For 25 years Dave Miley worked for the ITF, 17 of which he served as Director of Development, the biggest department of the ITF. His responsibilities were wide ranging and included Junior Tennis, Senior Tennis, Wheelchair Tennis, Technical and Anti-doping. He also oversaw the jointly funded ITF/Grand Slam global development programs which included activities in high performance player development, coach education and participation/ club development.
He was the person behind the ITF Tennis Play and Stay Campaign and the rule change for 10 and under tennis approved in 2010. Miley has also authored 7 coaching books. During his time at the ITF, he has travelled to over 140 nations and there are few people that know world tennis as well as him.
Today, Miley works as a consultant for the Asian Tennis Federation overseeing their development activities and for Universal Tennis, an organization that has developed a rating system for World Tennis. He also regularly presents at coaching conferences, most recently at the Australian Open Conference in Melbourne and the PTR conference in Hilton Head in February.
By Dave Miley
Tennis today is very fragmented at the professional level and faces considerable challenges in overall participation worldwide.
In most developed tennis markets, tennis participation has reduced with the numbers playing tennis in the biggest market, the USA, reducing from 30 million in the early 80s to 18.6 million in 2016 with sales of tennis equipment down year on year. Canada is one of the few developed tennis nations where tennis participation has increased significantly over the past 10 years.
Lower levels of tennis participation, of course, have a knock-on effect on the tennis industry and on the number of people viewing tennis at the professional tour level and this is very evident at some of the current ATP and WTA top tournaments.
What is a healthy sport?
A healthy sport is one where many people play the sport competitively or for fun at all levels especially at the recreational level. Because many people play the sport and have fun doing it, they want to buy things (coaching and equipment) that helps them play better and they want to watch the sport played well on TV and live by the top professionals. Quite simple really.
The Big TEN
I would like to share 10 proposals related to the 5 areas shown below which I believe can make a difference in tennis from the high performance/professional to the recreational player playing at club level:
•International Junior Tennis
•ITF events including Davis Cup and Fed Cup
•Increasing Tennis Participation worldwide
•Working Together for the good of the game
“Professional Tennis Going Forward”
1. Introduce a “CUT” at professional tennis events.
The last few days of the professional tournament are usually a bit dead and the finals day is the quietest day of all. If the final is not an exciting affair, the day can be a disappointment to the fans attending.
Tennis fans buy tickets for the final few days in the hope that they can watch their favourite players but then often find that these players may not be playing on the last few days of the event because they lost earlier.
Imagine if professional events introduced a cut like they have in golf, whereby all players reaching the quarter finals continue to play for the rest of the event. On the last day of the tournament, you will have a final which is the showcase match, but you will also have a play off for 3rd and 4th, 5th and 6th and 7th and 8th positions and the points and the prize money for each position would be different so these matches are competitive.
Having the final 8 playing for the final few days will be positive in so many ways (including from a sponsor’s and TV point of view that they can plan promotional initiatives). The play off matches could be played with 2 sets and a champions tie break instead of a full final set to make it less physically demanding for the players.
But when considering the physical demands of the players, remember that all of the players enter the 64 draw tournament hoping to play 6 matches and to reach the final. If the winner and runner up can play 6 matches, why not the other quarter finalists?
For sure, this would create considerable interest at the current ATP and WTA events and potentially generate more revenue to events currently losing money. But at Grand Slam level, wouldn’t a play-off match for 3rd place mean something? It certainly means something at the Olympic games.
2. Create regional circuits for the entry level professional tour.
The ITF is planning to launch a new transition tour at the entry level of professional tennis in 2019. This was, potentially, the most important change in professional tennis in 40 years and was a chance to change the way tennis at this level is organised. The format that ITF is intending to implement is pretty much what was there before (without ATP and WTA points).
It’s still a global circuit, with a global ranking and the circuit will continue to encourage players to travel similar amounts and will offer the same prize money levels of $15,000 and 32 draws.
The players at this level will have similar costs to before with no chance to win extra money which was one of the original objectives for change. I think that the proposed ‘new’ tour” is likely to make it more difficult for players from Developing Tennis nations to make a breakthrough in the future? So, what is the upside?
I think Tennis should learn from golf and their regional tours with the best players eventually having a chance to progress to the main professional tour.
You could easily establish 3 regional tours:
• An ITF Pan American Tour
• An ITF Euro African Tour
• An ITF Pacific Oceania Tour.
The best players on each tour could then get their ‘card’ to play on the professional tour in the following year. From my experience in ITF Development, I am certain that these tours would attract a lot of sponsors as many sponsors prefer today to sponsor on a regional basis and It’s getting increasingly harder to find global sponsors. From my current experience in Asian tennis, I believe an Asia Pacific tour would be very well supported by sponsors.
One of the ideas of changing the entry level tour was to make it possible for players to earn a living or as a minimum to break even. How will the proposed transition tour help the players earn more money? What if we organise these $15,000 tournaments with 16 main draw players and with 32 players involved in qualifying.
What would this do? This change would automatically double the prize money for the best players participating and because the events could be played in 4 days and the players could therefore play 6 events in a month, potential monthly earnings for the best players would be tripled.
There would also be less hosting costs for the nations. The best players on the regional circuits could be more easily promoted and some could develop “star status” in their regions.
Being ranked number 10 in Asia Pacific certainly has a better ring to it than number 220 in the World rankings. Regional tours would impact on the number of pro players in tennis making a good living which I believe should be around 400 men and women. It’s disheartening that a player no. 200 in the ATP/WTA rankings, who has sacrificed so much in their life to become a top athlete loses money.
3. Encourage the top players to play doubles more often
Doubles is a great part of tennis. It was not so long ago that the best men and women professionals played doubles and it was showcased well at top professional events.
Doubles has been somewhat side lined in professional tennis today and this fact is best illustrated by the men’s doubles final at one Grand Slam being played on Friday morning in front of a half empty stadium.
The tennis history books measure a player’s place by their success in Grand Slams, Davis Cup and Fed Cup and the Olympics. If you win a doubles Grand Slam, you are in the history books.
There are many examples of top singles players of the past 2 decades that had considerable success in singles but, because they rarely played doubles, never won a grand slam in doubles.
Tim Henman is a good example of this. He was a great player and was top 4 ranked making semi-finals of three of the slams, but he never won a grand slam in doubles although he was a very good doubles player winning doubles silver in the Atlanta Olympics.
Compare that with Sonya Mirza and Leander Paes who are in the record books as multiple Grand Slam doubles champions. Jean Julian Rojer, who is from Netherland Antilles and whom I first saw play in Jamaica in an ITF funded Caribbean event at age 12, is in the record books as a two-time Grand Slam doubles champion.
In the women’s game, the top players still play doubles and the Williams sisters have helped to show that it is possible to be successful at both in the women’s game.
But participation by the best singles players in doubles in the women’s game is reducing. It’s obvious that for doubles to be relevant in the modern day professional tennis, it needs to be able to attract and motivate more of the best players to players to play more often and I have 3 ideas that I think can help:
Introduce a Combined ranking for singles and doubles.
I know that many people will say that this is not viable, but I don’t agree. Let me start by sharing my experience with International Junior Tennis which I oversaw for the ITF from 1997 until 2015. In 2004, Marcos Baghdadis was ranked number one in singles and number 600 in doubles. At that moment, most of the top juniors were not playing doubles at the top international 18 and under level and this was impacting at national level all the way down to 12 and under with kids of that age declaring “I don’t play doubles!”.
This was not good for the game. The Development department got approval from former president Francesco Ricci Bitti to change the ranking the next year to a combined ranking with 75% counting singles results and 25% counting doubles. It worked.
All the top juniors immediately committed to play doubles and this cascaded down to all levels of Junior tennis on a national basis with combined ranking now being used by all nations in junior tennis.
At professional level, I would suggest a ratio of something like 85% singles results and 15% doubles as a good start. The top 10 singles players would not play all the time unless trying to qualify for end of year events, but it would certainly motivate players between 10 and 100 to play more doubles.
Start Doubles at Grand Slams in the second week.
Why not start doubles in the second week of Grand Slams and allow sign in on the middle Saturday? This would allow singles players that have lost early in the singles to enter. It would also give the second week of a Grand Slam some great doubles tennis to watch on outside courts when there is less singles to watch and better showcase this part of tennis.
One potential issue is the number of courts available in the second week but this could easily be solved by having the Seniors events and Juniors events starting in the first week.
Provide a Doubles end of year bonus linked to singles and doubles results.
Offer a bonus to the man and woman player with the best combined singles and doubles results at the end of the year. It’s interesting to note that the last men’s player to have won both men’s singles and doubles grand slam titles was Leyton Hewitt who won US Open doubles in 2000 and US open singles and Wimbledon singles in 2001 and 2002.
4: Make International Junior Tennis More User Friendly for the players
In no other sport do the best athletes travel as much as in tennis. From the age of 13, the top junior players can be travelling 20 + weeks of the year and of course this impacts a lot on their life, education and of course financially on their parents and/or federation.
I was actively involved in the planning of the schedules of many top junior players through the ITF Development support of many junior players that went on to break into the top levels of professional tennis. I know how difficult it is to plan the competitive programme of a top junior player.
All high-performance coaches know that a simple rule of player development is that players between the age of 13 and 18 need to be playing between 80 and 100 good matches on different surfaces and against different players whilst maintaining a 2-1 win/loss ratio.
However, when you decide to send a junior to 15 weeks of tournaments internationally, the coach does not know if the player will play 15 matches if they lose first round every week or 75 singles matches if they win them all. The players have economy plane tickets and cannot change their tickets if they lose. They also do not know if they need to book a hotel in case they lose in the first round. They reality is that they have to stay for the rest of the week no matter what.
The answer is very simple. Every international junior ITF event (and Regional 12, 14 and 16 and under Regional events) should use a compass draw format with placement matches played for all places 1-32 and points won being different for each position achieved.
Each main draw player would be guaranteed 5 singles matches and will know that they will be involved for the entire week. Under this system the coach/parent knows that their player is guaranteed 75 matches from the 15 weeks. This change would make it easier and less costly to achieve the 80-100 matches on the international junior circuit. The atmosphere at the event would be also more positive which is important for young people’s development.
Of course, organisers will say that this format is more difficult to run, requiring more courts and costing more to run. And the referee will complain that they will have to work hard every day to schedule 32 singles.
I have heard it all before because at the ITF I made a rule in 1992 that all ITF funded development circuits and tournaments had to use this format where every player played a singles match each day. The current African 14 and under circuit that I was involved in putting together mandates this format at all events. I walked the talk and I saw the positive affect for players in the events funded by the ITF development programme!
Remember, who is the tournament being run for? The players are the customers and the tournaments at all levels of tennis should be run with their best interests in mind.
I know that coaches and federations would be happy to pay higher entry fees for these types of tournaments guaranteeing matches as, in the long run, it will save the player and the federation money and will make it so much easier to plan the players annual training and competition programme. And there will be so many other benefits including that the player can more easily continue their education and there will, in my opinion, be less strain on the families concerned.
5: Play Davis Cup and Fed Cup over 2 years.
Having worked for the ITF for 25 years, I know the importance of Davis Cup and Fed Cup.
My grandfather was a top Irish player in the 1920s and played the Championships at Wimbledon in 1927, a club that I am proud to be a member of today and was also a member of the first Irish Davis Cup team after Irish independence in 1923 that played against India. Tennis and Davis Cup is in my DNA.
It is obvious to all involved in tennis that the current format for Davis Cup and Fed Cup needs some changes as there are many challenges including insufficient lead up and preparation time for each match.
But the current changes being proposed by the ITF of 18 teams playing over one week, in my opinion, risks destroying the competition.
The many reasons why this format would not be good for tennis have been articulated very well over the past month in the media and so I will not repeat the reasons again here.
I would suggest, instead, playing World Group Davis and Fed Cup over two years. First year would be a round robin format with 16, 24 or 32 teams in the world group. Year two would see knockout stages with the 8 best teams progressing to quarter finals and the other teams playing off for promotion/relegation.
The advantage would be that you can plan and promote in advance the first year’s matches and, where necessary, book suitable stadiums. This format also has the advantage that Davis and Fed Cup can be run using the same format and number of teams and it releases a week on the calendar from the Davis Cup event each year which links to point number 6 below.
This format maintains home and away, which to me is fundamental, and will be more attractive to sponsors and likely to generate significantly more income and interest than the current format played over one year.
6: Introduce an ITF World Championships for men and women played every 2 years.
Every International Sports Federation organises a World Championship for its sport. Tennis is an exception among Olympic sports when it comes to this. On paper the ITF has four World Championships as the Grand Slams are recognised World Championships of the ITF.
But I think the ITF need something else that they own and run for the good of tennis. With the Davis Cup format outlined above, a week would be released on the calendar and so it would be possible to organise a 64-draw ITF World Championship, every two years in non-Olympic years.
This event could be the equivalent of the current combined 1000 events on the ATP tour but with men and women playing together like in the Olympics.
Some spots could be available in the draw for Regional participation through regional events to create more global links to the event.
By not playing in Olympic years, the already cluttered Olympic year calendar would be left with one week less which would be a good thing.
In my opinion, the perfect place for this ITF World Championships to be held would be in a region that currently does not host a big professional tennis event like Asia, Africa and South America with the possibility of the event rotating location every 2 years. The event could offer substantial prizemoney for the top players and bring significant new income to the ITF that could be then used for development of tennis especially in those nations and regions lacking resources.
7: User Friendly Play and Competition should drive the sport.
I believe that tennis needs to be driven more by the user-friendly play and competition and less by coaching with the needs and lifestyles of the tennis customers being a priority.
The competition formats played at the performance level and on the pro tours have remained pretty much unchanged for 40 years and tennis at club level today is usually driven primarily by coaching. There is little organised play and competition on offer for the tennis customer and most is not very user friendly.
When I enter clubs in various parts of the world, I see so much information about coaching but little about organised play and competition. Tennis at the club/micro level should be driven by user friendly and social play and competition. Many new formats and scoring systems exist in the rules of tennis today, but they are not being used enough.
I like to use the word “play” in conjunction with competition because that word “play” is synonymous with fun. Tennis “play” is where you play tennis and keep score but where the result is not recorded. Competition is where the result is recorded. Competition can be intimidating for some people.
Once players have been introduced to tennis, they should be organised into appropriate play. The green ball (25% slower) which is now allowed in the rules of tennis for all levels of play, which looks like a regular yellow ball and is suitable for play on the full court should be used more with adult play at club level.
But it is being used very little at the recreational level because its use is not being promoted enough at the global level of the game by the ITF, ATP, WTA and the four grand Slams.
There are so many other new formats and scoring that can be used in tennis today at the recreational level. For example, 30-30 tennis is a scoring used where every game starts at 30 all and is suitable for players playing with little time or to facilitate multi match formats mixed with social in a set time period.
The bottom line is that coaching should service the play and competition. It should not drive the sport. Once a lot of people are playing the game on a regular basis, they will of course want coaching so that they can play better. They will also want to buy other things to help them improve.
So, what can be done to improve the play and competitive experience?
During my time at the ITF three Play and Stay seminars of 3.5 days duration were organised to highlight the slower balls for kids and this proved very successful at changing coach’s behaviour in teaching kids. In my opinion, the ITF should organise, as soon as possible, a similar
3.5 x days world conference on Play and Competition to showcase different successful initiatives and to raise the importance of this area among the ITF member nations.
Convince the federations, clubs and coaches that tennis needs to be driven by user friendly play and competition. Serve, Rally and Score!
8: Introduce Tennis to all starter players in an active and dynamic way using slower balls.
All starter players should be introduced to tennis using the slower Red, Orange and Green balls to ensure that they can play the game (Serve, Rally and Score) as soon as possible. The slower balls are not just for kids.
Because of the rule change, approved by the ITF AGM in 2010, stopping the use of the regular yellow ball for 10 and under tournaments, all kids today are now introduced using the 75%, 50% and 25% slower balls.
As a result, coaches worldwide have changed the way they introduce tennis to kids and how they coach the kids between the ages of 5 and 10 years old. The use of the slower balls has also facilitated the use by coaches of an active game-based teaching methodology similar to that used for many years by successful sports like soccer.
However, many adults continue to be introduced to the game using the regular yellow ball in a very static and technical way because so many coaches think these slower balls are just for kids. Not true.
Many adult players after the age of 40 come to try tennis from other active sports and they, naturally, compare tennis to the active sport they are coming from.
Tennis needs to compare well if these new players are to be retained. Coaches should use the “Tennis Xpress” programme that was developed at the ITF in 2012, which involves adults being introduced to tennis using the slower Orange and Green balls. Tennis Xpress has been proven to increase retention rates dramatically in nations like Canada that I mentioned earlier.
The best part of tennis, and the thing that gets most people hooked (it got me hooked!) is hitting it over, hitting it back and playing the point and that is why “Serve, Rally and Score” was the slogan of the ITF Play and Stay campaign.
The slower balls are suitable for all starter players both in training and in the early stages of play and competition. It is important that coaches are convinced that the use of these balls combined with the methodology outlined in Tennis 10s and Tennis Xpress programmes to introduce kids and adult starter players to tennis is fundamental to the future growth of tennis!
9: Develop a rating system for world tennis.
I have always that believed that a World rating system for tennis could have a positive impact on tennis at all levels, especially at the club/micro level, by making it easier to find players of the same level to play with and by motivating people to play more.
That is why, while I was at the ITF, I helped to develop the International Tennis Number (ITN) which was launched in 2003 when Australia became the first nation to adopt it. Unfortunately, at that time before the launch of broadband, the ITN was based on a manual system and whilst it became a global language used by coaches, it did not get global traction at national level as an interactive rating system linked to national competitive play.
The ITF never had the resources to invest in the IT systems to support the ITN and it was not used as widely as we had originally hoped but the idea of creating a global rating for tennis is sound.
There are over 200 Member Nations of the ITF but there are less than 20 nations worldwide that have a national rating system.
The obvious is often the greatest secret! An accurate rating system helps people find others of the same level to play with which we know from all the research is one of the limiting factors in getting people to play tennis.
What about ratings at the performance level of competitive tennis? The existing ranking systems at professional, junior, collegiate, and national level are calculated independent of each other.
Let’s take an extreme example to illustrate my point. If a highly ranked player received a wild card into a Grand Slam and beat Federer or Serena Williams, their ITF Junior ranking would remain unchanged. There is no link between the ranking systems. A global rating system can change this by combining the results from all the existing competition at international and national level to produce a true ranking of performance players. It should include ATP/WTA, Junior ITF, US Collegiate and national results from around the world.
It would be a fairer system and I believe that in time it could that could become the entry qualification below 300 ATP/WTA to the ATP Challenger and WTA professional level tours.
However, the biggest impact of a global rating system would be on recreational tennis. Once nations adopt it at all levels, competitive play at club level can be organised in a more user-friendly way with players playing against players of the same level and players motivated to improve their rating.
The results of user friendly play at club level can be inputted into the new system, changing accordingly on a weekly or monthly basis. The health of the game is again affected positively as players will buy coaching and equipment to help them play better and improve their rating. It happens in golf. Why not in tennis?
10: Ensure that the 7 major tennis bodies work together for the good of tennis.
In my opinion, tennis has never been more fragmented than today with the key tennis stakeholder doing things independently without really considering, in combination, the bigger picture of the good of tennis.
I have so much respect for the ITF, the ATP and WTA tour and the four grand Slams who all do so much for tennis. They are, with the top players, the most important influencers of tennis and are the ones that can bring about changes to the game if they agree to work together.
I think that all seven organisations at the top of tennis should recognise that, whilst each should continue to work to improve their own part of tennis, they also have a duty to our great sport to work together for the good of tennis and to recognise that by doing so they will all benefit in the long run.
I am going to say something that most people actively involved in professional tennis are thinking but not often saying out loud. The professional men and women should have an independent player union that is separate from the ATP and WTA tours. No matter how hard you try, and there are great people working in the ATP and WTA, you cannot be an employer and a union at the same time. It does not happen in any industry that I can think of. I think having the player unions separate would, not only simplify the administration of tennis at this level, but it would also ensure less conflicts of interest. The players’ union would be independent of the tours and could negotiate in a normal way with the various bodies running professional events and all seven bodies would in turn have to consider the views of the players in making decisions.
With reference to the good of the game, I think there are some top line objectives that the ITF, the Grand Slams and the men’s and women’s tour could agree to work together on including things like:
•That the top 400 male and female players should make a good living from the sport
•That there should be big professional tennis events in every region of the world
•That they should all should work better to increase tennis participation worldwide and not just in their own nations/event locations.
•That players at the Pro events should be used better to promote the sport
•That the sport of tennis should be positioned in front of governments, IOC etc as the model sport for life (men and women/healthy/clean from doping/sport for life and so on).
I am sure that together they can come up with other “top line” objectives and ways to work together for the good of tennis. But the main point is that they need to see that it is the sport and its future that is the most important thing. And if tennis is healthy, everyone benefits.
The Tennis “Product” at all levels of the game should adapt to the needs and lifestyles of the customers and the Governing Bodies should work together to make the game more attractive to play and to watch.
Tennis is a very conservative sport and I am sure many people that have been involved in tennis for many years will think me naïve in my thinking and in the Ten points that I have suggested to make tennis a healthier sport. I have always been struck by how comfortable people are with the status quo especially in professional tennis.
The proposed ITF transition tour is a great example of this. What the ITF have come up with is pretty much what has been there for the past 40 years. A global circuit, a global ranking, $15,000 events, 32 draws and a circuit with players earning the same prize money and having the same costs.
The only real difference is no ATP and WTA points. Not exactly thinking outside the box!
As I said in the introduction, I know from experience that change in tennis is not easy, but I also know that when people in tennis work together, change is possible. I experienced that on a number of occasions in junior tennis.
More people playing, more people watching and more people buying tennis coaching and equipment. That’s a healthy sport. To achieve that, we all need to work together to give the tennis customers what they want by adapting the tennis product to people’s needs and lifestyles.
Let’s put a Big Ten into Tennis today and make it a healthier sport!
Dave Miley is:
International Tennis Consultant and Development Consultant, Asian Tennis Federation.
Candidate for ITF Presidency 2019.
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