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October 16, 2006

Ion Tiriac

Etienne de Villiers


ION TIRIAC: You ask and we try to answer if we can.
ETIENNE DE VILLIERS: Madrid will always have a very important role in our Masters structure.
I can expand on that by saying the tournament that we are at today, this week is one of the finest events that you'll ever see anywhere in the world for any sport. I think it's a great credit to this young man sitting on my right and his team Gerard. They have produced an event, which is not just a great sporting event, not just a great entertainment event, but it is a great social event. I've told Ion that I want a year round pass so I can eat here every day, every night for the year. But unfortunately you can't do that.
The city is also building a spectacular new facility which I was privileged to go and see. The intention obviously is to bid for the Olympic Games in 2016. With this facility it gives the opportunity to stage a bigger event. And Ion and his team would very much like the opportunity to consider the Madrid venue, the team that has put on this great tournament to provide Madrid with a combined event.
As much as I would like to give that to Madrid, I can't. It is a process that will be subject to several very, very worthy other cities and tournaments. Rome has staged an Italian Open for 100 years. It has great tradition in its favor, and they would be very interested in staging a combined event. As would Monte Carlo.
So there are at least three contenders for this position. We will weigh up independently, objectively, and transparently the merits of each of the applications. We will look to a number of criteria. Those criteria will include, but won't be limited to the facility, the ability to put on a great tournament, the attractiveness of tennis in that market, the ability to finance successfully and viably a growing tournament over a period of years.
The tradition of the sport in the market, the strength of the player fields in those markets, and obviously also the financial considerations that the respective bidders will make. It is a process, but I would say that Madrid has a number of outstanding qualities that makes it a very strong contender.

Q. Tell me basically if I'm wrong. The ATP has two combined events in Europe or just one?
ETIENNE DE VILLIERS: Just one. We plan to have four combined events in total. The two that exist in North America, one in the U.S., in fact. We wish to see one go into the period just leading into the French Open, two weeks before the French Open. We think that's a great time. It's supported positively by the French Tennis Federation. And then there's one that we would like ideally to have in China, in Shanghai or in Beijing. It's a market that clearly just by the sheer physical size, population, it's a great market. But it's also a market that's shown great appetite for the sport.
And we feel that the Masters Cup has been a great way to introduce a professional sport at the very top level to the market. We are thrilled and delighted with how the Masters Cup has been run by our partners in China and Shanghai, but we feel that they can step up to the next level and have a combined event, which will be a bigger showcase, and at the same time be able to bring the Masters Cup back to Europe, which we feel is very important.

Q. The plans of marketing department a couple of years ago, he said having a big facility here like the site here in Madrid was in the position of having this tournament here. That's what I understood was the only condition, to have a nice facility. With that finished, that facility, could Madrid assure the tournament, or do we wait for something else?
ETIENNE DE VILLIERS: I think I answered that question, right?

Q. By now the conclusion is that we could be competing with Rome and Monte Carlo that also have tradition and so on. But let's talk about tennis changes. We are reading about round robin, not the ties, the normal ties. This has to be approved or is it done? Because Barcelona, they seem to be quite interested in trying. Would it be next year or in 2008?
ETIENNE DE VILLIERS: Yes. We have introduced and have had the rules passed by the board for round robin and for a Sunday start. We think the two go hand in hand. It's very hard to arrange a round robin event without an eighth day. We're going to experiment next year with a number of formats. 32 draw, 24 draw, 48 draw.
We've invited tournaments to volunteer. And we're in the process of evaluating how many of those tournaments and the nature of these tournaments before we make a final decision. But we probably will have a good 12 tournaments or so and maybe more next year experimenting.
I'm a great believer in -- I was telling Fillipe a little earlier today in the philosophy of doing it, trying it, and fixing it. I never have been that arrogant or confident of my own judgment to believe that you get it right.
So if you have the time and luxury to experiment, why don't we? We want to introduce most of the changes in the structure of the tour, the combined events and everything like that will come about in 2009.
So we have time now to promote the sport, to promote players, to experiment with these changes, to see fan reaction, to gauge the economic impacts of these. So that when we do roll out 2009, we'll have a lot of information so that hopefully we won't screw up.

Q. Etienne, what's the feedback you're getting from the players on the round robin idea, because obviously from the media point of view and your point of view selling the sport, it sounds like a great idea and well worth a try. A number of players have raised a few reservations, meaning the third matches, for example. What reservations have you heard?
ETIENNE DE VILLIERS: Most are very positive is the answer. Most of the players feel that this is good for the sport, especially with the eighth day. It's an opportunity to bring fans that are not huge tennis fans into the event business to show them what a tennis tournament is like and hopefully get them hooked on tennis and then become bigger consumers.
It is, as you say, it has great scheduling advantages. It has great promotional advantages. It's great for the media. Television knows exactly when X is going to be playing Y. What we are very concerned about -- two things we're concerned about, one is that we have contained the draw sizes in specific tournaments to numbers that do not require the players to be playing more matches in order to conclude that event than they would have done ordinarily.
What we are also concerned about is the meaningless match. And that normally happens with a four draw team. We've seen those even in our own Masters Cup where you have so-called dead matches. Well, if I was playing for 75,000 dollars a match, it wouldn't be dead for me, but maybe I'm just different. Mostly we can do that by having three draw. And with a three draw, by having the second and the third seed play out first, and the.
(Phone ringing).
ETIENNE DE VILLIERS: That's my wife. No, it's not. I was just kidding. It's your wife, Jonathan.
What you do is the top seed waits to play against the loser of the second and the third seed. So whoever wins that final -- the next game, which is the top seed versus the loser gets to play in the final match, which becomes a meaningful match. So you never have a dead match that way.
And what it introduces is a dynamic that I think is a novelty and the traditionalists would argue against the novelty, and that is that you are now creating a situation where every game counts. It's not just about the sets you win, it's about the games that you win as well.
And that's a different dynamic. I accept that. But from what we've learned from the doubles experiment with the no add is it introduces a dynamic in the sense of jeopardy into a match that ordinarily doesn't exist.
When you get to deuce, the next point is a win or lose. That's good. Certain of our tournaments, again, will be differentiated by this, if you want, protocol, the playing protocol. We do not intend to do it with our Masters events. They will still be straight 64 draws as they exist at the moment for outdoor events. What we are going to introduce is the innovation of either the four winners -- the four semi-finalists of the previous Masters event to get a bye through or the top eight seeds to get a bye through, so we can reduce wear and tear on the players. And the 48 draws obviously will stay the same. But they will be straight elimination.

Q. Ion, I wonder if I can just ask you, you've been through so much in tennis over the years. What do you think about the pace of change that's happening at the moment. Are you one of those that enjoys it, or are you thinking that we perhaps are going a little too fast?
ION TIRIAC: Listen, there are bad things and good things when the government changes. The government changes in Spain. This government is doing different things than the old government. The government change in ATP, maybe it's good, maybe it's bad. One single thing is very good. That for good or bad, they are committed to do some changes that they didn't have the guts to do in tennis. Tennis is the only sport that has not changed for a hundred years, except the little guy was an American guy with a flag, somewhere in the back of the stands saying, "Tie break, tie break."
You guys are too young to remember that. Mr. Santana is too old to remember that. But he was there.
And I had the honor to play the first tie break at Wimbleton like other honors and so on, but we have not changed anything.
The game is too fast. Yeah, I think it's too fast. I always say it's too fast. Can the game be fixed? It's mathematical. You make the ball 10 percent bigger, everything is going to be slowed down. Not to serve is the problem today. Is the return, the passing shot, and the speed of the ball with the speed that we have today. If I taught somebody 30 years ago and I was a good coach, whoever say anything else, I kill them, to play tennis this way he would send me to a mad house.
Everything changed. The human being changed. The athlete who go here in the dressing room now, look around, a guy with 190, it's a normal guy. You know, in our times 180 was a good size for a tennis player.
So saying that this ATP supposedly they want to change things. Round robin, I was ready for a round robin 40 years ago. And Bersey considered for the round robin and we decided to do the round robin and so on. Three weeks before the tournament, Bersey told me, "No, we'd better not." I said, "Guys, the good guy is going to play at least twice if not three times. If we do good, then four." We did that a long, long time ago. If you can make the good guy, the interesting time to play two or three times instead of only once, it can happen on accident and not be two accidents in a row. So that would be good. So they are going to test.
Let's hope that some press is not going to come back and say, "Oh, oh, oh, we have to go back to tradition." And that's it. The ball is going to slow up the game. Don't make the ball softer because you are going to break the arm. Don't make the line for the serve more inside because it doesn't make any difference. It wouldn't be the right thing to do. Make the ball bigger.
The other thing, and I am coming back to your question, you are here at the table, not at this table, you used to have it somewhere else, when we discussed this thing and it was another regime here at the table.
When they say yes, we want two Masters Series combined or extended in Europe. It might be an interesting thing because you cannot ignore China. It doesn't matter what you do, you don't ignore it anymore, even in tennis. They don't have a tennis player. I bet anything you look in the next 10 or 15 years, they are going to have a bloody tennis player. They'll make one in a machine somewhere. They'll get the know how and they'll make one no problem whatsoever.
So you see, it's interesting. Now, am I prepared to get hit over the head because of Chinese, not yet. We are going to see. I did what I am supposed to do. I don't have a problem with competition. Spain doesn't have a problem with competition. Spain is a country that I don't think is any other country that last, in the last 50 years, 5 0, to have more players in the top 100 than Spain.
A tournament in Madrid, with all respect for Spain and other countries, I don't think that anybody thought five years ago that we are going to go only in five years at the levels that we never dreamed. We're happy this year, it's another world record for Spain. Spain never had 10 best players in the whole history in the country. We have it.
I think we know how to do an event. I think from the political point of view with the old regime and the new regime, the community and everybody play along with the event. Thank you for the compliments. I take them. And you are right. There's no other tournaments like this one. Thank you. I am very modest as well. And let's go on the table to do what? I am prepared to put the prize money of a Grand Slam tomorrow. Let's go start one and do it as well. Let's see if we are competing on commercial terms. Let's see if we are competing on sport terms and so on. But how Mr. Chairman say it, it's going to be an open system. It's going to be an open bidding, transparent. With all the quality and hopefully it's not going to be in another ten years. It's going to be announced, I believe, this year. You are going to announce the bidding this year?
ETIENNE DE VILLIERS: Yes. Certainly by then.
ION TIRIAC: Something is moving. Honestly I believe that's good. I don't want him to elect me in the ATP or anything, so I don't have to brush him or anything. If I am going to earn something, I am going to earn it on my own.
What I am saying, and I finish, we have it from every single point of view, we can compete with everybody. And to be modest, we deserve it. Thank you:

Q. Etienne, you said earlier that one of the benefits you thought of a round robin format was for TV, and that TV would know when certain matches would be played. The other thing I'm sure that TV would like would be to know when matches are going to start and finish. Can you envision the time in the near future where you would adopt the doubles format in singles play with no add points and jumping to tie breaks?
ETIENNE DE VILLIERS: Yes. That's a good question. I can never say never, but I think there is a very -- doubles is a different game than singles. We know breaking serve in doubles is a lot harder to break than it is in singles.
Most singles players will tell you that at 0-40 they've got a 50/50 chance at holding their serve. At 0-40 without a tie break you've got four break points, your percentage drops dramatically. And that would definitely change the dynamic of the sport. There are definitely -- Ion is right. The statistics on aces served in the last ten years has actually gone -- the number of aces served in matches has actually gone down.
The speed of serve has gone up from 130 to 135 kilometers an hour or miles an hour, whatever it is. It's too fast. What's got better is guys are returning serve better, but there is clearly still an advantage in the serve. And I think to change the dynamic of how the singles game is played at a certain level will actually alter the shape that history takes. And I think I don't want to mess with athletes who are building and dedicated to building great, historic careers right now.
I'm happy to experiment. I think as there is in cricket, which was for those of us that understand the sport, to most others unintelligible. But we've seen this huge growth in the popularity of the sport by shortening the match, by making it more exciting.
So I don't think that we need to necessarily have to change things across the board, but I would like and hope that we could experiment with smaller tournaments at first with a no add and see what happens. The interesting statistics that -- again we were talking about it earlier this afternoon -- on doubles was that the players feared very realistically that when we went to no add and the match tie break that, "the lesser guy got lucky" factor would come into play a lot more. And that, again, a very strongly held belief by players was that anyone who won the second set would have the momentum to go on to win a super match tie breaker.
And we've now gathered statistics of over 700 matches this year, I think. Every week they're updated, and we compare those against the same time of last year, and it's remarkable how closely correlated the statistics are. The same percentage of top seeded players will win over lesser seeded players in either of those two scoring systems in doubles. The percentage of the -- the momentum argument is absolutely not an argument at all because about 50 percent of the winners of the second set win the match tie breaker, i.e., it's a lottery.
So we're seeing that that doesn't distort the outcome. What would be interesting is to run those same sorts of experiments, maybe at Challenger level, maybe at Futures level. Maybe at some of our smaller European events. There are a lot of events coming to us saying, "If you're ready to experiment, we're ready to experiment." We like that.
We had two French tournaments come to us and say, "We're ready to try the no add if you're ready to go with it." Again, let's see and take it step by step. This is not something you have to leap into the dark with. This is something you can actually tread softly, softly. That's a long winded answer. Sorry.

Q. Ion wants to see the ball bigger, could you imagine that you could forbid some materials, like some strings, some type of strings or to make the react smaller? Do you think about that at all seriously or not?
ETIENNE DE VILLIERS: When you talk to the guys that know about the sport, they'll tell you that the React racket and the string, some will tell you that the string has got more impacts than the racket has in the ability to return. And that Johnny Mac will tell that you we should go back to playing -- the pros should go back to playing with wooden rackets just as baseball has never allowed the batters to use aluminum bats. Or cricket for that matter. So there is an argument.
I think to reverse that now would fundamentally change the way the sport is played. I think the cat is out of the bag. Golf has kind of said, "Well, we don't really want to embrace the new technology", but they have. The big drivers are out there. The shafts are out there. The balls that fly 50 yards further are out there.
So what they have to do is make the courses longer. Has the game changed? Yeah, it probably has. But I don't know that we could get it back. It's a good question though. It's a good question.
ION TIRIAC: I don't think it's possible. I mean everything is possible to bring something in. To take something out is ten times more difficult than anything else.
With anything, not the racket. -- I mean you go back to Wimbleton 40 years ago, we play with tennis ball that was twice as slow. From my perception the game was --
ION TIRIAC: I would not say better, but it was more interesting. It was a game of chess. You put the ball there, the ball is coming here, you put the ball there and so on. I do not believe that I am going to make -- I am going to make another compliment that in my lifetime I saw, and I saw almost everybody, even the people that played in the 1800's, a better player than Federer. A better technician than Federer. And all the dimensions being concerned. Laver being considered from Roosevelt to Sampras to anybody. How those guys manipulates a tennis racket. And then I give him an extra at these speeds. So what this guy would have done with this racket on another circuit. Just close your eyes and remember here 30 years ago, putting here, coming here, coming there, coming there. I saw Ilie Nastase's father playing a tennis game out of the court. The court was free and there was so much anticipation on both of them that they played out of the court.
Those things are gone. Everybody is hitting the ball as hard as they can. So maybe this government is going to change or come slower, slower to reason on that.
ETIENNE DE VILLIERS: The interesting thing, the perception, and if you talk to fans, we've got, done a lot of this. Phil, who is on my right there, our marketing director, has instituted a lot of fact-based analysis into our thinking and into our analysis. And we are great at talking to ourselves in tennis. Most sports do, by the way. You get 20 people in the room, you get 25 opinions at least. And very little of it is based on facts. A lot of it is based on supposition.
The interesting perception of tennis fans, if you ask them, "Why did you leave tennis? Why are you not that interested in tennis?" The answer is, "Because it's all big serves and short points." And we know having watched any match here today the number of 12-14 stroke rallies is the norm rather than the exception.
Now, to Ion's point, is it the same kind of rally? Yes, there's an energy and a velocity of hitting the ball that has never been the case in the past.
It's not what fans perceive it to be. So we have a job in just moving fans to getting to what it is. Irrespective of them changing it from -- most people that come to tennis tournaments, again from exit research that we do, love it, they just love the experience. It's unbelievable to see people hit a tennis ball like this if you're at an event. It's just not feasible. At least when I was playing tennis, more or less the same time as you, you could kind of hit the ball like you could. You could kind of hit the ball like you could.
ION TIRIAC: That's the only difference. Sorry to interrupt you. The player cannot go tomorrow morning and say, now I am going to hit the ball like Safin. You cannot hit the ball like Safin, forget Federer. Forget Nidal. You cannot hit the ball like Safin or the other guy who serves at 250 an hour or Roddick. And that's the identification of the club player. It was in Buenos Aries, there were 25 Vilas. I promise you. Almost everybody who was playing with the left hand was playing like Vilas. They were imitating everything else. They were trying to -- they were imitating today. I'm sorry. I'm not going to talk anymore.
ETIENNE DE VILLIERS: That's fine. I love listening to you. I do it a lot.

Q. Just to know the situation with IPF and the WTA Tour, if the girls want to participate in this tournament --
ION TIRIAC: Listen, you need a leader. I remember the days of the tie breaker. No way ever that we in Grand Slams are ever going to use it. We have tradition, we have this, we have that, we have that. No way in Davis Cup, no way anywhere. No way until they realize that. I bet anything you like. The name is going to be changed and somebody would have a magic formula. The only thing you cannot put it in time here. You cannot guarantee the television, the public, and everybody that this game is going to be two and a half hours, five minutes more, five minutes later. That you cannot guaranty.
That is an advantage, and there's an advantage over best of five and best of three finals. And I'm going to come there, and I am partisan of best of five anyhow because I had finals of the two best players in the world, Becker and Lendl, that held 42 minutes. Then you have an economical problem because you have to face economy as well. So going back, you guys are going to have somebody who is going to do a change. Everybody is going to follow if the change is accepted by the public. Finish out.
ION TIRIAC: I am going to leave Mr. President here. I am going to leave because I have to work. He is here for another two hours to talk to you.

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