The history of tennis and match-fixing part two

I wish to make it clear from the outset of this blog that I think the TIU are useless. I’ll cover in detail why in this and any subsequent blog I write, but suffice to say that if I were match-fixing right at this moment I’d have little concern that the TIU in its current form would stop me unless I made an horrific mistake.

That said, I think it is important to note I feel like they’re fighting Hydra. Every single time they cut off a head many more are ready to grow back. They’re not to blame for that, the players are.

Whatever excuses a player wishes to use, I’m yet to hear of one being forced to fix matches at gun point. It’s a choice and when you make that choice you deserve the severest of all punishments available, namely losing the right to play professionally again.

Finally, I personally am someone who gambles on tennis matches. I have been on the right and wrong side of matches I have subsequently believed to be fixed. It’s the risk I run when betting on $15k events I cannot watch. I say this because any commentary I make below is not as a result of being a disgruntled gambler who feels a player has fixed every time I have lost. I therefore ask you keep an open mind when reading on because I am trying to be as fair and impartial as I can be.

The TIU from January 2009 to the present day.

The TIU came into existence in Jan 2009 and according to the IRP report have produced 59 successful convictions since then.

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The report praises them for this which I find staggering. 59 convictions from January 2009 to December 2018 equates to 6 a year. By the end of this week there will probably be a minimum of 6 dodgy matches. It’s a drop in the ocean.

The next section of the report is even more confusing.

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Whilst I accept there may not have been a cover-up, at best the above paragraph suggests there is a clear and obvious element of negligence when it comes to dealing with those matches that had been flagged up. It also mentions Sopot, which as I said in my previous blog is easily the most famous of the match-fixing scandals to engulf the sport and yet to this day nobody has been caught. We need explanations as to why and specifically as to what data was found and not used on the mobile phone.

These next two paragraphs are key.

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Undoubtedly one of my biggest issues is with how seemingly difficult it is for a player to get caught. The TIU seem to adopt the level of proof expected in a criminal court trial. Is that necessary? I’m not a lawyer (obviously), but the report would suggest otherwise. Too often it seems like the negligence/stupidity of the player, e.g. Karim Hossam not deleting incriminating mesaages, is how the players are caught rather than gathering evidence that heavily suggests fixing has gone on and being brave enough to back that belief up in a court of law should it come to it.

I’ll give an example of what I mean now. Oliver Anderson was banned for two years, after being arrested and admitting to his crime. The evidence was a series of bets placed that heavily indicated something strange was taking place.

The match itself was broadcast and post-arrest when you looked at the footage it was clear as day he’d agreed to deliberately lose the first set.

Let’s play devil’s advocate for a minute and assume he had not been arrested and confessed. Well, at that point what evidence would the TIU need? Surely the match footage and the suspicious bets would suffice? I’m speculating here, but one suspects not.

I’m going to give one more absolutely blatant example of a fix that has gone unpunished and probably always will. I was also on the right side of this and won money.

The match in question took place in Italy at the back end of last year and was a Croatian derby between Duke Kekez and Franjo Raspudic (feel free to sue me boys, I dare you).

Raspudic took the first set 6-3, winning 28 of 48 points. It was then, with Kekez  2-1 up on serve in the second, that I decided to back him. I felt the price was too generous.

It’s worth noting the match continued on serve until 3-3. Kekez had won 16 of the 30 points in the set until that point. To be clear, at this stage Raspudic had won 42 points to Kekez’s 36.

From then on Raspudic seemingly forget to remember how to play tennis and proceeded to win 9 of the next 45 points, losing 3-6, 6-3, 6-0.

Now I couldn’t watch the match, so who knows, maybe he injured himself? Maybe Kekez just stepped up a level? Perhaps. But what struck me as strange was that the Bet365 website refused to offer in-play odds around the time Raspudic started to collapse and upon my bet winning I had this discussion with William Hill as I did not get paid my winnings.

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The conversation would indicate outside forces were aware of the something nefarious going on.

So what happened to them? Well Raspudic played the following week and nothing since, whilst Kekez play a few tournaments after in 2018 and played a couple in January this year. So nothing, presumably.

It’s possible they were investigated and cleared. But from my years of following this shit I’d be more willing to wager that the TIU couldn’t find anything that meets their unnecessarily high threshold (which the IRP agrees with) and both players are free to do as they please.

Remember that’s one match I’m showing you. Thanks to the Sportradar deal there are over 60,000 live matches a year. If you thought the TIU’s success rate of 6 a year was even slightly close to the true number that are being thrown, I hope that puts it into perspective for you.

This is a plague on our sport and as I’ll discuss in the next blog, the ITF have still not implemented the one thing that could begin to slow this down.

 

As mentioned in my next blog I’ll tackle the recommendations that were made and query why some of those took only until the IRP report was published for them to come into effect.

 

The history of tennis and match-fixing

After the BBC/BuzzFeed investigation into match-fixing at predominantly the lowest levels of the sport there was a report commissioned and put together by the Independent Review Panel (IRP). This process began in early 2016 and the final draft was released in December 2018. It’s this final report I am going to focus on and dissect.

As I discussed in my last blog, there’s a myth that surrounds match-fixing in that it began when the Sportradar deal was signed in 2012. It’s simply not true. We can go back as 2005 as the IRP passage here shows:

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As you can see, as far back as 2005 there were concerns related to the game’s integrity. The passage then goes on to mention a match in Sopot 2007. This is arguably the most famous case of match-fixing that exists, even to this day. It involved Nikolai Davydenko and Martin Vassallo Arguello. I’ll add a newspaper report as a reference below, but the long and short of it was that the match was so obviously fixed that Betfair cancelled all bets on the match (over £7m was wagered, nearly two and a half times more than a match being played at the same time). That match in Sopot is something I’ll come back to later on.

The next part of the report that interested me was their conclusion as to why tennis is so vulnerable to match-fixing. It’s something I touched on in my last blog and I wholeheartedly agree with their assessment.

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The section 8.3 is crucial to consider. Again if I refer to my last blog I mentioned there’s little doubt that whilst match-fixing existed previously, it has dramatically worsened since the Sportradar deal opened up 10’s of thousands of matches to live in-play betting.

I’m going to skip ahead in the report, but I feel this graph shows to what extent the above statement is true.

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It’s obvious to conclude that as 10’s of thousands of matches became available for in-play betting the instances of potential match-fixing rose sharply.

I would also like to reiterate that those within the ATP who are pushing the agenda of the ITF and Sportradar being the problem seem to have curiously forget the IRP made it clear there’s match fixing at the ATP level too.

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I made it clear before why I believe the problem is so much greater at the ITF level. More tournaments, more players and lower prize pools. But I know this problem goes up into ATP events too, so I’d say again that their live data sales also need to be discussed.

Next let’s look at the response to match-fixing historically and I tend to find section 14.2 incredibly troubling.

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Why do I find it so troubling? Well let’s next consider what they did back in 2003.

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The man in question has been named in numerous media reports as Yevgeny Kafelnikov.

He is being inducted into the Hall of Fame this year.

To conclude this section, for me it’s fairly clear the tennis authorities were way behind the curve on the issue. The Ings Report back in 2005 was not treated with the respect it deserved and lip service was paid to problem as a whole.

There surely has to be serious questions asked over the Kafelnikov incident also. We need to know exactly what happened and why.

In my next blog I’ll look at what happened from 2009 onwards once the TIU was created.

Links:

Davydenko – Arguello match: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2007/aug/03/tennis.sport

Kafelnikov: https://www.stuff.co.nz/sport/tennis/103548811/grand-slam-winner-yevgeny-kafelnikov-was-player-b-who-retired-amid-betting-scandal

The Sportradar/match-fixing problem

Let’s be clear, the ITF signing a deal with Sportradar in order to become its “official data rights partner” is a highly contentious issue for many reasons. One of the things the deal did was to make live scoring data now available for the lowest level of tennis matches. This in turn is now used by the betting companies to offer in-play pricing on the matches, rather than just the pre-match option that used to exist.

It’s important to understand this because the idea this deal created match-fixing is a myth. Match-fixing in tennis existed before this deal and would exist even if the live scoring was removed. That’s not an opinion, that’s a fact. But what the live scoring has done is opened up a plethora of markets that means players can now choose to fix in all kinds of ways.

It’s also worth making it clear that betting/match-fixing existed before, because as social media use exploded players have become increasingly subjected to disgraceful abuse by gamblers who have lost money betting on them. But I would argue it’s not necessarily the Sportradar deal that has increased abuse, but the ease and access we now have to players over the many different social media platforms.

Now, let’s look at the gambling issue specifically. I’ll take a match that I will choose at complete random that is currently in-play as I write this (I stress this is no reflection at all on the players involved, it’s to make a few points).

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If I pick the above match, we can see it is an M25 tournament in Trento. The “70” in the bottom left hand corner indicates how many markets are available to bet on. That’s SEVENTY different markets. For a non-televised/streamed event.

I’ll post another screenshot to give you an indication of the type of markets available to bet on.

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Now, as you seem from the above screenshot, there is quite literally the opportunity to bet on every single point, every game, each set and the match winner (and plenty more besides).

The market I have opened up in order to show pricing is one in which you can decide on who wins the 5th game of the first set and you can either back the server or the receiver (obviously!). Now if you look at the pricing available to us, it shows the receiver as a considerable underdog to win the game, as you’d expect. In fact if you placed £100 on it, you’d win as much as £400 back in pure profit.

The point I’m trying to make is we’ve now got non-televised/streamed matches taking place around the world in which players could choose to fix a specific section of the match (not even necessarily the final result); for example by agreeing to lose a particular service game and all it takes is a couple of double faults and some unforced errors, they get broken the bet wins and who is there to notice what’s just occurred?

The money itself is not insignificant either. I’ll show an example from an account I have to prove the point. The screenshot below is from a qualifying match at a Futures event. Think about that level for a second before you see the sort of money that can be wagered.

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For those that don’t understand it, I entered £30,000 as the stake and the website came back and told me I can wager a maximum of £3,000 at evens, meaning I could win £3,000 if Bellucci won the match (plus my stake so I’d get £6,000 back in total). Therefore I can win more in a single match than the winner of the event at the end of the week. Is it any wonder people succumb?

Why is this all happening? Well for one the prize pools at the lowest levels are insufficient. You cannot play year on year at the $15/25k level without accruing losses. But equally in order to move up the ladder you need to be able to play regularly and often, so even those who are good enough will struggle (without outside help). Tennis is like being a university student. You’re being asked to invest in yourself and get into debt with the hope of climbing back out of it later on in your life. It’s an awful system.

But let’s not take away personal responsibility either. As it stands I’m yet to hear of a player fixing because he has a gun to his head. It’s a choice and once that choice is made if you’re caught there should be no way back.

I’d also add that one of the biggest problems I also have with all of this, however, is the ATP behaving like White Knights and acting as if they too do not have an issue. This has become such a problem that there are rumours they took away ATP points from $15k events because the ITF would not turn off the live scoring. This has been denied, however there’s plenty of confusion surrounding the whole thing and nobody quite knows the truth at this stage.

You would have to be naive in the extreme to think the problem is a) confined to the ITF tour and b) disappears if live scoring does. Take away Futures live scoring and one of the things I’d predict that you’ll see happen is an increase in fixing at the challenger level (and fixing DOES go on at that level), as players will be targeted at an increased level. What currently makes the Futures tour so attractive is a combination of low prize pools, far more tournaments on a weekly basis and the fact that the matches aren’t streamed (there are a few tournaments that do, but it’s a tiny % of the total played).

What should be done?

I’ll write a blog about the TIU (Tennis Integrity Unit) when I have a chance, but I fundamentally believe they’re unfit for purpose. In the short-term I believe the findings of the IRP report (tennisirp.com) need to be implemented and it needs to be done now.

The most important thing I’d do is turn off live-scoring for $15k events for now. I am saying this as someone who gambles on them. It would hurt me, but it’ll hurt the sport far more if this isn’t done. I cannot stress how badly widespread I believe this to be. I’m comfortable saying there is fixing going on nearly every single day of the year at that level (easily more than 250 days of the year); whether it be a specific section of the match, or the match result itself.

As I wrote above turning off live scoring at the Futures level doesn’t stop fixing (and the ATP deserves to have some serious questions asked of its own data selling), but for now it’s about stemming the bleeding because as of right now nothing is being done and that’s unacceptable.

Ultimately the ITF and tennis as a whole needs to stop burying its head in the sand on the issue of fixing. They’re letting down fans, the honest players and the sport by continuing to do nothing to address an issue that the IRP report confirms does exist in an extremely widespread manner.

Take action now, for the good of the sport.

What is the ITF Transition Tour? Part 3

The final part of the ITF statement I wish to deal with is:

It is anticipated that this will increase the number of nations hosting tournaments in 2019, providing opportunities for more players.

As I said in the previous blog, I’m deeply sceptical about the claims of reduced hosting costs and how much this will increase the chances of additional tournaments being hosted. However I have to preface this blog with a warning that the data I incorporate will only be for the period for Jan – Mar 2019 only. It’s possible things may improve, but I believe there is sufficient evidence so far to have a degree of pessimism about the schedule moving forwards.

If we look at the 2018 numbers it looks as follows:

Jan – 2018, 31 tournaments, total number of 2,788 qualifying spots available

Feb – 2018, 29 tournaments, total number of 1,648 qualifying spots available

Mar – 2018, 53 tournaments, total number of 3,536

Worth noting the huge discrepancy between Jan and Feb 18 numbers is because some tournaments could choose to host as many as 128 players in a qualifying draw, whilst others could keep it at 32.

Jan – 2019, 27 tournaments, total number of 648 qualifying spots available

Feb – 2019, 25 tournanents, total number of 600 qualifying spots available

Mar – 2019, 43 tournaments, total number of 1,032 qualifying spots available.

Just for clarification, the new system caps qualifying at 24 players.

Now, let’s compare and contrast. Between Jan and Mar 2018 there were a total of 109 tournaments, from Jan to Mar 2019 there are 95 tournaments.

This means there has been a reduction of 14 tournaments for the same quarter, year on year.

That’s pretty awful, but let’s look at by far the biggest issue, the number of player opportunities that have been taken away as a result.

From Jan to Mar 2018 there were a total of 7,972 qualifying spots, this has dropped to a total of… 2,280.

In short, in the same 3 month period, there are 5,692 fewer qualifying spots available to players.

That’s just in a single 3 month period. Worth reiterating that.

At this point it’s worth going back to the ITF statement from Feb 2018 and to be clear on their claims.

It is anticipated that this will increase the number of nations hosting tournaments in 2019, providing opportunities for more players.

I’d be intrigued to see the ITF defend that statement when faced with the facts.

It’s worth me explaining why this is such an issue. They’re not just taking away spots from nobodies who fancy a chance at playing in a local tournament, we are talking about players who are well established and inside the ITF’s ideal criteria of 750 professionals. As the below screenshot from a tweet by John Millman shows, his friend is not even close at this stage to making qualifying draws at some $15k events despite an ATP ranking of 670. Yet just last year that ranking would easily have got him directly into the main draws of the $15k events and possibly seeded.

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What is actually causing the above to happen?

Part of the issue causing this now stems from the fact the CH tour also provides less opportunities (I’ll touch on that another day), so players are forced downwards and have to play $25k events, which in turn pushes others down towards the $15k events. When this is combined with the reality that there are fewer tournaments at the $25k and $15k levels, plus smaller qualifying draws…well it just means some people are going to be forced out of tennis due to lack of opportunities, rather than talent and that’d be the biggest shame of them all.

But the biggest issue is once where players could play $15k events and earn ATP points they are no longer able to do so. Thus the $25k events have never been more important and the value of even a single ATP has gone up immeasurably at this stage.

I might write a blog on it at some point to try and really simplify it, but suffice to say if you’re ranked around 600 in the world (again, well inside the ITF’s desire goal of 750) it is extremely difficult to work out where you should be playing. Chances are you’ll now be forced to play the $15k circuit to build up ITF ranking points…this is turn will lead to huge increases in costs just to be able to travel and play as the prize pools are small and if you have relatively few ITF points at this stage you’re now effectively climbing a new rankings ladder.

If it sounds confusing, that’s because it truly is.

Ultimately, a sport many people associate with the elite due to costs has managed to almost make that perception a reality.

This issue won’t stop the Roger Federer’s of the world, but how about the Nikoloz Basilashvili types? Nikoloz at the age of 19 was still on the Futures tour. Does someone like him still make it under the new system? Possibly not. Think about that for a second. He’s the world number 20 now, but under this system he may not have the time and resources to climb up first the ITF rankings and then the ATP rankings.

If you think that is hyperbole, read the thoughts of coaches and others who are opposed to this system and I suspect they may well agree.

Whilst some may argue it’s early days, I think it’s clear the ITF are falling miles short of the claims they made. Remember this isn’t some minor trial they are engaged in, this is a permanent change that was signed off after extensive research. That’s the most worrying aspect.

The questions will continue. Who put together the research? Who decided on the new proposals? Who ultimately signed off on them? Which stakeholders were consulted? Were players spoken to? As this is fundamentally one of the biggest changes to the sport in a very long time, why has there been such a lack of transparency and openness?

Then again this is the same leadership that consigned the Davis Cup to the bin so should we really be shocked?

I’m finished with the ITF’s statetment and these mini blogs for now. There’s more elements I can cover, but I’m going to take a break from writing whilst I watch what goes on. I hope anyone who has read the previous two plus this one has gotten something from it.

As a final sidenote, it was only yesterday that I became away that Dave Miley was a presidential candidate for the upcoming ITF elections. He has written a beautiful post on this issue, covering more than I have and in a much more succinct manner. It’s clear he has his finger on the pulse and understands the devastating consequences for the game under this new system.

If any player reads this blog, I urge them to read Dave’s, share it around, talk amongst yourselves and make your voices known. He particularly deserves your support because the man he is up against is the very man who has engineered not only this farce, but the demise of the Davis Cup, one David Haggerty.

When all is said and done it’s your careers and your childhood dreams that are being threatened and it’s time you stood up for yourselves.

Because if you don’t, no one else will.

 

Dave’s post: https://m.facebook.com/davemileytennis/posts/1229040220596418

What is the ITF Transition Tour? Part 2

Let’s dive right into it.

“The transition tour will be staged within a more localised circuit structure that reduces costs for players and tournament organisers. This will also increase opportunities for players from more countries to join the pathway and be supported in their transition to professional tennis.”

I used to work in sales and I can spot bullshit from a mile off. This is Grade A rubbish. What does a more “localised circuit structure” actually mean? I can only assume there is some misguided belief more tournaments will be held in more regions meaning better access for players all over the world? If so, I highly doubt it.

“Reduces costs for players”. You mean aside from the $40 entrance fee main draw male players now pay, having never paid it previously? Let’s assume they play 25 tournaments a year, that’s an extra $1,000 in expenses.

So where do their savings begin? Well tournanents are now Monday to Sunday, but it’s hard to argue accommodation costs will decrease as typically a main draw player wouldn’t have started their campaign until a Monday/Tuesday anyway and if they won the title they would normally have played their final on a Sunday under the old system… and as nothing changes under the new system either in that respect I cannot work out where the players are making savings; only additional expenses with the entry fees.

The one set of players who will make savings are those who play in the qualifying sections as they won’t start on a Saturday, but a Monday instead. However this feels like an almost redundant point because no player can continue to play in the qualifiers week on week without progressing or they’d lose fortunes and those that do progrsss will inevitably end up in the main draws anyway; so ultimately the savings are pretty miniscule in the long run.

Let’s now look at what the ITF have said about tournament costs:

More National Associations will have the opportunity to stage events due to the cheaper hosting requirements of transition tour tournaments. The tournaments will be shorter in length than Pro Circuit events and take place over seven days (including qualifying). There is no requirement to host three consecutive tournaments as per the current rule for Men’s Futures tournaments; and there is a reduction in officiating requirements. It is anticipated that this will increase the number of nations hosting tournaments in 2019, providing opportunities for more players.

As mentioned previously the tournaments themselves have switched to Mon-Sun; with one of the arguments being it decreases costs for the tournament hosts. So let’s look at the reality behind that. The figures I will use are from Dave Miley’s excellent Facebook post (I’ll link it at the bottom).

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Now you don’t have to be a genius to see there’s actually an increased cost to the organisers. Pity nobody at the ITF knows how to use a calculator.

The point about tournaments now being 7 days in length as opposed to 9 is also interesting. Is the cost savings such that a decision on whether a tournament is held hinges on that factor? I doubt it. Worth noting that if a country was to host for three continual weeks like was the case in previous years (let’s assume the location within the country remains the same), then the tournaments would run for 21 days rather than 23. Again, is the saving so beneficial that this is the overriding factor?

The changes themselves are potentially quite devastating to locations that have run tournaments for years. Places like Egypt, Tunisia and Turkey are resort based locations who host tournaments on the understanding that they recoup their costs (and more) by selling hotel beds to the players. Previously these places could put together 64 player qualifying draws which would take place over the weekend. As tournaments are now 24 player qualifying draws, that’s 40 players who have disappeared and no longer provide income to the resorts.

The impact of this could be that locations that provide tournaments over 30+ weeks a year may have to reconsider if the sums no longer add up for them. The additional irony being that were these locations to stop offering tournaments, you’re now taking away the few places players can keep travel costs down by playing at the same location week after week.

So in summary, players now have potentially an additional expense of roughly $1,000 but no obvious proof of costs decreasing anywhere else; whilst tournaments will have 40 less players (more in the States) playing in qualifying draws and therefore a lot less income (for those that are resort based) putting the chances of them continuing to host the events at risk.

Good system I’m sure you’ll agree.

 

In my next blog post I’ll analyse in detail the claim that, “It is anticipated that this will increase the number of nations hosting tournaments in 2019, providing opportunities for more players.”.

As a side note, I do note profess to have any writing talent whatsoever, so if I’ve made any glaring errors please let me know, would be appreciated.

The link to Dave’s post can be found here: https://m.facebook.com/davemileytennis/posts/1229040220596418

Thank you as always if you’ve read this far.

What is the ITF Transition Tour?

I intended to write a similar blog to this originally, but having noticed a steady stream of conplaints from players on social media I’m going to go right back to the beginning of this all, February the 1st 2018, in order to try and explain the ITF Transition Tour and to get a better understanding of how this mess came about.

In this blog I’ll break down the original announcement before expanding on other issues in further blogs. To do it all in one go would take forever and create a blog too big that people won’t read (somehow assuming anyone reads this anyway!).

The link to the original announcement can be found here: https://www.itftennis.com/news/278962.aspx

Let’s crack on:

The ITF today announced details of the new ITF transition tour that will be launched in 2019 as part of a major restructuring of professional tennis. The tour will provide a more effective pathway linking the ITF Junior Circuit and the senior professional game, and ensure that prize money at professional level tournaments is better targeted to enable more players to make a living.”

Sounds good. More players making a better living. Juniors with better and clearer pathways. Who can complain about those consequences? Rejoice everyone!

I’ll deal with this statement later on, suffice to say it’s failing in its mission.

“The creation of the transition tour is based on ITF research that shows that while over 14,000 players compete each year in professional tournaments, only around 350 men and 250 women break even financially without consideration of coaching costs.  A large number of junior players are competing on the professional circuit but the transition to the Top 100 is taking longer.”

Firstly, there are too many tennis players who do not make an adequate living at this game. That’s absolutely true. But what this paragraph does is effectively absolve the ITF of any blame on this issue. For example, prize money at the Australian Open has gone up 30% in the last 5 years, whilst if you account for inflation, prize money at the ITF tournaments at the current $15k and $25k level (I’ll concentrate on the men’s side as I know it better) have gone down in real terms.

Whilst I do not expect players to be making fortunes at the lowest levels, there is simple no excuse for a player to barely be breaking even unless he wins the tournament. This is an old age problem the ITF continually manage to avoid addressing. Ultimately, in order for a player to start out he has to almost accept he will lose thousands before he has any hope of making any money. How is this a good system?

The next issue is discussing how long it takes a junior to reach the top 100. As I mentioned in a previous blog, being a top junior is no guarantee of success. When you consider that 29.6% of all junior boys Major winners (between 1998 and 2013) failed to crack the top 100, then you realise it’s a bloody tough sport. But more importantly in this context you have to question what’s causing the issue? Is it really the lack of an “effective pathway”? Two examples below suggest otherwise.

Let’s be clear, any kid who wins a junior Major is going to be one that interests agencies and sponsors and he will get whatever help a national federation can offer. Two recent examples of this (and without wishing to denigrate their careers thus far) include an Australia and a Canadian, with whom both will have had a huge amount of support. They both turn 25 in the next week and neither has cracked the top 100.

Given it’s fair to accept both have had good support and didn’t make it, surely you then need to accept some players just aren’t good enough?

So does having a “clearer pathway” as the ITF put it mean these same two players would have made the top 100? No, I don’t personally think so. If you’re ultimately not good enough even if you get through the ITF level you’ll then have to get through the challenger tour, which is no mean feat.

The conclusion I am attempting to reach is to show that the ITF are trying to blame a slowdown in top juniors reaching the top 100 on the previous system we had. But what evidence is there that this new system is the way forward? There is almost an automatic assumption coming from the ITF that a top 100 junior should have a good career as a pro, but the facts and the numbers prove otherwise.

The discussion should be about how many players are lost and disappear from the game due to costs and at what level this occurs. Numbers, stats, facts and evidence should be provided so people can discuss the issue at length and so that people with real tennis experience can put forth ideas and visions for the sport moving forward. Not a bunch of suits behind closed doors devising a system and then providing no clear explanation of how it will work.

The new system in place as it stands is currently inconviencing players and making it increasingly more difficult for them to simply just play (I’ll expand on this another tine). This cannot be right.

I’ve written a lot more than I expected to and have a lot more of the original ITF statement to cover so I will leave it there for now. I’m passionate about this sport and I’ll continue to write about this issue over the coming days and weeks. Thanks if you bothered to read this far.

ITF Rankings

I’m going to write a super short blog before I put together a much longer version in the next day or two.

In that blog I’ll try and envision how a junior in their last year of eligibility with minimal outside support (federations/sponsors etc), can make it as a pro.

Currently as it stands there is no teenagers in the ITF top 25 rankings. As a result you are continually seeing guys in their mid 20’s who have grinded away at the $15k events take up direct acceptance spots that the ITF rankings offer (5 spots total) in $25k events.

Often this is in place of guys of a similar age with a higher ATP ranking. It’s ridiculous and makes no sense. I’ll leave it there for now before I expand on this issue in another blog.

Finally there are techinally tournaments starting in January, but as these finish next month I’ll just post “end month” rankings tomorrow once I’ve seen them updated.

What is the success rate of junior Major winners?

I’ve always been curious about the correlation between junior Major success and whether this translates into success as a senior.

As a result I decided that since Federer is the last active remaining junior Major champion, I’d look at every player since he won the boys Wimbledon title in 1998. I’ve stopped at 2013 as the guys in that age group are old enough to have won a Major. To go any further would arguably skew the data.

I’ve broken it down to a number of categories. How many have made it to world number 1? Who has won a senior Major? Has anyone failed to make the top 100? And a couple more. I’ve copied in the Wikipedia table below of all the junior Major winners and you’ll find the broken down statistics underneath that.

The Majors in the table below are in order from left to right with Australian to the US Open titles.

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1) Who has won a senior Major? Roger Federer (20), Andy Roddick, Stanislas  Wawrinka (3), Andy Murray (3), Marin Cilic.

That gives us a total of 5 players and 8.77% of those who won junior titles then going on to win a senior Major.

2) How many world number 1’s have there been? Roger Federer, Andy Roddick and Andy Murray.

That’s a total of 3 players and 5.26%.

3) How many have made the top 10? Fernando Gonzalez, Roger Federer, David Nalbandian, Andy Roddick, Guillermo Coria, Jurgen Melzer, Janko Tipsarevic, Richard Gasquet, Marcos Baghdatis, Andy Murray, Stanislas Wawrinka, Gael Monfils, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Marin Cilic, Grigor Dimitrov

That’s a total of 15 players and 26.3%.

4) Who has failed to make the top 100? Julian Jeanpierre, Carlos Cuadrado, Roman Valent, Todd Reid, Florin Mergea, Alexander Sidorenko, Dusan Lodja, Brydan Klein, Uladizmir Ignatik, Yang Tsung-hua, Daniel Berta, Tiago Fernandes, Agustin Velotti, Luke Saville, Oliver Golding, Gianluigi Quinzi, Folio Peliwo.

That’s a total of 17 players and 29.82%.

5) How many have won an ATP title? Fernando Gonzalez, Roger Federer, David Nalbandian,  Guillermo Coria, Jurgen Melzer, Jarkko Nieminen, Janko Tipsarevic, Richard Gasquet, Marcos Baghdatis, Andy Murray, Stanislas Wawrinka, GaelMonfils, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Marin Cilic, Paul Henri-Mathieu, Nicolas Mahut, Gilles Muller, Jeremy Chardy, Martin Klizan, Grigor Dimitrov, Bernard Tomic, Borna Coric, Nick Kyrgios, Jiri Vesely, Martin Fucsovics

Total of 25 players and 43.9%.

The reality is that the incredibly dominant success of Federer, alongside the achievements of Nadal and Djokovic leaves you with data that will likely not be repeated in the future.

You could reasonably expect more junior Major winners to go on and win the senior Major titles and improve that % as you are highly unlikely to see a Nadal/Djokovic (two non-junior Major winners) combination take up 31 Majors (so far!), nor a 20 Major winning Federer.

The most surprising statistic to me in all this was that 29.82% of the winners failed to even make the top 100. That stat alone would suggest there’s still huge improvements needed, even if you reach the top of the pile at the junior level for a short while, in order to succeed as a professional.

We’re now just a few days away from the next boys junior Major winner but if spending way too much time doing this has taught me anything, it’s that we should have minimal expectations until they demonstrate they can do it on the pro circuit.

 

 

I am no writer, so if I’ve made any errors please let me know and I’ll correct them. Thank you if you’ve bothered to read this far!

Plans for 2019

I am looking forward to attending a number of smaller tournaments this year and will list those below. I am looking to write match reports, take photos and just generally bring more awareness to people of the sport at a level in which it often gets zero coverage.

I don’t expect many people will read this blog but if anyone does and they have recommendations of tournaments to see and visit please get in contact and let me know!

Currently I am due to attend tournaments in Shrewsbury and Glasgow. Shrewsbury is a $60k women’s event whilst Glasgow is a men’s/women’s event at the $25k level. I wanted to go to the Rennes CH at the end of the month but having just looked at the state of my passport I need a new one so we’ll have to see when that arrives.

I’m going to set myself a goal of completing a blog by Friday on junior tennis and will try do a blog twice a week on tennis related topics.

I’m finding it enjoyable writing and whilst I know I won’t get many people who read what I do, I intend to carry it on for the whole of 2019. I am saying and writing these things so I do not back out!

Making Sense of The Transition Tour

To say the changes have been confusing is an understatement. I’m going to use this blog post to attempt to make it clearer, whilst also highlighting the absurdities that now result from the new system.

I’m going to use the upcoming women’s $25k event in Hong Kong as my template.

The way the draws break down are as follows: the first 17 entrants get in via their WTA ranking; as the screenshot below shows.

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No issues there, they are in based purely on their WTA ranking. Whilst the next 5 get in via the ITF rankings.

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Lopatetska is a very highly thought of junior so I’ll put her to one side, but looking at the other four, you have a young unranked Croatian (WTA ranking anyway) and three other pros in their 20’s with pretty unremarkable records who now have direct entrance. I hope you’ll soon see my confusion with this shortly.

So far we’ve 22 players accounted for. Four more are eligible for wildcards, leaving 6 qualifying spots.

Qualifying itself is made up of 24 players, 20 who get in directly via their WTA ranking and four wildcards.

Screenshot_2018-12-28-01-17-38_kindlephoto-50856221

It’s at this point that the whole new rankings system becomes utterly absurd to me. Every single one of the 20 players in the qualifying draw has a better WTA ranking than the 5 ladies who get direct entrance via the ITF rankings.

If the Holy Grail is winning WTA points then it makes little sense to me to have 5 players taking up main draw spots from an inferior rankings system.

I accept that there has to be some element of transition otherwise the whole idea becomes obsolete, but is this really the best method? In the tournament above you’ve three 20 something year olds getting direct entrance via the ITF rankings and given the point of this new system is to help speed up progression for top junior talent surely this is evidence it doesn’t work? Particularly when there are younger players with a better WTA ranking who have to qualify?

Is this honestly better than the previous system? Can’t see it myself.

Ultimately I can’t help but feel that anyone who is currently ranked 400+ and has a poor ITF ranking will end up feeling confused and completely unsure of how best to schedule next year. They’ll want to keep a WTA ranking, but now know that if they’re playing badly dropping down to the $15k level is of absolutely no benefit; therefore what do you do?

The end result is going to see a lot of people squeezed out of the game in my personal opinion and I’m quite frankly at a loss to see how this really helps transitioning players through at a faster pace.

However I accept I may be wrong and if I am, feel free to explain why!