France’s Julien Benneteau is wrapping up a long career.
And so, the 36-year-old veteran is well past holding back. And on a French radio show last weekend, he let loose during a startlingly open discussion about conflicts of interest in tennis – notably the ones revolving around Roger Federer.
Former French player Sarah Pitkowski is one of the hosts.
These are issues that don’t go unnoticed by anyone. But the players rarely are this open about them. No one wants to get on Federer’s bad side.
As Benneteau points out, Federer is a legend of the game, an icon. As he put it, he’s the only one who could attract 15,000 people to Bercy (where the Paris Masters was played last week) at 10 a.m., if they scheduled him that early.
“If he makes all that money off the court, it’s because outside the court he does an incredible job. In Basel, he spends an hour an a half on the court for his match. But after that, he spends 2-3 hours with the partners, with other people,” Benneteau added. “In tennis, The Samprases and Agassis didn’t do all that.”
Laver Cup conflicts
Benneteau said that in the wake of Federer, his management company, and agent Tony Godsick creating the Laver Cup, the conflicts of interests were numerous.
“He has every right to organize an event. But in the middle of the season, it could hasten the demise of some ATP tournaments,” Salliot said, referring to the events in Metz, France and St. Petersburg, Russia that compete directly with the exhibition event.
“And no one said anything. One doesn’t say anything to Roger Federer,” he added.
More notably, when the Davis Cup changes were voted in, Benneteau said Federer didn’t say boo about the late November date that was an issue for so many.
But when the players objected and the organizers realized that they wouldn’t get the players with those dates, and then decided they wanted to move it to September after the US Open, then Federer spoke up.
“That’s where I find the international tennis bodies incredibly weak. With all that Federer is, okay. But it’s an exhibition, his thing. The Laver Cup has no sporting legitimacy. There are no sporting criteria with the selections. There are no ATP points. It’s just financial, Benneteau said. “Because he gives Nick Kyrgios $750,000 to come and play matches that don’t count, the guys say, ‘Okay, those are the rates for the Laver Cup.’ “
Scheduling in the heat
Benneteau also pointed out the conflict of interest in having Tennis Australia chief Craig Tiley involved in the management of the Laver Cup.
“He’s the Australian Open tournament director. And on some level, the man is paid by Roger Federer’s agent for the Laver Cup. Over the last two Australian Opens, (Federer) played 14 matches, because he was champion and finalist. And he played 12 or 13 of his 14 matches in the night session,” Benneteau said.
(Benneteau was accurate; Federer played 6-of-7 matches during the night session both in 2017 and 2018. And he played all of his matches on Rod Laver. In 2017, Djokovic and Rafael Nadal playing on the same day, while Federer (seeded No. 17) and No. 1 seed Andy Murray battled it out for the best slots. I
n 2018, returning as defending champion, Federer and Djokovic – who would soon have elbow surgery and whose ranking was down to No. 14, but who was the six-time champion – had to duke it out. Djokovic played two of his four matches on Margaret Court Arena).
“On the same day, Federer played Jan-Lennard Struff – I have nothing against Struff, great guy – Novak Djokovic played Gaël Monfils. We’re agreed that on paper, any tournament director would put Djokovic-Monfils on night session at 7:30 p.m., right?” Benneteau added. “But no. They played at 2:30 p.m., in 104 degrees. And Federer-Struff played at night.”
At Wimbledon this year, the weather also played a major role. And again, as Salliot writes, eight-time champion Federer was prioritized over Djokovic.
On July 9, Djokovic defeated Karen Khachanov on No. 1 Court almost in the dark. It was a match that likely would have been postponed, had the previous match between Monfils and Kevin Anderson gone to the fifth set.
“There’s one player who has issues with Federer getting preferential treatment. And that’s Djokovic,” Salliot said on the radio show.
“At Wimbledon, Djokovic was fed up with systematically being scheduled on Court 1. After his fourth round, in the press conference, he rocked the boat. For the quarterfinals, the organizers moved Federer to Court 1, because they felt almost obligated. What happened? (Federer) lost.”
The Swiss was beaten, 13-11 in the fifth set by Anderson, after having had match point.
No Armstrong for Federer
While Federer downplayed the Wimbledon court assignment in press after his loss to Anderson, Benneteau is convinced that he was not happy.
And he told this story to back up that conviction.
With the US Open inaugurating the new Louis Armstrong Stadium this year – a huge court, Benneteau added – he heard that Godsick went to the referee’s office before the tournament, basically to tell him that if he was thinking about scheduling Federer on that court, he had another think coming.
In the end, Federer played all his matches on Arthur Ashe Stadium. The extreme humidity in there the night he played Aussie John Millman in the fourth round did him in.
“It’s normal that he gets preferential treatment, with everything he’s done,” Benneteau said. “But in some tournaments, there are big differences in the conditions (from court to court). He has no idea what that’s like.”
Federer set against on-court coaching
Pitkowski, a former top-30 French player who is married to French coach Olivier Malcor (Benneteau, Michael Llodra, Nicolas Mahut and Paul-Henri Mathieu, among others), spoke about she considers the undue Federer has on the direction of the game.
“On-court coaching is something that was also considered on the ATP side. But apparently one player banged his fist on the table and said, ‘As long as I’m playing, that’s not going to happen.’ And that’s Federer,” Pitskowski said. “But it goes further. There are things that are not even tried, because Federer is still on the circuit. And that’s troublesome for the development of the game.
“I find it upsetting that he’d have that much of an influence on the development of his sport,” Pitkowski added.
Appearance fees off the charts
Salliot spoke about how the Federer “product”, so to speak, is getting more scarce and more in demand as he gets older. “Every tournament director tries to get Federer in their tournament,” he said.
Salliot also alluded to the recent comments by former Paris Masters director Jean-François Caujolle.
(Caujolle, in an interview with L’Équipe, admitted he was a diehard Federer fan. And, as he tried to cajole (see what we did there?) the Swiss star to come back to Bercy and possibly win it, he spoke to him and his camp about what it would take. They suggested the court was too slow, and to look into the court surface in Vienna as an example of what would be ideal. Caujolle had the court installed, and Federer came back the next year – although he didn’t win).
“He’s very demanding financially”, Salliot said.
The journalist told the story of the ATP Tour 500 event in Rotterdam early this year, when Federer had an opportunity to get back the No. 1 ranking.
Federer hadn’t entered. So Godsick called up tournament director Richard Krajicek and asked for a wild card. Except, Godsick told Krajicek, the price had gone up. As Salliot tells it, Krajicek told Godsick, “Let me call my bank (which also happened to be the tournament sponsor).
It was handled. Federer won the tournament, and took back the top spot.
Prior to that, Salliot said a similar conversation had taken place with the tournament organizers in Dubai, where it happens Federer is a part-time resident.
In asking for the wild card for the same reasons (Dubai takes place two weeks after Rotterdam), Godsick told them that the price for Federer’s participation was no longer $1 million. It was $2 million.
And Dubai took a pass.
“I heard it was more than that,” Benneteau said.