The tagline for the inaugural NextGen ATP Finals tournament in Milan this week is: ‘The future is now’. Sadly on Sunday night at the official draw party, it felt like we went back in time.
We gathered at Arome, the venue for the Red Bull-sponsored NextGen Finals Draw Party, to find out which player would land in which round-robin group.
Little did we know that the process would involve female models with the letters A or B hidden somewhere on their bodies, which they unveiled once a player “chose them”.
That is how the draw for the 21-and-under tournament was determined.
From then on, the next seed was given a choice of one of two models. Once he made his decision, she would take him down the catwalk, and provocatively reveal the hidden letter that would indicate which group he’d play in. The following seed would then be escorted by the other non-chosen model.
There was inappropriate dancing, gloves that were removed by a player’s teeth, and many more cringe-worthy moments but I’ll spare you the details.
Most of the players looked visibly awkward, while some laughed their way through it. I personally felt deeply sad watching it all unfold.
‘Why is this happening in my sport?’ was my initial thought.
I’ve long loathed the way cyclists were given their winners’ jerseys in the presence of two podium hostesses whose sole purpose was to kiss the cheeks of the champion on stage. Motorsport is not much different.
But even cycling is finally starting to acknowledge how sexist and old-fashioned its jersey ceremony is and Vuelta organisers this year introduced male models to accompany the women. It’s not a complete solution but at least it was a tiny step forward to change a long-standing appalling habit.
Why a tournament that is meant to be focused on the future of tennis would choose to regress in that manner is truly beyond me? Who thought it would be a good idea to handle the draw that way? And what kind of message are they sending to the young fans they are trying to attract to the sport?
This is an event featuring eight players aged between 18 and 21. How about the ATP – and co-organisers the Italian Olympic Committee and Italian Tennis Federation – focus on the great values the sport stands for rather than instill sexist, antiquated behaviour in their so-called ‘NextGen’?
If they wanted to go with the theme of Milan being a fashion capital of the world, there were many ways they could have done so without being wildly sexist and inappropriate.
It reflects a complete detachment from reality on their part, especially in this day and age.
I’m all for the tournament pushing boundaries by testing out new rules. If it results in a snappier version of tennis that is appealing to a large audience then so be it.
But Sunday night wasn’t about new rules. It was about old ones I had hoped were disappearing from sport. Clearly I was wrong!
Rafael Nadal said on Monday that he is ready to consolidate his year-end number one ATP ranking by winning his opening match at the Paris Masters.
But the 31-year-old Spaniard – who is also trying to balance the delicate political situation in his native country with his status as an international sportsman – refused to hype up his potential coronation.
“I need to win a match. I’m here to try my best – as in every tournament,” he said before starting as top seed in the event which is missing Roger Federer due to fatigue.
“Hopefully if this (number one) happens, it will be something important for me. But the season is not over and it’s not the moment to think much about that.
“I’ll just try to think about trying to have the right preparation for the tournament and then try to be ready for the first match.”
When the King of Clay makes your day.
— Tennis TV (@TennisTV) October 30, 2017
Nadal, who reclaimed the top ranking in August for the first time in three years, is due to start at Bercy against South Korea’s Hyeon Chung, who opened on Monday with a 6-0, 6-2 first-round defeat of German Mischa Zverev.
Federer is skipping Paris after winning back-to-back titles in Shanghai and Basel and is resting to be prepared for the ATP Finals starting in less than a fortnight in London.
Nadal, who withdrew from Basel with a knee problem, does not fault his main rival for looking after personal interests.
“Everyone makes the calendar which he thinks will be the best for him,” Nadal said. “For him, everything was working well that way. He had a little bit better chance, of course, if he came here. But you never know.
“You would think that he would have more points if he had played on clay. But you never know (that) if he played on clay if he would win Wimbledon or he would be able to play as well as he did.
“He took his decisions and he did it well. Probably after winning Shanghai and winning Basel he believes that will be better for his body and for his preparation for London to not be here, to rest.”
The 10-time Roland Garros champion Nadal said that he is hoping to do well in “the most important city for my career”.
Questioned about the political situation in his native Spain between Madrid and Catalonia, Mallorcan Nadal, also a Catalan speaker, was notably circumspect.
“In my situation it’s very difficult to answer these kind of things because things are, let’s say, sensitive in my country,” said Nadal.
“Anything that I can say will not go the right way. The real thing for me (is that) it’s a sad situation and at the same time a difficult situation; it’s difficult (for me) to talk 100 per cent freely.
“I want the things to get better. I don’t want the fracture between people in Catalonia. I feel close to Catalonia. I love the people in Catalonia, and most of the Spanish people feel the same.
“Love from the rest of the Spanish country, it feels love for Catalonia and that’s it. And that’s the reason that’s why we are sad about that situation.”
The 19-time Grand Slam champion withdrew from the final event of the regular season after battling past Juan Martin del Potro to win his eighth Swiss Indoors title in Basel.
The 36-year-old then officially withdrew from the event, citing a back injury.
The official Paris Masters Twitter account’s post read: “Roger Federer has withdrawn with Back injury. the next player eligible to be seeded (Pouille) has filled the vacant position #RolexPMasters.”
Federer, winner of a 95th career title which puts him into second on the all-time list behind the 109 of Jimmy Connors, had said all week that he would make a late decision depending on his post-Basel fitness.
“My body is asking for a break,” said the Swiss legend. “Basel takes a lot out of me emotionally. I had five matches in six days. I feel sorry and sad for Paris.
“I love to play at Bercy, it’s a few times now that I’ve not played there. It’s a tough one but they have to understand that it’s for the cause of staying injury-free and healthy.
“I’d like to be fully fit for London (the World Tour Finals) and for 2018.”
According to ATP calculations, Nadal can clinch the year-end number one status by winning his opening second-round match in Paris.
The Spaniard will open his campaign at Bercy against either German serve-and-volleyer Mischa Zverev or Hyeon Chung, the promising South Korean.
Federer last played Paris in 2015 and won the title in 2011.
“I did think about the ranking, but I’m so far back in the points race that it was almost out of the question,” added Federer.
“I asked myself what I would do if the ranking (issue) was not there. I want to stay injury-free, not push it and maybe get hurt next week and then miss London.
“It would be a snowball. It was not really about the ranking to be quite honest. If I was closer in the points race (to Nadal) it might have been.”
On Sunday, Federer claimed his first success against del Potro in a Basel final, after the South American beat him in both 2012 and 2013.
He now has won a Tour-leading seven titles this season after beating Nadal in the Shanghai Masters final a fortnight ago.
Federer has also captured the Australian Open and Wimbledon titles in 2017.
He admitted frustration after failing to win the opening set on Sunday.
“Being up two breaks should be enough to beat almost anyone. I was also up in the breaker. I had way too many wasted opportuities,” he explained.
“I didn’t have the best serving day, I struggled. It was mental and physical, I’m glad I found a way somehow.”
Del Potro will be playing for a fourth successive week in Paris after coming back earlier in the season from wrist problems, as he looks to snatch a late place for the eight-man event in London.
The 29-year-old reached the Shanghai semi-finals and won in Stockholm earlier this month before his run in Basel.
Federer lost only two sets during the week as he improved his head-to-head record to 17-6 over del Potro, with a third win in four matches against the former US Open champion in 2017.
“It’s unbelievable how well Roger is playing,” said del Potro. “I hope to be in such shape when I’m his age. But I doubt I will be.”