Future Next Gen Talents – JJ Wolf

Jeffrey John Wolf – aka JJ Wolf

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Age: 20 – December 21st 1998

Height: 1.83m/6ft

Current Ranking: 190 (career high 189 on the 18/11/2019)

Junior Career High Ranking: 18

Professional titles: 1 Futures, 2 Challengers

Titles in 2019: 2 Challengers

JJ peaked as a Junior at 18 in the world with his biggest moment being winning the Grade 1 Coffee Bowl (great tournament name!). He’d reach the third round at the junior US Open but like many young Americans he choose to go to college and stayed in his hometown State and became a Buckeye at Ohio State University in January 2017.

He picked up a Futures title in October 2017 but it would be in the summer of 2018 when he entered qualifying at some Challengers that he would have his first wins at CH level, including a big win over Dan Evans in Lexington.

His hometown tournament at Ohio State would then roll around in January of 2019 and after reaching the R16 he bulldozed his way into the final losing only 7 games in 6 sets, including a double bagel over Peliwo.

The final itself would be against a former Buckeye teammate, Mikael Torpegaard, and was a titanic battle in which Mikael was arguably the better player for a set and a half before JJ took over to win 6-7, 6-3, 6-4 to win his first CH title.

Whilst having these successes at the professional level he had also worked himself into the number one singles ranking in College tennis and after being knocked out of the NCAA tournament the decision to go pro was taken not long after in July of this year.

The second half of the season saw him again making a final indoors at Ohio State, this time losing to Peter Polansky. He would then play a few events on outdoors hard courts and suffer a few early exits so that by the time he entered his final tournament in Champaign-Urbana he was ranked 255 and outside Australian Open qualifying.

However by the time that week was over he’d proven once again how dominant he can be indoors by winning the title and moving to a career high of 189 and guaranteeing himself a spot in Australia for qualifying. For someone who was effectively a part-time player compared to others on tour it was a phenomenal achievement.

To put it into context he played 12 tournaments this year whilst Mats Moraing, who is one place ahead of him, played 26.

Game style

JJ isn’t particularly tall in tennis terms at 6ft, but he has an incredibly attacking and exciting game to watch. From a physical standpoint he has tree trunks for legs and it’s presumably partly this that allows him to exceed 130mph for his first serve.

Often when serving on the AD side he will (and when in trouble) hit a serve down the T that slides away from the opponent. It’s a great serve that’s hard to return because he does have the ability to hit big out wide so you have to be aware of both options.

In lots of ways his service return tells you all you need to know about his style. He is extremely aggressive on the return and looks to immediately get on the from foot from it.

His game is then built around his forehand and it’s a massive shot and he will run around his backhand at the earliest opportunity in order to hit it. That said the backhand isn’t bad at all, it’s definitely not anywhere near as dangerous as his forehand, but if he’s feeling the shot then he’s more than capable of hitting winners with it so if both wings are firing he’s difficult to face.

I also like the fact he will try to come to the next to finish points off. It’s something he’s clearly working on and has improved as the season has gone on.

Things to note?

My main concern with his game would be his desire to run around his backhand as often as he does. I think it’s something that on slower outdoor hard courts can get him into trouble as it’s harder to hit through the surface and if you get it slightly wrong you’re more vulnerable due to your court position when playing the shot.

I mentioned his return of serve in an above paragraph and it’s a shot that amazes and frustrates in equal measure. If he brings up a break point with a return winner it’s then hard to criticise him too much for going for it on the next point, but I think on slower surfaces I’d like to see him mix it up with blocked returns on big points also.

It’s also worth noting that his main successes have all come indoors too so there’s plenty of question marks on the other surfaces, but ultimately he’s achieved a great deal with limited professional experience and his game style is such that it’ll be fun to watch how he progresses.

Future Next Gen Talents – Rudolf Molleker

Rudolf Molleker

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Age: 19 – October 26th 2000

Height: 1.85m/6ft 1 inches

Current Ranking: 165 (career high 146 on the 29/07/2019)

Junior Career High Ranking: 10

Professional titles: 1 Challenger

Titles in 2019: 0

To have reached 145 in the world at the age of 18 (at the time) whilst simultaneously only ever having won one title is not something you see too often. But in a lot of ways that defines the somewhat strange nature of Rudolf’s career up until now in which he’s become the very definition of inconsistent.

As a result I find Rudolf is simultaneously the most intriguing player but also the most difficult for me to discuss and accurately dissect.

Career Trajectory

As a junior Rudolf reached number 10 in the world and won a few Grade 1 events in Germany. Whilst reaching a ranking of no. 10 would hardly be considered a failure, the R16 at the Australian Open in Jan 2018 would be as far as he’d go in the Junior Majors as he focused more on the pro tour.

Throughout his junior career he was regularly playing Futures events and a few days shy of his 16th birthday in October 2016 he’d reach his first semi-final. He would continue to play Futures with very limited success before being given a wild card into the qualifying draw of the ATP 500 at Hamburg in July of 2017.

Quite astonishingly at this event he proceeded to beat first Casper Ruud and then Leo Mayer in three set matches in order to qualify, before losing 3&4 to Khachanov. There was no real sign that was coming, indeed in his 10 previous Futures events that year he was yet to get past the QF.

I highlight that because it’s symptomatic of Rudolf’s patchy form. It’s even more apparent when you fast forward to the Heilbronn Challenger in 2018, when Rudolf as a 17 year old kid takes down the tournament, winning all his matches from the round of 16 onwards in 3 sets and of those 4 matches he was a set down 3 times. It was a brilliant achievement and yet came from someone who went into that tournament at 0-2 at that level.

At the start of 2019 he lost his first match in a Challenger, before qualifying for his first Major at the AO, losing to Schwartmann in 4 sets. He then lost his next 7 in a row. By now I’m hoping you’re seeing the patchy form too! He had a surprisingly consistent clay season that was topped off by qualifying at Roland Garros and then losing to Tommy Robredo in the final of the Poznan Challenger.

Inexplicably he and his team somehow managed to forget to sign in for Wimbledon qualifying and that was almost a sign of what was to come. Despite having reunited with his coach at Hamburg, where he again beat the then defending champion Leo Mayer, his season tailed off badly. Indeed after that Poznan final he wouldn’t win two consecutive matches in 12 events and he finished the season at 165.

Gamestyle

I went into depth on Rudolf’s career thus far because it matches his playing style brilliantly in my opinion. You have no idea what you’ll be getting, but when his game is working it’s an absolute joy to watch.

Yesterday I described Ruusuvuori as an aggressive baseliner, well Rudolf is a step up from that. He has lovely power on both wings that allow him to hit numerous winners (I particularly like his forehand down the line) and he’s not afraid to try and come forward to finish the rallies at the net. This game style is backed up by a lovely first serve. In truth he has all the tools you would want to see from someone at 19.

However there’s a big but. It’s clear when you watch Rudolf that he’s incredibly quick to get down on himself. This manifests itself with stupid unforced errors as he looks to bash his way out of trouble. There’s a level of maturity required on the court that he hasn’t yet reached in my opinion and until he does he’ll continue to experience long periods where he’s not winning consistently.

Compare him to someone like Jannik Sinner who has a really aggressive game but has a maturity way beyond his years. You don’t see Sinner getting down on himself and I think that’s a vital quality when you’re someone who is aggressive and will have periods where you’re making errors in matches.

I would add that whilst Rudolf’s best results have come on clay I see him as someone who will have a really good game for all the different surfaces, if he puts it together.

Next Year

Showing consistency and emotional maturity will be the key. If he does I really think he’ll be close to the top 100.

Future Next Gen Talents – Emil Ruusuvuori

Emil Ruusuvuori

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Age: 20 – April 2nd 1999

Height: 1.88m/6ft 2 inches

Current Ranking: 124 (career high)

Junior Career High Ranking: 4

Professional titles: 6 Future level titles, 4 at the Challenger level

Titles in 2019: 2 Futures, 4 Challengers

Emil was a top level junior who peaked at number 4. His defining achievement as a junior was winning the ITF Junior Masters, effectively the junior equivalent of the World Tour Finals, by beating China’s Yibing Wu in Chengdu in a third set tie-break.

That event took place in October 2017 and in November of that year Ruusuvuori would proceed to win a Futures event (indoor hard) in his homeland of Finland as a wild card entry. The future looked extremely bright.

However 2018 wasn’t an overly impressive year for a top junior like Emil. He won three $15k events (2 outdoors, 1 indoor) but made no impression at the Challenger level. His ranking rose to 368 from 665 but it wasn’t necessarily clear when he might make the next jump.

Indeed by mid-June of 2019, despite two $25k titles, he found himself at 410 in the world and had yet to reach a Challenger QF. Boy did that change and quickly.

In the next 5 months Emil would pick up no less than FOUR Challenger titles (2 outdoors, 2 indoors) and reach a clay court final, as well as starring for Finland by picking up two Davis Cup wins, including a brilliant win over an admittedly unwell Dominic Thiem.

Worth noting:

It may seem strange to urge a note of caution for a player on a run like Emil, but I think you have to acknowledge the level of opposition he’s faced. In his 21 victories that lead to his four titles the highest ranked opponent he faced and beat was Yannick Maden at 121 in the world. To give that some context Mikael Ymer won the Orleans Challenger this year and in one week 4 of his 5 wins were against opponents more highly ranked than anyone Emil has beaten.

I say that not to disparage his wonderful run, but to make it clear he’s still got plenty to prove.

Game style:

I should note that rather frustratingly I don’t have the level of data I would like (this will be an issue across the series of players I will cover) to confirm things like service speed, so it’s very much anecdotal.

I’d describe Emil as an aggressive baseliner who looks to dictate in the rallies. I would say that he does at times look like his feet are stuck in glue, as he seems quite hesitant to move forward unless his opponent hits a shot well short. In today’s game being able to finish at the next is an incredible valuable skill and that’s something that could be improved.

He has a pretty powerful first serve that’s capable of winning free points and also setting up for him to win rallies early. I’ve found it’s more effective when he’s going down the T. The second serve isn’t bad but I’d like to see how it measures up again better opponents.

His forehand is his main weapon and it’s a shot I like. He is capable of hitting it flat and dominating with it. It contrasts with his backhand, because whilst not weak, it is fairly ineffective. He hits the vast majority of backhands crosscourt and against better players I worry he may get pinned back in that corner as he doesn’t hit enough shots down the line to change the angle.

Aims for next year

Emil is yet to play a single ATP main tour level event so you have to be realistic. Ending the year in the top 100 would be a great achievement in my opinion.

From a purely technical viewpoint I’ll also be watching out for the evolution of his backhand.

I’ll include a video below of his Helsinki triumph for you to watch:

My Wishlist For 2020

Decided to put together a list of things I’d like to see occur, in no particular order.

Don’t take it too seriously.

Coverage of every match

How can you make it a requirement of a Challenger in Vietnam to show all four courts on a livestream but some tour level events can get away with not having every court available to be viewed?

I’m not asking for full TV production either. A simple fixed camera will suffice. Anything is better than nothing. It’s 2020 soon, this shouldn’t be an issue.

Players to get there own towels:

Somebody for the love of God tell me how this is not a thing? I watched a couple of matches during the Dallas Challenger this year in which players were visibly ill due to a virus that was going round; as a result ball kids were having to handle towels that became virus filled rags. It needs to stop.

E-Sports

Admittedly I have no interest in computer games but that’s irrelevant as millions of others do. If there’s a good tennis game out there that gets played online then find a way to integrate the live tennis experience with the online world by bringing players to Masters events to battle it out over the course of the season and then have a grand final. Stream the action and use it as an alternative way to try and get a younger crowd interested.

A New Men’s Major Winner

So many are poised and ready. Time to step up fellas.

Auto Twitter Ban

For whom you ask? Any clown who has their favourite players name as their @. There’s an undoubted correlation between them doing that and then displaying an IQ that isn’t yet in the double digits.

The Laver Cup

Ignoring my feelings on it, why can’t it be hosted on a weekend when there’s not proper tennis being played? It’s utterly disrespectful to tournament organisers to host it during a week in which they’re desperately hoping to attract the best players possible.

Gamblers – Stop Abusing Players

There’s a subtle difference between criticism and outright abuse. Actually, it’s not subtle and you should know the bloody difference. Grow up.

Carrying on from the above: “Tipsters” who sell packages

This is actually directed at recreational gamblers:

There is sufficient free content out there that you shouldn’t be paying someone for tips. Gambling should be fun and if you’re working a job then please don’t see it as a legitimate option for additional funds; especially if you lack the confidence in your own picks to the extent that you’ll consider paying someone else for theirs.

From a personal standpoint I have a moral issue with encouraging people to gamble (through a paid service) which is why I limit discussion on it as best I can and I don’t reply to DMs asking for tips.

More Data and Analytics

Don’t worry people, you won’t have to undergo a Maths exam to continue watching the sport. The simple truth is the coverage is infinitely better when data is used because it can help explain why a player is performing better over a given period of time or in a specific match. Educating those who are watching should be a primary objective of the coverage.

I’ll offer a quick example. Thiem has markedly improved on hard court surfaces, especially the slightly faster surfaces towards the end of the year, but why? Well he seems to be hitting the ball with less spin and flatter as a consequence, but instead of me giving that as a theory it can be proven: (cc: @d_modlinski – he’s a must-follow on Twitter)

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Less Ben Rothenberg

Because it just makes sense.

The Podcast Crowdfunds

As I’ve said on Twitter it’s that time of year where people want you to help them with donations so you can pay for them to travel the world watching events. Is it too much to ask they show proof of where the funds are going?

Especially if they’re asking for £50,000.

The ITF, the ATP/WTA & anyone else involved to fix the Davis/Fed Cup & ATP Cup nonsense

I’ll sun up the chances with this picture:

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On a personal note:

I’ve never really bothered writing before as it doesn’t come naturally to me, so I’d like to say thanks to all those who have read anything I’ve written these year and for the kind words I’ve received now and again about some of the blogs I’ve written. Not too sure if I’ll continue so wanted to say a quick thanks.

Enjoy the rest of your year and I’ll see you on Twitter in time for the new season.

 

 

Scratch Beneath The Surface

Inevitably as soon as Ash Barty had finished posing for photos with a trophy that crowned off a quite remarkable year for the extremely likable Aussie, the focus shifted to the size of the cheque that she’d received. In case you aren’t aware, she pocketed a cool $4.42m, a sum that dwarfs any to have been previously awarded in a professional tennis tournament, male or female.

Almost immediately the WTA cheerleaders that masquerade as journalists hailed this as a crowing moment for women’s tennis and women’s sport. It’s a grandiose claim and deserves scrutiny, but unsurprisingly the makers of said comments don’t want to expand on their thoughts. Probably because they don’t hold up.

What makes me say this? Well let’s travel back in time. Not decades, or even years, but to January of this year, in which Serena pleaded with her male counterparts to back her desire for equal pay at all events. At this point it’s worth clarifying that equal pay does exist at the Majors and at the top level combined events; however for the majority of the tennis season men and women are in different cities all over the world competing in the smaller, less prestigious tournaments and that’s where the disparity exists and presumably what Serena was referring too.

It must be noted it was a strange request from Serena at the time and rather illogical. The ATP and the WTA operate as separate businesses that sign their own TV deals; sponsorships, media agreements, they operate in different countries and cities and on and on it goes. It’s simply not possible under the current tennis structure, which she surely knows.

But Serena had an argument, to some degree; she was just asking the wrong people. The question should be directed at the WTA management as to why the women’s game is lagging behind. The numbers below make it clear just how bad the problem is:

Of the 55 tournaments the WTA tour offer, 32 are WTA International events (the lowest level offered). Of those, 30 have prize pools at the $250,000 mark.

In contrast the men’s game has 39 out of 62 of its events at its lowest level (ATP 250), however these prize pools have a significantly higher starting point at $589,680.

Consequently a male who wins an ATP 250 earns a minimum of $90,990 and the runner up earns $49,205. A female WTA International winner earns $43,000. You can begin to see the difference.

Knowing all this, how much should we now be celebrating the fact that Barty picked up a cheque more than 100x the value of a standard WTA International win? The cheque itself represented a massive increase of the previous years winner, Elina Svitolina, who took home $2,360,000.

Is this something we should be celebrating? Possibly. But what long term effects and benefits it has, if any, are up for debate. What the tournament did offer was a chance for the WTA to brag about securing the deal and getting one over the men. So there’s that I guess?

Ultimately for me I go back to this idea of it being, “what a moment for women’s tennis” as one WTA employee put it. Explain to us all what changes this will bring, what benefits will occur and how it’ll change the sport. Because as I sit here I just see a tournament making the richest even richer and I cannot fathom how it means more money finds its way further down the ladder to the players who desperately need it. I would be delighted to be pray, but I think these sensationalist comments will prove to be just that.

Finally I feel it’s worth mentioning that I’ve written previously about the inequality in tennis at the lower levels between the tours and given what I’ve written so far it’s worth just making people aware that as of next year the ATP have increased the travel grant they’ll be giving to players ranked 151-400 to $4,000 and doubles players will get $2,000. Whilst the ITF are generally responsible for tournaments that most female players in the 151-400 bracket will play, it’s just another example of how much better the ATP does for its players (there’s still more to do) when compared to the WTA/ITF.

What about the tournament itself? 

In a lot of ways the size of the prize won by Barty has helped to mask a tournament that was nothing short of a disaster. Injuries can happen at any time, but when you combine players who are tired at the end of a long season and a painfully slow hard court you’re asking for trouble.

The venue wasn’t able to sell out and the atmosphere was dead. The WTA in their infinite wisdom turned down bids from Manchester and Prague, two places that would have sold out every session, in order to chase the money in a market that has never really taken to tennis. The consequence is that you had elite female tennis players playing in an environment and atmosphere which did not give them the stage or platform their talents deserve.

Luckily the WTA have committed themselves to spending the next 9 years trying to address that in Shenzhen. I wish them luck, because it’ll be one hell of a battle to achieve that.

 

In conclusion, well done to Ash Barty, but let’s not get carried away by the size of her winnings. It distract from the very real issues the WTA faces both in Shenzhen and the tour as a whole.

 

My End of Season Awards

Hero of the Year Award:

Marco Trungelliti

Stood up to match-fixers and for that he’ll always be a hero to me.

Can’t think of anyone else who has done that and suffered in the way he did, despite having done the right thing. I hope he has a massive 2020, fully deserves it.

2

Biggest Villain of the Year Award:

David Haggerty

Imagine if you created a new tour (sort of, anyway), that was roundly condemned by everyone involved, to the point that it was then scrapped; whilst also being responsible for drastic to changes to both the Davis and Fed Cups that were universally hated. You’d be waiting for that letter that lets you know your services are no longer required, I suspect.

However in the world of tennis that level of incompetence is rewarded with another term in office as President of the ITF.

ITF

Clown of the Year Award:

Nick Kyrgios

The debate over whether he is good for the game or not is silly. Of course he’s good for the game, but he’s also someone who steps over the line way too often. I like controversy and differing personalities, but things like spitting at umpires is disgusting and has to be condemned. I hope 2020 is a chance to focus on the good things he does both on and off court.

Clown

Breakthrough of The Year Award:

Jannik Sinner

He’s gone from 870th last November to 78th and he’s only just turned 18. He is also really, really fun to watch.

Gingers all over the world are rejoicing.

4

Comeback of The Year Award

Andy Murray

Was tempted to give it to Tara Moore after winning from 0-6, 0-5* 30-40 to wind up the Murray fans, but I don’t want the abuse.

The transition from losing to Matteo Viola in a Challenger in Mallorca in August to winning in Antwerp is a truly astonishing story.

Andy.jpg

The Feelgood Story of The Year

Filip Polasek

Plenty of candidates but I’m going with the Slovak doubles specialist. His return to the sport after nearly 5 years out is in itself an achievement, but to go on and win a Masters event and qualify for London with Ivan Dodig after only becoming a pairing in the late May is an astonishing achievement.

Filip

The Bermuda Triangle Award – this is for the man who goes missing when it matters most.

Nick Kyrgios

People will think I’m targeting Nick, but I’m not. He’s got weapons and the ability to make life incredibly difficult for the top guys but the stats below say it all. I hope the break from tennis focuses him on trying to do his best next year. The sport would be better off if he did because he’s a big draw for the sport.

Two ATP 500 titles, 0 second weeks at the Majors and peaked at the Masters by reaching round two twice.

5

Most Entertaining Player Award:

Alexander Bublik

Some people would probably suggest Kyrgios, which is fair enough. However for me personally a Bublik match is a rollercoaster of tricks, inexplicably unnecessary shots, regular second serve 132mph aces and most importantly his matches will make you laugh and smile. You won’t turn off one of his matches without being entertained. Make sure you tune in.

7

World’s Most Pointless Comeback

Amir Weintraub

Before coming back this year his last match was at the Australian Open in 2017. I’ll let the results speak for themselves.

5

The Gamesmanship Champion Award

Stefanos Tsitsipas

His ability to just repeatedly invent excuses to break an opponents rhythm when they’re up break points is absurd. Not sure how much longer he can keep using the shoe lace excuse though. Hopefully he switches it up for 2020.

Nick-Kyrgios-1161632

The I’m Not Crying, You Are Award:

Laslo Djere

I’m a softy really and the thought of his speech after his win in Rio chokes me up even now.

 

The I’m Not Sure What Award Title He Deserves But He’s Getting One Anyway Award:

Noah Rubin

He cares. He wants the sport to improve, adapt and thrive. Behind the Racquet is a brilliant creation and the Coffee Cast With Cation and Rubin is essential listening for any tennis fan. I hope more people get behind Noah and his projects, it’s coming from a good place.

Noah-Rubin-Behind-the-Racquet

Best Commentator(s):

I’m going to give this to two people: Mark Petchey and Mike Cation. Thoroughly enjoy listening to both. Can somebody finally give Mike a permanent tour level gig? It’s long overdue. Retire McEnroe whilst you’re at it, please.

PetchMike C

Worst Broadcaster Award:

Amazon Prime

Slightly unfair in some respects as it’s pretty much Amazon only in the UK for tennis fans, but they have a long way to go. The delay behind the live action is unacceptable and they’ve had too many occasions where the service has stopped working. Given it’s one of the world’s largest and richest companies I expected more from them.

Amazon

Least Appreciated Aspect of Tennis Award:

The quality of tennis at the ATP Challenger level! All the matches are free to watch at http://www.livestream.com/atp – I only wish more people tuned in.

Worst Blogger/Journalist/Content Creator: 

Ben Rothenberg

It’s a lazy selection because it’s the easy one. But it’s also the correct one.

I can’t be bothered to list everything he’s done, life’s too short. Ultimately I think he’s an absolute cancer on our sport and I don’t say that lightly.

Best Blogger/Journalist/Content Creator:

I couldn’t actually narrow it down so I’ll give you a short list of some people you should be following and supporting on Twitter. They all care and love the sport and I’d love for more people to read and share their articles and watch their content to help the sport grow:

@tennisblogger1, @lwosdamiankust, @alextheodorid1s, @themagician5GS

In fairness anyone I follow is great and you should be too.

 

 

On that happier note I’ll end it there. If you happen to be offended by any of my selections please feel free to keep it to yourself because I don’t care.

If you have better suggestions and don’t take things too seriously then let me know as I’d love to hear your thoughts.

The Inequality That Gets Ignored

The obvious discord and discontent over the distribution of prize money at tournaments that aren’t one of the four Major Slams seems to be an issue that is increasingly gaining traction, particularly among individuals ranked around 150 in the world and below. These players are having a hard time breaking even–let alone profiting from their talents–despite the fact that they are world class athletes. These hardships plague both the men’s and women’s tours; however, the general grumbles seem to be emerging from the men. Why is that so?

I say this because if men ranked around 150 and below are struggling then the women must be absolutely pulling their hair out. After gathering data it became clear as day that the women are significantly disadvantaged as you slide lower and lower down the tennis hierarchy. That being said, where are the prominent female voices in all of this?

I ask these questions from a completely objective standpoint. As many of you know (especially if you follow me on Twitter), I almost exclusively follow the ATP Tour; therefore, I’m not attempting to make this an issue of sexism. My main concern is that of gathering data, facts, and valid information that can potentially shine on a light on these situations and further answer questions that may arise from all of this.

Please note all prize pool totals collected include doubles. Often players will play both singles and doubles and I’ve therefore decided to include both. The data itself that was analysed was between Jan 2019 to the end of Oct 2019.

The below table shows the number of $15k and $25k events for both men and women.

Men’s Prize Pool  Tournament # $ Total Women’s Prize Pool  Tournament # $ Total
$15k  330 $4,851,000 $15k  233 $3,425,100
$25K 153 $3,748,500 $25K 189 $4,630,500
Total 483 $8,599,500 Total 422 $8,055,600
Prize Pool Differential Between Men & Women $543,900

If one broadly looks at the data available for the period beginning Jan 2019 to the end of Oct 2019, it’s clear that there are a higher number of men’s events available at the $15k level (330 vs 233), with the reverse being true for women at the $25k level (153 vs 189).

As the total number of male players on tour is much larger it stands to reason that more tournaments would be the case at the $15k level – especially when you consider the fact that there are times when the qualifying draws of some women’s events don’t even fill.

The reasoning for females having more tournaments at the $25k level will be discussed further on. It’s an argument I believe does not hold much weight.

The Men’s Challenger and Women’s $60k+ ITF levels

As you move into the ATP Challenger level and compare it to the female equivalent, it’s at that point that the issue becomes overwhelming obvious and quite frankly disturbing. I believe once you see the numbers below you’ll also question what the ITF and the WTA are doing in order to minimize the disparity.

The first thing to do is to establish the prize pools and tournament types at these levels. The ATP numbers their tournaments differently as you’ll see below. For information on where I got these numbers please see the end of this blog.

Men’s CH Events Women’s ITF Events – (actual prize pool numbers on the right)
80 $54,160 $60k $57,000
90 $81,240 $80k $76,000
100 $108,320 $100k $95,000
110 $135,400 $125k (WTA) 125000
125 $162,480

As we can see the men have a greater variety of tournament sizes (in effect an ‘80’ tournament offers 80 points to the winner, ‘90’ gives 90 points and so on), but that’s not particularly relevant. It’s when you then look at the numbers of tournaments available at the different levels for both men and women that it becomes concerning.

Men’s CH  Tournament # Total $ amount Women’s ITF  Tournament #  Total $ amount
80 91 $4,928,560 $60k 49 $2,793,000
90 21 $1,706,040 $80k 11 $836,000
100 11 $1,191,520 $100k 11 $1,045,000
110 6 $812,400 WTA $125k 9 $1,125,000
125 19 $3,087,120
148 $11,725,640 80 $5,799,000
Prize Pool Differential  $5,926,640

The men have a gigantic $5,926,640 extra in prize money to compete for as well as nearly double the number of tournaments available to them (148 vs 80). We will look at this in more detail. Let’s start by discussing the fact that there are 12 weeks out of the 10 months of data collected that feature ZERO women’s events. During that time there are 23 ATP Challenger events going on.

As the graph below will show, you can see the distribution of men’s challenger events (highlighted in blue) vs the equivalent tournaments on the women’s tour (red line).

Screen Shot 2019-09-12 at 1.38.57 PM.png

There is also an element of complete randomness to the women’s calendar. This is highlighted by the month of April 2019, which we can look at:

For women:

Apr 1: $80k Florida (USA)

Apr 8: $60k Istanbul (Turkey)

Apr 15: $80k Alabama (USA)

Apr 22: $80k Charlottesville (USA)

Apr 29: $100k Charleston (USA), $80k Gifu (Japan)

 

For men:

Apr 1: $162,480 Mexico, $81,240 France, $54,160 Spain

Apr 8: $162.480 China, $54,160 Spain, $54,160 Italy

Apr 15: $162,480 China, $108,320 US, $54,160 Mexico, $54,160 Tunisia

Apr 22: $54,160 China, $54,160 US, $54,160 Mexico, $54,160 Italy

Apr 29: $135,400 Mexico, $54,160 US, $135,400 France, $54,160 Czech Rep, $108,320 South Korea

Let’s be clear about what this shows us. Women have one country that will host tournaments in consecutive weeks (USA). Men have China, USA, Mexico as well as tournaments in multiple European countries in 4 out of the 5 weeks in that month.

What impact can this have? It’s often noted that it can be easier to get into a $60k draw than a $25k for women. Why is this? Well let’s assume a hypothetical situation in which you’re a player who plays $25k events often. You might sign up to the $60k in Istanbul on the off chance that you sneak into qualifying, but you know the chances are highly unlikely. 

In meantime in the week both before and after Istanbul you’re due to play in Italy (there were 3 consecutive weeks of $25k events there) and have also scheduled yourself to play in Italy during the week of Istanbul. When the initial acceptance lists come out, you’re 20 spots or so away from qualifying in Istanbul. What do you do?

Does it make any sense to risk flying to Istanbul in the hope 20 people pull out so you can play qualifying when you’re in Italy already and can be for the next three weeks? Just think of the costs and risk involved in flying to Istanbul and not getting into the tournament. In a lot of cases, how can these players justify it when money is tight anyway?

By having such sporadic events where there is no back-to-back tournaments in the same location you are putting players off attending. They can’t justify the risk.

 

In having far fewer comparable tournaments, the tournaments lower down at the $25k level can often be significantly stronger than their male equivalents for females. An example of this can be found in next weeks schedule (September 16th):

Men’s Challenger tournaments: 6

Women’s equivalent: 1

Even if you factor in the main tours, the WTA has 3 tournaments and the ATP has 2 tournaments in that week, so it’s not as if that could somehow be used as a justification for why there is fewer events. Consequently the initial acceptances at the $25k level look significantly different:

Screen Shot 2019-09-12 at 1.49.12 PM.png

 

What’s the downside with this? Well you’re now in a position where you’re competing for the same money as men at the $25k level, but in tournament fields that are comparatively much stronger. At the same time, players of equivalent ranking in the men’s game are playing events for much greater prize pools.

This problem is compounded when you realise that the men also get hospitality at the Challenger level, whilst females  do not have the guaranteed equivalent at their events. This is another cost women have to incur that the men don’t. At the level we’re talking about, this is significant sums of money to the players involved when you’re traveling for approximately 30 weeks of the year.

It’s important to make it clear that the ATP made hospitality a condition of all their tournaments for 2019. Why has nobody at the WTA/ITF worked hard to do the same for the women?

 

Thus far we’ve therefore established there’s fewer tournaments, less prize money available and a more scattered and random schedule. What’s another result of all this?

Well, it’s worth looking at comments made during an interview with Jackie Nesbitt, Executive Director, ITF Circuits and Andrew Moss, Head, ITF World Tennis Tour in February of this year.

“We also learned that average costs for players are around $40,000 per year for travel and accommodation, but only a very small number – about 336 male and 253 female players – were managing to break even, and that is before factoring in coaching costs.”

“To give an example, fewer women break even because there are fewer women’s tournaments at $60,000, $80,000 and $100,000 level compared to men. For every one women’s tournament there are two men’s Challenger events. Our focus is therefore on getting more money into the women’s game and we are pleased to see that in 2019 we have eight more women’s tournaments at $25,000 level and above than in 2018.”

The ITF recognises the problem, but what are they (and the WTA) doing about it? If questioned I am sure the WTA will pass the responsibility onto the ITF, but at some point if the ITF cannot find a way to bridge the gap surely it’s the duty of the WTA to look to step in and help?

It’s disingenuous for the ITF to argue the point that more $25k events for women are some kind of success. For starters a big reason for the increased numbers of $25k events was as a result of the ill-fated World Tennis Tour (Jan – Aug 2019, RIP). Federations were upgrading female events to $25k (Japan did it in particular) because the WTT structure was a disaster and $15k events had become almost useless.

In any case as my numbers show, there are 189 vs 153 events at the $25k level in favour of women. That works out at a difference of 36, which means there is less than 1 per week on average for women more than men. It’s such a small difference as to be almost irrelevant.

One of the differences in the tours to adjust for all of this is that women’s $25k events award more points to the winner (50 vs 20 for men). The idea of this is to account for the lack of tournaments in the $60k+ region and to help move women up the rankings more quickly.

Again, if we look at the data and accept there’s less than 1 extra $25k per week, does it make a big difference in doing that? How many women does that actually impact?

One thing to note that took place as I was looking into the data and writing this blog was an announcement from Oracle that an additional 50 events (25 each for men and women) are to be created in the United States. Currently we do not know at which prize levels, but have been told it’ll go from $25k through to $108k events.

This is great news obviously, but ultimately it doesn’t actually change the disparity or close the gap in tournament numbers.

Whilst it would be churlish to pretend this isn’t still fantastic and Oracle are to be applauded, it’s important not to let the announcement cloud the reality of what is going on in the women’s game. I don’t believe an additional 25 tournaments over the course of the tennis season is going to profoundly change things. I welcome Oracle’s investment and I’m glad they’re getting involved, but there’s a lot more to be done on this topic.

That said, what can be done? I don’t have all the answers and that’s not the point of this blog. I am merely putting out some data (there’s plenty more I could use but this is already too long) and letting you decide how you feel about it. It may be the case I am wrong and people don’t see an issue with things as they stand; however if you do, then we have to question how we move the sport forward for both sexes.

Let’s be clear this isn’t a simple issue. Tournaments are given minimal help from what I can tell (or they’re paid for directly by federations) and it’s often incumbent upon them to find the means and the ability to host the events. It may simply be the case that for many it makes no financial sense to host a women’s event when they have such limited budgets. You may see that as sexist, but I’ve spoken to women who themselves accept men are more of a draw.

If that’s the case, it’s that issue that needs addressing. How do we move the women’s game forward and make it more attractive? How do we carve out more opportunities? 

One thing I would like to see is the live streaming sorted out. The ATP offer coverage of EVERY single Challenger match whilst it’s extremely rare on the ITF tour.

I’ve grown to love watching some male players simply by being able to see them regularly as they toil away in the challengers. I couldn’t do that with the women’s game as the option to see them in action doesn’t exist to nearly the same degree. How does anything improve with such limited visibility? It’s 2019, this should be a non-issue.

It’s also worth noting that the ITF sells live scoring data to the tune of $14m per year. How much of that is pumped back into the professional levels? Does any of it provide financial assistance to help tournaments run? These are questions to which I can personally find no answers. If they exist I’d love to see them.

I believe it to be critical not to look at the data and decide the men have it better so why are they complaining? Things need to improve for BOTH sexes.

Importantly if the data looks as bad to you as it does to me, then we need strong female voices posing the difficult questions and demanding answers from both the ITF and the WTA. Because at present, I can think of none.

That’s almost the saddest bit about it all.

 

 
(1) I have taken the men’s ATP Challenger prize pools directly from the ATP website. On the website it states the total prize pool figure for the tournament. I have then converted European prize pools into dollars in order to make it easier to understand.
The women’s ITF prize pool figures were taken direct from the ITF handbook.

 

The ATP World Cup Farce

You may have noticed Stefanos Tsitsipas on the promotional posters for the ATP World Cup and yet why would he be? If you follow the criteria as it currently is, he doesn’t have a team to play with.

However due to the recently announced ranking changes he soon will. Want to know what top talent he’ll be working with? Read on.

Let’s look firstly at the qualifying criteria:

How does a country qualify for the ATP Cup and which of its players get to play? 

A minimum of three ATP ranked players, including two members with singles ATP Ranking points, are required for a country to be eligible to qualify. A country may have up to five players. If a team has five players, at least three must have an ATP Singles ranking. If less than five players, a team must have at least two players with an ATP Singles ranking.
This is followed by:
How will entries work?
At the first entry deadline (13 September), a country will gain acceptance into the event based on the singles ATP Ranking of the country’s No. 1 singles player. The qualifying country’s second-highest-ranked singles player will gain acceptance at the same time.

Effectively what this means is a country like Greece (once the rankings changes are introduced) are guaranteed to qualify for the tournament on the basis of Tsiptsipas’ ranking; despite the fact that there will likely not even be another Greek player within the ATP top 500. However, provided they have but even a single point, that’s enough to allow them to play at what will be a showcase event for the ATP.

As it stands, no other Greek player has an ATP ranking, but as I mentioned this will change once the ITF ranking points are converted into ATP points. For example, his brother Petros, a player who has two main draw wins at the Futures level in the last year, will be able to compete because he’ll have a grand total of 2 ATP points to his name.

However if entrants are decided based solely upon their ranking, i e. they get in directly if they’re the next highest person in the nation, as opposed to being chosen Davis Cup style, then Greece has three players ahead of Petros. You could therefore potentially see a team of Michail Pervolarakis, Alexandros Skorilas, Ioannis Stergiou and Petros Tsitsipas supporting the world number 6.

Are Greece alone in this? Not at all. Let’s look at Nikoloz Basilashvili. Again, he’s the only Georgian with an ATP ranking, but with the changes he could end up playing alongside George Tsivadze and Alekandre Metreveli.

Quite what the paying public may think if forced to watch Pervlorakis v Tsivadze, I don’t know.

The sums of money aren’t insignificant either. The ATP itself has recognised there are going to be players ranked below 300 which is why they created tiered prize money based on your ranking.

Appearance fee money is as follows:

NO. 2 PLAYER
Ranking Fee
1-10 $200,000
11-20 $150,000
21-30 $75,000
31-50 $60,000
51-100 $45,000
101-200 $30,000
201-300 $20,000
301+ $15,000
For 22 year old Michail Pervolarakis with career earnings of $22,739, $15,000 in appearance money represents quite the bonus.

Tickets won’t be cheap. Quite what value for money some will feel they’ve gotten when they see some of the potential matches that could be created is beyond me.

It’ll be hailed as a roaring success. I know it and so do you. But in an ideal world people should boycott the event and force the ATP to work with the ITF to preserve and improve the Davis Cup.

I know that won’t happen, but a man can dream, right?

The Problem With Indifference

Too often in today’s world due to the advent of social media, a hot topic is discussed, dissected and then forgotten about as the next pressing issue rears its head.
It’s what allows scandals to blow over, because we’re seemingly loathe to talk about an issue from last week when something new and fresh has popped up.
Sadly this phenomenon is arguably the reason the outrage at the ITF World Tour has seemingly died down.
Therefore I’m writing this blog to look at exactly what has changed for the better, nearly 5 months on from the introduction of the ITF World Tour.
One of the critical issues I’ve highlighted in previous blogs were the sheer number of opportunities that disappeared over night. The numbers I calculated said that in the 3 month period last year from Jan to Mar, there were 7,972 qualifying spots. This was then reduced by 5,692 spots with the changes that were made in the same three month period at the beginning of this year. That’s a shocking number of opportunities that disappeared overnight.
How did the ITF respond? Well they raised qualifying draws by 8, to 32 instead of 24. They argue that to increase it any further would result in players playing two matches a day and they’re concerned for their welfare. This, as much of what the ITF says is nonsense. Players already ARE playing twice a day in a number of locations.
They then go on to claim another issue is that the IRP report that I’ve discussed previously limits them to 7 day tournaments. Simply untrue. It was a recommendation. Unless my grasp of English is a lot worse than I think it is, a recommendation is something you can choose to implement should you wish. I mean, if it’s not and it had to be implemented, then why are the ITF able to ignore the recommendation that live scoring is turned off at the $15k level?

Screenshot_20190428-194300~2.png
In the interest of being clear, the above screenshot is for those who aren’t aware of the additional changes. The things mentioned in the screenshot do very little to address the core issues and so I won’t go into them.
We’re 5 months on and very little has changed. There are two ranking systems, reduced tournaments and reduced opportunities and seemingly no resolutions in sight.

It’s affecting players in a big way and some have simply walked away. 22 year old Omar Salman (link at the bottom of the blog) was ranked 450th at the end of last year then overnight finds himself in the 700’s once the removal of the ATP points from the $15k events he had played was applied. The mountain he was now being forced to climb once again was too much for him and he has called it a day.

Omar will be one of many, sadly.

I was previously active on Twitter highlighting these issues but held back as I wanted to see what changed, if anything.

However we’ve seen recently and shamefully the USTA give their backing to David Haggerty as he attempts to get re-elected as ITF President, so now I guess is as good a time as any to remind people of the shambles he has presided over.
This ultimately isn’t my battle to fight. I’m not a player, coach, academy director or anyone whose livelihood is directly affect by the changes, but I’m passionate about the sport and it’s essential we don’t allow indifference and apathy to creep in. The players need our support and this cannot be allowed to just be swept under the carpet.
I intend to write to the LTA to demand they do not support Haggerty and if you’re a fan of the sport I ask you do the same to your national federation. It may take half an hour of your time, but could have a lasting impact of the strength of feeling and support reaches the sorts of levels it should.

It’s time the sport listens to its fans, whether that be on this issue, or more recently with Justin Gimelstob. Without fans you have no sport, so stop taking us for fools.

Omar Salman link: http://www.aftnet.be/Info/Divers/Omar-Salman-decide-d-arreter-les-frais

 

The IRP recommendations and the Omerta of the players

I’ll jump straight into it. This is recommendation number one.

Screenshot_20190306-102125.png

I’m going to focus on sections 24.1 and 24.4 in particular. 24.1 makes it clear that live scoring at the $15k level has to be ended. I’ve mentioned it before, but I gamble on this level of tennis, it’s profitable for me and to lose the ability to do so would affect me.

I still support this.

Why won’t it happen? Well the Sportradar deal runs until 2021 and provides the ITF with significant funds for starters. But we also do not know if there are break clauses or penalties in the contract. Whatever way you look at it, I don’t see it ending any time soon and I’ll explain why a little further down.

24.4 is a staggering example of the lack of understanding that exists with the TIU and the ITF on these issues.

The Sportradar deal, from several sources I’ve spoken to, does not include the provision that all betting operators that use data from Sportradar are to co-operate and provide data to the TIU. There are memorandums of understanding in place with some operators, but I’ve been told that one of the biggest websites in the gambling world is not part of this. How can they have allowed that to happen?

Recommendation number two:

Screenshot_20190307-115105~2.png

Now, if you look at recommendation number 1, then 2, the cynic in me can’t help but feel the drastic action the ITF undertook in creating the World Tennis Tour was a deliberate attempt to save the Sportradar deal. What better way to defend the deal than by pointing to the fact they chopped off thousands from being able to play the tour?

I’m sure they’d try and suggest that will lead to less corruption and match-fixing and those players were the issue and they’ve been dealt with.

It’s complete bollocks.

One of my favourite quotes is from The Usual Suspects in which it is said that, “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”. This is entirely applicable here. For all the talk of the new tour, the numbers of players being able to play etc, the one thing that has been overlooked is that prize money has once again stagnated.

Consider that the desired number of professionals that they’ve decided on is 750. That’s great, but there’s not 750 spots on the ATP tour on a weekly basis, forcing more than half of those 750 to try and play the ITF WTT. These prize pools are such that no pro can profitable play them, so what happens next? Players fix to make ends meet etc. You’re basically just watching a dog chase its tail.

I’m going to skip some recommendations as they’re not particularly interesting.

Screenshot_20190307-120349~2.png

This one made me laugh. Consider this, the IRP panel convened on 2016, whilst the TIU began in 2009. So between 09-16 at least, the TIU was dealing with match-fixing cases without having a specialised betting analyst. I mean, is that a sick joke or are they really that incompetent?

I’ve mentioned the issue of match footage in my previous blog. It’s clear to anyone who gambles that the TIU are overly conservative and do not use match footage sufficiently. They need to find a way, within the legal framework (assuming it’s possible), to allow match footage to become a much bigger part of the case building process.

To that end, if the ITF continue to refuse to end live scoring at the $15k level they need to force all venues to provide live streaming of all courts. It’s really not that expensive to hook up a single camera view of a court. This has to be done.

 

To conclude this section, in my opinion it’s clear there is zero desire within the ITF to end the live scoring any time soon. The creation of the WTT was partly driven by a desire to keep the deal in place.

The TIU are not fit for purpose. 6 convictions a year on average when there are now more than 60,000 matches available for live betting a year is insufficient. But, I do sympathise with them, I think their task is verging on the impossible.

It’s time for the ITF to explain where the Sportradar funding goes, why exactly they will not stop the livec scoring and what will happen once 2021 approaches and the deal is close to ending.

But more importantly this should be the end of the road for Haggerty and anyone else associated with him. The ITF needs a fresh start.

 

I intended to end the blog there, but I think it’s time to be honest and acknowledge that the players are also to blame. For starters, you cannot fix a match without a willing participant, regardless of the reasons they may have for doing it. But as I read further into the report and saw the player survey the results shocked me.

Screenshot_20190307-122139.png

The survey results for the various different questions indicate HUNDREDS of players who know of players fixing. Yet the TIU are convicting an average of 6 players a year? So what’s going on?

If you go back to the Lance Armstrong days, there was an omerta within the peloton. The cyclists knew who was doping but said and did nothing about it.

Can anyone argue the same isn’t happening in tennis? How effective the whistleblower process is, is up for debate, but the survey numbers vs total convictions don’t add up.

I find it really difficult at times to sympathise with the players when I see numbers like those. I’m not accusing all of them and I’m sure some really are just honest people trying their best, but to purely blame the ITF and Sportradar is a real case of whataboutery when you consider there would be zero fixing issues if the players themselves didn’t engage in it.

The ITF need to help the players and turn off live scoring, but equally the players have a duty to protect the integrity of the sport they live and they’re clearly not doing that.