Thursday, November 21, 2013

Time for a Change or More of the Same

Yes, it has been a while since there has been an article. Had some other pressing issues and my own laziness get the better of me.

First of all congratulations to the Czech Republic for defending their Davis Cup title, naturally the focus was on Tomáš Berdych and Radek Štěpánek, especially since Štěpánek was outstanding during the tie. Too bad the captain Jaroslav Navrátil wasn’t there to experience the victory, hope he has a full recovery from the pulmonary embolism which kept him at home. Interim captain Vladimir Safarik did an excellent job and dedicated the victory to Navratil.

2013 Davis Cup Champions

Sexy Štěpánek

Sure the Czechs had a bit of luck, with Tipsarevic and Troicki being unavailable, but that is needed to win a Davis Cup. Lukáš Rosol and Jan Hájek are forgotten members of the team, though without them they wouldn’t have made the final. Rosol with Berdych winning a 7 hour & 2 minutes doubles match against the Swiss in the 1st round. Rosol with Hájek played the quarter finals against Kazakhstan, that helped get them to the title. It’s clear the Czechs are a united group, it wasn’t long ago they were struggling to make World Group, now they’re rolling in the success.

We Have a New ATP President

In ATP news, the top brass have finally named a replacement for Brad Drewett as ATP chairman. The late Drewett was well regarded and the ATP were progressing under his leadership, he brought a different dynamic as a former player and excellent communicator.

Chris Kermode has been given job of sorting out the malaise of vested interests involved in the ATP, so it can achieve its full potential as an organising body and not little fiefdoms undermining the game. He was a former player mostly on the Futures tour, but made the switch to the other side as a successful tournament director of the Queens grasscourt event and the end of season World Championships.

Chris Kermode new ATP President

Federer and Andy Murray are delighted with the appointment. The question is whether this down to his previous work or that he is more likely to cater to the needs of the top players. There weren’t many quality candidates, but it’s good that they have elected a former player to the role.

It’s important for the future of the sport that the balance between the tournament directors (TD) and player representatives is readdressed to something resembling functionality. One can hope with Kermode’s background that he takes steps to fix this relationship, though with ATP this would require some long term planning which is something they don’t have the aptitude for. Their form is continual short term focus and only promoting the top four players, not realising there are interesting characters throughout the ranks.

On March 10, 1999 former world No. 1 Thomas Muster told the German newspaper Die Welt: “I look at the ATP not so much as a representative of players but as a firm that in marketing even works against the players. I don’t like the way tennis is dominated by Americans. The problem is that tennis is governed by the Americans and financed by the Europeans. Changes must come quickly, and the future of our sport is at stake”. Muster highlighted the problems of the ATP as it stood then and little has changed. The Americans and Europeans part of the Muster quote has changed, but the meat of the Muster quote is still true.

Steep Decline of the Challengers

To the readers of this infrequently updated blog know that I have strong views on the management or mismanagement of the Challenger Tour. It’s an important finishing school for players who don’t have the backing of large agencies or federations where they can get numerous wildcards. Federer, Nadal, del Potro, Ferrer played Challengers before making the leap to the main tour.

With little fanfare the ATP have increased the prizemoney of the lowest level Challengers from $35K+H (hospitality) to $40K+H. It’s good they have done this, but at best it’s tokenism. When over time the prizemoney on the Challenger tour has decreased significantly while expenses and costs have risen.

Below is a table comparing the differences between the Challenger & ATP Tour in 1995 and 2013. It was done by year, total number of events and combined prizemoney of the events. As the euro wasn’t functioning in 1995, the events in euro were converted to USD for the sake of consistency.

Challenger & ATP Tour Comparison

What the figures show, the reality of life on the Challenger tour. While there are more events in 2013 than in 95, the total money has decreased by 30.27% over the years, which is a total failure by the ATP to look after most of its members. It’s a case of “all animals are equal some are just more equal than others”.

For those who want to know these results were obtained To work it out inflate the 1995 $s to 2013 & divide by 85. Divide the 2013 $s by 147. find the difference between the two & and calculate the decrease %. So, 4.75mil of 1995 is $7,297,951.12 inflation adjusted according to…

Now with this out of way, it shows while there are less tournaments on the main ATP Tour, there has been an increase of 21.44% in prizemoney which clearly highlights who the ATP believe in prioritising. Yes, it’s a winners’ tour which is what most players and fans expect, but there needs to be an improved distribution of prizemoney at Challenger level.

With surface homogenisation changing the dynamics of tennis to a more physical, speed endurance based game, this means the vast majority of players are having their breakthroughs at latter ages. This is natural as it takes more time to build speed endurance so the younger players are spending more time playing Challenger level.

Jiri Vesely, Dominic Thiem & Pablo Carreno-Busta were the youngsters who had big seasons in 2013 in the Challengers. The big challenge for them in 2014 after playing so many matches this season are they have to back up physically and mentally it’s even a bigger challenge as they will have to raise their level when they play more ATP events. Chronicles of life on the Challenger tour are explained here in greater detail Challenger Tour Struggles

Luxury on the Challenger Tour

While the ATP are the focus of this particular blog entry, the ITF have been recalcitrant with Futures prizemoney which needs to be increased as well. Playing the Futures and Challengers provide a tough and an important part of the tennis education for the vast majority of players.

This is the next difficult challenge for the Player reps to improve the prizemoney for the lower ranked players. As a group they have done well this year negotiating prizemoney increases at the Grand Slams with the greater proportional increases for the early rounds. It's natural that the prizemoney at the top of the tree has increased, though these players have a greater capacity to earn more money through sponsorship and endorsements.

It's well deserved since they're the pinnacle of the sport, but not the point where the 100th ranked player is struggling financially, even if they win matches let alone players who are embarking on their professional career. No, this doesn't mean players ranked 300 down to 1000 should be driving around in yellow Lamborghinis or flying private jets to tournaments.

It just needs a better redistribution of financial resources to stop talented players leaving the game, because they can't financially survive and a 30% decline in Challenger prizemoney. While the Tennis Integrity Unit has reduced the amount of match fixing in tennis, with the lack of money at the lower level there are greater temptations to fix matches since the payments exceed the amount of prizemoney earned. It stands to reason raise the income at the lower level then the temptation is reduced.

It'll be interesting to see whether Kermode makes an effort to improve the situation or continues the status quo. Ideally it would be former, on past evidence of the ATP as an organisation it will be the latter.


rob said...

Excellent article, Nils. What are the effects of the neglect of the challengers on the quality and the composition of tennis players?

Marc said...

Quality article about a pressing issue which impacts on the fabric of the tour.

Challenger circuit is known as the jungle and it's etting thicker over time.