‘Asia is a key market’

PTI

Stephen Duckitt of the ATP’s communications team is all praise for India’s Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes (in pic, below) for promoting tennis in Asia. “They deserve every accolade they have received over the years,” he says in an e-mail chat with Nandakumar Marar.

Stephen Duckitt is a member of the communications team of the Association of Tennis Professionals. He is the link between the tennis professionals and the media. His job includes arranging fact sheets, which are used as references during discussions at press conferences, putting players in the right frame of mind to answer questions from the press before and after matches, and time management for both the players and the media. He was the point man during the Kingfisher Ai rlines Open at the Cricket Club of India in Mumbai.

Duckitt, a former media co-ordinator of the environmental organisation, Planet Ark, spoke to Sportstar on how tennis’ governing body views the world outside the courts, the emergence of Asian players and how the sport impacts people’s lives.

Excerpts of the interview:

Question: Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes are popular on the circuit. Are there any other Asian players capable of attracting the crowds?

Answer: There are a number of good young Asian players coming through the ranks. We have Hyung-Taik Lee from Korea, who is currently the number one player in Asia, Danai Udomchoke from Thailand, who has overtaken Paradorn Srichaphan as the number one Thai player, and of course there is Rohan Bopanna and Aisam Qureshi from the sub-continent. Mahesh and Leander have done a marvellous job in promoting tennis in Asia and they deserve every accolade they have received over the years. Hopefully now we shall see the fruits of their labour as more and more Asian players begin their climb to the top.

Asia is emerging as a major stopover on the ATP calendar with tournaments in Mumbai, Bangkok, Tokyo, Shanghai and so on. What next?

The ATP definitely sees Asia as a key market in making the sport one of the biggest in the world. After the US Open the ATP switches its focus to Asia as a logical stop for players on the way back to Europe after a long European summer. We have events in China, India, Thailand and Japan, and on top of that, at the start of the year, we also have events in Qatar, UAE and India again. So it shows how seriously the ATP takes the Asian market. We are always looking at ways to develop the Asian market and hopefully in the future there will be more tournaments in Asia.

Post-match media briefings and interviews are now a part of a tennis professional’s life off the court. When did ATP become aware of the need to promote media interaction?

Media interaction has always been a key part of the ATP circuit. In order to develop the sport, it is pivotal that sponsors and the general public are aware that the sport exists and within the sport there are superstars for fans to follow. Over the past 10 years we have been actively looking at ways to promote our stars at a local, national and international level to give them the exposure and recognition that they deserve, and to help make tennis one of the most followed sports. Over the next few years we are looking at developing the game even more through media interaction and global promotion.

Tour pros are focused on preparation and competition. How do you strike a rapport with them during events and make sure that they treat media appearances as a necessity and not as a distraction?

In general the players are fully aware of the media and PR obligations they are required to do during a tournament. There are certain rules in place that dictate exactly what the players are required to do. However, some of the challenge is in getting the players to do some of the activities that have been requested of them, and in order to do that you need to develop a professional relationship that is based on trust and respect. Having those two things makes it a lot easier to request players to do something. Outside of that, you are always trying to provide them with information about what is happening, and most of all, be friendly. All the players are approachable and amicable, so it’s easy to have a laugh with them and be both a colleague and friend at the same time.

Over the next few years we are looking at developing the game even more through media interaction and global promotion. — Stephen Duckitt-VIVEK BENDRE

Who is the most popular pro on the ATP Tour, and why? Have you ever been involved in any awkward moment, when a player is not in a mental state to face the media, but still has to do it?

All of the guys are popular on the Tour, but some are more popular than the others. That is just the result of players having different personalities. There are definitely times when players are very reluctant to face the media, but they also understand their obligations. However, there are definitely times when you need to coax them a little bit into interacting with the press, and the key is to give them the appropriate amount of time after a loss before approaching them with what they need to do. This comes down to your ability to read the player’s mental state of mind. Obviously you don’t just approach someone like Marat Safin after losing a tight five-set match, but it’s definitely easier asking winners to do their press!

Sport has the power to touch people’s lives, wean them from negative thoughts and habits. To what extent does tennis influence the players and fans?

I think tennis is just like any other sport, it provides an outlet for people to channel their energies. A lot of people play tennis recreationally, which allows them to socialise in a friendly and welcome environment, while also enjoying the health benefits that come along with playing the game. So I think sport, not just tennis, has many benefits in helping people through negative times.

As a member of ATP’s communications team, have you found players aware of the need to take time out and do their bit for society? Any incident you can recall?

The ATP is aligned with the global aid organisation UNICEF. As a global sport we wanted to make sure that our players were aware of the need to help others, so the UNICEF partnership was a good fit for us. Over the past three years the players have thrown their support behind numerous initiatives, including the Tsunami Rally that was held in the months following the tsunami that affected South-East Asia.

Outside our partnership with UNICEF, many of the players have their own foundations or partnerships with various organisations. Roger Federer is a UN Goodwill Ambassador. He also supports tennis initiatives in Africa. Andy Roddick has his own foundation which benefits youth in the United States. These are just some of the examples of how seriously the players see the need to do their bit outside of the game.