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December 2, 2006

Bill Babcock

Neale Fraser

Juan Margets

Enrique Morea

Francesco Ricci Bitti


BARBARA TRAVERS: Good morning. I would like to introduce the ITF President, Francesco Ricci Bitti; the chairman of the Davis Cup Committee, Juan Margets, who is also Executive Vice President of the ITF; the two members of the Davis Cup Committee who are here, Enrique Morea of Argentina, and Neale Fraser of Australia; as well as Bill Babcock, Executive Director of Davis Cup for the ITF.
Francesco is going to make a few remarks and then we'll open it up for questions.
FRANCESCO RICCI BITTI: First of all, I would like to thank you for being here, all the press and the media represented for the coverage of this Davis Cup final here in Moscow, which is very important for us, and I believe is very successful.
From the ITF's perspective, I would say we want to continue the tradition of having this informal meeting during the final to make some consideration about our competition, if you want even in general about the tennis, the evolution of the trend of tennis in this time. I would like to say a few provocative words.
First of all, we're very happy with how Davis Cup is this year. It's very successful, and all the data we have are very positive. I'm very ready to disclose this data in detail.
On the other side, as I said, I want to be a bit provocative. We are in a period of time in tennis that there are many people that want to fix what is not broken. This desire could also impact on what is the major value of professional tennis around the world that we believe are the Grand Slams and Davis Cup, Fed Cup, the team competitions.
On top of that also, the tournament, many tournaments, owned tradition by the National Federations, our member nations action could be endangered because of all this desire to change for changing. I want to mention, coming back to Davis Cup, a few important data:
In this 2006 Davis Cup competition, in terms of player participation, which is also a very good factor, we got 19 of the best 20 players playing, and if you want 28 in the top 30. The two that are not included in this list were very justified by injury or non-selection. In terms of attendance, we are over 500,000 spectators for the sixth time in the last seven years.
Just to give you another idea. In TV, we have 24 broadcasters, between live and recorded we have about 160 countries covering the competitions.
In terms of websites, new media, the first day of this Davis Cup final, we reached one million paid viewers, that is exactly the total of last year. In the first day of this final, we got that amount. It's clear this information from the website depends on the countries involved, as you can imagine, but is a great achievement.
In terms of sponsors, we have a full complement of sponsors. I want to mention the title one that is here, represented by Cyrille Comar, BNP Paribas, really a great sponsor, not only of Davis Cup, but in tennis. Our marketing department is really working hard to keep this full complement of international sponsors always very active and full.
A few words about the future:
Everybody says that we represent the conservative part of the game. This is an honor for us. But I would say we're very open to the future in terms of evolution. You have seen here the application of the electronic line calling system. I want to remind you that the ITF was the first one to test and to experiment with this in the Hopman Cup at the beginning of this year.
The statistics are available for the first day and the next day, but the first day's statistics confirm that the unlimited solution, that is the favorite one of the ITF, is exactly giving the same outcome of the one limited, more or less.
Last but not least, there is a study in progress in the ITF labs that cost us a lot of money, but we are very happy to do that, about surface pace to limit the advantage of the home team in Davis Cup, to control the gap between the fastest and the slowest courts, especially on hard surfaces. This project is in the end of our technical labs. Our Davis Cup Committee, as usual, will consider the outcome, but I'm sure that very soon we will implement also this great improvement from a technical point of view.
My introduction has been too long, and now I'm ready to answer any questions, with Juan Margets, Executive Vice President of the ITF, and Chairman of the Davis Cup, and all the ITF representatives here in their capacities. Please, if you have any questions.

Q. From the point of view of the ITF, could you tell us a little bit about the advantages of using Hawk-Eye in an unlimited way like you do it here?
FRANCESCO RICCI BITTI: I can ask Juan Margets to explain it to you in more detail, but the first answer is, when you have a technical tool, I think the limited application that we are not against, it's a different application, is entertainment oriented. We are the governing body. There is a an American culture of the limited application coming from the team competition, and it is more entertainment because it gives the players a little bit of a gamble if they have to challenge or not.
We always felt that a technical tool is an aid to the officiating, to have better officiating. So the concept has always been in the ITF that the Hawk-Eye should be an aid to the officials to recreate the condition of the clay. On a clay court, the player could ask the umpire to check the mark. We want to have the same condition on hard courts. This is the reason for the unlimited.
Juan can explain it a little bit more.
JUAN MARGETS: In addition to what Francesco has said - that is the main frame of our decision - when the Davis Cup Committee took this option, in addition the other elements we considered deeply, was the differences between Davis Cup and a regular tournament vis-a-vis the crowd control.
The only potential downside of the unlimited versus the limited, in our view, could be certain abuse by the players. But at the same time such abuse doesn't really interfere with the continuous game because the review takes four to five seconds. As you all know, the normal time between points is 20 seconds. So respectfully the people that believe too many challenges is going to discontinue the game, we don't think they take the figures right. It's four to five seconds, as opposed to 20, which is the natural time between points. So in front of this, in our view, this is a very, very, very small risk.
On the opposite, you could have, with the limited challenge system, a situation where a player, in good faith, has made two wrong challenges. After these two wrong challenges, say at 5-All, 5-4 in the fifth set, he is denied a challenge. We were very concerned if that player would be the local, here or anywhere in the world, what would be the public's reaction when a ball perceived like a wrong call against the local player, the right to challenge would be denied? So that's a very important element in our decision in the case that after some challenges, a challenge at a later stage in one set, would be denied.
Finally, let me remind you of the obvious: this debate was activated after what all the tennis community perceived as a serious officiating mistake in the US Open of '04. So in an effort to avoid these mistakes, because let me remind you that the machine doesn't feel the pressure, the machine doesn't get tired, the machine is completely neutral, so we felt the value of having the right to restore the right decision for a player had much more weight than a certain risk of abuse. That's our position.

Q. Francesco, when you spoke a minute ago, you made mention of the court surfaces, the testing being done. One of the advantages in Davis Cup is the home-court advantage aspect. Is this testing really more a case of stopping a nation from going to an extreme with the speed of the surface rather than trying to cut back on the specific home-court advantage aspect?
FRANCESCO RICCI BITTI: Clearly we don't want to kill one of the core values of Davis Cup: the home-surface advantage. The problem is to limit it to an acceptable level. We have had extreme cases. These are not in the interest of the competition, as you can imagine. We want to fix the gaps in which you can act as a home country, but not going to an extreme case that creates really conditions of play that are also not very usual any more on the circuit.
This is in the interest of the competition, in the interest of the players, I believe to keep this gap in a reasonable way. So this is the reason. Obviously the day the rule will be in place, we will go in advance for a site visit.
The reason also is the development of the industry doesn't make our use, the rule of the circuit, even the professional circuit, updated. The same brand, the same materials could be laid down in different thicknesses and on different materials. The same brand could be very, very different. We have now a branding rule that perhaps is not updated completely.
I failed to mention that the research is focused on hard court, as you can imagine. We have to respect grass and clay as traditional tennis surfaces.

Q. Mr. Ricci Bitti, could you tell us whether you have found an understanding with the WTA and ATP with regards to the tennis calendar? Will the tennis events marked in the calendar be preserved or the calendar will be changed with respect to Davis Cup ties?
FRANCESCO RICCI BITTI: It is the position of the ITF that Davis Cup is very simple. It doesn't mean it is the same position of the other bodies involved in the tennis calendar. The calendar discussion is an ongoing discussion. This is another reason that we have to sit down practically continuously with our counterparts, professional organizations.
The calendar is very difficult because the number of tournaments is very high and we need to discuss it all the time. We have always found solutions in the past, and we hope to do the same in the future.
But now I cannot hide that the main question around Davis Cup is the ITF and Davis Cup Committee concept, very clearly, that Davis Cup has to be played two weeks after the Grand Slam, the second week, because it is a very demanding competition, best-of-five over three days, a lot of pressure on the players. Very strongly we don't think it's a good idea for the players and the competition to have to play the week after a Grand Slam.
The tour, representatives of the tour, perhaps they have different vested interests because they believe that one week more to have a circuit or a swing in some part of the world could be more useful.
I think we are not flexible on this principle because we strongly believe it is in the interest, again as I said, of the competition and the players. This is an ongoing discussion. I hope surely we will find some solution. If not, everybody will stick on his position.

Q. I think this year Davis Cup and tennis had a very great year, a very lucky year as well. We have a great final with two good tennis countries. But tennis has been invented 106 years ago when very few players and very few countries were playing tennis. My question is: do you still think the format which allows the country to win the Davis Cup with one player or maybe two players is still okay after tennis is proud to be one of the most universal games in the world? Just as an example, Croatia won the Davis Cup. Mario Ancic got injured, and Croatia lost. Belgium could win easily the Fed Cup this year. One of the two Belgian players got injured, and Belgium, lucky for us, lost to Italy in the final. I'm still thinking, do you think the actual format, which is the same as 1900 when Davis Cup started, is okay in tennis today?
FRANCESCO RICCI BITTI: I think in each format discussion, there are always pros and cons.
The position of the ITF now to preserve the format in which Davis Cup has been created more than 100 years ago, as you said very well, even acknowledging the universality of tennis, we have 204 member nations, we are one of the few sports in the Olympic movement with over 200. I agree with you, we are one of the most universal.
But the factor that keeps us is the competitiveness. In our opinion, the main strength of the Davis Cup is that 20 nations at the beginning of the year hope to in some condition be the winner. If you want, this was the weakness of the Fed Cup, that now is getting better because at least we have eight, nine countries that could hope to win.
I think competitiveness is the first factor. Your point has some value. I'm not saying that expanding the format is not something that could be considered.
The second factor is that usually with all the limitations we have in the calendar, a wider format, a bigger format, as I envisage you recommend, it could create a lot of complications in terms of playing on a weekend. We don't have space. The tennis calendar is really a big constraint.
So these are the two big factors that keep us on the traditional way to play Davis Cup. But I have to say that your consideration deserves some merit, and perhaps in the future - not for our generation - somebody will consider again with more space in the calendar.
I want to mention one thing that could be interesting for all of you. Last weekend I was invited to a very, very important celebration: the centenary of the Swedish Tennis Federation in Stockholm. First of all, I was amazed by the attendance. There was no one important player not present since my generation, Bergelin, Schmidt, to the last one, all the players were there. This was to me amazing.
But all of them, not one, when he was interviewed, because they did a sort of show for three hours before the gala dinner, in the presence of the Princess Victoria, and not one player when asked which is the best memory in your tennis career, and they interviewed about I would say 30, 35 players - Borg, Wilander, Edberg - no one said something different from Davis Cup.
This was to me very touching, not only very important. I believe this has to be considered by the people that want to change for changing.

Q. You say that people are trying to change something that's not broken, to fix something that's not broken. Who are the people that you have in mind when you say that?
FRANCESCO RICCI BITTI: First of all, I have nothing to hide. It's the tour now. We start from a very different position. The tour believes that they are in trouble, that tennis is in crisis. We believe - "we" means the ITF, the Grand Slam friends, and many national associations - we believe that tennis is well enough.
I can tell you that since I am honored for one year to be a member of the IOC, a very important benchmark, nobody imagined how much the other sports look at tennis as a very successful sport.
We have to be very balanced. We believe that tennis is doing well. We could do better. But what we could do better is not in our sight. You know what I mean? It's not Davis Cup or Grand Slams. What could be done better is on the tour. I believe and I wish them to do better, to change something, but not at the expense of what is working well.

Q. Mr. Ricci Bitti, following in the wake of what you have just said, what do you think about the round-robin innovation in professional tournaments? What do you think of the fact that now many individual tournaments will begin on Sunday, people having less time to rest?
FRANCESCO RICCI BITTI: I start from the last saying that the tournaments that start on Sundays could be a good idea because Sunday is a weekend day. I am not against that. The only problem is that they have to fit in with a previous tournament. The tennis calendar is based on weekly tournaments. If you expand this experiment that could be good for some tournaments, it will impact the previous one.
In fact, the ITF has taken the position that, especially in the spring or in the fall, a crowded period of time in terms of tournaments, our position is clearly that we could not go over eight days. There is some idea to have 10-day tournaments. This could work in the spring where there is not so many tournaments at the same time, but could not surely work where you have too many tournaments because you kill two weeks with 10 days.
The question about the round-robin, the new ideas, the new experiments, there are always pros and cons. We have to wait to see how it works.
Our opinion, again, is that there are pros and cons. I can mention some of them. Tennis culture is that when somebody loses, they go home. This is very rooted in our culture. This is a negative point.
The good side is that surely the round-robin could protect the top players. The top players could have a very bad day. In a round-robin, they are a bit more protected in the way that they could be in the tournament even losing one day. So there are pros and cons.
I think the main problem will be, again, the draw. The round-robin could not be seen as a stand-alone change because you require the player to play more matches. Perhaps the draw has to be a little bit smaller.

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