London | Gaudenzi, ATP Chairman, speaks out

According to ubitennis.net, ATP Chairman Andrea Gaudenzi spoke on Wednesday to Italian journalists via a conference call from London and offered an interesting perspective on the game as we know it, and what may lie beyond the worldwide coronavirus crisis, saying the fate of the season revolves around the North American summer swing, while the business model of the sports needs a re-think.

Huge opportunities could arise from this crisis, one of which is the chance for the main stakeholders in the game [the ATP, the WTA, the ITF, and the Grand Slams] to cooperate more, since we are all expressions of the same game, we cater to the same fans, we are part of a story we are telling together, even if tennis is a very fragmented game, both with regards to the types of competitions and media-wise. Andrea Gaudenzi, ATP Chairman

Both Gaudenzi and ATP CEO Massimo Calvelli hail from Italy, which has suffered greatly because of COVID-19 that has brought the ATP and WTA seasons to a grinding halt worldwide, and few have answers as to when play might resume.

“One thing is for sure: our immediate strategy has been to protect public health and safety,” said Gaudenzi.

“We cancelled Indian Wells when the NBA season was still ongoing, a risky choice when we consider that the players were already in California, and eager to compete.

“We thought about hosting the tournament behind closed doors, but after some consideration we decided against it.”

Both Gaudenzi and Calvelli are new to their roles and could not have expected the problems they would face so early in 2020.

“After a few years away from the game, I saw that some incredible opportunities were opening up for the development of the game, but this was certainly not the scenario we were hoping to work in,” admitted Gaudenzi.

“My tenure began with the Australian bushfires, which were followed by the Coronavirus outbreak – by now, I’m expecting World War III to happen at any minute!

“Huge opportunities could arise from this crisis, one of which is the chance for the main stakeholders in the game [the ATP, the WTA, the ITF, and the Grand Slams] to cooperate more, since we are all expressions of the same game, we cater to the same fans, we are part of a story we are telling together, even if tennis is a very fragmented game, both with regards to the types of competitions and media-wise.

“My idea was to nurture a collaborative spirit.

“We don’t need to worry about our day-to-day business or about resuming play during such a crisis – witnessing what doctors and nurses are experiencing every day helps us put things in perspective.

“We need to use this time for self-reflection and for long-term planning, to create the future we want for our sport, but there are clearly much bigger issues.”

That Guadenzi has a vision is clear.

“I decided to run for this position because I saw an amazing opportunity for the game, which is not fulfilling its own potential.

“Tennis is in a healthy state, very solid from a business standpoint, but if you compare its TV space to others, it takes up less than 1.2% of the available room, despite having over a billion fans!” he said.

“We are a Top 5 sport both in the men’s and in the women’s game, while other sports revolve almost exclusively around men.

“Our competitors aren’t just other sports, but also entertainment platforms.

“Right now, you need three or four different subscriptions to watch tennis, the situation varies depending on the country, everything is fragmented.

“We can’t keep asking this of our customers, it goes against every commercial logic.

“We need to dream big, as a collective unit. We need to speak the same language, and to speak the truth.

“This crisis has us at a crossroads: it can either elevate our game or divide us up even more.”

Asked for his reaction to the French Open moving into September, and whether the FFT could expect any repercussions, Guadenzi responded: “What happened proved that tennis needs stronger regulations, so that the tournaments can co-exist, and not just scheduling-wise.

“Our main focus has to be our fans, the people who buy newspapers and tickets, these are the people we need to cater to.

“Customer centring is the future, since customers are always right.

“For instance, the four Slams have different rules for fifth set play; media rights, data, and TV rights are all allocated separately; the Slams and some Master 1000 events are combined tournaments, but the fact remains that the game is very fragmented.

“The French Open’s move is understandable: I watched Macron’s speech, and he was very direct about the direness of the situation, so his constituents panicked and the French Federation felt the urge to plant their flag in that September slot, regardless of what might happen.

“This in turn sparked a very open and frank conversation with the Chairmen of the other stakeholders, and we came to the conclusion that we are all part of the same story and we live in the same ‘building’, so there’s no room for prevarication.

“Nobody knows when we’ll be able to resume play, so it makes no sense to talk about August or September.

“It’s all hypothetical, so there’s no use in banging our heads against the wall for something that might not.

“Our operating principle is very simple: we have to try and play as many tournaments as we can in the weeks we’ll have at our disposal, in order to preserve the rankings and the prize money, and above all in order to provide the entertainment for our spectators.”

The current hypothesis seems to be to have a clay swing in mid-September, with a possibility that Rome could be re-converted as an indoor event.

“We are working on the possibility of a four-weeks clay swing after the US Open,” said Gaudenzi.

“The best-case scenario would be to have the North American swing during the summer, then the clay, then Asia, and then the ATP Finals [in London].

“If that were to happen, it would mean that we saved 80% of the season after cancelling the grass tournaments.

”If the US Open gets cancelled, the complexity of the situation would grow exponentially, because we should consider playing in November and December too, but at the moment we are focusing on a re-start after the Wimbledon slot.”

As for the conflict between the ATP Cup and the Davis Cup, Guadenzi has no immediate plans for the two to merge but is not opposed to the idea.

“Again, the fans come first. What’s good for the game?” he asks. “The ATP Cup was a successful event, I went there, it was great.

“We have 52 weeks to plan a season in. The players enter between 18 and 22 tournaments on average, so it’s not an easy situation.

“Personally, I’m very fond of Davis Cup’s tradition, the history of our sport.

“I’m definitely not against sitting down with Tennis Australia and with the ITF to discuss the creation of a unified event, and that would probably be the best solution.

“However, I’m not sure we’d be able to achieve that, because the deals are slated to run for many years and we have a great relationship with Tennis Australia, a relationship that we’ll respect and maintain, because it’s the right thing to do.

“I think it’s great to start the season with a bang, then a week off, then the Australian Open.

“It’s not the end of the world, if we can come up with a solution we will, or else it will just stay this way.”

ubitennis.net, the English branch of one of Italy’s most prominent tennis publications, is running a fuller report on the interview, which has been translated by Tommaso Villa.






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