Roger Federer welcomes introduction of ATP Cup and team events

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Roger Federer believes it’s too soon to pass a verdict on the introduction of the new ATP Cup as well as the revamped Davis Cup but is pleased that team competitions are popping up on the tennis calendar.

The Swiss, whose company Team8 launched another team event, the Laver Cup, last year, was speaking after booking himself a ticket to the semis of the ATP Finals, topping his group with a 6-4, 6-3 win over Kevin Anderson on Thursday.

The ATP Cup was unveiled at the O2 Arena on Thursday, and will be staged in January 2020 across three Australian cities. The revamped Davis Cup will be held in Madrid in November 2019. Both events will follow a similar World Cup-like format.

“Well, we haven’t seen the new Davis Cup yet. We haven’t seen a new World Team Cup yet, which used to exist in Dusseldorf, which now is in Australia,” said Federer, who is into the semis of the ATP Finals for the 15th time in 16 appearances.

“I think we have to wait and see how it is. It’s so nice that we have so many highlights, so many tournaments to choose from. Clearly if the World Team Cup is going to be held, players will want to play that first week of the year, so you would think it’s going to be exciting.

“The Davis Cup has incredibly rich history. You would think the players are going to play that. From that standpoint, I think there’s not that much change, per se, or more tournaments on the calendar. It just happens that there’s more team events, which I think the players are happy about.”

Federer referred to the IPTL, a team exhibition league that took place for three years before it folded for financial reasons, as an example of how successful and attractive team competitions can be.

“If you make it in a team format, it can be fun. Players enjoy being with somebody else than just fighting for yourself. I see it in their eyes. I remember at the IPTL, talking to the women players, they were like, ‘Oh, my God, this is so much fun for three weeks. Be on a team, support one another on a team, practice with one another, be with one another’,” said the 37-year-old.

“You forget how, I don’t want to say it’s lonely as a tennis player sometimes, but when you win sometimes like tonight, game, set, match, Federer, you fist pump, look at your team, I’m happy, but you’re on your own.

“Team events, like Davis Cup, Hopman Cup, Laver Cup, you’re playing for somebody else, something else, a country, a region, whatever it may be. I think that makes the player quite happy and gives a different feel that it can actually also fuel you for other ATP events or other just tournaments.

“We’ve seen that the energy that some players brought at the Laver Cup, we’ve seen the emotions in Davis Cup, which we’ll see also in the World Team Cup in the future. I see the point. We don’t know yet. As we don’t know yet, let’s wait and see what happens.”

The ITF and ATP are at odds regarding their competing tournaments while players continue to complain about the length of the tennis season and how physically and mentally taxing it is.

Djokovic said on Wednesday in London that the tour should focus more on quality rather than quantity when it comes to its structure and calendar, while 21-year-old Alexander Zverev reiterated his discontent at the length of the season.

“I haven’t felt my best in, like, two months, to be honest,” said Zverev at the O2. “The issue is that our season is way too long. That’s the issue. But I’ve said it before. We play for 11 months a year. That’s ridiculous. No other professional sport does that.”

But not every player is taking the same stance as the German youngster.

Austrian Dominic Thiem, known for playing heavy schedules, admits the offseason is short but is not complaining.

“We have basically a never ending season, I would say. Now I will go one week holidays, then I spend few days at home, then… I think the most important period of the season is starting, the offseason, the only time where we have time to practice and to really improve all the stuff what we need to work for. That’s how it is in tennis,” said Thiem, who defeated Kei Nishikori on Thursday for his first win of the week but was eliminated from the ATP Finals as Federer and Anderson advanced from the group.

“I think we cannot complain about it because we have a very nice life with that. The only thing which would be better if the year would have 13 months.”

Federer feels it is up to the player to pick and choose the tournaments and schedule they see fit and sees no harm in adding new events and giving players more options to compete if they want to.

“As a team, player and team, you decide which are your priorities and how much can a body take, how much can a mind take, how much travel can someone endure,” said Federer, who hasn’t played the clay swing for the past two seasons.

“The good thing is we as players are not employed by a club. I can walk right now out of the door and go onto vacation if I want to. Nobody is going to stop me. They won’t like it, but I can. That’s a massive privilege, I believe, that a tennis player has. I think we’ve done a nice job from a player standpoint to understand it’s not something we do, out of respect to the fans, the tournament organizers, the sponsors and so forth, and also just for the integrity of the game.

“There’s two ways to look at it. One, it’s nice that there’s so many tournaments. When you get injured, not like skiing, you’re going to miss the entire season.

“The other way, it would be amazing to have five months to work on your game. You could really maximise the player you are, the potential you have. Obviously with the little time we have, there’s only so much you can do. Both are positive and negative. But the way the tour is structured right now, I just think you have to be very disciplined within the team to decide what’s best for that player, and the player needs to also give his opinion. It’s a tricky one, but a good one because we have a lot of highlights in tennis that we really can’t complain.”

Federer is now two wins away from a 100th career title, and a first ATP Finals trophy since 2011. He isn’t looking that far ahead just yet though as he waits to learn the identity of his semi-final opponent.

“Personally I’m still not thinking of the number 100. I won’t let that get in my head, make me go crazy because it should be something I’m excited about and not something I should feel extra pressure. As long as I think Novak is in the draw anyhow, he’s playing so good again, it’s never going to be easy,” said Federer.

“My next opponent, I don’t know who it’s going to be, I think it could even be Novak, but I doubt it’s going to be. I think it’s just going to be hard to finish it. I’m happy I gave myself the opportunity. I’m happy that I’m raising my level of play throughout this week. This is what I hope to do. Yeah, it’s exciting to be in this situation now, of course, no doubt.”

Djokovic, who has already qualified for the semis, faces Marin Cilic on Friday night in the closing group stage match of the tournament, while John Isner takes on Zverev earlier in the day. Djokovic will qualify as top of the group in any scenario except if Cilic defeats him and Isner beats Zverev.

If Djokovic tops his group, then he avoid a semi-final against Federer, and would take on Anderson in the last-four on Saturday.

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Novak Djokovic helps unveil new ATP Cup but admits calendar is 'over-saturated'

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Djokovic at the ATP Cup announcement in London on Thursday.

A day after admitting that the tennis calendar is “over-saturated”, Novak Djokovic helped unveil the new ATP Cup that will make its debut in the opening week of 2020.

A revival of the country-versus-country team competition that used to be staged in Dusseldorf from 1978 to 2012, the ATP Cup returns with a new format that is similar to the revamped Davis Cup set to take place starting November 2019 – a situation that has left the tennis world divided and practically at war.

The Davis Cup – run by the ITF and the Gerard Pique-led investment group Kosmos – and the ATP Cup – owned and run by the ATP in collaboration with Tennis Australia – will pit countries against each other in a World Cup-style event that will start with a round robin stage before advancing to the knockouts.

With the Davis Cup scheduled for November 18-24, and the ATP Cup set to be the season-opener for the tour in January 2019, two competing team events will take place within a six-week period.

“Obviously the Davis Cup and World Team Cup situation is delicate. We find ourselves in this kind of particular circumstances and situations that we have to deal with right now,” Djokovic, the world No. 1 and current president of the ATP Player Council told reporters in London on Wednesday.

“I think in the next two years we’ll have both events happening in a very similar format if not the same, six weeks apart. I honestly don’t think it’s good for the sport.

“More job opportunities for players, yes. But I think it’s not sustainable. It will happen that we will have two average events. So I think creating one event is an ideal scenario and I think outcome for everyone.

“From what I’ve heard from conversations with people from all of the sides, different sides in this sport, they all want to have one event because it’s over-saturated with different cups, different events. We have the longest season in all sports. We’re just adding events. We kind of have to try to focus on quality rather than quantity.”

FORMAT

Played across three yet-to-be-announced Australian cities over 10 days in the lead-up to the Australian Open, the ATP Cup will feature teams from 24 countries.

The 2020 ATP Cup will offer US$15 million in prize money and up to 750 ATP Rankings points to the winners.

It will see nations split into six groups, with eight teams emerging from the round-robin stage to compete in the knockout phase until only one team is left standing.

There will be up to five players in each team, with ties comprising two singles matches and one doubles match.

The criteria for entry into the ATP Cup will be based off the ATP ranking of the No. 1 singles player from each country.

STARTING WITH A BANG

ATP executive chairman and president Chris Kermode believes this new event will broaden the audience of the tour, attracting a new set of fans.

“We wanted to do a fresh new team event. We wanted to do something that was very vibrant, different, but equally we wanted to start the season off with a bang,” said Kermode at the unveiling on Thursday.

“That was one of our main goals, in week one, start the ATP tour with a big event that we can then sustain all the way through to finishing at the Nitto ATP Finals here at the O2. So we bookend the calendar. We have a start, we have a finish.”

Tennis Australia, who are also involved in the Laver Cup that takes place each September, will be announcing the three host cities “in due course”.

“It makes sense to do this event in Australia,” added Kermode. “There’s a huge sporting culture, not just a tennis culture, it’s a summer of sport and Tennis Australia have proved to be great partners. They’ve got the same vision as us for tennis, try to reach a wider audience. There’s no simpler message.

“Our job is to get our star players, which I truly believe are the best athletes in the world, we need to tell their story better to a wider audience and events like this can help telling that story.”

Craig Tiley, the CEO of Tennis Australia, believes the ATP Cup “has the support of the players”, while Roger Federer is happy to see a team event return to the tour.

“I think the players sometimes do feel a little bit lonely on the road, of course with great teams, but playing within a team with other players I think is great fun and I think it’s going to be very successful,” said Federer.

Many details remain unclear, especially with the division of points among team members and whether there is a ranking cut-off for players to take part.

A country like Greece for example has a top player in world No. 15 Stefanos Tsitsipas. But it’s second-highest ranked player, Alexandros Skorilas, is ranked 1236 in the world.

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Roger Federer eases past Dominic Thiem, refuses to address Julien Benneteau's claims about him

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Back on track: Roger Federer.

Roger Federer got his ATP Finals campaign back on track with a 6-2, 6-3 drubbing of Dominic Thiem then refused to address claims made by former world No. 25 Julien Benneteau that the Swiss receives preferential treatment at the Australian and US Opens due to his business dealings with the organisations that run them.

Federer had lost his opening match to Kei Nishikori on Sunday, then skipped practice on Monday to clear his head – a tactic that paid off for the six-time champion.

“I will do the same again tomorrow because it worked. Important was not about my forehand or my backhand or my serve or anything. I guess it was my head. For that sometimes you need a break,” admitted Federer after his win over Thiem.

The world No. 3 dropped just six points on his serve throughout the clash and benefited from an error-strewn performance from Thiem, who committed 34 unforced errors in the 66-minute encounter. Federer’s win, along with Kevin Anderson’s 6-0, 6-1 thrashing of Nishikori earlier in the day means that all four players in Group Lleyton Hewitt can still qualify for the semi-finals.

Federer was asked if he had any reaction to Benneteau’s claims that were made in an interview with French radio last week.

Benneteau told Radio Monte Carlo that there are “disturbing” conflicts of interest that have arisen from Federer’s relationship with Tennis Australia and the USTA, who both co-organise the Laver Cup with Team8, the company Federer co-founded with his long-time agent Tony Godsick.

“I don’t [have a reaction],” said Federer. “I know about the comments, yeah. But I don’t really feel the mood during a World Tour Finals to discuss that topic, to be honest. In all fairness, I hope you understand why, because this is a bit of a celebration for tennis. For me it’s the year-end finale. I love playing here.

“The radio interview that happened over a week ago that surfaces now in French, Julien, who is a nice guy, I know him since the junior times, I think all of this has been totally taken out of context. I don’t feel like I need to comment on this. I’d rather put it to rest rather than adding to it so you guys got something to write about. Thank you, guys.”

Benneteau pointed out that Federer played 12 of his 14 Australian Open matches in 2018 and 2017 in the prime time slot of 7:30pm on Rod Laver Arena, avoiding the brutal heat players face when they are scheduled earlier in the day.

“On the same day, Federer played Jan-Lennard Struff – I have nothing against Struff, great guy – Novak Djokovic played Gael Monfils. We’re agreed that on paper, any tournament director would put Djokovic-Monfils on night session at 7:30 p.m., right? But no. They played at 2:30 p.m., in 104 degrees. And Federer-Struff played at night,” added Benneteau, in quotes reported and translated from French by Tennis.Life.

On Tuesday, Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley released a statement vehemently denying Benneteau’s favoritism claims.

“In terms of players and their appeal, it needs to be said that Roger Federer is a once-in-a-generation player widely regarded as one of the biggest ‘box office’ athletes in the world. He has been regularly voted Australia’s favourite athlete,” said Tiley.

“The fans demand his appearance in the big stadiums and our broadcasters naturally want his matches to air in prime time. And I don’t think there’s a tournament director in the world who’s not going to take those factors into account when setting the schedule. This is the case with all the big names in tennis, and in sport in general.”

Benneteau had said this of Tiley: “He’s the Australian Open tournament director. And the man is paid by Roger Federer’s agent for the Laver Cup.”

The Frenchman also claimed that Federer’s agent requested the Swiss not play any matches on the new Louis Armstrong stadium at the US Open this year. Federer played all four of his matches on centre court in New York.

“It’s normal that he gets preferential treatment, with everything he’s done. But in some tournaments, there are big differences in the conditions. He has no idea what that’s like,” explained Benneteau.

Federer was asked if his agent had indeed made such a request to the USTA regarding the Louis Armstrong stadium, or if Godsick normally makes scheduling requests at the Slams.

“I get asked, ‘Would you like to play Monday or Tuesday?’ sometimes. Sometimes I get asked, ‘Do you want to play day or night?’ Sometimes they go ask the agent. Sometimes they ask me, you know, Asia wants you to play at night,” said Federer.

“Yes, sometimes we have our say. But I asked to play Monday at the US Open. I played Tuesday night. It’s all good, you know. I’ve had that problem for 20 years in the good way. Sometimes I get help, sometimes I don’t. I think there you have it. Yeah, sometimes they come ask, sometimes they don’t. But a lot of the facts are not right, just to be clear there, from what I heard.”

Both Novak Djokovic and John Isner were asked about the topic at the ATP Finals in London on Monday, and the pair said Federer deserves to be given special treatment.

“In a way he deserves the special treatment because he’s six-time champion of Australian Open and arguably the best player ever. If he doesn’t have it, who is going to have it? People want to see him play on the centre court, and they want to see him play in showtime, the best hours, which is 7:30 at night in Rod Laver Arena,” said Djokovic.

“I understand Julien’s point because sometimes it does seem that maybe certain players get more favoured year after year in certain tournaments. You kind of have to follow the pattern to really understand whether there is a case or not.

“Again, on the other side, you have to understand that also Federer is a driving force of tennis in terms of revenue, in terms of attention, in terms of all these different things. Julien and guys like him are also benefitting from tennis, because of Roger, because of what he has done for the sport.”

Isner echoed Djokovic’s sentiments, adding: “The top players, they sell the most tickets therefore they should get the most. That’s what I think. So I don’t think there’s a favoritism system like that at all. I think those guys are the ones that by and large carry our sport in a big way and they deserve everything they’ve ever earned.

“So again, if anything, they may be should get more special treatment because those guys, the top players, have made other players below them a lot of money. It is like the Tiger Woods effect in golf. So that is how you can look at a guy like Roger. He is men’s tennis in my opinion. So, he deserves everything and more that he’s ever had,” said the American.

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