Geneva Laver Cup a sellout in two hours

If you weren’t quick on the keyboard at 10 a.m. Geneva time (4 a.m. EST) this morning, you’re out of luck for September’s Laver Cup.

Unless your level of disposable income is off the charts, of course.

All the tickets available for the upper and lower bowls for the three-day, five-session event at Geneva’s 17,000-seat Palexpo sold out in two hours this morning.

In the upper bowl, prices ranged from $250 to over $1,500 for the five sessions.

In the lower bowl, they ranged from $1180 to $2820 US.

Unless they held back some single-session tickets for sale closer to the event (doubtful, but you never know), you had to buy the entire five-session package or be left out.

Get out your wallets

The premium “Hospitality” ticket series are the only option remaining.

And even the cheapest of those are already gone – the three “lowest” levels in this category. Also gone are the “Legends Cup 2” tickets – which are front row along the east sideline and probably don’t even offer the best viewing.

But they’re front row.

The prices on the remaining tickets begin at $6,100 and go up to nearly $7,700 US. That average out to $1,220 – $1540 per session.

Federer and “Team Europe” captain Bjorn Borg were on hand in Geneva Friday as the tickets went on sale.

Geneva
(Pic: Laver Cup)

Third straight smashing success

This will be the third edition of the Laver Cup, which is an exhibition event. The first two, in Prague and Chicago, also were huge successes on the ticket-selling front.

The Laver Cup: overall, a great debut

And obviously, having this edition in Switzerland, with national hero Roger Federer still a top player, was a slam-dunk.

Still, you get the sense that they need to strike while the iron is hot. 

This edition has confirmed Federer and Rafael Nadal. But the event is more than nine months away. Recent history has not favoured Nadal, health wise, during the post-US Open part of the season.

Federer will be 38 by then. He seems in good form now. But at that age, there’s little certainty there even if he has proven remarkably resilient.

Post-Federer, a harder sell?

But what about “A.F” (after Federer)?

The territory is far less certain at that point, because there’s no doubt Federer’s presence and promotional capabilities drive this particular event. 

It will be fascinating to see how it will “survive” without him even if as an investor, he’ll likely still be fully engaged in promoting it. But when he’s no longer stepping on court, that’s a game-changer.

Laver Cup tix a pricey business

It’s a fantastic event – well-staged, top class. The players who have taken part seem to enjoy it for the most part (as well as the nice cheque they get for showing up).

As a television event, beyond the fact that the commentators and analysts are still trying a little too hard to “hype” it as a “real competitiion”, it’s topnotch. But television viewers don’t pay those premium prices for tickets.

After two years, we’re told, the event is still in the red because of the high startup costs. You’d have to think this third edition will put it in the black – to match the distinctive court.

 

A first meeting between Federer and Tsitsipas

MELBOURNE, Australia – Stefanos Tsitsipas has played Rafael Nadal – twice in 2018 – and lost to him twice.

He has played Novak Djokovic – once, at the Rogers Cup in Toronto – and defeated him.

But he had never faced Roger Federer, the player he most resembles stylistically. At least not officially, since the Hopman Cup is an exhibition event.

Until Sunday night at the Australian Open.

This will be the premiere for the 20-year-old rising Greek star, and the 37-year-old legend.

“I’m happy I played against him at the Hopman Cup. I think he played really well there. I actually did too. I thought it was really high quality tennis. This is obviously a different type of match, it being best of five, it being a fourth round of a slam, you know, where we know now how we feel on this court,” Federer said.

“I’m happy for him. He’s playing so well, and I’m looking forward to the matchup with him. I think it’s going to be a good one. I like how he mixes up his game and also comes to the net. So will I. I think we will see some athletic attacking tennis being played.”

Third straight top-10 win for Tsitsipas

Two tiebreaks in Perth

When the two met at the Hopman Cup in Perth a few weeks ago, Federer defeated Tsitsipas in two tiebreaks.

But this is a completely different deal. This will be only the second time Tsitsipas has played in the second week of a major. And it is only the second time he has passed the second round. As well, this is the first time Tsitsipas has even won a main-draw match in Australia.

“I learned a lot since my last match with him. I know the patterns that he’s using a bit better now. He’s serving really well, so I’m going to have to utilize his, and take advantage of my returns as much as possible. I’m pretty sure he’s going to be serving well, so, yeah, return games need to be aggressive and pressing a lot,” Tsisipas said.

“Yeah, he’s a legend of our sport. It will be a great day facing him in one of the best arenas, Rod Laver. I’m really excited for that match.”

Tsitsipas dropped a set in each of his first three matches, all against quality opponents: Matteo Berrettini, the veteran Viktor Trocki, and the high-regarded Georgian Nikoloz Basilashvili.

Here’s what he looked like on the practice court Saturday, one court over from where Federer arrived to hit – but before a far less reverent crowd.

For Federer, the crowd gathered well ahead of time just to get a glimpse of him walking to the court.

They were watching from up above, in the fan walkway – even from further away, outside Rod Laver Arena. They climbed trees. They stood on garbage cans.

It’s a familiar sight at tournaments.

Maybe someday, Tsitsipas will practice before those kinds of crowds. In Australia, he has gotten a taste of it, with the large and enthusiastic Greek contingent supporting both him and Maria Sakkari.

For now, he’s the aspirant to the throne.

ATP Player Council postpones decision on Kermode

MELBOURNE, Australia – The ATP Tour Player Council have voted on a majority against the continued leadership of tour CEO Chris Kermod, tennis.life has learned.

The vote took place as part of the annual players’ meeting held Saturday in Melbourne.

But we’re also told the 10-member council has put off making an official decision about its position.

Headed by president Novak Djokovic and vice-president Kevin Anderson, the council will postpone its definitive position until the Indian Wells tournament in March.

Kermode’s second term as head of the men’s tour ends at the conclusion of this season. He could be renewed for a third term by a vote of the ATP Tour board of directors.

The 54-year-old Brit was seen as a compromise candidate when he was appointed in Nov. 2013. The premature and tragic death of predecessor Brad Drewett the previous May led to the opportunity.

Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley was preferred by some. In recent years, he has expanded the reach of his country’s tennis influence well beyond the Grand Slam it hosts, 

Will board reps follow players’ lead?

According to the Telegraph, the ATP Tour board is to vote on this before the end of the month. The six-man board is composed of three members representing the tournaments’ interests, and three representing the players’ interests.

In theory, the three player reps would follow the lead of the Player Council’s position.

But that doesn’t always happen. Player rep Roger Rasheed voted to accept the offering of prize-money increases between 4-6 per cent for 2019, against the players’ wishes. He was ousted from the board shortly afterward.

Player rep Rasheed ousted from ATP Board

Rasheed was replaced – at least on interim, by former board rep David Egdes. Egdes is an executive with Tennis Channel. The other two player reps are Alex Inglot and Justin Gimelstob.

Gimelstob pleads “not guilty” in L.A. court

Gimelstob, who has pleaded “not guilty” to a charge of felony battery stemming from an incident on Halloween night, often has been at odds with Kermode. The two have markedly different philosophies, it seems.

The ATP Board voted last month not to remove Gimelstob from the board, in the wake of the charges. Neither Gimelstob nor Kermode cast a vote, per the New York Times.

Until this very serious business in his personal life, Gimelstob had been mentioned as an potential, eventual successor in the top job.

Early vote goes against Kermode

The Telegraph reported that Kermode needs (at least) two of the tournament reps and two of the player reps to vote in his favor, to renew his deal.

Kermode

Nine of the 10 players voted at the players meeting. And tennis.life has been told by a well-connected tennis source that five voted against Kermode. Four voted in his favor. The 10th vote is believed to also be a vote against him, although others maintain it was a pro-Kermode vote, which would knot the tabulation a 5-5. Let’s call that one “unclear”.

If “no” proves to be the final position, it will set off some interesting machinations inside the Tour.

Several players have publicly come out in support of Kermode this week.

Those include Stan Wawrinka, as quoted in the Telegraph story.

Aussie Nick Kyrgios, in his pre-tournament press conference, also came out in support.

“I personally like Chris. I think the changes that tennis is having with ATP Cup and stuff, I think it’s going in the right direction. He’s trying to do the right thing. I really like him, so… ” Kyrgios said.

Pospisil urges player involvement

Canadian Vasek Pospisil, newly elected to the board last year, sent out an email destined for the players ranked 51-100, the demographic he was elected to represent.

It was a strongly-worded, impassioned plea for the players to get more involved, unified and informed – to get motivated to have more of a say about their own future.

New Player Council member Pospisil wants to be a force for change

Pospisil is believed to be among those who voted against keeping Kermode in his job, along with president Djokovic.

A year ago, at the very same players meeting in Melbourne, Djokovic led the charge for the players to demand a bigger share of the tennis pie.

All of this comes at a fascinating, crucial time in the tour’s history. The new ATP Cup is set to kick off in 2020. And it will be country-versus-country event that comes up almost in direct competition with the revamped Davis Cup format.

The announcement of the imminent retirement of former No. 1 Andy Murray. at age 31. is a bit of a wakep call. It’s a preview of what inevitably occur in the next few years.

The so-called “Big 3” of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic (in order of age from eldest to youngest) will hang up their rackets.

Their successor at the top level of the game – at least in terms of being marquee attractions – have yet to be determined. And so, the tennis landscape could look quite different in a few years.

Most importantly: do those who don’t want Kermode to continue in the job have a viable, qualified, available candidate in mind who would tick as many boxes and better defend their interests?

That’s a question still to be answered.

Pro-Federer crowd boos as Zverev reaches London final

Until that moment – a key moment in the ATP Tour Finals semi between Roger Federer and Alexander Zverev – the decidedly pro-Federer crowd at the O2 had mostly behaved itself.

There were a few cheers here and there when Zverev missed a first serve on key points.

But it was ably kept under control by veteran chair umpire Carlos Bernardes, who has been around the “home-crowd” phenomenon block a time or 10.

But then, with the German serving at 3-4 in the second set tiebreak, and Federer taking control of the point, it got a little cruel.

And the result was a tough, tough moment for Zverev, whose diffidence and confidence often belie his tender years, but who at heart is just a kid still trying to navigate his way among the greats of the game.

Zverev
There was no mistaking the hindrance as the ballboy tried to collect an errant ball. Zverev saw it, while chair umpire Carlos Bernandes was following the flight of the ball.

A ballboy at the back of the court lost control of a ball during the point, and it rolled into the field of play. He probably should just have let it roll, until Bernardes – or even Federer himself – saw it and stopped the point. But he tried to sneak into the court, unobtrusively, to collect it.

Zverev saw him and immediately stopped play.

The boos rained down upon Zverev, who was well within his rights to stop the point. But he was taking a risk in doing so.

A few minutes later, after Zverev had sealed the win with a bravura performance against a fairly in-form Federer, he heard a few boos again.

It wasn’t a huge portion of the crowd. But it was evident, and loud enough.

The rest of the crowd – the more knowledgable tennis fans, who grasped the situation and didn’t let their emotions rule – quickly began to cheer to try to drown it out.

Zverev apologizes to crowd

Zverev
Zverev’s relief and excitement at beating his idol on such a big occasion was quickly replaced by confusion and emotion when the crowd booed him.

Emotional as he reached the biggest final of his young career, Zverev didn’t quite know what to make of it at first.

Then, he quickly realized why the fans were booing.

And he immediately addressed the crowd during his on-court interview with Annabel Croft.

“First I want to apologize for the situation in the tiebreak. The ballboy dropped the ball, so it’s in the rules that we have to replay the point,” said Zverev, who added that Federer accepted his apology at the net.

Croft then lectured the crowd. That, of course, is not in her job description – not that she was wrong.

“I’m not sure why you’e all booing, because he’s telling the truth. The ballboy did move across the court, and it disrupted play. And those are the rules,” she told them. “I think you have to be a little more respectful.”

Even the tournament director weighed in.

“Obviously a lot of Roger fans here”

Zverev
Zverev apologizes to Federer at the net after his win, something Federer said later was completely unnecessary.

Zverev was clearly upset. The look on his face – equal parts emotion, confusion, and hurt – wasn’t something we’ve seen from him. But there can’t be too many worse feelings  than being blamed by 15,000 fans for something that’s not your fault.

The crowd paid copious pounds for their seats. So if they’re thus inclined, they can cheer for one player and root against another. But when it happens, it still goes against that admittedly thinning veneer of sporting fan behaviour that still coats the game.

Zverev
The looks on the faces of Federer’s wife Mirka an mother Lynette pretty much summed up the state of affairs late in the match.

You know this wouldn’t have happened at the All-England Club, even with Federer playing.

But this is a different crowd – more of an event crowd, less awed by the surroundings and the tradition.

The German completely understood the situation he found himself.

More than a “true Brit”

In London, Federer is almost more than a true Brit. He’s like a “super Brit”. Many of the tennis fans in that city probably embrace him more than they do their own because of his reverence for – and success at – The Championships.

“I understand the frustration. It’s just unfortunate circumstances. These things happen. Booing, I never like it. We see it in other sports all the time, but in tennis it’s rare. So when it happens, it gets very personal and we take it very direct,” Federer said afterwards.

“Sascha doesn’t deserve it. He apologized to me at the net. I was like, ‘Buddy, shut up. You don’t need to apologize to me here. … So he shouldn’t be apologizing. He didn’t do anything about it. He just called it how it was, and he felt it affected play. There is a rule that if something like this happens, obviously you replay points.”

More apologies from Zverev

What a learning moment for the young star.

He had to process beating his friend, mentor and idol on such a big occasion. And then he had to deal with a wholly unexpected situation.

He did so with impressive maturity and not an insignificant amount of grace. In the end (and it doesn’t hurt that he won), he’ll be a better competitor for it.

“I want to apologize to the crowd, obviously there’s a lot of Roger fans here. As he deserves. From what he’s achieved and what kind of guy he is, he should have the most fans in the world. In London especially, how much history he has here,” Zverev said. “The crowd has been amazing. The crowd has been absolutely fair the whole match. Again, I’m very sorry that this happened. I didn’t mean to upset anybody.  That’s all I can say, Sorry.”

When he came into his post-match press conference, Zverev admitted that the situation shook him up a little.

“I was very emotional afterwards. The booing went into cheering kind of afterwards, which kind of helped me, as well. Obviously a lot of emotions going on through my head. I was really upset afterwards in the locker room, as well. I’m not going to lie. I had to take a few minutes for myself,” he said.

Risky move by Zverev

There was no major fault to Bernardes for not spotting the wandering ballboy. The chair umpire is following the ball in play, not the one in the ballboy’s hands. Often they see these things. But sometimes they don’t.

Zverev
Federer asked the ballboy if he had, indeed, caused a hindrance. Poor kid owned up to it.

As with anything else that happens on court, in a sport lacking the oversight of an extra official on the sidelines as a spotter for any unusual issues, if the umpire doesn’t see it, he might well not call it.

And if he doesn’t see it, he might not order up the point to be replayed.

Zverev would have had no recourse in that situation. In this case, having stopped play, he would have lost the point and been down a crucial mini-break, at 3-5 in that second-set tiebreak.

‘I’m not questioning Sascha’s sportsmanship in any way. Like I said before, it’s a bold move by Sascha to stop the rally because the umpire can just say, ‘Sorry, buddy, you’re in the rally. I don’t care. You lost the point. I didn’t see it’.

“It was just totally an umpire’s decision with the ball kid and the lines person, as well, just making sure they got the facts right” he added. “I don’t know what the rule says. I always thought it was an umpire’s decision, not a player’s decision. In practice we stop rallies all the time when balls come flying from the second court.”

Getting it right the priority

Bernardes did the right thing.

Given he didn’t see it, if we apply the protocol for an unofficiated match to this situation, either player can call a let and stop play when a ball rolls onto the court. 

ZVerevThe only case where you wouldn’t would be if the player waited too long to call it – i.e., waited until he or she was in a convincingly losing position, or even after they lost the point. Zverev called it immediately.

Bernardes’s priority was getting it right.

He asked the line umpire over in that corner to confirm what happened. And it was confirmed.

Federer, who by then had gone up to the chair to get an explanation, asked the ballboy (who was back to his position near the net) to confirm it. The kid nodded. And Federer accepted it.

And so the Swiss went back to receive serve again. He got a good first serve back (Zverev averaged 135 mph on his first serve Saturday). But that one was called a let.

On the third try, Zverev hit an unplayable ace out wide, clocked at 137 mph.

Three times unlucky for Federer

‘I mean, it’s a very difficult call. I didn’t see it. The umpire didn’t see it. But, you know, once the ball boy said that’s what happened, linesman confirmed, the umpire believes them, which is obviously true, what is there to be done? It’s normal to replay the point from that point on,” Federer said.

“It was obviously a big call. Instead of being in the rally in a decent position, you get aced, yes, it makes a difference. It could have made a difference. That’s all hypothetically speaking now, at this point.”

It was bad luck – three times – for Federer on a crucial point. But that’s the sport.

If it seems as though it always happens in crucial situations, that’s probably because when it happens at 1-1, 15-15 in the first set, we quickly forget.

In the end, Federer didn’t play badly, But Zverev played a virtuoso match. He went 9-for-10 at the net in the second set, and closed out the victory with a swinging backhand volley winner.

“I’m unbelievably proud. Me and my team have been working so hard for this,” Zverev said. “I’m a little upset now about the whole situation, how it all ended.  Because it’s not how I wanted it to end.”

He’ll play the winner of Saturday night’s semifinal between the unbeatable-looking Novak Djokovic and his opponent in the Wimbledon final earlier this year, Kevin Anderson.

“I played Novak a few days ago, and it didn’t go too well for me. I don’t hope he’ll lose, but a slight preference maybe in the opponents,” Zverev said. “But it’s the finals, so I’m just happy to be here.”

(All screenshots from TennisTV.com)

Mid-tournament, little Federer comment on Benneteau

Roger Federer will be fighting to make the weekend Thursday when he plays Kevin Anderson at the ATP Tour Finals.

So he had little reaction Tuesday night when asked, after an impressive victory over Dominic Thiem and a fair preamble, to comment on the radio show chat that had him as the central topic.

I know about the comments, yeah. But I don’t really feel in the mood during a World Tour Finals to discuss that topic, to be honest. In all fairness, I hope you understand why. Because this is a bit of a celebration for tennis. For me it’s the year-end finale. I love playing here,” Federer said after the 6-2, 6-3 victory over Thiem.

The quick win allayed speculation about Federer’s health and mindset, in the wake of the desultory defeat to Nishikori Sunday.

“The radio interview that happened over a week ago that surfaces now, in French, Julien – who is a nice guy, I know him since the junior times – I think all of this has been totally taken out of context,” he added. “I don’t feel like I need to comment on this. I’d rather put it to rest rather than adding to it so you guys get something to write about.”

French radio show lifts the veil on Federer

You ask, sometimes you don’t get

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Federer agent Tony Godsick, courtside for Federer’s match, has not had any comment so far on the comments of Federer contemporary Julien Benneteau (TennisTV)

Federer did point out that he, and agent Tony Godsick, often are asked about his scheduling preferences. And sometimes, he’s told that certain markets have asked him to play at certain times.

“I get asked, ‘Would you like to play Monday or Tuesday’ sometimes. Sometimes I get asked, ‘Do you want to play day, or night?’ Sometimes they go ask the agent. And sometimes they ask me, you know, ‘Asia wants you to play at night’. Yes, sometimes we have our say,” Federer said.

“But I asked to play Monday at the US Open. I played Tuesday night. It’s all good, you know. I’ve had that problem for 20 years in the good way. Sometimes I get help, sometimes I don’t.  Yeah, sometimes they come ask, sometimes they don’t,” he added. “But a lot of the facts are not right, just to be clear there, from what I heard.”

Thiem struggles with hard-court tactics

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Nishikori struggled against Federer before pulling it together. Against Kevin Anderson Tuesday, it took him a full hour before he even won a single game – thus staving off a double bagel. (TennisTV)

If Federer and Nishikori both played horribly in the first set of their round-robin opener, that match eventually got better.

On Tuesday, Thiem appeared unsure as to what strategy to use on the indoor hard court.

Nothing really worked. And one thing’s for sure, his efforts to move forward and take the net did not pay dividends.

That the loss to Federer ended on a makeable forehand volley that went impressively awry sort of summed up the Austrian’s evening.

Australian Open’s Tiley addresses Fed fallout

Thiem now is 0-2, with one more round-robin match against Kei Nishikori remaining.

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Federer reminded himself that he was lucky to be in London playing in November, and tied to turn his negative attitude around. (TennisTV)

“Feels good, I’m very happy that I showed a reaction after last match against Kei. No match is easy here, and maybe something I’m not that used to, to lose and come back and play again. But it was a good exercise, great challenge for me,” Federer said on court after his win.

“I’m happy with my attitude, and happy with how I played. And it was good fun playing against Dominic.”

Turning his frown upside down

Federer admitted he got very negative against Nishikori, mostly because of the quality of his play in the opening set.

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Federer was uber-grumpy during the Nishikori match. A code violation for firing a ball into the stands was, while not a weekly feature in 2018, hardly a rare occurrence. Notably, he changed his shorts on Tuesday. Perhaps it was that fashionable piping on the bottom. (TennisTV)

“Against Kei it was 4-4 the first set. And we were both playing very, very badly. We can’t play much worse than that. But instead of seeing it positive, I saw everything quite negative. Just, I guess, one of those days sometimes where you wake up, you feel good, but you can’t come out and produce what you’re maybe used to,” Federer said. “But it happens, and Kei actually played very well at the end, played a great breaker. As we both picked up our  games, he had a better attitude, and just played a little bit better.

“Today I was more positive, more happy on the court. I love playing here in London. I reminded myself of what a privilege it is playing in the O2, and I hope it showed a little bit,” he added.

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(Screenshots from TennisTV.com)

Australian Open’s Tiley addresses Fed fallout

As expected, the comments from retired French player Julien Benneteau on a radio talk show last week have elicited major reaction.

The main topic was the preferential treatment accorded to the game’s biggest star. And the reactions have predictably fallen along partisan lines.

What is this, American politics or something?

Benneteau, along with French journalist Eric Salliot and show host Sarah Pitkowski (a former player) made waves in offering their opinions about the Federer phenomenon.

They also went into the amount of money in appearance fees, and the inherent conflict of interest in an international Grand Slam federations also investing in the Federer/Team 8 exhibition Laver Cup.

(The group didn’t bring up that the USTA also has invested in the Laver Cup. But that’s also a fact).

French radio show lifts the veil on Federer

Federer was a no-show for his scheduled practice at the O2 Monday. And agent Tony Godsick has not responded to various requests for comment. It’s going to be a challenge for them to duck the issue, even if the off-season is nearly upon us.

But the man in the middle of all the talk, Tennis Australia CEO and Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley, issued a lengthy statement Tuesday.

Tiley: Player preferences, injury concerns

Bigger, better Australian Open kicks off

“When looking at a schedule in tennis, there are so many factors that demand any tournament director’s consideration. The players and fans are obviously at the forefront.

“But even within those groups there are many and varied requirements. These can range from player preferences, injury or general fitness concerns to general broadcast preferences or a major broadcaster’s own program needs for their particular market.

“On top of that there is another layer of considerations. That includes operational logistics requiring the scheduling team to have to make estimations on the likely length and outcome of matches (sometimes days in advance) to the everyday considerations of dealing with changing weather conditions.”

Tiley: “Australia’s favorite athlete”

“In terms of players and their appeal, it needs to be said that Roger Federer is a once-in-a-generation player widely regarded as one of the biggest ‘box office’ athletes in the world.

“He has been regularly voted Australia’s favourite athlete. The fans demand his appearance in the big stadiums and our broadcasters naturally want his matches to air in prime time. And I don’t think there’s a tournament director in the world who’s not going to take those factors into account when setting the schedule. This is the case with all the big names in tennis, and in sport in general.”

“Best experience for all the players”

“We also make no secret about working hard to provide the very best experience for all the players at the Australian Open. And we will continue to do this. Because we want players to love our sport, our event and get appropriately rewarded.

“We put significant resources into looking after all of them and making the Australian Open, and Melbourne, one of their very favourite places to be. We’ve prided ourselves on really listening to the players and taking into account their needs and priorities. Whether it’s the way we operate our transport system, the food we serve, the relaxation and training areas we provide and of course, scheduling matches.

“There’s no way we can please everyone all the time. And everyone knows we do everything we can.”

Tiley: “Proud of the Laver Cup”

“Tennis Australia is justly proud of the success of the Laver Cup, in which we certainly have a share, along with the USTA and other partners. It’s been one of the most successful new tennis events in recent times, showing the sport in a new light and attracting new fans.

“I’d say the success of the Laver Cup has been seen as somewhat a ‘disruptor’ to the men’s game. We run our events to the highest standards and reject as well as challenge any claims to the contrary.”

Tennis Australia is an investor in Laver Cup – not Tiley personally, but his employer. And that relates directly to the current power struggle between the ITF (which administers the Slams) and the ATP. The ATP’s smaller fall events are the ones most directly affected by the Laver Cup.

The reality, at least so far, is that while they have invested, they have not profited. We’re told that the first edition of the Laver Cup lost $9 million. This year’s second edition in Chicago reportedly lost $2 million. So beyond the perceived conflict of interest, they are also risking significant dollars.

Laver Cup a multi-pronged venture

For Team 8 to have attempted to create an event like this from scratch without the built-in expertise of Tennis Australia and the USTA, and their investment dollars, would have been prohibitive.

Should they be involved in both? Well, Tennis Australia is involved in the Hopman Cup. That’s an exhibition that competes directly with ATP and WTA Tour events for players during the early season. Management companies such as IMG own and operate several tournaments during the year.

The wild cards handed out at the IMG-owned Miami Open, for example, always have been heavily weighted towards IMG clients. If not current, then prospective IMG clients. IMG client Maria Sharapova generally will chose Shenzhen over the other WTA Tour events that week in January. Her agency owns that tournament.

Novak Djokovic and his family once owned an ATP Tour event in Serbia, and his uncle Goran was the tournament director. Djokovic won it twice.

Those are conflicts, too, like so many other conflicts in tennis. And that’s just a few examples. But Federer did not make the rules. He’s playing by the rules – such as they are.

The ATP’s “World Team Cup” is a go

Benneteau responds

Tiley

“Just to clarify matters, I’m just saying that we have to avoid conflicts of interest as much as we can, to preserve a certain sporting equity. It’s nothing personal against Roger Federer. Because I’m the first to say that he’s the greatest. And he has done, and continues to do an enormous amount for our sport.”

Benneteau said all that during the radio show as well. Of course, that didn’t get the same amount of play.

Tennis is a business

The whole tempest in a teapot has brought to the fore the unfortunate but true fact that tennis is first and foremost a business.

Champagne replaces chardonnay at Oz Open

The top players the fans support are mega-mega millionaires. They are corporations in their own right. Yet tennis fandom is emotional, not practical.  But the players are not playing solely for the love of the game. Nor are they playing for the sole purpose of entertaining you. It’s their livelihood. And it’s a small window of opportunity.

lists

Many of those dollars come from tournament prize money, which comes from television broadcast rights and high-priced ticket sales and corporate sponsorship.

And the player most coveted by all of those diverse sources of revenue is … Federer.

Pointing this out and not laying the blame on him for what the game has become is not being an apologist. It is stating reality.

If there were another player who brought in more revenue, was more popular and sold more tickets, Federer would be relegated to Court 2 in a heartbeat.

The 37-year-old from Switzeland didn’t ask for this. But he (and his agent) would be fools if they didn’t take advantage of every opportunity presented to them.

Well-established pecking order

The other top players do this as well. They just don’t have quite the same leverage. That’s not to say that Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic are not extremely popular. They are.

But Federer – despite being the downside of his illustrious career – takes up the majority of the oxygen in the game. Still now.

When he does jog off into the sunset, there might be more love and money available for the rest. Or maybe not.

Maybe there is a big share of that revenue that came in specifically because of him, and will leave with him. Maybe someone else will come along and capture the global imagination on the same level.

Only time will tell.

Tiley

A weather issue, not a favoritism issue

The big to-do last January with the heat and the scheduling is not a “we prefer Federer” issue, even if the fans and the TV networks do want him for the night session.

TileyIt’s a heat issue.

And it’s a “roof protocol” issue.

Other than these late-season indoor tournaments, tennis  is an outdoor sport.

Wimbledon also has stumbled in its decisions about using the very expensive roof it built over Centre Court. That’s because it considers the tournament an outdoor one. And as much as is practical, it will be played outdoors.

In Australia, there’s a similar mindset. There have been many times in recent years during which the weather conditions were decidedly temperate for mid-summer in Australia. During those years, it’s not been an issue.

This year, there were days in the second week  this wasn’t the case. The tournament stumbled for the Simona Halep – Caroline Wozniacki women’s singles final.  It righted itself for the Federer – Cilic match.

Still, the rules currently in place state that if the retractable roofs are closed because of excessive heat, all play on the outer courts must be stopped.  There are significant consequences to that. Not only does it fail to satisfy the demands of the ticket-buying public. It can affect the integrity and fairness of the tournament schedule as a entity.

We suspect that going forward, the Slams are all going to feel their way to a happy medium on the roof issue. But they well may stumble again before that happens.

Where to draw the line on “fair”

How fair is it for all the players not scheduled for the roofed show courts, if those more blessed can play on? They can then sit back with their match won, and watch as their next opponent is delayed – and perhaps robbed of significant amounts of rest before meeting them in the next round.

So in the end, the issue of “favoritism” is all about where you draw the line about who should be “favored”.

The big Three? The top 10? Seeded players?

Tiley

It’s not a dissimilar argument to being a player scheduled for a court that has the Hawkeye line-calling system, and one that doesn’t. That’s also not fair, even if that issue is less than it used to be.

Somehow, there has never been the same outrage about that.

Or about the fact that seeded players get significantly more advantageous practice-court privileges. They don’t have to share with three other players. They benefit from more quality practice time than the rest.

Where is the outrage about that? 

In the end, from the fan’s perspective, this is a Federer vs. Djokovic and Nadal issue.

(Yes, another one).

And the supporters on each side are going to stand firmly behind their favorites.

But all of this operates in a context within tennis that is rife with conflicts of interest both public and not. No one denies this, but it’s unlikely to change any time soon.

French radio show lifts the veil on Federer

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.

The story is on the RMC Sport website, written by journalist Eric Salliot off a very spirited debate he participated in on the radio network’s Grandes Gueules du Sport talk show last Sunday.

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.”

But …

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.

Benneteau

“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.

November Davis Cup, September Laver Cup – for good?

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.’ “

Federer
It was definitely worth Nick Kyrgios’s while to travel to Chicago for Laver Cup. Newly-retied player Julien Benneteau said the Aussie’s appearance fee was $750,000)

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

Federer
It was so hot on court when Djokovic and Monfils played their second-round match in Australia this year, Monfils had to put his shoes down on a towel so as not to burn his feet.

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.”

Federer
Djokovic said the conditions for his second-round match against Gaël Monfils in Australia this year were right on the limit. In contrast, Federer had much cooler conditions against Jan-Lennard Struff.

 Wimbledon favoritism

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. 

Men’s quarters spark court assignment debate

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.

First test for Louis Armstrong roof

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

Federer
Federer wanted to play Rotterdam this year to try to get back the No. 1 ranking. He did – but at a major price point, according to French journalist Eric Salliot.

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.

Nadal out of Paris, Djokovic back at No. 1

The order of play Wednesday in Paris looked pretty box-office.

Roger Federer was to wrap up the day session against Milos Raonic, with No. 1 seed Rafael Nadal opening the night session against countryman Fernando Verdasco.

In the end, fans didn’t get to see either one.

Federer received a walkover from Raonic, who cited a right elbow injury. The Canadian had survived a three-tiebreak victory over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the first ound Tuesday night.

As for Nadal, who hasn’t played since the US Open because of a recurrence of his patella tendonitis, his Paris Masters was over before it began.

The knee seems fine – better than he had anticipated.

But an abdominal injury has popped up in the last few days. And so, he pulled out, replaced by lucky loser Malek Jaziri.

Risk of a abdominal tear

Here’s what Nadal said during a press conference late Wednesday afternoon – the mere announcement of which presaged the worst.

“I arrived here a couple of days ago. As everybody knows, I have been out of competition since the US Open. I come back, and it was great to be here in Paris for a couple of days. And I enjoy it. I feel myself, in terms of tennis, better than what I really thought one week ago,” he said.

“But the last few days I started to feel a little bit the abdominal, especially when I was serving. I was checking with the doctor, and the doctor says it’s recommended to not play. Because if I continue, the abdominal maybe can break, and can be a major thing. And I really don’t want that. It has been a tough year until that moment, in terms of injuries. So I want to avoid drastic things.

“Maybe I can play today. But the doctor says if I want to play the tournament – if I want to try to win the tournament – the abdominal will break for sure. So it would be not fair, and not good for me – for nobody – to go inside the court knowing probably the full tournament will not be possible to play,” Nadal added. “Of course I am not happy, but of course I have to accept and stay positive.”

Djokovic returns to No. 1

With the withdrawal, Novak Djokovic will return to the No. 1 ranking next Monday.

That will be true, regardless of how far he goes into the Paris Masters draw.

He will be the first player to be ranked outside the top 20, and be No. 1 in the same season since Marat Safin in 2000. Safin was as lot as No. 38 that season, before going all the way to the top of the rankings.

Djokovic began the season ranked No. 14 and dropped as low as No. 22 before the French Open. At that point, he was 7,110 points behind Nadal in the standings.

Since then, he has returned to full form and has won Wimbledon, Cincinnati, the US Open and the Shanghai Masters. Since Djokovic didn’t play after Wimbledon a year ago because of the ongoing elbow injury for which he had surgery in February, he was able to make up a lot of ground.

Concurrently Nadal, struggling with his knee, dropped points he was defending as the US Open and Beijing champion in 2017.

paris

There may be an element of the precautionary with his, as the ATP Tour Finals begin in less than two weeks. As well, Djokovic is in full form despite seeming a bit under the weather in his second-round win over Joao Sousa in Monday. He had a day off Wednesday to help him recover.

So Nadal was faced with the likelihood that if he wanted to retain the No. 1 ranking for at least one more week – assuming this was a factor at all – he might well have to win the tournament despite Djokovic having the tougher road in the bottom half.

Knowing he wasn’t in a great position to do that and risking tearing the abdominal in the process, Nadal wisely erred on the side of caution.

In addition to Raonic and Nadal, Hungary’s Marton Fucsovics also withdrew from the tournament Wednesday. That gave No. 13 seed Fabio Fognini of Italy a walkover.

So Federer and Fognini will be on even terms when they meet in the third round.

(Screenshots of Nadal from TennisTV)

Federer discloses summer hand injury

As Roger Federer returns to action at his home-town tournament in Basel, longtime Swiss tennis journalist Rene Stauffer of Tages Anzeiger got a (rare) extensive one-on-one interview with the Swiss star.

The occasion was the 20th anniversary of a 17-year-old Federer making his Basel (and ATP Tour) main draw debut.

It’s the 18th actual tournament appearance, as he missed it in 2004, 2005 and 2016.

Federer did point out to Stauffer that it’s actually the 21-year anniversary.

In 1997, he lost in the second round of singles qualifying to Frank Moser of Germany, and in the doubles qualifying (with pal Yves Allegro) to Wayne Arthurs and Sander Groen.

He managed to squeeze that in between Swiss Masters Satellite Tour No. 1, and Swiss Satellite Masters Tour No. 2. (You have to be a longtime tennis fan, or a player getting up there in years, to even remember the “satellite tour” concept).

Hand injury affects summer

There’s plenty of interesting material in the interview (it’s behind a paywall, but completely worth the $2 it costs to surf the site for 24 hours as Stauffer is probably Federer’s most comprehensive career chronicler).

But the notable bit that has been out there already is that Federer reveals he suffered a hand injury at the beginning of he grass-court season.

“I feel that influenced me more than I thought. It went on for about three months. That shouldn’t be an excuse; I don’t want to shout it from the rooftops. But it affected my forehand. I just could not hit it properly, especially in the Halle final and later also at Wimbledon,” he told Stauffer.

Federer said the hand has felt much better since Laver Cup, adding that every time he played, the first 10 minutes were painful.

The mono mystery of 2008

It’s not out of character Federer to disclose an injury only later, when he’s feeling fit again.

He did a similar thing in 2008, when he revealed he had contracted mononucleosis during the early part of the season, including the Australian Open.

It came out in May, during an interview with Paul Newman in the Independent.

“The first time I got sick (before Christmas) I didn’t think it was anything out of the ordinary,” Federer said. “The second time (before the Australian Open) I thought it was food poisoning. The third time I thought something was wrong. That was when the doctors told me I had mononucleosis, but they said that by then it was almost over,” Federer said.”

Last summer, even if his back issues were visible to anyone paying attention, Federer said this after losing to Alexander Zverev in the Rogers Cup final in Montreal.

“I had a bit of muscle pain, aches and pains here and there, just because it’s back on the match courts, on the hard courts,” he said after the match.

Instead, that day, he gave Zverev full credit for his play.

Zverev both present AND future as he wins Montreal

It was only the next day, announcing he was withdrawing from Cincinnati, Federer confirmed hat he had “tweaked his back” in Montreal.

Cincy a question mark for Federer

Serena vs. Roger highlights Hopman Cup

We’re still nearly three months away.

But the launch of the 2019 Hopman Cup already has targeted the big day: New Year’s Day 2019.

That’s when Team Switzerland takes on Team USA.

And that means that two of the best of all time, Roger Federer and Serena Williams, will square off on court in mixed doubles.

Those are two pretty big gets for the exhibition event, which could well be in its final edition if the new ATP team event starts up, as planned, in 2020.

So if this is the finale, that’s quite a way to go.

Federer will again team up with Belinda Bencic to defend their 2018 title. Williams will pair with young countryman Frances Tiafoe, making his first appearance.

Hopman

Young, attractive field

If the field appears, at first glance, to lack a little star power (having those two legends is already enough), tournament director Paul Kilderry did point out that it includes four Grand Slam singles champions (Angelique Kerber and Garbiñe Muguruza are the others), three top-10 players (Federer, Zverev, Kerber) and eight top-20 players.

Already announced was the new “it” tennis couple from Greece, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Maria Sakkari.

From Great Britain, no Andy Murray or Johanna Konta. Instead, they’ll have the duo of Cameron Norrie and Katie Boulte – an impossibly good-looking combo.

With Muguruza will be … David Ferrer. And you thought the 36-year-old, currently ranked No. 147 and playing a Challenger in Monterrey, was done? Apparently not.

You’d have to think, if he’s going all the way Down Under, that Ferrer plans to play one more Australian Open as well. Perhaps that’s why he’s still out there on the Challenger circuit this week, trying to squeeze into the Melbourne main draw.

Hopman
The 2017 finalists, Switzerland and Germany, return intact this year.

Barty and Ebden for Australia

Hopman
The teaming of brother-sister combo Marat Safin and Dinara Safina was long-awaited in 2009. But big brother celebrated the pairing a little early in a Moscow bar, before heading down to Perth. LEGEND.

Our thinking was that the most glam matchup for the home team would have been the off-field couple, Nick Kyrgios and Ajla Tomljanovic.

It’s always an extra bit of fun when real-life couples play mixed doubles together.

Absent that, they’ve come up with top Aussie woman Ashleigh Barty and 30-year-old Matthew Ebden, who’s ranked fourth in the country behind Kyrgios, young Alex de Minaur and John Millman.

The French team of Lucas Pouille and Alizé Cornet, who won the event in 2014 with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, are in the field.

Kerber and Zverev, last year’s finalists, also team up again and have by far the best combined ranking in the field.

Draws already done

To be able to start promoting Serena vs. the Fed, you had to have the round-robin draw done.

And so it is. Looks like Group B is the tougher group. But only one of those tandems can make the final.

Hopman

Dec. 29 kickoff with the Greeks

The schedule is here. The proceedings kick off with Great Britain vs. Greece on Saturday, Dec. 29 (coming up before you know it).

There is no session on New Year’s Eve evening or on New Year’s Day. The event always has a pretty fantastic New Year’s Eve party – and they definitely have the field to gussy it up.  (Remember when Marat Safin showed up after a rough night back home in Moscow, his face all bruised up?)

Hopman
The Maui Jim pair will team up in Perth, a farewell tour for the 36-year-old Ferrer. (Photo: Madrid Open)

The USA vs. Switzerland tussle will be New Year’s night.

New this year at the event, it’s free kids’ ticket day for all day sessions.

You hope this isn’t really, truly the last-ever Hopman Cup. The event has been around since 1989, when Czechoslovakia’s (!!!) Helena Sukova and Miloslav Mecir defeated Australia’s (!!) … Hana Mandlikova and Pat Cash in the final.

(Mandlikova’s Aussie citizenship didn’t last nearly as long as the event).

Here’s their history roll, with some classic pics.

It’s built up a lovely tradition. And the players seem to have a blast playing it. No doubt this year they’ll have a lovely tribute to Lucy Hopman, the wife of the legendary Aussie coach for whom the event is named. Hopman passed away during the US Open, at the age of 98.

A Florida resident, she made it to Perth every year until 2018, when she was 94.

Progress …

Haggerty-approved

If you wanted to hear from ITF president David Haggerty – the Hopman Cup is under the ITF umbrella – here is his requisite press release quote.

“We are delighted once again to see such a strong entry for the 2019 Mastercard Hopman Cup, the ITF’s mixed team competition, at the start of the new tennis season. The ITF team competitions, which also include Davis Cup by BNP Paribas and Fed Cup by BNP Paribas, give players a special opportunity to represent their countries, one that they value long after their playing days are over,” Haggerty said.

“Hopman Cup also offers fans a unique chance to see some of the game’s biggest names team up to play mixed doubles, which remain some of the most popular matches of the week. I would like to recognize our title sponsor Mastercard, and all the other sponsors and partners who continue to support the Hopman Cup.”

Looks like he got ALL the sponsors covered there. As one does.