I saw this excellent interview on tennisnet.com with Dirk Hordorff and Alex Antonitsch about the ITF World Tour. I agree fully with what they say. The best quote was saying “it’s hard to put together something for entry level tennis that pleases everyone but it’s even harder to put together something that upsets everyone” – which is what has happened !! The link to the article in German is below with the English translation attached.
Interview Dirk Hordorff and Alex Antonitsch: “Get control of our sport back”
There is massive resistance to the ITF Transition Tour (since January 2019: ITF World Tennis Tour). Soon after the introduction of the reform, a strong protest movement arose, a petition against the project of the International Tennis Federation (ITF) quickly found over 15,000 supporters. Prominent figures calling for a reversal include Dirk Hordorff and Alex Antonitsch.
Dirk Hordorff is the vice president of the German Tennis Federation, Alex Antonitsch is an ex-professional tennis player, tennisnet publisher and is also accompanying his daughter Mira as a coach and therefore now traveling to tournaments in North Africa.
Mr. Hordorff, Mr. Antonitsch, the introduction of the new ITF World Tennis Tour has led to an unprecedented wave of protests. How could this reform go so wrong?
Dirk Hordorff: Curious or cynical, it’s not even that way when you hear the ITF. Because the ITF originally said very clearly that they want to reduce the number of professional players. And they are completely successful. The new tour has reduced the chances of many young people participating in tennis in an enormous scope.
Why, however, an international federation curtails and hinders the professional practice of its players?
Hordorff: That’s exactly what the main question has always been: Why do I want to limit these opportunities? As a federation, I am there to recruit members. To convince young people how beautiful this sport is. And then to make sure that they stay in the tennis scene and find optimal development opportunities. And what do we have here: a world federation that makes people stop playing tennis. That they resign and throw everything down, because they no longer see any perspective for them.
Alex Antonitsch: I want to say that even more drastically. I’ve been in the tennis business since the early ’80s, but I’ve never experienced such a situation. The situation that a world organization is taking action to get rid of its players – while at the same time national organizations are doing everything, they can to get kids and young people involved in the sport. I am glad that there is an incredible protest movement to end this complete disaster. It is crazy that our sport is in the hands of three law firms, who have put this whole mess on the way via IRP (Independent Review Panel).
Kris Dent (ITF responsible) explains the difficulties with the fact that there would generally be fewer playing opportunities at the start of the season. The tour will be a success over the season in his opinion.
Hordorff: If 15,000 players and other stakeholders in the tennis community turn against this reform, and if national associations complain that tournament organizers run away, then this statement sounds cynical for me. Or simply the intelligence is lacking to perceive things as they are. Namely awful. You can make mistakes, but you should also have the strength to admit these mistakes after. And not arrogantly defend them.
For many in the tennis industry, this reform is becoming a debacle: the clothing and equipment industry, tournament organisers, academies. For all, the professional tennis base simply shrinks.
Antonitsch: It’s probably impossible to find a system in which all are satisfied. But I have not found a system in which nobody is satisfied – until now. It’s an avalanche that started. It affects the players, but also coaches who say to themselves: this has no sense any longer. It concerns academies which say, “What are we going to do if players have little chance of doing their business?” It concerns parents who say: why the whole effort, the money, and no perspective after? Our child can go to another sport too. And of course, the industry, which says: Stop, what’s actually going on in this sport, we can spend our money somewhere else too. The ITF has done an insane far-reaching damage.
The criticism focuses on the too small qualification fields and the current various ranking systems.
Antonitsch: We should get away from the question of guilt, I mean. That is clear. Now it’s about taking the necessary actions immediately. And they are: Open qualification fields and implement a consistent ranking.
Hordorff: I want to point out again that the organisers are not the problem. But the rules that apply now. The organizers of the tournaments, these people are often volunteers who sacrifice their time for the organization. But they have also been frustrated with this reform, they are just like the players – both suffer.
Alex Antonitsch, to make it even more concrete and tangible: you are accompanying your daughter to different tournaments. What is the mood among the athletes and coaches there?
Antonitsch: Anger, resignation, frustration, bitterness. It’s a mix of everything. What hurts me most is the hopelessness that exists in many of these players. It’s just that they collect their points on this tour and then must start again in the WTA or ATP ranking. So, these two rankings, that’s absolute nonsense. It is not thought out. Or it is just a top-ordered neck blow for these players. Whoever I have asked, it always came the statement: nonsense. What you are doing in these tournaments here, the current ITF World Tennis Tour, that must not be in vain.
Mr Hordorff, the ITF initially called critics of this reform “uninformed” before giving it partial relief. What is the current situation with the International Tennis Federation?
Hordorff: It is simply questionable if a federation does not take the fears, worries and concerns of so many people seriously and express themselves in this way. This whole course of action also testifies an inability to accept critics, which sometimes made you just speechless.
One of the intentions of the Transition Tour was also to curb betting manipulations. Now there are reports that corruption is increasing, for example with the sale of wildcards?
Hordorff: This goal has not nearly been reached. After all, the fact is that the financial possibilities have worsened and with it the susceptibility to certain offenses. If I hear that players fly around the world to play tournaments and then get no place in the draw, then at least the fear is arising that one or another gets tempted to do something else. No, nothing was improved in this matter. If I put these plans in the hands of a little knowledgeable ITF man like Tomas Konigsfeldt from Denmark and not involve practitioners, like Alex Antonitsch for example, that’s the result.
Antonitsch: Thanks for the flowers, Dirk. But I see hundreds, thousands of people here who fight with passion to end this nonsense and to ensure a turnaround. We are both just part of a very dedicated and competent movement. Ultimately, it’s all about getting these thousands of players back to their work.
Hordorff: I want to say something about the betting industry again. We are not here to organize a circuit for these companies to benefit them. But to build a tournament landscape for many thousands of players. The betting industry must do its job, it must solve its problems. And we must do our job, and that’s not primarily about giving betting companies a commercially more attractive environment.
One has the impression that there is a certain amount of solidarity among the higher-ranked players, but no broad public support.
Hordorff: Well, I cannot quite share that impression. There was and still is a lot of support from the top professionals. Of course, many of them are not into every detail, it’s a complex topic. But they clearly see that players are hampered in their development. And this in a phase of their career in which they once were themselves.
Suppose you have the power of decision in world tennis. What must happen now in this matter?
Hordorff: Clearly a quick, immediate opening of the qualification fields, to 48 or even 64 players. And a consistent, universal ranking, i.e. the WTA or ATP ranking. The ITF needs to follow its announcements very, very quickly.
Antonitsch: I fully agree with that. And that is also the demand that is raised now by everyone with whom we are in contact. ITF, WTA and ATP are invited to concern and implement a unified ranking together. Simply there must be points on all professional levels that are always relevant to the player’s athletic profile. It cannot be that a player struggles for weeks, and then must start from zero again. The motto is: One Ranking. To put it bluntly, the ITF, ATP and WTA must regain control of our sport.
The interview was conducted by Jörg Allmeroth for