Squads named for Davis Cup final

No, the season’s not over after this week’s ATP Tour Finals.

There’s one event left – the final Davis Cup final in which only two nations take part, and one has home-court advantage.

French captain Yannick Noah has named Lucas Pouille, Jérémy Chardy, doubles team Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut, and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

Richard Gasquet, the top-ranked French player under consideration, has withdrawn with an injury, reported as a groin issue by French media.

Croatia captain Zeljko Krajan counters with Marin Cilic, Borna Coric, Franko Skugor, ATP No. 1-ranked doubles player Mate Pavic and Ivan Dodig.

Diaz-Figueroa nailed for match fixing

Christopher Diaz-Figueroa isn’t a household name in tennis.

His career-high singles ranking of No. 326 came seven years ago.

But the 28-year-old is a fairly big deal at home in Guatemala, where he’s acknowledged as the best player the country has produced. He’s gone 41-21 in Davis Cup since his debut in 2009.

Currently ranked No. 293 in doubles, Diaz-Figueroa won three Futures events tis summer.

That’s over, for now. Diaz-Figueroa was pinched by the Tennis Integrity Unit for match-fixing. He got three years and a $5,000 fine.

The third year and the fine will be waived if no further breaches.

Two sponsors added at Fed Cup final

The ITF announced new two sponsors for last weekend’s Fed Cup final.

On the eve of the tie, it added KPMG, a consulting services provider in the Czech Republic.

“The company shares the ITF’s desire to create more opportunities for women to become leaders in sport, and we are delighted to partner with them this weekend,” ITF president David Haggerty said.

On Oct. 19, ITF announced a weekend partnership with Toray, the materials manufacturer that is the title sponsor of the Tokyo in September. 

It seemed a bit piecemeal, much like the Fed Cup itself these days.

Mononucleosis slows down Kozlov

Everything looked aces for 2014 Orange Bowl champion Stefan Kozlov as he headed to the top 100 in 2017. The 20-year-old was part of that American next wave with Frances Tiafoe, Taylor Fritz, Michael Mmoh, and Tommy Paul.

But while Tiafoe, Fritz and Stefanos Tsitipas (his victim in that Orange Bowl final) are in Milan this week, Kozlov is ranked … No. 414.

One explanation comes from father Andrey, who was competing at the ITF World Seniors Championships in Florida a few weeks ago.

Kozlov told the ITF website his son has battled mononucleosis for the past six months.  

Giudicelli taking ITF to the CAS

It all seemed so civilized at the time, the intention being to demonstrate unity in this turbulent moment in tennis history.

But French Federation president Bernard Giudicelli’s “unifying” resignation from his board and committee responsibilities with the International Tennis Federation Oct. 19 may have been just that – a front.

According to Le Monde, here’s what Giudicelli wrote in an email to ITF board members.

“In view of the major issues the International Federation is currently working on, crucial for its future, it is important to maintain a united front and avoid any controversy or disruption,” he wrote. “I now wish to devote myself exclusively to French tennis and its influence beyond the borders of France. “

But … not so fast.

In a press release on Saturday, The French Tennis Federation announced Giudicelli would take his case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, Switzerland.

The appeal will be filed as early as Monday, the FFT said.

The major issues the ITF is facing certainly haven’t been resolved. If anything, the future of the “new” Davis Cup is more up in the air than ever.

So you wonder why the litigious change of heart, the sudden lack of concern about putting on a “united front”.

Defaming = vacating

The backstory on this is that in Sept. 2017, Giudicelli was found guilty of defamation for statements made in an “electoral context”.

Basically, he withheld his endorsement of a candidate for the presidency of a French league as he basically accused the man, Gilles Moretton, of being complicit in a ticket-reselling team that rocked the French Federation a few years ago.

At that time, the ITF’s constitution [Article 21 (k) III]  stated that any member of its board of directors would be relieved of his duties unilaterally, without requiring a vote, if he violated any of the stipulations below. Giudicelli

But the ITF didn’t want to lose the influential Giudicelli from the ITF board of directors. His Grand Slam-nation quota of 12 “yes” votes for the Davis Cup changes, and his support as chairman of the Davis Cup committee, were crucial.

So all sorts of machinations ensued.

We wrote about it in detail a few weeks ago. Click below.

Giudicelli out of ITF board, Davis Cup committee

(Non) Crimes and Misdemeanors

In its press release, the French federation states that defamation is a misdemeanor in France, and not a felony. And that no “custodial sentence” was imposed. And for those reasons, Giudicelli’s defamation conviction in no way violated article III.

(A quick primer on French law below, which should not be interpreted as ANY sort of expertise nor a definitive legal explanation. We will note that the language isn’t “and” in terms of the crime and the sentencing, but “or”).

French criminal law has three categories, typically adjudicated in three different levels of court. Petty offenses carry fines of 3,000 Euros or less. Misdemeanors carry the potential of jail time, but no more than 10 years. Felonies carry more serious potential penalties. As an example, robbery would be a misdemeanor. Armed robbery would be a felony. But unlike the first category, misdemeanors are considered criminal offenses.

One of the perks of being FFT President is a sweet front-row seat at the big events. Giudicelli retains that post, even if he’s gone from the ITF Board of Directors and the Davis Cup Committee.

When the amendment was passed in August following the “yes” vote on Davis Cup, it stipulated that if a board member was convicted of an offense – but didn’t get any jail time – the member’s eligibility would be be “assessed by an independent expert.”

That was surely in response to a complaint from Tennis Europe, which lawyered up on this and wanted to know why, if the ITF was aware of Giudicelli’s integrity issues in April, it took no action until the late deal in July to keep Giudicelli on the board through the Davis Cup vote.

Fed Cup drama reveals French dysfunction (updated)

The “Giudicelli Clause”

“In Mr. Giudicelli’s case, the independent expert found him ineligible to return to the Board for a four-year period from the date of his conviction. As a result, he is not eligible to stand for Board election before 19 September 2021.”

The FFT claims that the retroactive application of an ad-hoc amendment was legally questionable. And that the assessment of the four-year period of ineligibility was beyond the scope of the “allegedly independent” expert’s mandate.

And so, it says, the two decisions must be litigated.

“Therefore, the FFT’s Executive Committee has asked its President, in consideration of the importance of the representation of its interest and of French tennis’s place in the international governance of our sport, to appeal the expert’s decision.”

Giudicelli touted as Haggerty successor

The internal drama here is that Haggerty’s term as ITF president expires with next year’s annual general meeting.

He can, by the constitution, be elected to serve two more four-year terms. But the American has virtually staked his future upon the successful overhaul of the Davis Cup. The courting of the Kosmos group was to bring significant potential financial resources into the federation’s coffers.

Everything is awesome, according to Giudicelli’s Twitter bio. Except you can’t Tweet at him any more.

At the moment, that deal is sprouting a few leaks. And it is getting a lot of pushback.

So the next election could be fascinating. 

Before all this, Giudicelli was considered a frontrunner to beat out Haggerty for the presidency. 

But the 60-year-old served his purpose and delivered the French vote for the Davis Cup changes. And now, barring a successful appeal, a significant threat to the presidency has been eliminated.

Giudicelli has not changed his Twitter bio to reflect his change in status. So perhaps he is being optimistic. However he has, in recent months, made it private.

So there’s a lot at stake – for the master politician and operator Giudicelli personally, and for France as an international tennis power. For the first time in memory, it doesn’t have a representative on the ITF’s board of directors.

With new Transition Tour, USTA revamps

The effects of the ITF’s new “Transition Tour” plan for 2019 are already being felt.

Thursday, Tennis.Life wrote about Tennis Canada canceling all of its men’s Futures events.

(Tennis.Life was also told by a reader in Israel that his country, which hosted 14 Futures events in 2018, also will cancel the entire slate in 2019. There’s a chance some could survive – financed by players’ parents. The national federation is planning a pair of Challengers instead, but that won’t come close to making up for it).

A plan to compensate for that, to give the country’s young players and aspiring pros the competitive experience they need, has been months in the making. But it still has not been announced.

On Friday, the USTA announced an “expanded system of allocating merit-based wild cards” for American juniors, collegians and young pros.

The USTA will allocate about 150 wild cards to Americans who produce results in selected tournaments. The goal is to maintain “an adequate volume of competitive opportunities for Americans in the new ITF World Tennis Tour structure,” according to a press release.

There were already wild-card rewards in place for some results, such as the under-18 champions and the NCAA championships.

But the USTA will now award wild cards to the year-end No. 1s in the boys’ and girls’ 18s. Wild cards will be available at the four USTA National Open championships.

And it also is adding four new “National Closed Championships”, which will come with more wild-card opportunities.

Beginning in 2019, $15,000 tournaments will no longer award any ATP Tour points, only “ITF Transition Tour” points.

But any American player who wins a $15,000 Futures event in the U.S. will automatically earn a wild card into a $25,000 event. Those events, at least for 2019, will offer a few precious points in the final stages.

Confused yet?

ALL Futures tournaments in Canada cancelled

Schedule adds and changes

Notable in the tentative 2019 USTA tournament schedule for the men is that the number of ITF Futures events at the $25,000 level remains the same, at 21. 

There were 14 $15,000 tournaments in 2018. The 2019 schedule lists three additional ones in 2019, for a total of 17. But there have been multiple changes of dates and locations.

For example, in 2018, there were $15,000 Futures events taking place during four consecutive weeks to start the season. All were in Florida. And three of them were within 90 minutes’ drive: Naples, Weston and Sunrise.

Those four have been reduced to one, in Naples, the week of Jan. 14.

Beyond that, there’s a far more significant change: a major reduction in playing opportunities.

It’s worth noting here that many, many of the players who compete in these events are NOT American. And so, they will be left to fend for themselves, with reduced opportunities.

The qualifying draws for many of these lower-level Futures events, especially in Florida, are huge. For those four tournaments this year, two had full 128-player draws. The other two had nearly-full draws, with a few first-round byes.

All that is gone now.

The $15,000 events will have 24-player qualifying draws. Which means that fully 100 players will no longer have a place to compete for weeks on end.

Even allowing for the fact that some of those 100 are not viable potential pros, it’s still a shocker. As well, it’s a move that makes Americans – regardles of professional potential – play less tennis. Which defeats the purpose of the USTA, which should be to get as many Americans playing tennis, as much and as often as possible.

Women’s Circuit changes

For the women, there generally are far fewer tournaments at the $15,000 level in North American.

In Canada in 2018, there was only one.

In the U.S. in 2018, there were just four.

In 2019, there will be 10 – some of which have locations will to be confirmed.

But again, a big change. Instead of 64-player draws, these $15,000 “Transition Tour” events will be reduced to … 24-player qualifying draws.

Meanwhile, at the $25,000 level, there originally were 20 women’s events (two were cancelled).

In 2019, there will be 17.

This year, there were 15 higher-level Women’s Pro Circuit tournaments in the U.S. Purses ranged from $60,000, to one $100,000 tournament in Midland, Michigan.

Next year, a $60,000 tournament will be added in Innisbrook, Fla. in April. As well, the prize money at the tournament in Charleston, S.C. will be raised from $80,000 to $100,000.

Another $100,000 tournament will be added in Bonita Bay, Fla. the week after Charleston.

Wild-card opportunities

The USTA divides its wild-card deserving players into four categories: “high-performance juniors”, “transition pros”, “collegiate players” and a final category whose name is sure to please those involved, “adult players (late maturers).

The focus on this appears to be transparency, as the USTA plans to make “post-tournament wild-card reports” available after every event.

The ITF’s new plan pays little attention to anything beyond the transition of its (ITF) juniors to play in the (ITF) tournaments. The USTA is attempting to fill in the gap to continue to make college tennis a viable path to the pros.

But … it’s complicated.

When a player earns a wild card on the basis of their results in an event, they have to email the USTA within two weeks. They must offer up three options where they want to use that wild card, and they must be within the next nine months. And then, they have to fill out an online form.

The USTA does not guarantee they’ll get any of their first three choices. In fact, they might have to go option No. 4 or No. 5. For players with school, or whose finances limit them to a certain area in terms of travel, that’s complicated.

It sounds pretty labor-intensive and fraught with drama, to be honest.

Wild cards for juniors, college players

The way the chart describes it, there will be more $15,000 tournaments on college campuses, and a national “top 500” list used as one criteria for acceptance into the $15,000 events. 

There is a long list of wild cards into $15,000 and $25,000 tournaments for various junior champions, finalists and third-place finishers.

As one example, the winners of the Easter Bowl boys’ singles will get a wild card into the junior US Open singles main draw, a wild card into the singles draw of an ATP 80 or 90 Challenger (this is a whole ‘nother reorganization system for 2019), and another wild card into the singles draw of a $25,000 event.

The men’s singles champion at the ITA National summer championships will receive a main draw wild card into one $25,000 tournament. The women’s singles champion will get a wild card into … a $15,000 tournament.

(Again, worth noting here that only American players are eligible for these).

It all sounds completely insane. And it’s equally problematic that an organization like the USTA has to expend the time, money and resources to completely revamp its entire competitive structure, because of changes decreed by the ITF.

Let’s remember that the basic philosophy behind this is to greatly reduce the number of players with a professional ranking. And thus, it greatly reduces the possibility that a longshot, or a late bloomer, can somehow still make it.

Notably, you wonder how national federations with far fewer resources than the USTA are going to manage this sea change for the prospects in their pipelines.

A mountain of paperwork

You hope the USTA has managed to create a bespoke database that can track all the tournament results, all the different wild-card opportunities, and all of the players’ requests, restrictions and priority lists.

transitionOtherwise, you get this visual of a bunch of USTA employees printing out wild-card email requests, and online forms, and matching them up. And then spreading out a big master schedule and trying to get the priorities correct to assign wild-card opportunities to players.

And you wonder what they’ll do if they can’t match those opportunities to players within their selections and the time limits. And you wonder what they’ll do if those players, for whatever reason, can’t end up playing their designated wild-card assignment.

In a word, it all sounds completely insane, and rife with possibility for error, duplication and missed requests. They’re also going to have to check every single request to ensure the player is American, has never considered playing for another country, has done everything they can to attempt to be eligible for international competitions. And on, and on.

Especially in the first year.

We’ll see how it all works out.

Retired Beck studying dentistry

If Germany’s Annika Beck plans to return to tennis, she’ll have to wait awhile.

Still just 24, the former No. 37 was added to the ITF’s “officially retired” list on Monday.

That means Beck no longer will have do the anti-doping protocol. But it also means that if she decides to return, she will have to apply for reinstatement and sit through a six-month waiting period.

After multiple  injuries, Beck’s last match came a year ago this week. When those points drop off, she won’t have a ranking (she’s at No. 903 now).

She’s reportedly studying dentistry.

Youth Olympics wrap up in Buenos Aires

Slovenia’s Kaja Juvan ruled at the 2018 Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires

The 17-year-old beat Clara Burel of France 7-5, 6-4 to win the girls’ singles and teamed up with Poland’s Iga Swiatek to win the doubles (Yes, players from different countries could team up).

France’s Hugo Gaston won the boys’ singles, 6-4, 7-5 over Argentine Facundo Diaz Acosta – before 5,000 fans.

Diaz Acosta and Sebastian Baez won the boys’ doubles. Yuki Naito and Naoki Tajima of Japan won the mixed.

Drew Baird and Alexa Noel led a U.S. team that won just one match, total.

No Canadians made the trip.

Last two standing warm each other up

As Rice University head men’s tennis coach Efe Ustundag pointed out on Twitter, the ITF circuit doesn’t come with entourages.

And so, as the last two players remaining in the $25,000 Tamale Cup, hosted at Rice, top seed Ronnie Schneider and No. 2 seed Jared Hiltzik warmed up … together.

Must have been a good warmup. Hiltzik outlasted Schneider 6-4, 6-7 (7) 7-5.

The two 24-year-olds both played college tennis – Hiltzik at Illinois and Schneider at North Carolina.

The win was worth $3,600 and, crucially, 27 ATP Tour ranking points.

It’s by far Hiltzik’s biggest one-week points haul.

From No. 465, he’ll move up about 80 spots.

On-court coaching at Olympic Youth Games

The Olympic Youth Games tennis tournament, which kicks off Sunday in Buenos Aires, will have on-court coaching for the first time at a junior event.

It’s a step up from the “coaching on the sidelines” thing, most recently at the US Open. Coaches can come on once per set, only on a change of ends or a set break (as they do on the WTA Tour).

The ITF notes coaches aren’t allowed to “bring on any food or drink”.

Argentine former players David Nalbandian and Gabriela Sabatini are “athlete role models” at the Games.