The Tweener Podcast, Episode 2

In episode 2 of The Tweener Podcast, Joey and Zach are joined by Mike Cation. Cation is the play-by-play commentator on the USTA Pro Circuit. We discuss at length the issue that is rocking tennis; match fixing. We also talk to Mike about the upcoming year on the challenger tour, focusing on the young Americans. Finally, Zach and I give a little week 2 preview for the Australian Open. As always we would like to thank Stick It Wear?! for partnering with us. Make sure to check out their shirts!

Podcast Shortcuts 

01:35 — Tweener of the Week

05:10 — Mike Cation Interview Begins: Match Fixing

25:20 — Talking Maui and Young Americans

40:52 — Australian Open Second Week Preview

Tweener of the Week 

Stick It Wear?! Shirt of the Week

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Breaking Down The ATP Prize Money Increase: It Makes Sense

News broke Friday that the ATP had announced significant prize money increases for both the Masters 1000 and ATP World Tour 250 events in the years to come.

Here’s the full statement:

The ATP has announced significant increases over the next four years that will see overall player compensation on the ATP World Tour reach US$135 million by 2018. Player compensation at ATP World Tour events in 2015 will exceed US$100 million for the first time.

The increases at ATP events are a testament to the sustained success of men’s professional tennis, as well as demonstrating the ATP’s confidence in the strength of its product and projected growth in future years.

The biggest increases in player compensation come at the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 category, with tournaments providing annual increases of 11%, and with the ATP contributing a further 3% increase, resulting in a 14% annual increase in that category through to 2018. Player compensation at the ATP World Tour 250s is set to increase at an average of 3.5% per year during the same period.

The latest decisions at Masters 1000 and 250-level mean that player compensation is now confirmed across all three ATP World Tour tournament categories for a four-year period. Player compensation for a five-year period for the ATP World Tour 500 category was decided at the end of 2013.

Many in the tennis world voiced their opinions on the increase(and what didn’t increase). A recurring theme across twitter Friday was that both the ATP Challenger Tour and the ITF Futures Tour were being neglected from the prize money increase. These lower levels of professional tennis have been brought up much more in recent months, notably for their poor conditions and lack of funding.

The Tennis Nerds are especially keen followers of the Challenger Tour, and we always wish for nothing but success for the endless “Foot Soldiers of Tennis“, if you will. Challenger tennis is one of the purest forms of competition; as Bradley Klahn told us in 2013, “every day there is a person across the net trying to steal your lunch money.”

However, the popular notion that the ATP should “restructure” their prize money breakdown to include the Challenger tour is simply misguided.

And before we get too far, let’s remember that Futures tournaments are run by the ITF, not the ATP. The ATP has no responsibility to maintain funding at those events. Prize money at that level is solely on the shoulders of the ITF.

If you take only one thing from this piece, let it be this: tennis is entertainment.

Just like all other sanctioned sporting leagues, the Association of Tennis Professionals is, quite simply, entertainment. Now this may seem obvious, but it is critical to understanding where and why prize money is distributed.

Tennis players are not paid for winning tennis matches. Tennis players are paid because people(fans) are paying to watch them. Whether they are watching in person, on TV, or online, each fan contributes to the overall revenue of the ATP

Masters 1000’s, who are receiving the largest chunk of the increase(14% increase annually through 2018), have been widely successful over the last decade. With three of the greatest players to ever play the sport at the top of the game, attendance, sponsorships as well as TV broadcast numbers have gone through the roof. Let’s look at a few examples.

  • Indian Wells set their attendance record in 2014 for the eight consecutive year, with 431,527 fans attending the tournament. (Indian Wells is a joint ATP/WTA event.)
  • Cincinnati also set their attendance record in 2014, with 191, 752 fans coming through the gates. (Also a combined event)
  • Shanghai has been voted as the Masters 1000 tournament of the year for the past five years. Their attendance, TV broadcast deals and sponsorships have increased rapidly since the tournaments inception in 2008.
  • Toronto and Montreal (Roger’s Cup) set their attendance records in 2010 and 2011, respectively; years when the ATP event was held in each city. (The ATP and WTA alternate venues each year)

To put it simply, these are the tournaments that matter. Outside of the four Majors, the nine Masters 1000 events generate the most revenue in the tennis world. Tournaments are ever-expanding; new stadiums and facilities are being announced at an astonishing rate.

On the other side of the net is the Challenger tour. While some tournaments are successful in drawing crowds and sponsorships, the tour as a whole has struggled to maintain relevance. And those challengers that do bring in crowds, such as Mons(broke attendance record in ’14) and Sarasota, have higher prize money and points available. Those tournaments were not simply given the $100,000 title, they earned it by proving relevance and quality entertainment.

The Napa Challenger has been mentioned as a candidate to increase their total financial commitment in the coming years. That is not going to simply be handed to them by the ATP; they’ll need to secure sponsorships and promote the tournament on their own. I’m sure they’ll be able to do so, but not because of a gift from the ATP.

There is a separate conversation to be had about the ATP’s promotion(or lack thereof) of challengers. However, do consider that nearly every tournament now has at least one streamed court, and Josh Meiseles writes a weekly recap of each tournament. This is certainly an improvement from years past, and perhaps with a growing audience, the Challenger Tour will eventually get a prize money increase of its own. But it would get that increase because they deserved it.

Again, let me stress that the The Tennis Nerds are huge backers of the Challenger Tour. We find it to be great entertainment. But, at least for the time being, a majority of tennis fans do not.

The Most Intriguing Tennis Match That Nobody Saw

Jared Donaldson. Daniel Cox. To the average tennis fan, these two names have absolutely no significance whatsoever. In fact, unless you’re a consistent follower of the challenger tour, odds are you’ve never heard of them. They faced off in the round of 16 at the Binghamton challenger wednesday night, and there were, undoubtably, very few watching. Binghamton, a short drive from Ithaca College(I may or may not attend this great institution), is far from a tennis hotbed. Perhaps the most notable/recent sporting occurrence in the area was the Binghamton Mets(New York Mets AA Affiliate) appearing on ESPN’s “Not Top 10.” You get the picture. What unfolded on the sparsely attended center court was nothing short of fascinating.

These two unheralded(and that’s putting it kindly) tennis players are very much the opposite of one another. Cox, a 23 year old from England, is generously measured by the ATP at 5’7, and had been battling predominately on the futures circuit for the last five or so years. He’s won 12 titles at professional tennis’ lowest tier, and because of that, his ranking has improved steadily into the low 200’s. He recently played in the biggest match of his career at Wimbledon, where he took a set off of world no. 37 Jeremy Chardy, before falling in four tight sets. Because his ranking has improved, he can now play challengers on a regular basis, and wednesday he was looking to reach his third challenger quarterfinal of 2014.

Jared Donaldson, in contrast,  is a 17 year old American, who is already 6’2, and still growing. Donaldson, who comes from a wealthy family, is one of a handful of young American juniors to have been touted at a future star. In February of 2013, he contemplated quitting tennis. After consulting with a sports psychologist, he decided against it. Donaldson was the runner up at the 2013 Kalamazoo nationals, and received a wildcard(speaking of wildcards…. read this) into the qualifying draw at the US Open, where he won two matches before falling in the third and final round. Obviously this created a lot of excitement, and rightfully so. The recent struggles that American male tennis players are having is something we hear just about every week, so I won’t babble on about that. Donaldson earned 16 ranking points in his first grand slam appearance, and with that came the opportunity to test the waters at the professional level. Over the last 10 months Jared has performed very well, and coming into wednesday’s encounter, he was on a 16 match winning streak, winning two futures titles and seeing his ranking reach a career high no. 343. He’s the number three ranked 17 year old, behind only Alexander Zverev and Borna Coric.

As I tuned into the stream, with the great Mike Cation on the call, I was vaguely interested. I’m on vacation at the beach, but figured I should watch Donaldson’s match and see how he’s progressed. Yes, I am a tennis nerd.

Cation was also looking forward to seeing how both would perform.

“I was thinking it was going to be one  of those matches where we see quite a few 10-15 stroke rallies. And frankly, I thought Cox was going to have the better end of it because I wasn’t sure if Donaldson could stay in the points long enough,” Cation said.

Early proceedings were dominated by the young American, who quickly jumped out to a 4-1 lead. A plus forehand and a vastly improved backhand were on a full display, with Donaldson hitting winners left and right. There wasn’t really much Cox could do, as Donaldson was dictating the vast majority of points. The two shots that really stood out for Jared were his powerful inside-out forehand, and a flat yet precise backhand down the line. He was hardly pushed on serve, and closed out the first set 6-2.

Cox is pretty much the definition of a grinder, or as he says, a “grafter”. He fights for every ball and tries to extend rallies. The longer it goes, the better for the Brit. Things were not going well for a set and a half, but slowly he was starting to get his foot in the door. At about this point the real drama of the match started to unfold. Donaldson was not happy with more than a few line calls, a fairly normal thing for a 17 year old tennis player. If you watch a junior or college tennis match you will see a lot of complaining and badgering between opponents, but it’s not something you see very often at the pro level, unless your last name is Fognini.

“At the beginning of the second set you could tell Donaldson was getting loose, and he was questioning every call. It did remind me of a juniors match,” Cation said. “You just don’t see that at this level very often. Dan Cox was frustrated because he didn’t have many openings to break and at a certain point he just said ‘stop questioning every call’.”

I watching on a my laptop, and a many of the calls did appear close, but it did seem like every time a ball was close to the line Donaldson was talking to the chair umpire.

For the next few games, the extra-curricular stuff remained relatively quiet, as Donaldson appeared to get Cox’s message. Jared had a few opportunities to break serve late in the second set, but could not convert. At 4-all, he went off the rails. The forehand that had been so effective suddenly couldn’t find the court. Cox broke and served out the set fairly easily. The rallies were starting to get longer, and Cox was now fully into the match, both physically and emotionally. He was the one who was pumping himself up.

The Brit broke to 2-1 in the third set, and then more drama ensued. As Cox served to consolidate the break, he started looking up and gesturing behind the court to Jared’s dad, Courtney Donaldson. Courtney had been clapping after his son was winning points, and that is also very normal. But Cox took exception, and yelled to the senior Donaldson that he shouldn’t be clapping after unforced errors. The one-sided banter ensued for the rest of that game, with Cox the only one engaging.

“I was not expecting anything like that. I would describe Dan as scrappy, but I’ve never seen him verbally engage in that manner during a match. It got ugly,” said Cation, who prefaced his comments by saying he thought that Courtney was not in the wrong.

I spoke to Courtney Donaldson after the match, and he described his perspective on the situation.

“I clapped for a point Jared won, and to be honest I don’t remember a mis-hit or a net chord in the point and I clapped and to be honest so did most of the other people.  It was a long point and I was happy to see Jared win the point and  he took offense.  But I left it at that.  As much as he was spouting off I just looked straight ahead and said nothing. I didn’t want to interject into the match. He was upset and in my opinion was for a lack of a better term un-professional but it is what is is he was in the middle of an intense match and lost his composure,” Donaldson said.

Who was right and who was wrong is really up to you. Brad Gilbert saw Cox on a regular basis from 2006-2008 while at the Lawn Tennis Association(LTA), and described Cox as somebody who was always “a feisty little guy on the court.”

To be honest, after Cox battled through a long service game to hold 3-1, I thought Donaldson would fold. He seemed to be on the edge, and after failing to break back he could have let it all go. But he fought hard, and made the rest of the match very exciting. He had chances to break in two more of Cox’s service games, but just couldn’t find a way to finish at the biggest moments. Cox closed the match out 6-4 in the third, and was very excited about his performance, giving a couple extended fist pumps. The post-match handshake was brief, but clean.

Tennis is a sport that can be intriguing at every level, from recreational to professional, and this match was a great example of that. A look at the scoreline and one would presume that it was just another tennis match, but it wasn’t. Every single point from about the second set on was tense, competitive, and fun. There was drama, high quality tennis, and a little comedy as well. What more could a fan ask for?

For Donaldson, his potential is overwhelming. He has all the tools to be a top player, and it might not be long before we see him at the big leagues. But we have to realize that he is a 17 year old, and he still has a lot of time to grow.

“The whole time I was saying to myself, ‘this is just part of the mental maturity that will certainly come for (Jared)’,” Cation added.

“Jared loves to compete, improve and play tennis. He enjoys the success but doesn’t let it affect his development,” father Courtney said.

As for Cox, he’s on to the quarterfinals, where a very winnable match against Darian King awaits. I hope the few of you who saw the match enjoyed it as much as I did

Day 2 Recap

Nole

 

Wimbledon Day 2 had it’s fair share of story lines. Although there were no huge upsets like day 1, there were way more 5 set matches. The World Number 1 was in action, and the American Men had a very up and down day.

Djokovic Sharp In Opener- I predicted that Florian Mayer would play 2 tight sets against Novak Djokovic, and that was a pretty good pick. He was close for about a set and a half, as Novak won in straight sets 6-3 7-5 6-4. Mayer played well, mixing it up between topspin, flat, and slice shots. Djokovic was way too good though, and he never dropped serve. His next two rounds will probably be easier than this match.

The Americans: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly- There were 9 American men in action Tuesday, and many of them struggled. We’ll start with the good. Denis Kudla continued his torrent run with a 5 set win over another qualifier James Duckworth, 6-1 in the fifth. Kudla will play Ivan Dodig next, and that’s a really good opportunity for the young Virginian to make the third round of a grand slam for the first time in his career. Another positive came on the other end of the spectrum, as 32 year old James Blake won his first match Wimbledon in 3 years. He beat Thiemo De Bakker in straight sets.

Now the bad. Ryan Harrison had a great opportunity against the 28 seed Jeremy Chardonnay Chardy, who has never had good results on grass. The first set went on serve until Harrison had a break point to serve for the set, but he missed an easy forehand. Chardy took the tiebreak, but Harrison rebounded to take the second set. He was the better player, but he didn’t take the numerous chances he had and eventually lost in 4 sets. Harrison falls to an atrocious 6-13 on the year. In an all-American match, Steve Johnson led by a break in the fifth set, but fell to the journeyman Bobby Reynolds.

The ugly. Sam Querrey had a tough first round opponent, Bernard Tomic. However, Tomic was not playing well, and quite frankly, it didn’t look like he cared. Querrey squandered 7 sets points in the first set, and went down 2 sets to none. After easily taking the next two, Querrey choked and lost fifth. Both players showed nearly no emotion, and Bernie seemed more fired up in his post match interview when he was defending his dad.

Young Guns Move On- Grigor Dimitrov, Milos Raonic, and Kei Nishikori all advanced to the second round with straight set wins. Each of these players are in David Ferrer’s Quarter of the draw, so look for at least one of them to make a run.

My Picks- Not quite as good today, as I went 22 for 32. Looking back, I have no idea why I picked Michael Russel to win.