Monthly Archives: April 2014

Sitting Across MT-Desk: Umit Oraloglu, Co-Founder of Gallipoli Youth Cup

Back in 2008, I wrote an article titled ‘Something different to do in 2008’ about tennis tournaments that you will not read much about in the general media, however they are worth attending, because they have separated themselves from many other calendar ITF events. The Gallipoli Youth Cup (GYC) is one such event, and it just kicked off in Melbourne, Australia.

With yesterday’s first round matches, the GYC has entered its sixth year and along the way this tournament has created history in many ways. However in terms of creating ground breaking history, with influential figures supporting GYC, 2014 and 2015 will be very important years for this event.

Pat Cash (1987 Wimbledon Men’s Singles Champion) and Umit Oraloglu (successful businessman and second generation Australian from Turkish parents), are the co-founders of the GYC. I asked the latter several questions regarding the past 6 years and what the future holds for the tournament.

How did the GYC come about and why is it so different from other ITF junior tournaments?

Umit: In Australia, we are all educated at school about the Gallipoli campaign, where during World War 1, Australian and New Zealand soldiers (known as the ANZACs), formed part of an Allied expedition that set out to capture the Gallipoli Peninsula (the European side of Turkey), under a plan to open the way to the Black Sea for the Allies. Even though the Gallipoli campaign failed in its military objectives, the landing at Gallipoli made a profound impact on Australians and New Zealanders at home and 25th of April became the day on which they remembered the sacrifice of those who died in war.

Since sport is inherently a big part of Australia, Pat Cash and I thought (in conjunction with Tennis Australia), what better way to give our youth the opportunity to commemorate our war veterans through ongoing participation and competition in sport by establishing the Gallipoli Youth Cup.

Not only are the junior players commemorating the fallen soldiers, we also created a “School Commemoration Program,” where year 6 students from various primary schools can participate in tennis activities and education programs commemorating the fallen soldiers at Gallipoli.

The GYC is now the only International junior tennis tournament in the world where the tennis players and school students commemorate the fallen soldiers.

Even though the GYC was established in 2008, it took 4 long years to get it off the ground due to unimaginable twists and turns. What were these twists and turns?

Umit: In 2004, Pat Cash and I traveled to Turkey, so we could create a tennis event by commemorating the fallen soldiers at Gallipoli. The event was called ‘Anzac Legends Cup’ (ALC) and the concept was to have two past legend tennis players from two of the countries that lost soldiers at Gallipoli, to play an exhibition match and then the following year, add another two players to the event (from two other countries).

Other than Turkey, Australia and New Zealand, countries such as France, Canada, England, South Africa, Ireland, India etc.. also lost soldiers at Gallipoli. With this being the case, in 2005, Pat Cash (Australia) and Henri Leconte (France), competed against each other in the first ever ALC to be held in Istanbul at the renowned Coliseum Centre.

Unfortunately that was to be the first and last ALC because the Turkish Government thought only the countries that lost soldiers at Gallipoli would be interested in the ALC and they wanted to hold a tennis tournament by attracting interest from all over the world, so they wanted Pat Cash and I to organize a WTA or ATP tournament in Turkey. In that same year, with both of us playing a crucial role, a WTA event was held in Istanbul and it was named after the historical city itself, the ‘Istanbul Cup’.

It was like we awakened the sleeping giant because with the success of the ‘Istanbul Cup’, the Turkish Government went on to hold the end of year WTA Championships held between 2011 and 2013.

That being said, after establishing the Istanbul Cup, Pat Cash and I came back to Australia with an empty sense of feeling. Our initial goal for going to Turkey was to annually commemorate the fallen soldiers through a tennis event, and we didn’t achieve our goal.

After giving it some thought, we noticed that at a senior level, the codes of Australian Rugby League and Australian Rules Football held matches to commemorate our war veterans, however there was no event held at a youth level. After consulting with Craig Tiley, CEO Tennis Australia (then Director of Tennis Australia), I’m proud to say, we eventually created the GYC.

So far in this journey, what has been the highlight of the GYC?

Umit: There have been so many highlights, however if I had to narrow it down to a few, I would have to say, since 2008, we have educated thousands of school kids about the Gallipoli campaign and this will continue for many years to come.

Also in 2013, for the first time we had 12 Turkish junior tennis players compete at the GYC. These kids created long lasting friendships with players from Australia and New Zealand. Last but not least, to celebrate our achievements, last year we invited Mr. Turgut Kacmaz – 77 years old and the son of the last Turkish veteran at Gallipoli – to be the special guest at our Gala Dinner. He also handed out the trophies to the singles and doubles winners of the GYC, which attracted profound media coverage from all over the world.

This year there was a major development with Tennis Australia announcing that the GYC is now one of the major projects of the Australian Tennis Foundation. However, since 2015 will be the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landing, what plans are in place to mark this special occasion?

Umit: Yes it was definitely a major development. Just before this year’s Australian Open, the Australian Tennis Foundation held one of its first projects by teaming up with Roger Federer’s Foundation and raising valuable funds for both foundations.

The event was called, “A night with Roger Federer and friends,” which was a televised event and it ended up raising more than $1 million on the night. It just makes me so happy that the GYC has reached a certain level, where it’s now officially going to be run by the Australian Tennis Foundation.

Re 2015, this year will be very special. We have two major objectives. The first is to educate five thousand students during the tournament through our “School Commemoration Program” (which has never been achieved before) and the second is to invite junior tennis players from all the countries that lost soldiers at Gallipoli, so that we can continue promoting the notion of mateship. These countries are Turkey, England, New Zealand, France, Canada, South Africa, Ireland, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, Senegal and Algeria.

Umit, this sounds fantastic! Any last thoughts?

Umit: Yes. Even though Pat Cash and I are the co-founders of the GYC, there are two people that also played a very important role in making the GYC a huge success. From day one, Craig Tiley and Michael Annett (CEO of Victorian RSL Branch) understood the concept of the GYC and I can’t thank both of them enough. For more information on the GYC and to see what we have achieved in the past six years, everyone can log onto www.gallipoliyouthcup.com

Note: Log onto the website to get the latest scores and results, unless you live in Melbourne, in which case, you should attend the tournament and see the future stars.

Roger Federer, a Master of Public Relations

Roger Federer may have missed his best chance to add the Monte Carlo Masters 1000 title to his resume by losing in the finals to his compatriot Stanislas Wawrinka, but there is little doubt that he is the ultimate winner in terms of managing his public profile more profitably than any other athlete in tennis – perhaps in sports. The number of records held by the 17-time Slam winner probably overlaps that of any other player in the history of the game. Nevertheless, his career earnings in prize money from his athletic performances pale in comparison to his yearly income from endorsements from companies such as Nike, Rolex, Credit Suisse, Moet & Chandon and Wilson. In fact, the amount that he earns from endorsements in just two years – around $95 million – surpasses the amount that he has earned throughout his career in prize money – over $80 million and counting.

If one needed an example of how Federer & his PR team successfully negotiate his impeccable image, they need not look any further back then the series of announcements and press conferences since Federer’s public acknowledgement back in December of 2013 that he and his wife were expecting their third child. The brief and celebratory announcement that hit the waves via twitter included one sentence: “Mirka and I are very happy to share the news that Myla & Charlene will be big sisters in 2014! Happy Holidays.” No other information was provided and there is good reason for that.

Since then, Federer, who notoriously – and rightfully – draws a clear line between his public and private life, rarely mentioned anything about his wife’s pregnancy during any press conference, outside of a few words here and there indicating how happy they are. He made statements that were designed to uphold the image of a tightly-knit family, and that image is not hard to maintain because it comes naturally. Federer has always affirmed how much his family means to him, and he has frequently praised Mirka’s role in his success. There is no doubt that the happiness that Roger and Mirka and their children display has very little to do with image. They are a very close family.

Peculiarly, or so it seemed at first, none of the announcements included a due date. In this day of improved medical technology, due dates can often be estimated to the exact date, if not within a week of delivery date. However, on each occasion that a journalist initiated the ‘when-abouts’ of the due date during the press conferences, Federer’s reply has been a consistent “I don’t know.” Some saw it as pandering to the media, while others simply felt that he could opt for honesty and choose to say that he refuses to answer the question. I believe anyone who has had any experience with the media can agree that the latter option goes nowhere with media members. The pandering option is not Federer’s style either. He is no Vitas Gerulaitis who gave details of his night life or Boris Becker who has a reputation for wanting to be in front of any camera including the one that you set up in your garage. In fact, when journalists insisted in the Indian Wells tournament, he simply said that even if he knew the date he would not tell them. It’s his way of saying “move on to the next question.”

Shortly before the Monte Carlo Masters, the tournament organizers announced that Federer will indeed be a part of the field, accepting a Wild Card. In the social media, some speculated that it may have to do with his intention of solidifying his ranking in the top 4 (he is currently ranked #4). There were others that he wanted to try one more time to see if he could capture one of the rare titles that have eluded him. On the Tennis Channel they speculated that he wants to gain more points in case he has to miss a big tournament due to the delivery of their child. However, if I am connecting the dots correctly, I see an even more nuanced picture, one in which the Federer camp is carefully treading the line between providing too much information to the media and making sure that he can make the most of the clay court season during a period where the delivery date falls on a delicate time.

After his second round win over Radek Stepanek, Federer had to deal once again with more questions on the expected delivery date. Once again, he handled them masterfully. He revealed that he would put the birth of their third child ahead of any tournament saying all the right things about how supporting his wife was a “priority” to him. When pushed a bit further and asked if he was willing to miss the French Open specifically, he once again crafted his message to imply that the questions should stop there as politely as possible: ”Yeah, let’s talk about it when it would happen. At the moment we hope it’s not going to be that way.” Then, he added ”If it is, that’s what it is, you know.” He essentially came across as a great family man, a dedicated competitor, while not committing to any obligations before due time.

Seeing how delicately Federer is handling the flow of information, I do not believe it is a stretch to assume that the delivery date falls around the French Open: perhaps around the beginning, or late in the second week. If Federer were to announce the date, it would put him in the position of either withdrawing prior to the French Open, or forfeiting a match late in the tournament, making him appear somewhat inconsiderate since everyone would know that he went into the tournament with the knowledge that he would not play it out. If my speculation (and it is not much more than that at this point) turns out to be the case, it would make sense for Federer to avoid revealing the date in order to keep his options open.

For example, if the due date coincides with the final weekend at Roland Garros and Federer has made it that far, it would certainly render his decision to play the final (again, if he makes it that far) more acceptable in the eyes of the public. In another case, if the due date falls within the first couple of days of the tournament, I believe the tournament director would gladly honor his request to schedule his match on the last day of the first round matches, or even in an unusual move, schedule it on the first day of second rounds (provided ATP regulations has no mandate against that). Neither the participants nor the tennis world would perceive that as preferential treatment in the case of a man who puts his child’s birth ahead of his work. French open tournament director Gilbert Ysern would happily make that adjustment rather than lose a prime name in the draw. However, none of those options would remain if he were to make an early announcement about the date, basically forcing him to withdraw earlier, even if in hindsight, the actual delivery date would have shown that decision to be a hasty one. Of course, these are mere speculations and Federer may announce the date sooner than later. The string of announcements do however show an intention by the Federer camp to wait as long as possible prior to making a final decision in order to keep the options open.

In any case, this article does not intend to judge Federer’s business decisions or his decision-making process in family matters. It simply shows how well he and his camp are handling the situation despite him being the highest-profiled tennis player, and one of the most prominent sportsmen and/or celebrities in the world (a google search will reveal several Forbes’ rankings indicating just that). Whatever the outcome of his child’s birth, he will come out of this squeaky clean, with his image untarnished, as well as with earning the maximum amount of points to keep his ranking up, thus remain a contender on the tour. The case of the timing of the birth of the Swiss star’s third child and how efficiently Federer’s PR strategy relates to it should be a case study for all other sports celebrities in order to analyze how they could improve theirs.

2013-08-15aFedererFederer signing autographs for his fans in Cincinnati (2013)

Sitting Across MT-Desk: Bastian Gründler with PACIFIC

Recently I caught up with an old friend, Bastian Gründler from Germany, whom I have known since his years of playing college tennis in the U.S.A. He grew up playing tennis in Germany before moving to the U.S. to play college tennis for the University of Alabama in Birmingham (UAB) – his brother Philipp played for the UCLA team that won the 2004-05 NCAA Championships. He went on to get his Sports Science diploma from London Metropolitan University in England. He continued to play tennis and went on to win in 2010, the British Universities & Colleges Sport (BUCS) UK Individuals Singles & Doubles Championships, as well as the Team Competition with his university team.

He now works for PACIFIC – a German Tennis goods manufacturer. The company was the Official ATP-Partner for Strings, Grips and Stringing Machine in the years 2007-2012. Having acquired Fischer Racquet Division in 2009, PACIFIC today is a full-range supplier and one of the major players in the string and racket industry.

I have often intended to do Q & A article with faces in the industry, and I believed holding one with Bastian would be a perfect start to the “Sitting Across Mertov’s Tennis Desk” series.

Bastian, for starters, can you please provide a brief background of PACIFIC?

BG: PACIFIC Entermark GmbH started as a distribution company for various sports goods, founded in the early 70’s. Our own PACIFIC brand has grown stronger over the years, due to high quality production & innovative products. With the quality label ‘Made in Germany’ – PACIFIC manufactured the 1st electronic Stringing Machine in the 1980′s. The company was famous for their own Natural Gut production, equipping world’s best player such as for example John McEnroe. As much as the company has grown, it still remains 100% family-owned, with its headquarters located in Stuttgart, Germany. Even with all the revolutionary developments, you still see the best players relying on traditional products! A great number of today’s Top 100 players, actually more than 60 out top 100 players, prefer ‘Hybrid Stringing’ – a mixture of Natural Gut strings combined with synthetic materials. Gut strings provide elasticity and power factor, while synthetic strings provide control & accuracy factor.

What is your area of responsibility with PACIFIC?

Bastian Grundler & Florian Mayer - At a tournament signing sessionBG: I have been with PACIFIC for 4 years now, and I am working within two divisions at PACIFIC. One the one hand I work with the Int. Sales department where all efforts are combined, providing our worldwide sales partners with everything PACIFIC’s got to offer. On the other, I am responsible of the division of ‘Global Brand & Player Services on ATP / WTA & ITF Tour’. Together with Tom Parry, our Player Services Director, I am looking after all our sponsored players (see picture with the current ATP #30 Florian Mayer during a signing session), as well as scouting upcoming talents and potential future champions. Furthermore, PACIFIC works closely with more than 250 coaches worldwide, because one of our central concerns is to educate tennis players, improve their ‘material knowledge, more importantly, instill the importance of the service factor in tennis.

Can you further elaborate on this aspect that you refer to as the service factor?

BG: By saying ‘service factor’ I am underlining the importance of serving and educating the
customer with an in-depth knowledge of the full range of products that we have to offer. The company has been holding material & service seminars all around the globe throughout the last +40 years educating sales partners, industry and also consumers on fundamentals. The company’s foundation in manufacturing Strings & Grips provided ground for such seminars, demonstrating the actual function of Accessories to the racket itself. Without a motor, no car could move an inch. Without Strings, a racket cannot be used to perform, therefore the Strings are often called ‘the engine of the Racket’.
At PACIFIC, we provide our players with best materials & advice. My job is to interact with Players, and also deliver my advice and services onto our global distribution network, retail partners and Tennis specialist stores. It’s a well-functioning combination of Sponsoring, Marketing and – obviously what’s most important for any company – Sales.

PACIFIC is one of the top companies in the industry competing for the world market for hard goods, especially rackets. Where do you see PACIFIC’s current status and in what ways can PACIFIC hold an advantage over its competitors?

BG: A large portion of the tennis market for hard goods, especially rackets, is held by Babolat, Head, and Wilson. However, PACIFIC has become a strong contender for the number 4 position and we plan to aim even higher. Traditional brand names are fading, and loosing share to current major players. It’s important to develop & grow key markets, but also invest on your foundation. PACIFIC products are recently available in +80 countries through active distribution network.
PACIFIC’s product range provides high quality performance products in all segments, being full-range supplier (except shoes). There are many companies out there, that produce 1 or 2 good products in just 1 category, may it be ‘Racket’ or ‘Grips’, while PACIFIC is growing as a strong performer in all product categories.

Bastian, this all sounds interesting in the scope of the industry’s ins and outs, but how does it help the consumers in the general population, in other words, your everyday tennis players in the clubs and tennis fans who picked up the game?

BG: Let’s give the example of a great champion and work our way to all tennis players. Just like Roger Federer did when switching to a new frame, every tennis player, regardless of their level, should ask themselves the following question: “What is the best product(s) for my individual performance?” A couple of years ago, I was at a tournament in Switzerland. In the evening, I was walking by some local courts when I noticed a senior player who looked to be about 80 years old. It was obvious that he was barely able to hold on to his ‘preferred’ racket. It turned out that he chose Federer’s heavyweight, small head-sized racket to play, and I can assure you that he was not enjoying his Sunday evening performance. So, I walked up to the court and asked him who on earth recommended that frame to him. He responded that he went up to a Tennis retail store to buy the World #1′s racket, because that racket ‘must obviously be the best one on the market’.

Here again it is my job to combine multiple perspectives such as understanding the player’s mind in connection with the game’s different facets, analyzing market trends, providing feedback for today’s world’s best athletes, as well as the consumers. I need to respond to the demands of the professional players as well as the Swiss senior club player. I follow closely the requirements of products, and I seek answers to questions such as how to match products to the individual player’s ability and how to enhance performance and while maximizing the joy of playing tennis. What does the player require from his/her product? What are the deciding factors for tennis players & consumers when choosing one brand’s product over another? My job is to not only answer these questions but bring in different perspectives and angles to various individuals according to their abilities.

During the 2012 London Tour Finals, PACIFIC Tour Coach Robert Davis (long-time Coach of Aisam Qureshi) held a Kids Clinic (see picture below) instructing young Tennis learners how to mount a grip band. It starts with the simple things.

Klinik

It seems that racket and string technologies have evolved tremendously. Companies are always introducing new models, different technologies with flashy names. I can’t even count all the different names given to the various stringing materials. How do you keep up with all this?

BG: Actually, the shape of tennis rackets has practically not changed throughout the last 50 years, while materials absolutely did! Back in the days, rackets were wooden, heavy, and not comparable at all to today’s high-tech frames. Then came along a racket made from aluminum, then another from carbon, and yet another from graphite. Eventually, the manufacturing process was industrialized because the technology side became too important for the business. In 2009/10, PACIFIC acquired Fischer Racket Division, a company who has equipped Slam winners such as Michael Stich or Yevgeny Kafelnikov. Starting the company’s first own racket production in 2010, PACIFIC and Asa.Tec, a research and development company specializing in raw materials, pioneered in utilizing basaltic fibers during the process of racket manufacturing. In a highly complex process, Volcanic rock is melted and extruded in the form of continuous fiber which is then strategically positioned in PACIFIC tennis rackets, providing enhanced comfort and precise feedback. In short, you asked me how I keep up with all the developments. We are part of the innovations and actively involved in the developments, thus it our job to know everything inside and out.

Considering all your interaction with the players, have you seen any players express strange concerns, or make unusual demands with regards to their equipment?

BG: Absolutely. There is this one top-female contender, who does not want her Grips being touched and prepared for the match by anyone other than her coach! There are several Tour players out there who do not want ANYONE to touch their match rackets other than their trusted personnel or entourage.

Roger Federer was one of the first players to consequently change frames before every ball change because his preferred string tension drops during match play. Today’s tour players are very sensitive with their materials, and I mean this in a positive sense. Same with coaches, physical experts and trainers; with regards to material, no stone is left unturned in order to enhance performance. Material experts and specialists are brought in to tweak here & there in order to figure out little advantages for the player.

Bastian thanks for your time. We will keep in touch. Any last word to the readers?

BG: Thanks for your time, and my best advice to the readers: pay attention to details when you get your equipment, and try at least a few varieties before settling on one.

Coming Soon: WTA’s Much-Needed Facelift

Despite the title of the article, for many, it could not come any sooner. After years of Serena Williams’ supremacy and the duo of Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova specializing in failed attempts to dethrone the American, but exceling in the shrieking department, the W.T.A. desperately needs an injection of new and fresh faces into the spotlight.

Fret no more! They are slowly but surely arriving. Three of them were at the Charleston WTA Tournament’s semi-finals, but their road to greatness has been progressing for some time now.

Furthermore, they don’t act like unattainable, superior divas. They actually spend more time praising their opponents in the after-match conferences than the lack of quality in their own game. They don’t necessarily believe the sport revolves around them – read as “I won because I am great, I lost because I played bad, and the girl on the other side of the net is of no consequence.” They behave far more mature than today’s star players did when they were up-and-coming hopefuls.

Eugenie Bouchard (pictured below) is neither jumping up and down for minutes after a win, nor sporting a bitter-face accompanied by comments on how bad she played without a word of credit to her opponent. If you wish to be impressed by the composure and the maturity of a young player in front of cameras, just observe one of her interviews. Belinda Bencic, at 17, keeps her emotions at check whether she saves a match point or chokes one away. You don’t hear the 20-year-old Jana Cepalova complain about being without a coach, a family in her box, or the lack of a hitting partner while she travels in a foreign country playing tournaments. She goes on her business and reaches the finals in Charleston, not to mention defeating Serena Williams, Elena Vesnina, and Daniela Hantuchova on her path. In fact, if it was not for the title-winner Andrea Petkovic mentioning in her after-match speech how much she admires Cepelova for accomplishing that without anyone on her corner, not many people would have even been aware of that remarkable anecdote. You are not likely to witness Caroline Garcia, the 20-year-old French player, talking about how “embarrassed” she is, after losing to a player ranked lower than her.

Bouchard 1

These upcoming and fresh faces constitute what WTA Tour desperately needs. The top players of today ignore the fans for the most part, unless they are fulfilling a contract requirement dictating that they smile for pictures and have a few moments with a number of hand-picked fans for a certain function or a cause. They cannot stand each other and maintain no friendly contact other than the handshake at the end of the match. The other players have expressed many times how these few divas harbor a considerable distance from the rest of the players. When your peers cannot even identify with you, it is naïve for the WTA to expect fans to do so.

John Isner said at the Cincinnati tournament that the top players in the ATP were all “class guys” and that everyone got along incredibly well. Juan Martin del Potro confirmed Isner’s observation. They both talked about how they admire each other as people and as players. Friendships among the top players are well-known. They also don’t mind staying on the court after their practice sessions and after matches to accommodate as many fans as possible, signing autographs. This brief reference to the ATP equivalent of how top players behave was simply to preemptively answer the handful of fans of those divas who will attempt to strike back with the feeble “the top women’s players’ job is not to entertain fans” argument. Fans love to watch Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, David Ferrer and others, because they interact with fans, and remain attainable to the average tennis fan.

It is obvious that the WTA needs a major facelift in terms of who represents its stardom. Being noteworthy athletes can only carry your popularity so far and will prove fatal when the attention begins to diminish. The interest in women’s tennis is nothing like it used to be a decade ago, and there are no notable rivalries (please do not say Williams vs. Sharapova).

This up-and-coming group is talented, athletic, personable, and spectacular to watch. If you have not yet watched Bencic’s sizzling ground strokes, Cepelova’s drop shots, Garcia’s ability to accelerate the ball, Simona Halep’s footwork, and Zarina Diyas’ calmness on the court, and Sloane Stephens’ powerful ground strokes, you do not need to worry. You will get plenty of chances to see them in the near future. I will predict – for the WTA’s sake as much as my own – that by the spring of 2016, we will see a different layer of players fighting for the big titles while the divas of today will be trying to come to terms with what is hitting them. Moreover, instead of hearing yet again the excuses with regards to their games, tennis fans will embrace the change of layer at the top of the women’s game.