Read part 1 of Mauro’s report here.

Where to start from? When you have the chance to meet your childhood idol, suddenly every word becomes foreseen. So I would like to begin from the kindness of the staff at the press office of the Gerry Weber Open. It was only thanks to them that, without any media credential, I managed to access the press conference of the Champions Trophy and, believe it or not, without really knowing how, I found myself sitting in the first row, watching the winners of 70 Grand Slam tournaments combined speak, two meters away from the man I had always only watched on tv and who was the owner of my feelings back in my teenage days.

I was there, waiting to come in at a sign of the tournament communication director after all the players had ended speaking. He, indeed, introduced me to Stefan who saw me and smiled at me, when he recognized the outfit I was wearing: «Ah… and he has a nice Adidas jacket!», he said, maybe going back with his memory to 25 years ago, when he lifted his second Australian Open trophy with that on.

I was not shaking as I thought I would be, it was such an informal situation, after all, and, no need to say, Stefan is surely not the guy who makes you feel uncomfortable or out of place. I had the chance of shaking his hand and came in with very straight words:

«Hello, Stefan, nice to meet you. My name is Mauro and I’m from Italy. I’m the admin of STE…fans, the international fan community dedicated to you. I want to give you this special screenshot of the home page of my site in memory of this day, that, for me, ranks at the very top of the best moments that I had in my life».

Stefan didn’t know of the site (secretly I hoped he would…), but nevertheless he said: «Thanks very much, I appreciate it!». Then, he came down to the space before the seats in the media room and kindly accepted to take pictures of the moment. Unfortunately I didn’t have the chance to exchange more words with him. But, just the meeting itself was an extraordinary opportunity that I received from the tournament staff only thanks to the quality of my work and, maybe, to the human interest of the story of a fan who had flown to Westphalia from Italy just to hand his hero a little gift.

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Thanks a lot to Mauro for his report from Halle. Check out his website STE…fans for more news, pics and videos about Stefan Edberg.

Halle is the Gerry Weber Open. Everywhere you can see the logo of the tournament, that turns 20 years old in 2012, and the walk from the quiet and tidy historic centre of the town to the Gerry Weber Stadion, along Alleestraße and Gartenstraße, is filled with indications that seem to celebrate it as the most important touristic attraction. Surely not everybody is a tennis expert here, but everybody knows (or has heard of) the tennis tournament, even the nice taxi driver that takes me to the hotel from Bielefeld, a town 18 kilometers away, and doesn’t speak a word of English.

Halle, Gerry Weber Stadion

Many would say there’s not much more to see in Halle Westfalen, but, in my opinion, this is not true. Surely not the best destination if you’re looking for “movida” and intense night life (you would hardly meet twenty other persons in the centre if you take a walk from 7 to 9 pm, just as I did), but there are at least a couple of things that catch the eye of a foreigner.

Halle is definitely a “green” city. Without need to reach the near Teutoburg Forest, you will find plenty of nature-friendly spaces inside the town itself and going slightly outwards. Most of the houses built in the characteristic half-timbered style, that remind of the Medieval history of the town, have a very well kept garden space that shows the love and respect for nature by the inhabitants. More bikes than cars around, and this, for an Italian abroad, is always something amazing to watch, just like the “culture of silence” they have here and, generally, in this area of Europe. If you were to think of a tennis tournament for Halle, it could only be on grass, and the rainy weather, the temperature just over 13-14 Celsius degrees of these days reflect the perfect “scenario” for the typical grasscourt tournament of middle June.

Halle Gerry Weber Open
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His name won’t mean much to sporadic tennis followers, but Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi will contend along with Djokovic, Nadal and Federer for the prize named after Stefan Edberg. Mauro Cappiello, founder and admin of STE…fans, the best Edberg tribute site on the web, explains why, in his opinion, he actually is the ideal winner.

At the end of last month, the nominees for the 2011 ATP Sportsmanship Award were made, so it will be Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi who will contend for the prestigious prize that was named after Stefan Edberg, once he retired from professional tennis back in 1996. With a disputable choice, the ATP decided to name a player unknown by large audiences like Pakistan’s doubles specialist Qureshi, together with three of the top four guys in the world singles ranking. But, even though his name won’t mean much to sporadic tennis followers and even though he will probably be overwhelmed by the other three contenders in the votations made by fellow members of the ATP World Tour, STE…fans wants to back Qureshi as the only deserving winner of the Award.

A career devoted to sports and peace
Considered he’s not an elite player, the 31-year-old man from Pakistan has done in terms of sportsmanship through the years (and not only in 2011) much more than what the other players have done combined. Through his sport, he’s gone beyond prejudice and discrimination from his country, promoting tennis as a mean for overcoming political barriers among different nations, which is the supreme way of “conducting at the highest level of professionalism and with the utmost spirit of fairness”, as specified in the award motivation.

After turning professional in 1998, Qureshi first came in the news in 2002, when he decided to partner Israeli Amir Hadad in Wimbledon and US Open doubles tournaments, despite the “cold relationships” that have always run between their two countries. This earned him and his doubles mate an Arthur Ashe Humanitarian of the Year Award for 2002. A prize that Qureshi also won last year, together with his current doubles partner, Indian Rohan Bopanna (by the way, where is his nominee for the 2011 Edberg Award?), another player from a country Pakistan has stormy relationships with.

In 2010, Aisam and Rohan have created a campaign, Stop War Start Tennis, with the aim of playing a tennis match in Wagah, on the border joining India and Pakistan, with both players on either side of the border.

The “Sportsmanship Award” is not the “Player of the Year Award”
There’s no need to add more to indicate Qureshi not only as the ideal winner of the award for this year, but also as the man who could reverse a trend that, in recent years, has seen the ATP give the prize not to the real sportsman of the year, but to the player with the best results in the season.

This has clearly happened in 2009 and 2010, for example, when Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal respectively have been voted “Sportsman of the Year”, when, in our humble opinion, they wouldn’t have either deserved a nominee. And let me remind you that, if it’s the other players who vote the winner, it’s the ATP who makes the nominees.

At the same time, it’s quite strange that, since 2004, the prize has gone to the year-end number one or two. Is it really so hard to find a true sportsman out of the top of men’s tennis? In our opinion, it’s a scandal that sportsmen like Mardy Fish and Andy Roddick didn’t get a nominee. Still they are American, so from a nation that gets high visibility, and are ranked or have been ranked in the top ten.

The impression is that the ATP is using this award to pump up the popularity of the most prominent players rather than to promote the fair spirit of tennis and positive behaviors by its protagonists, in and off court.

Questionable winners
We strongly believe that there should be an episode or a series of episodes to justify the nominee for a certain year and this has not happened recently.

In these two videos, you can see Roger Federer smash a racquet in frustration in Miami and speak roughly to the chair umpire in the US Open final against Juan Martin Del Potro.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w-e-Ud-ly04[/youtube] [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AZB9JfhzLzE[/youtube]

Those episodes both happened in 2009, when he was voted “Sportsman of the year”, overcoming the nominees of Ivan Ljubicic, Jarkko Nieminem and Carlos Moya. Generally speaking, Roger Federer is certainly a sportsman who has done a lot for tennis, in and off-court. He also has Stefan Edberg’s endorsement. After the two met last year in Stockholm, Stefan said: «He’s very smooth and easygoing, so I think he’s a great, great, great guy for tennis in general, I think both on and off the court». But, the fact that he is named every year, even when he doesn’t deserve it, just because he is Roger Federer, is ridiculous.

This other video shows Rafael Nadal vividly contest a decision by the umpire at the London ATP World Tour Finals, after the Hawk-Eye had shown his indication of a ball out was wrong.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BJgYfTmzuYw[/youtube]

Earlier in Wimbledon, he was (rightly) accused by his third round opponent Philipp Petzschner of requesting a “strategic” medical time out when down two sets to one. Both episodes happened in 2010, when the Spaniard was voted “Sportsman of the Year”, overcoming the nominees of Marin Cilic (?), Taylor Dent and Roger Federer.

None of us who witnessed Stefan Edberg’s career needs to be reminded that Stefan never talked roughly to an umpire, never smashed a racquet in anger and never used a medical time out to escape a difficult score situation. That’s why the Sportsmanship Award was named after him and that’s why it should never be delivered to a player committing one of the above during a tennis season.

Vote for your 2011 Stefan Edberg Sportsmanship Award winner»

Article written by Mauro Cappiello, founder and admin of STE…fans – a tribute to Stefan Edberg.

6. The Davis Cup’s schedule also has to be brought into the real world. Should it be held for a week every other year, like golf’s Ryder Cup? Or maybe once a year? Whatever the answer, the powers-that-be need to
sit down and decide how to re-interest tennis’ top players in participating in this great event.

Changing the Davis Cup format has been a huge argument over recent years, as top players have shown their “intolerance” towards this event that is such a part of tennis history. Many suggested that it becomes a biennial event or a Ryder Cup style event. Rafael Nadal, one of the more frequent Davis Cup players, has also once stated it should be played at the best of three sets… I think these format changes would only depreciate the competition. The way it is, Davis Cup has contributed to bring the sport in many parts of the world that are excluded from élite tennis or can’t afford to host top-level tournaments. Maybe an increase of the number of matches in the ties would prevent a country with only a big player from succeeding and would provide a fairer representation of the real tennis power of a nation. Where players are right, instead, is on the calendar collocation of the Davis Cup. Such a big event can’t be placed in the week immediately after Wimbledon or the US Open: this is clearly an aspect that discourages the big names from taking part in it and on which the heads of the game should really work.

7. Only tennis’ top-notch amateurs should be allowed to compete in the Olympics. The lure of a gold medal would encourage young players to stay in college and wait longer to turn pro. The results would be more mature professionals and a purer Olympics.

To be admitted in the Olympics has been a great conquer for our sport. Though winning a gold medal will never be the same as winning a Major tournament for most of the players, you can’t deny that competing for your nation in a stage like the Olympics has a huge charm for any athlete. What would be the meaning of making amateurs compete at the Olympics? Do you really think a single person in the world would love to watch Mr. John Smith play on the Wimbledon Centre Court in 2012? Or do you think that a young who aims at becoming a professional tennis player would wait longer to turn pro, encouraged by the prospect of winning a gold medal for his/her country competing against other amateurs? Sports have changed since Pierre De Coubertin’s age. You can’t even think of sports today without thinking of the media and world-wide audiences. Tennis already struggles to find room on the general media. If played by amateurs, it would be completely cut off.

8. The service line should be moved three to six inches closer to the net. The serve has become far too important to tennis – especially at Wimbledon, where the best fans in the world sit patiently through rain delays, only to sit through boring serve-a-thons.

A lot (maybe too much…) has already been done to limit the service power over the last ten years. Indoor surfaces are no longer fast carpets, Wimbledon grass has higher and more regular rebounds (and there’s a roof on Wimbledon Centre Court, so… no more endless waiting for tennis…). I don’t remember a “service-only” player winning an important tournament in the last eight years. Maybe the last big success by a player who mostly based his game on service power has been the 2003 US Open won by Roddick. This point had sense maybe twenty years ago, in the era of Ivanisevic and Rosset. Tennis has moved on and has maybe gone too further on this aspect.

9. Let cords should be eliminated. Having to play all let serves would speed up the game and make it more exciting.

What would you think if, facing a match point, your opponent’s serve should hit the net and bounce just an inch beyond it? I would feel extremely angry…

10. Tennis players should be far more involved in charity work. The sport should champion a couple of causes as a group and try to make a difference – the kind of difference Andre Agassi and Andrea Jaeger have made, Andre with his school for disavantaged kids in Las Vegas, and Andrea with her Silver Lining Ranch for terminally ill children in Aspen, Colorado.

Again, much has changed on this aspect as well in recent years. I think the real turning point has been the “Rally for Relief” played in Indian Wells in 2005, that collected money for the populations hit by the tsunami in the Indian Ocean at the end of 2004. We have to give Roger Federer big credit on rising tennis world’s attention on charity. Maybe it’s never too much, but these events have increased by a great deal, compared to the past.

Article written by Tennis Buzz’s contributor Mauro Cappiello
Read the first part of the article»

Is there a way to make tennis better? Are you unsatisfied with some aspects of the game today? Maybe you will find interesting the last part of John McEnroe’s autobiography “Serious”. Published in 2002, just after the big turn into a new millennium, the book has a final chapter made up by the “Top 10 recommendations  for improving tennis in the 21st century”. Even though almost ten years have gone by since their formulation, some of McEnroe’s ideas are still very popular among tennis analysts and commentators. We would like to discuss them one by one, starting with the first five.

1. Tennis should have a commissioner. Baseball, football, and basketball all do, why not our sport? (I’m available…)

I don’t believe such a figure would contribute to make tennis a better sport. Tennis is a much different discipline from those listed by John. While baseball, football and basketball are “national” sports, tennis is international and I do think that a strictly central organization with the presence of a commissioner would only give the game an exaggerated uniformity it doesn’t need. It’s nice to leave some autonomy to all the tennis events, or all the tournaments would end up looking the same in every part of the world. What tennis really does need is a skilled CEO, able to solve its main problems before thinking of raising his/her wage. I’m referring to issues such as the formulation of the season calendar. What we have seen in recent years, with Etienne de Villiers’ ideas of tournaments with round robin groups and Adam Helfant’s calendar organization for the men’s tour from 2012 on, are not exactly the best solutions…

2. The United States should have a National Tennis Academy. Flushing Meadows would be a natural site, but if the logistics there are too daunting, there are many other possibilities. Kids with potential should be brought in from all over the country, on scholarship if necessary, and they could be developed in much the same way I was by tony Palafox and Harry Hopman at the Port Washington Academy (I’m available here, too…)

I’m not in favor of a central tennis academy, either. I think that United States already has an almost official National academy in Nick Bollettieri’s, even if it’s not managed by the USTA. But, if this tennis school has given tennis good results in terms of numbers over the years, producing players such as Agassi, Courier, Capriati, Seles all able to reach the summits of the game, it has also contributed to create a unique and uniformed style of play, electing two handed backhand and play from the baseline to a credo. I think that every player should be free to develop his/her own style and a National academy goes right in the opposite direction.

3. Players need to be more accessible to fans and the media (did I really say that?), the way NASCAR drivers are.

While I think that media relations are already a big part of players’ daily routine, Mac is right as far as interaction with fans is concerned. Players like Federer and Nadal brought a huge popularity to the sport which is not completely exploited. I mean, there are lots of occasions, during tournaments, to meet top players, but, for example, if you look at the fanzone of the ATP World Tour website, it doesn’t even provide straight contact between tennis fans and players. There should be a way to access them on the official site of the ATP, giving them the opportunity to answer the fans’ questions through the site, while this occasion of meeting is left to the players’ official websites and to their social media profiles. Also, there’s no real community on the ATP official website, no forum for the exchange of opinions among fans. The interaction through Facebook and Twitter is not the same thing. And a downloadable screensaver and a fantasy game are not enough.

4. A return to wooden rackets would be a huge improvement for professional tennis. The biggest change in the game in the last twenty-five years – the replacement of wood by graphite – has been a bad one. I happen to think that wooden rackets are beautiful aesthetically and purer for the game. Look at baseball: kids start with aluminum bats in Little League, then move on to graphite or kevlar or whatever in college , and then – and only then – if they make it to the majors, do they get to use those beautiful wooden rackets bats that require greater expertise for success. Why not do the same thing in tennis? I think it looks great to have a little wand in your hand, instead of some ultra-thick club big enough to kill somebody with! Wood to me has glamour. You need strategy and technique. Tennis, these days, is sadly lacking in all those things. It’s all Wham, bam, thank you, mma’am.

This is a complete nonsense that I even refuse to comment. The evolution of materials made tennis a totally different sport, but it’s too late now to complain and a step back is something totally out of the world, from a commercial, technical and logical point of view. I assume this is a provocation of yours, Mac…

5. Like other sports, tennis should have a season. I’d recommend February to October. For three months every year there wouldn’t be any tennis. Players could rest and recharge; fans could work up a little hunger to see the game again.

This is a very interesting point, instead. As I said for point 1, the formulation of a reasonable season calendar is one of the big problems tennis has to face. While top players often complain their off season is too short, they are the first to arrange very lucrative exhibitions in the month of December, the only one with three weeks without official tennis. I think three months without tournaments would be too much for players (and for addicted fans as well…). After all, players are professionals and as intense a sport as tennis can be, there’s no professional on earth with three months off in a year. Nevertheless, I believe players should be left free to make their own schedules, there should not be mandatory tournaments (something that has killed minor events). The more you play (and, of course, the bigger tournaments you play), the more points you gain. Quite easy. As far as the calendar, I think January is too early for a Grand Slam event that should be placed after at least one big warm-up tournament. There’s too little rest between the French Open and Wimbledon and the post-US Open season is too long. Let’s say I would give players (and fans) one, but just one, extra week of rest.

Article written by Tennis Buzz’s contributor Mauro Cappiello
Read the second part of the article»