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Editor's Note: But for the COVID-19 pandemic, Wimbledon would now be underway. During the next two weeks ATPTour.com will look back on memorable matches and happenings at the grass-court Grand Slam. This story was originally published on 5 July 2015.On the walls of Le Negresco hangs a portrait of Louis XIV, by Hyacinthe Rigaud; there’s a chandelier designed by Gustav Eiffel; glass work by Baccarrat, one of two commissioned by Tsar Nicholas II, in the Grand Salon that features a glass ceiling. Here, in the palatial art-encrusted surrounds of one of Europe’s finest hotels, owned by Jean-Baptiste Mesnage, on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, Arthur Ashe checks in to a hotel, exclusive to the rich, famous, and their pets. He’s just shared a 311-mile drive from Bologna, via Genoa and Ventimiglia, with Fred McNair and Dickie Dell, during a week off from the busy WCT (World Championship Tennis) circuit.It’s February 1975 and Ashe, days earlier, has just lost to Bjorn Borg 7-6, 4-6, 7-6 in the final of the WCT Bologna tournament. Their stay, in rooms overlooking the Mediterranean, is temporary. The next stop beckons: Barcelona. That night Ashe, McNair and Dell arrange to head to the Nice Lawn Tennis Club in the morning, for a hit. Afterwards, showered, changed and packed up, they head to the Nice train station, where they pick up an International Herald Tribune newspaper to read up on politics and sport. “We spotted one report,” recalls McNair. “It said that actor Richard Burton, who would re-marry Elizabeth Taylor later in the year, had been seen with Suzy Hunt, the model, newly married to Formula One racing driver James Hunt, on the French Riviera.” Returning to Le Negresco, they pass through the marble-floored 50-metre entrance hall, en route to the lifts wide enough to carry beds, for their suitcases ready for check out. Ashe, McNair and Dell pass by a glamourous couple, who have entered. Taking up the story, 40 years on, McNair recalls, “The lady was wearing a red fox fur coat, with a white poodle dog under her right arm. The man was walking with another white poodle.” Seconds pass.‘Mr Ashe...’“We all turned around, and took an appropriate pause. It was Burton and Hunt…“After introductions, Burton asks, ‘What brings you here?’ ‘We’re heading on to an event in Spain,’ explains Ashe. ‘Have you played that impish young American?’‘You mean, [Jimmy] Connors? Yes, yes, recently. It wasn’t a very good result.’”On 25 November 1974, Connors had retained the South African Open title with a 7-6, 6-3, 6-1 victory over Ashe in Johannesburg’s Ellis Park stadium. It was his 17th crown of an extraordinary season. He’d lost just two of 11 sets to Ashe in their three matches to date.“‘I tell you what,’ says Burton. ‘Next time you play, you will beat him. If you do, I’ll wager you £100.‘It will be the best £100 that I have lost.’”Burton’s words stick. Over the course of the next three months, Ashe re-dedicates himself to practice. Getting super fit, he picks up five WCT titles, beating 18-year-old Borg on three occasions, including at the Dallas WCT Finals, 3-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-0. With one of his goals for 1975 out the way, Ashe sets his sights on another.Ashe checks into room 234 at the Westbury Hotel, in the first week of June, more than two weeks before the start of The Championships at Wimbledon. McNair, who has travelled with Ashe for the past five months, is staying directly below in room 134, a walk up a staircase from the understated hotel lobby. A 50-room enterprise, the five-star American hotel in Bond Street is used by clients of Donald Dell, Frank Craighill, Lee Fentress and Ray Benton, a sports management firm, later called ProServ. It’s not the official player hotel, but an occasional meeting point for the two-year-old Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP). Twelve months ago, on the night of Sunday, 23 June 1974, Ashe had been elected president of the ATP, after Cliff Drysdale stepped down. But, at a time of enormous political struggle, it was also the day that World TeamTennis, together with the reigning Australian Open champions Jimmy Connors and Evonne Goolagong, announced their decision to sue the French and Italian championships for $10 million for banning WTT players. They were also suing Jack Kramer, the executive director of the ATP; Dell, its General Counsel, and the Grand Prix circuit sponsor, Commercial Union Assurance Company, for conspiring with the national associations to bar WTT players from tournaments. Thirty one of the now 145-strong ATP are involved in WTT. Effectively, every player is being sued. Connors was not an ATP member. It’s quite the baptism by fire for Ashe, who would soon be responsible for writing the code of conduct. During the first week of their stay in 1975, Ashe, McNair and Sherwood Stewart travel by train to Beckenham, for their first tournament matches on grass in England. At night, they return together in order to dine at the Playboy Club in Mayfair, a 15-minute walk from their hotel and “seemingly the only restaurant open in London after 9:30 p.m.” admits McNair. Ashe goes on to capture the Kent Championships title, beating Roscoe Tanner 7-5, 6-4 in the final. Some of the WCT members head to Nottingham, a two-and-a-hour drive north of London, the following week. Despite losing to Tony Roche 6-3, 6-4 in the quarter-finals, Ashe’s confidence remains high on his return to the Westbury Hotel.But his mood will quickly change. Two days before the start of Connors’ title defence at 1975 Wimbledon, the back pages of London’s Saturday editions headline: CONNORS SUES ASHE. Connors’ manager, Bill Riordan, has filed two lawsuits in Indianapolis, claiming damages of $5 million for libellous comments against them in letters written by Ashe, and an article by Bob Briner, the ATP secretary. The crux is that Ashe has criticised Connors as “seemingly unpatriotic” for playing lucrative ‘challenge’ matches, rather than joining the U.S. Davis Cup team. Briner had called Riordan, a “nihilist”. The news breaks as Connors begins a practice at The Queen’s Club. Richard Evans, the European Director of the ATP, is quoted by AP, saying, “Personally, I’m getting very tired of these shabby tactics of throwing out law suits just before Wimbledon.”Incredibly, Ashe and Connors will meet in 14 days’ time, for the sport’s greatest prize.Connors is considered invincible in the locker room. In 1974, he has compiled a 99-4 record and won three major championships. “Using his Wilson T2000 like a rapier, he had cut the 39-year-old Ken Rosewall to pieces in the Wimbledon final and had then beaten him even more severely in the US Open final, which was being played on grass for the last time,” remembers John Barrett, the former player and broadcaster. “Connors seemed to be invincible on fast grass.”The top seed has not dropped a set en route to the 1975 Wimbledon final. “He had simply annihilated Roscoe Tanner in the semi-finals,” recalls Sports Illustrated’s Frank Deford, of the 6-4, 6-1, 6-1 victory. By contrast, sixth seed Ashe – using a Head Arthur Ashe Comp 2 racquet – has come through a four-set quarter-final against Borg, who picked up a groin injury, and a 5-7, 6-4, 7-5, 8-9, 6-4 last four epic over left-hander Tony Roche, when tie-breaks were played at eight games all. On Saturday, he’ll contest his seventh major championship final – his first since the 1972 US Open, when he lost to Ilie Nastase in five sets. Connors is an 11/2 favourite at the London bookmakers' going into his second Wimbledon final; an overwhelming favourite. Ashe is expected to be swallowed up. “On the eve of the final, I remember discussing Arthur’s prospects with Donald Dell as we stood on the steps of the competitors’ restaurant,” recalls Barrett. “We agreed that he could not expect to outhit Jimmy, who thrived on pace.”Few know that Connors is nursing an injury, the result of slipping and hyper-extending a knee during his first-round win over John Lloyd. It has required secret daily visits to a Chelsea Football Club physiotherapist. Doctors are suggesting he rest. No chance!Go To Part II: Continue Reading...
ATP Chairman Andrea Gaudenzi discusses how tennis stakeholders are collaborating for a safe return to play following the suspension of the Tour since March. The Italian also talks about the Tour structure, future opportunities and how tennis can emerge stronger from the pandemic.The world of tennis has been through a lot recently, including the announcement of the revised calendar from August. Could you explain how some of these major decisions are made at the ATP and across tennis? What are some of the difficulties involved in the process?Firstly, it’s important to outline the structure we have in place at the ATP, which is fairly unique in sport. The ATP is an equal partnership between players and tournaments, and that’s reflected in our core governance structure.At the top, we have the ATP Board of Directors which is responsible for the main decision-making on the Tour. The Board consists of seven people: three Tournament Representatives and three Player Representatives, and myself as ATP Chairman. Essentially, it’s a 50-50 representation reflecting the equal partnership between players and tournaments that embodies the ATP. While each Board member is elected by their stakeholders, they have a fiduciary duty to do what is right for the Tour overall.Beneath the Board you have the Player and Tournament Councils, elected by their constituents to represent the wider interests of the players and tournaments, respectively.Overall, it’s a very democratic ‘pyramid’-style structure. The challenges inevitably arise due to the vast array of differing views and perspectives not only on the player side, but also with tournaments. A 20-year-old player ranked in the Top 200 will likely have very different priorities to a 30-year-old ranked in the Top 20 or doubles player ranked 80. Equally, on the tournament side, the financials of an ATP 250 tournament are very different to a Masters 1000.So, the challenge in our system really comes from the hugely disparate points of views that we have to consider in our decision-making. While it is essential that we listen to everybody’s views, the reality is that consensus can be hard to come by. We cannot cater to individual interests and the Board must do what we believe is right for the sport overall, which ultimately, I strongly believe it is in the best interest of both players and tournaments. And we cannot simply look at matters through the lens of tournaments and players – but also our sponsors, media partners, and most importantly from the fan perspective. We must remember that the fans are the ones driving the commercial success of the sport across on-site attendance, TV viewership, and as the target audience for our sponsors.Inevitably there are difficult decisions to be made and we cannot make everybody happy. Also keep in mind that we must also work collaboratively with the WTA, ITF and Grand Slams, especially in navigating the current crisis and finding solutions for tennis to return safely. This collaboration around complex issues is now more important than ever in order for us to grow the sport to a different level.When balancing varied interests in decision making, what is ATP’s overall goal and priority?Since the outbreak of the Coronavirus, our number one priority has been protecting health. This always has been and always will be the factor that most informs how and when tennis is able to resume and we make no decisions without consulting relevant medical experts. We have robust and exhaustive protocols in place to be implemented at ATP events in order to mitigate risks of infection but we must also be realistic that it is not possible to remove all risk.After health, our primary goal is to pursue the greater good for our sport, and to try to salvage as much of the season as we can in terms of playing opportunities, ranking points, prize money, and delivering our sport for the fans who are eager to see tennis again.We realise that the resumption of the calendar is not perfect by any means – we would love to have more events and more playing opportunities, and more space between our marquee events to ease player scheduling. The reality is that the economic impact of the crisis has meant that tournaments further down the pyramid are less able to weather the storm than those at the top. But does that mean we should hold back the whole Tour until the situation is fully back to normal? Our judgment was that we need to start somewhere and if we have tournaments at the top level that are able to run, and in a safe environment, providing earning opportunities not only for players but for the whole industry, well that’s a start.The way in which we make this return balanced and fair for all, in terms of playing opportunities, including the Challenger Tour, prize money, the FedEx ATP Rankings, travel, is something that we will continue to work on.In the long term, I am optimistic that with the preventative measures developed and the unity shown by tennis’ stakeholders, tennis will be back stronger than ever and will continue to grow for years to come.Andrea Gaudenzi began serving as ATP Chairman on 1 January, 2020.Regarding the ATP Tour resumption, which stakeholders were involved in decision-making?It’s been a long process over many months that has resulted in a completely revised calendar under new terms. We’ve had to be agile and creative, and the process has involved compromise and concessions on all sides. The Board and the Councils have been a key part of that process. We also had group calls with all tournaments and all players.And just as importantly, our decisions were made in close collaboration with WTA, USTA, FFT and ITF. There were many moving parts to finding a revised schedule that fitted around dates, venue availability, health and safety, and travel restrictions amongst other considerations. What we have is a workable schedule that salvages as many events and earning opportunities as possible and I want to thank everyone involved for their efforts. Much work lies ahead and we continue to monitor global travel restrictions with player access in mind while final decisions ultimately rest in the hands of local governments, keeping in mind the situation related to Covid-19 is continually evolving.In general terms, a time of crisis like this accentuates the need for a nimble and fast decision-making process. And while the Board is responsible for setting the overall strategic direction of the Tour, the management needs to be empowered to take day-to-day decisions if we want to run the business professionally. One of the things I’ve learnt in my years working in start-ups is that ‘done is better than perfect’. Decisions have to be taken and it won’t necessarily be perfect – but it’s better than waiting for a perfect solution that will never come as you watch others pass you by.Do you think the circumstances around the ATP Tour’s resumption in August creates a fair playing field?One of the great things about our sport is that it is truly global and meritocratic, based off ranking. We all know how important the FedEx ATP Rankings are – it’s the fabric that essentially ties the whole Tour together.The impact of the pandemic challenges the essence of our Tour on many fronts – not only economically, but in terms of travel restrictions, quarantine etc. For a truly global Tour like ours that involves so much international travel, it’s very challenging.It’s not going to be perfect from the outset and it will take some time but it’s something we will continue to work on and try and ensure as fair and balanced outcome for everyone involved in terms of playing opportunities, prize money and the fairest way possible for the rankings to resume.How fair are the concerns within tennis around the circumstances of resumption, including which events have been rescheduled, FedEx ATP Ranking points, restrictions on player entourages etc.?I think it’s natural for there to be a level of concern. The global situation with COVID-19 is rapidly developing and that presents a lot of unknowns.I believe our precautions and protocols are well informed and under the current plans, some of the biggest ATP events in our sport should still be able to be staged safely despite the circumstances.In the end though, we can have the most robust plans in place but collaboration and approval from local governments will be key, and we’ll continue to monitor international travel restrictions as the situation evolves weekly.Some groups have expressed some frustration at not being more involved or aware of decisions. How effectively do you feel major decisions have been communicated?We do our best to communicate decisions in an effective and timely way, keeping in mind that there are constraints and confidentiality requirements that must be respected in certain situations. In today’s world of social media, information spreads very quickly. That can be both an opportunity and a challenge at the same time.At a certain point though, in order for a business to be run effectively, you cannot consult each player or tournament member on every item. While we would love to be as inclusive as possible, it is simply not scalable to micro-manage in that way. We would be extremely inefficient and we are simply not set up that way as a business; no organisation is. That’s where our governance structure needs to come into play, with the Councils and the Board, who are elected to represent their constituents, which is key to allowing us to be nimble.How well do you feel the structure is working in terms of the having the vast array of stakeholders represented?Any player or tournament representative on the Board or Councils should be held accountable via the election process we have in place - they have to be fully empowered and in the end, they can be voted in or out. And the same applies for my role as ATP Chairman.A separate question is whether the ATP governance structure needs to be tweaked or modernised in any way. You can have the best governance structure in place but in the end the structure relies on the people and interpretation from stakeholders in order for it to work effectively. We’ll continue to assess if any adjustments need to be made there.Separately the question of a broader governance structure that incorporates WTA, ITF and the Grand Slams is something that should be addressed for the benefit of the whole sport.There have been a lot of questions over the income distribution in tennis and how to make the lower levels more viable. What is your view on that and how can it be addressed?If you look at the numbers, total prize money across the ATP Tour, Challenger Tour and Grand Slams has more than doubled between 2009 and 2019, reaching more than US$270 million last year. And the biggest annual percentage increases have been directed towards the qualifying and early rounds in an effort to spread prize money to more players. So there have been some impressive increases in recent years.Can we be doing better as a sport? I believe so, otherwise I would not have taken this role. For me the question is how can the sport come together and collaborate in a meaningful way that will raise the bar for everyone. Related to that, we must ask if the distribution of prize money is working as designed for what we are trying to achieve as a sport.We have a strategic plan in motion which hopes to address these areas. The focus, first and foremost, is on growing the whole pie for the entire sport but also ensuring redistribution down through the tennis ecosystem all the way through to the Challenger Tour, which is required if we want a healthy sport that is appealing as a viable career path.What are your predictions for the sport of tennis as it returns post COVID?I think this pandemic has shown that tennis is stronger when we all work together and empower the respective boards, not only in the decision-making but right through to presenting a unified front as a sport. Tennis has enormous potential when its stakeholders work together and there will be a lot of upside if we can continue in that direction.Separately, our sport’s business model has always relied strongly on ticketing revenues, particularly in comparison to some other sports. Having seen how difficult it has been for tournaments to be economically viable with reduced or no fans on-site, the pandemic has accentuated that reliance on on-site attendance. It shows more than ever that we need to look at our operations and ensure we’re investing in the right areas that have the most potential, particularly in technology, media and data, where I believe we have a lot of room for growth.There is a lot of work ahead as we look to get the Tour back up and running, but I’m optimistic about the long-term prospects of our sport if we continue to stay united and work together.
Editor's Note: But for the COVID-19 pandemic, Roland Garros would now be underway. During the next two weeks ATPTour.com will look back on memorable matches and happenings at the clay-court Grand Slam, which tournament organisers are now hoping to stage in September.Two weeks before Roland Garros in 1996, Michael Stich was unsure if he was going to play the clay-court Grand Slam. Stich had lost a three-setter in the second round of the Internazionali BNL d'Italia against current ATP Chairman Andrea Gaudenzi. Before that, he hadn’t played for nearly three months due to a left ankle surgery that March.“Why should I come to Paris and look like an idiot on clay?” Stich wondered, according to the New York Times.Little did the 27-year-old know that he’d not only play Roland Garros, but he would spring the upset of the tournament and achieve his career-best result on the terre battue.After winning his first three matches with the loss of only one set, 15th-seeded Stich faced a daunting fourth-round challenge against defending champion Thomas Muster. The second seed was the tournament favourite after triumphing in Monte Carlo and Rome.Despite trailing by two sets to one, it appeared the Austrian was poised to wrestle back control of the match from Stich. Muster served to force a decider at 5-3, and converting would have put him in good shape, as he was arguably the fittest player on the ATP Tour. “We all knew Thomas Muster was a strong guy. He was an animal,” former World No. 1 Yevgeny Kafelnikov told ATPTour.com. “He could run fast and for a long time.”[ATP HERITAGE]Instead, Stich kept Muster pinned well behind the baseline to earn three consecutive break chances. Although he couldn’t convert the first two, he hit a ball with heavy topspin to Muster’s forehand, and the Austrian couldn’t reach due to the high bounce. The players weren’t going to a fifth set, but a tie-break. Stich hit a net-cord winner to earn the first mini-break, and he never looked back from there. When he clinched the 4-6, 6-4, 6-1, 7-6(1) stunner with a forehand volley winner, Stich threw his arms up in celebration."There was a lot of pressure on him to defend his title," Stich said, according to the Washington Post. "I had nothing to lose. He had a lot to lose.”Muster won 18 tour-level clay-court titles in 1995 and 1996, yet he lost in four sets against a player who wasn’t sure he was going to play Roland Garros at all."It's a disappointment now, but when I wake up tomorrow morning, I will hopefully have the same hair," Muster said. "Winning last year hasn't changed my life, and this is not going to change my life, either."[MY POINT]The upset surprised the rest of the field, too. Kafelnikov said that there was a crowd of players watching the match in the locker room.“I was very surprised, but all credit to Michael. He played a very fantastic match,” Kafelnikov said. “That was the surprise of the tournament, that the defending champion went out in the fourth round. But Michael played a very great tactical match and used his strengths to his advantage very classically. It did surprise many players.“I knew Thomas was the best clay-court player at the time with his record and his game. That year was very, very hot. The courts got a bit quicker. The balls were travelling through the air a bit faster.”Stich maintained his momentum, beating home favourite Cedric Pioline and Swiss Marc Rosset to reach his first and only Roland Garros final. The German fell short against Kafelnikov, who had led their ATP Head2Head series 6-3.Nevertheless, the fortnight was a 180-degree turnaround for Stich. Not only did he show up in Paris, but he looked better than ever on the red clay. "I might have lost a match,” Stich said after the final. “But I've recaptured my love for the sport."
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