ATP re-structured to meet new challenges

KALYAN ASHOK

FORMER touring pro turned tennis administrator, Brad Drewett, was a welcome guest at the Touchtel World doubles championship at Bangalore. It was partly due to the ATP Executive Vice-President Drewett's efforts that Bangalore got its bid okayed for the 2000 championship and that despite, KSLTA lacking the international class facilities at that point of time.

"I was convinced by KSLTA's commitment and Mr. Krishna's personal assurance that the association was fully capable of meeting the deadline and conduct the meet successfully. That's how we at ATP gave the event to Bangalore in 2000", Drewett recalls.

The championship was back in Bangalore after some testing time and Drewett is confident that Bangalore ultimately will become a favoured Tour destination.

"India is a great tennis loving nation and it has produced some top tennis players. You have a rich history and from tennis point of view, the support at Chennai and Bangalore is just fantastic. It would be nice, if there are more events in Bangalore", said Drewett.

Drewett denied that there is a stepmotherly treatment for doubles. "Given the constraints, we are trying to improve the lot of doubles players and there is a Development Committee, which has been formed with players consent and help. You can't expect overnight changes." He also denied that there are not many takers for staging the event." Though we have not gone official, there is a firm offer from Shanghai to have both the year end Masters singles event and doubles championship", he said.

Drewett felt that ATP can improve upon its scheduling of events." We have over 60 ATP events, four Grand Slams and four weeks of Davis Cup and every fourth year we have the Olympics. When we have only 48 weeks, the arithmetic is very difficult. Every tournament is important in its region. We don't want to cut down the schedule and regarding Davis Cup the decision is with the ITF, which strongly feels that the format should stay as four weeks. In fact, we are now lesser by a dozen tournaments than we were five years ago. Still, it is tough".

On the financial front, ATP too has been hit by the global down turn. "We had a contract with a company called ISL, a big sports marketing company. Unfortunately, it went out of business and that has made us change the way we do business. Now we depend on ourselves. We have formed a company called ATP properties. We sell promotional rights. So it has been a challenging transitional period for us for the past four months. We have re-structured ourselves to meet new challenges."

Drewett denied that top professionals prefer to skip Davis Cup events. "Most players want to play Davis Cup. Even a guy like Sampras had played lot of Davis Cup. In Europe, it is one of the most important events for the players. May be on few occasions, USA or Australia might have had problems getting all the top players for the team. But then, there is no need to make playing for the country mandatory. I think 99 per cent of the players consider it an honour to play for their country, so this is not an issue at all."

Drewett also felt that given the game's strong tradition, there was no need to make many changes. "The match point tie-breaker, that we are trying out now, is to ensure better scheduling for the doubles and mixed doubles events. For instance, in the Australian Open where they scheduled the mixed doubles tie before singles on the centre court, knowing well, it would finish in time given the new format.It also ensured prime time coverage."

"Apart from that we have to try and develop the sport, but the most important thing is to try and develop it, keeping in touch with the tradition. So one needs to strike a fine balance, which is not easy," said the ATP official.

Drewett is pleased with the way the Australian tennis is going. "We have a top notch Davis Cup team and guys like Lleyton Hewitt are doing wonders for the image of the sport in Australia. We have large junior programme and Tennis Australia has spent a lot of money on the development. But one of the problems that we face in - Australia which is similar to India - is geographically we are at a disadvantage. It is easy for European juniors to get lot of competitions, to go from Spain to Germany, perhaps Italy, its so close you can go for weekend tournament. Unfortunately, for the Australian juniors, they don't have the same opportunities. That's why the Australian and Indian players tend to be late developers. Lleyton Hewitt is an exception."