not know how he should act when things go bad. He is a very nice guy though, says Motti.

What do you think should be improved on the Challenger tour in the future?

– Hospitality for the players should be improved significantly – it has been improved in recent years but there is still opportunity for more.  Expenses need to be lessened for players to avoid such match-fixing, I mean, this is my job and I want to be able to have good conditions. I realize myself that Challenger players do not need to earn millions but still enough to be able to live a normal life. The pressure on the tour is very tough because you don’t want to lose in in the first round in a Challenger and thus not be making any money. I daily compete against players who are ranked within the top-150 in both single and doubles and the prize money in such a 250-tournament on the ATP level, where the level does not differ much from the Challenger, is striking. It’s not right. Something must be done.

Italy as a tennis nation has a bright future ahead with talented players like Matteo Donati (172), Gianluigi Quinzi (398), Stefano Napolitano (377) and Marco Cecchinato (99). Motti looks ahead at the bright future for the country in tennis.

– Donati is undoubtedly the one that has the most potential and he is also the one that is most consistent. Quinzi is very promising but he has had trouble finding the right coach and if he will only overcome the problem, it will end very well. Cecchinato is ranked within the top 100 today and is very talented.

Paolo Lorenzi is considered a living legend on the challenger tour, what have you to say about him?

(Laughs) – Paolo is a good friend of mine and he’s very professional with his tennis. He trains very hard every day and is a player who has improved a lot over the years. He is a smart player who constantly thinks out on the court. I like Paolo a lot.

“The umpire was afraid.”

The Italian was just a few measly points from the win with Albert Ramos against the all-Swedish couple Brunstrom / Lindstedt in the first round.  For a doubles specialist such as Motti, a win would mean a lot, not least financially when the prizes, as said, differ enormously on the ATP level as compared to the Challenger level where he is normally. Motti was mildly frustrated when he had the chance to describe yesterday’s situation.

– We have a ball as clear as day sitting on the line but the umpire chose to impose his call, despite all the players on the field agreeing that it is actually in. I didn’t know such mistakes occurred on the ATP tour. On the Futures and Challenger level, I can certainly understand it and some marks, regardless of level of umpires, can be very difficult to judge – but this was certainly not a mark in that category. The umpire was afraid during the match and felt the pressure. He was afraid to change the decision even though both Brunstrom and Lindstedt admitted afterwards that the mark was on the line. It should not be possible.

Motti traveled home to Italy a few hours after the interview was taking place for some well-needed rest and will compete at a challenger tournament in Biella next week. He lines up in the men’s doubles in Biella with Alessandro Giannessi.

Alessandro Motti suffered from food poisoning during the interview after he had eaten a pizza in the area the night before.  We are very thankful that he took the time to speak with us. A lovely man, Alessandro Motti.

~

Translation of his original interview by Alex Theodoridis from tennisportalen.se

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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

“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