I'd love to know how he decided to make these reforms to "make the fan experience better"....because most fans here would not agree it's making things better.
Guardian of men’s game serves notice of intention to finish job
Etienne de Villiers has defied the critics who questioned his appointment. Now is not the time to shy away from the issues, he insists
Neil Harman, Tennis Correspondent
December 24, 2007
Like any outsider, Etienne de Villiers was regarded with suspicion when he arrived from the Walt Disney Company in 2005, given the task of driving through the changes so long required of a sport that was withering on procrastination’s vine. As he was known to be recovering from prostate cancer surgery, the doubters suspected that the South African would find the self-serving world of international tennis too demanding to wade through and return, weary and chastened, to Fantasia-land.
Well, De Villiers is still here and not only that, he intends to be around for a good few years yet, which ought to give the “insiders” pause for thought. He does not say that he has got everything right in 30 months and, just when things seemed relatively smooth, along came a series of sinister stories, allegations of approaches to throw matches and players accused of not giving of their best.
It has not been an edifying process. Two Italians, Daniele Bracciali and Potito Starace, are the latest to have been suspended for betting on matches – for three months and six weeks respectively – although they scream that they are sacrificial lambs.
True to his modus operandi, the president and chairman of the ATP, the governing body of the men’s game, has tackled the issues head-on, been open, direct and firm of belief that while vigilance is needed to guard against threats to the good name of the sport, tennis is in a better state of health than many of its rivals.
“I’d rather be in tennis than football, I’d rather be in tennis than cycling, I’d rather be in tennis than track and field [athletics], I’d rather be in tennis than baseball,” De Villiers, 57, said this weekend. “Of course there are issues, but the people in our sport, especially our players, are saying, ‘Let’s do the right thing here.’ We need to know where and how our information-gathering systems need resources because it is up-to-date information that drives everything.”
Were men’s tennis in danger of imminent implosion, De Villiers would be at the Australian Open next month, monitoring every move and nuance, and yet he will be in London, putting the final touches to the Integrity Unit that he intends will shape the sport’s response should further evidence of improper activity require action. He is canvassing as many as he trusts to make the proper appointments.
“I don’t have anything new to say to the players in Australia. They know where we stand, there’s no point in being there for the sake of it,” he said. Of course, he would like to see first hand if Roger Federer can win grand-slam tournament No 13 and, if not, which of the young titans will knock the Swiss from his perch. “How fortunate we are to have Roger as our No 1 player, a man who is widely recognised as the greatest athlete of his generation,” De Villiers said.
He notes “with great concern” that 2008 will be a demanding year for the players, with the Olympic Games in Beijing in August requiring everyone to listen to their bodies and schedule their year with greater thought than before. “The Olympics lands slap-bang in the middle of summer. It disturbs the build-up to the US Open and it will place an enormous strain on the players,” he said.
“That is why we have 56-man draws [reduced fields] in our bigger events, with best-of-three-set finals, with its material benefits for players’ health. I am sure our fans will see more, hopefully better tennis, than ever before, but the players will have to be more selective, so we have structured the tour so that there are opportunities for breaks to let them be better more of the time.”
What has marked De Villiers as different from many tennis leaders has been his keenness to embrace the people who walk through the turnstiles – the fans.
They wanted a tour they could understand, rather than the hotchpotch it had become. He is in the process of delivering. Those who follow the game in the United States – their numbers are swelling prodigiously – broke with the national obsession for sporting insularity, telling him that tennis’s strength lay in its global reach and that the story was not being related clearly enough.
So while 2008 is a year of transition, it is towards 2009 that De Villiers casts his eye so covetously. By then, there will be a total financial tour commitment in excess of $100 million (about £50 million), a 54 per cent increase over this year; a $5 million bonus pool will be shared among the best players; and $7.5 million will be spent on marketing, as opposed to $800,000 last year.
Over the past ten years there has been a 21.6 per cent increase in attendance at the ATP’s nine Masters Series tournaments, which are being rebranded for 2009 as “1,000” events, identifying the number of ranking points that will be on offer for winning each. Farther down the scale, there were 22 nominations for the ten “500” tournaments.
“When we set out to try to change the structure, a lot of people told me I was crazy, that it couldn’t happen,” De Villiers said. “The difference between force and influence is huge, as governments have found over the years. We sought to influence change, not force it on people. I said we would never get into a situation where we would use our players as a weapon to force change, but we will use them as a shield to protect ourselves. The next stage in the renaissance of the sport is that all the bodies join up and we move together as one.
“We want to make the fan experience better. We want to talk to the grand-slam tournaments about how we better arrange Davis Cup ties so that that magnificent competition is where it ought to be, at the forefront of the sport, rather than its significance being lost on too many people.”
He simply wants everyone to be honest about what is best for the sport, not themselves. On anticorruption, he said: “We cannot stop a determined criminal approaching people, wanting to obtain inside information or undermining the integrity of a match. It comes down to each one standing up to be counted, to know what is at stake and do what’s right.
“I’m confident we will continue to grow and thrive because of what is inherently good about men’s tennis, not what challenges it.”
Numbers that count
9 Masters Series tournaments played in 2007 by all four top players, the first time they have appeared in each event since 2001.
27 Percentage of player withdrawals on the ATP Tour in 2007 – a six-year low.
29 million The amount (in pounds) that the Italian federation has spent on upgrading the Foro Italico in Rome for the 2009 season.
50 The number of €5 (about £3.60) bets that Daniele Bracciali was found to have placed on matches. The Italian was fined £14,300 and suspended for three months.
100 million The money (in dollars) to be spent on facilities, promotions, prize-money and more in 2009 – the biggest investment in ATP history.