Part two of our interview with Chris Kermode, the new CEO of the ATP Tour, on the future of men’s tennis, including the fight against doping.
Are you worried about life after Federer, Nadal, Murray and Djokovic?
I’ve said it so many times. Growing up in the Borg-McEnroe era, and then when that finished, everyone said it was all over, then Becker comes and Agassi comes. There is always someone coming through. You look at the Australian Open, you have (Grigor) Dimitrov, (Milos) Raonic, the Aussies coming through, Nishikori playing a great match. Those guys are out there and they are incredibly impressive. Now, when is that changing of the guard going to happen, to me that’s actually an exciting opportunity because every sporting generation ends at some point. But I think the depth of talent is so strong, for me the interesting part is: who that is.
Do you worry about the increasing homogenisation of the game? Playing-style, court surfaces?
No, I don’t think so. Is is something that we are, as responsible for governing body of the sport and the growing of the sport are we always looking at it? Yes, but that’s not just court surfaces that’s our product on TV, how people assess our sport in various new ways. Court surfaces, people talk about a lot, people playing in similar ways, people talk about it a lot. For me, it’s much simpler. Either the product is good or it isn’t. What’s interesting in the last 10 years when people have been talking about the court surfaces are the same, people play the same, has produced probably the most exciting matches I’ve ever seen in my whole 30 years of tennis so there’s a bit of a conflict in that argument. And you look at the way Novak plays to Rafa; completely different styles. Whether the product is shorter, longer, I don’t think is the issue. It’s whether it’s a product you want to engage with. When I grew up playing, everyone said the game was too fast, it’s too quick, got to slow it down.
Why can’t surface speeds be more different?
Yeah, I understand that argument. I’m not 100 percent agreeing with it but I’d need to look at it. My view is where the game is heading, is; I will have a view, but I will base it on probably listening to five stake holders in the game, that’s players, tournaments, sponsors, fans and media. And everyone’s got to buy into it because I can sit there and pontificate about where I think it should go, but if I’ve got players and media and fans and sponsors saying that’s not where we want to go, it doesn’t make sense so it does have to be a collective vision. When I grew up, the clay-courters in Paris used to come to Wimbledon and you just knew they were out first round. Is that a good thing? I’m not so sure either. All this stuff, as clichéd as it sounds, is about balance.
How big a danger is match-fixing, doping etc?
Is our sport clean? Absolutely. We’ve got to make sure that we are all over this. I think it’s a messaging issue, because I don’t see it as an issue. When you actually talk to players…some of those top guys, the rivalry at the World Tour Finals this year, they’re not playing for the money, they’re so naturally competitive.
But isn’t the problem more at the lower levels, where money is scarce?
I would say that filters down. We’ve got to make sure (players get) education, players coming through, about their responsibility, what the issues are, how to avoid them, reporting any contact. We’re working with the Tennis Integrity Unit. Am I going to be focusing on making sure doping and gambling are a major priority? Yes, absolutely, because we have to ensure the sport is clean, which I wholeheartedly think it is.
All players have to buy into that, though? What about Djokovic’s comments about the Troicki drugs case?
Every player’s got an opinion and is free to express that opinion so I don’t want to change that either. But there have been many more resources (put into anti-doping) in the last year. The (athlete biological) passport, out of competition, testing, more testing. This is all happening and is only going to keep going because like all sport, we want it to be clean. This is not me making a statement saying we’ll brush it under the carpet. I know it’s clean and I want to prove it by doing more of it and if that’s what it takes, that’s what it takes.
Have you increased your contribution to the anti-doping budget this year?
Yes. Going forward, all sport is honest, has to be. Just look at what happened to cycling. Everybody’s learned great lessons from that., It’s not in our interests to soften this. I actually want to trump it from the rooftops, that our sport is clean.
John McEnroe made some comments recently about doubles being almost irrelevant now. What do you think?
It’s an interesting one because for me because the game is truly global – 61 events in 30 countries – in certain markets, doubles is absolutely massive. England, being one. You look at doubles played at Queens, Wimbledon, World Tour Finals, you have 17,000 people watching doubles. The demand is there. It that everywhere, I don’t know. In Australia, it’s a big deal. I think it has huge relevance. I think we as a Tour we have a responsibility to be promoting it more. Maybe in the past it’s been quite easy just to focus on one thing (singles), but it’s 50 percent of our tour so we need to make sure people know who these doubles players are, I think it’s more of a marketing issue.
Some doubles players say they would have preferred two sets and a Champions tiebreak, rather than the no-ad rules.
I think you could get 20 people in a room and you’d have 20 different opinions. Where it started from, to look at new ideas, was: ‘let’s invigorate, in a good way’. The intention was good, to make it more accessible, to make the key points more interesting. I’ve got a whole raft of ideas I want to look at for singles – I’m not going to reveal them now – but I’m going to talk to players and tournaments, to TV especially, some will buy it, some will be massive buy-ins, some less so, but I think the more people have ideas, all games evolve, look at cricket, but the art is keeping the integrity of the sport so it doesn’t become an exhibition or a joke. I was talking to some cricket guys here the other day, I think they have almost three ways of playing the one-dayers, are they actually defeating each other? We’ve got to be careful.
Happy with the length of season?
It’s the same thing, 20 guys in a room…For the bulk of the membership, the longer the better, the top ones less so. It’s about that balance. For me it’s enabling a calendar that people feel, while there are also mandatory events, there’s also flexibility. I think it’s at a reasonable point now. There’s an off-season, people can do what they like after that. It’s about balance.