de Villiers Under Fire

ATP CEO Etienne de Villiers may not have a job come this time next year. What difference will that make?

The number one and two seeds look like they’ll meet in the final in Barcelona and Munich and I’ll finally see some footage of Barcelona tomorrow. We’re on the Rafa watch here: How long can Rafael Nadal go before he drops? Will he win Barcelona and Rome then drop at Hamburg? Will someone sneak up on him and drop him sooner? I’m less concerned about Roland Garros because it’s a two week event so he’ll get more rest and he has a week off between Hamburg and Roland Garros.

The shortened clay court season – which crams three Masters Series events into four weeks – might have an additional victim. ATP players are already angry with ATP CEO Etienne de Villiers for the clay court cram job but he’s also taken away a clay court Masters event. The ATP gave Shanghai a hard court 1000 event (the new name for Masters Series events as of next year) and demoted Hamburg to a 500 event. Not only that but Shanghai will take place after the U.S. Open so players will be forced to do the Asian swing whether they want to or not.

De Villiers’ contract is up at the end of the year and most of the top twenty players, including Rafa and Roger Federer, signed a letter to the ATP board of directors asking them to do a job search for de Villiers’ position. In other words, please find someone better.

I have two complaints about de Villiers and when I say de Villiers, I mean the ATP. The drastic changes in the ATP schedule were supposed to help players by reducing wear and tear on their bodies. Here is a quote from the ATP press release announcing the new 500 events for next year:

From 2009, the calendar changes to the ATP Tour will showcase the sport, ensure a healthier player schedule and offer a far more attractive proposition to broadcast and sponsor partners.

Reducing the number of required tournaments on clay – which is generally easier on players’ bodies (if the tournaments aren’t crammed too close together) – and increasing the number of required hard court events then putting that additional event in Asia, certainly does not “ensure a healthier player schedule.” It does just the opposite.

The other fault I would lay at de Villiers doorstep is the slow response to gambling problems. There was a long list of suspicious betting patterns on matches well before Nikolay Davydenko and Martin Vassallo-Arguello played what looked like a fixed match in August last year. The ATP should have had monitors following betting patterns on gambling sites long before that.

The players can push to replace de Villiers but he’s not the problem. He may have been too quick about some things – the round robin experiment might have worked if a bit more thought had gone into it and the rollout had been slower, and too slow on others – see gambling above, but the players were the ones who gave up their union and now they’re kinda screwed, so to speak.

The ATP started out in 1972 as the players’ union but in 1990 it started representing both the players and the tournaments. The current ATP Board of Directors has three player representatives and three tournament representatives. If Mr. de Villiers casts his vote with the tournament representatives, what are the players going to do, go on strike without a union leader?

The players do have some power in the process of choosing the CEO because de Villiers obviously doesn’t get to vote for himself. The three player representatives and the three tournament representatives have equal votes in the choice. That is no doubt why they sent the letter to the Board.

Enough politics. Let me throw a question or two at you. Another excellent tennis writer, Joel Drucker, has a good piece about Jose Higueras on the ESPN site. He suggests that Higueras is telling Roger Federer to hit a slice off Nadal’s high looping shot to his backhand instead of hitting a topspin backhand. The slice keeps the ball low which does two things: it makes it harder for Nadal to hit with pace and it brings Nadal further into the court which makes it harder for him to play defense.

I did see Federer hit a lot of sharply angled backhands cross court in his final with Nadal in Monte Carlo, and they were effective, but I don’t remember if many of them were slices, do you? Also, did Federer use slices to bring Nadal into the court?

I’ll be back with the fantasy picks for the Masters Event in Rome tomorrow and I’ll be waiting for your answers. Ta ta.