December 8, 2021

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WTA tournament in Poland to kick off post-Wimby sked

Gdynia

The WTA Tour hasn’t yet officially announced its planned schedule after Wimbledon.

But news out of Poland has a new WTA 250 event scheduled to take place the week of July 17, on clay, in the city of Gdynia.

It’s excellent news that someone is stepping up to add a tournament to the fairly sparse schedule for the women so far in 2021.

But it’s bad news for women’s tennis in the U.S., as the license that’s being transferred there is the one that belongs to the women’s event at the Citi Open.

Those dates are a week after the end of Wimbledon. At that stage, the tours typically split between a circuit on European clay and the early summer hard-court events in North America. And most of the top players take a holiday.

The news was made public Monday, the day new Polish WTA star Iga Świątek rose to a career high of No. 15 in the rankings, after winning the Adelaide International over the weekend.

All of the tennis conflicts – in one

The tournament is a microcosm of all of the conflicts of interest that permeate the sport.

The company that is running the event, per Polandin.com, is the “Tennis Consulting Company”, which is headed by Świątek’s father, Tomasz.

Gdynia

“We want to create an event that will become a strong brand in the world of sports and attract tennis stars to Poland. Considering the global scope of the discipline, I hope that the tournament in Gdynia will also be a great promotion of our country abroad,” Mr Świątek said. (Translation via Google Translate).

The license for the event belongs to … Octagon, which is the sports marketing company that represents Świątek.

Former doubles standout Marcin Matkowski is to be the Gdynia tournament director.

Not that Świątek wouldn’t want to play it anyway. But with her father’s company running it and her management company owning it, it’s not really an option.

Looking ahead – imagine if she wins Wimbledon. And then has to turn around in a week and headline a new event, invested in by her father, with all of the extra off-court obligation that entails.

And THEN head off to the Tokyo Olympics, on hard courts.

Octagon having a big say on the WTA

Octagon has been in the news (in certain quarters) a fair bit since the pandemic began, as it has pushed its weight around concerning a couple of other tournaments.

Last summer, not satisfied with the terms at the Citi Open (where it had the license for the women’s event), it relocated the tournament to a small club in Lexington, Kentucky. (In the end, the Citi Open’s ATP arm was cancelled, while the WTA tournament went ahead).

That’s the license that was transferred to Poland.

Last summer, Octagon decided to not hold the women’s tournament in Acapulco at all.

The WTA tournament is a small 250, compared to the much higher-level men’s 500 held the same week on site.

“The adversity we are experiencing stopped several future plans and projects: it caused the suspension of the construction of the new stadium and made it impossible to negotiate with our partner Octagon , owner of the WTA tournament franchise, to reach an agreement that would allow us to organize said event ”, Acapulco tournament director Raúl Zurutuza said at the time.

Earlier attempt in Katowice lasted four years

Octagon has tried to have the WTA in Poland before.

In 2013, it sub-contracted its license to SOS Music company, which held the Katowice Open indoors, on clay. Roberta Vinci beat Petra Kvitova in the final.

The tournament had been relocated from Denmark, where the “Danish Open” – a tournament that depended on the participation of Denmark’s only recognizable WTA player, Caroline Wozniacki, was held for a few years.

But the rules then were onerous for top-10 players wanting to play smaller tournaments – even those created in their home country. Wozniacki played it all three years. She won it twice and lost to Angelique Kerber in a third final. But a plan to change the event to clay, to better reflect its slot in the calendar, was scrapped as too expensive.

It was a sacrifice for her, as the rules then allowed top players only one “International level” tournament in each half of the season.

Katowice was heavily dependent on the highest-ranked Polish player, Agnieszka Radwanska. She was unable to play the inaugural edition because of that rule, which was changed before the 2015 season to allow for a third lower-level event.

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By the next year – to the surprise of some players who had entered, even if the announcement had been made months before – the surface was switched to hard court. Coming in the heart of the clay-court season, it was a bit of an outlier.

Radwanska played in 2014 and 2015, losing in the semifinals both times. She didn’t play in 2016.

Octagon relocated the tournament to Biel, Switzerland for 2017 on indoor hard courts.

The tournament put out a statement at the time, after Octagon’s decision.

“Regrettably, the business environment in Poland is not conducive to tennis development on such a scale. Polish market is not ready for high investments necessary for such a prestigious event so it was difficult for us to compete with Biel, which has the advantage of stronger financial backing.”

Biel lasted only one year. By 2018, it was moved to Lugano, outdoors on clay.

Not held in 2020 because of the pandemic, the tournament’s status appears unclear.

Djokovic family back in Belgrade

The Świąteks would do well to learn some lessons from a family-owned ATP Tour event held a decade ago in Serbia. It didn’t end particularly well.

Meanwhile, Belgrade is back. The ATP event that had been in Budapest, Hungary has been relocated to Belgrade, Serbia this year.

It will take place the week of April 19, the same week as the 500 in Barcelona, at the Novak Tennis Center.

The Budapest tournament was not held in 2020, because of the pandemic.

The license owner is Ion Tiriac, and the event organizer is a company called “Tara 2016s”, with the tournament director being … Djokovic’s 25-year-old brother, Djordje.

Djordje’s only visible experience as a tournament director is the well-intentioned, but ill-fated Adria Tour last summer.

Back in Serbia after nine years

Belgrade last hosted an ATP tour event in 2012. The event’s license was purchased from the Dutch Open in 2008, and it ran in Belgrade from 2009 to 2012 with the Djokovic family as owners.

The first year was a bit fraught. Tournament director Niki Pilic resigned before the first edition even began, citing conflicts with Djokovic’s father Srdan. Uncle Goran Djokovic took over.

Djokovic won it in 2009, playing to sellout crowds every time he took the court. In 2010, after beating Fabio Fognini in his first match, he retired after losing the first set to (then No. 318) Filip Krajinovic. He was visibly suffering from the ‘flu. In 2011, he won it again.

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The old Serbia Open logo – and the refresh, as ATP tennis returns to Belgrade in 2021.

Family-owned tournament struggled

In 2012, he didn’t play. Djokovic announced after the Monte Carlo final, during which he learned of the death of his beloved grandfather, that he was withdrawing. It was just a few days before the tournament.

And that’s when the tournament had some issues. The only top-40 player to take part was Pablo Andujar at No. 38. And no Serbian players entered. Viktor Troicki and Janko Tipsarevic, both in the top 30 at the time and great friends of Djokovic, took a pass. And the Serbian economy was struggling.

There were two Serbs in the main draw, both wild cards: Dusan Lajovic and Djokovic’s other brother, Marko. The stands were empty.

By 2013, the family announced it was ceasing operations for the tournament. It moved to Dusseldorf for two years, then to Geneva, where it now takes place the week before Roland Garros.

Gdynia
The new tournament in Gdynia has two challenges: being run by the family of its (hopefully) marquee attraction, and being owned by her agency.

All of which to day – agencies involved in owning tournaments is one big, conflicted kettle of fish in professional tennis.

And families owning tournaments – ones that depend on the presence and participation of the star player in the family – is another complicated maze.

So you can only wish the Świąteks the best of luck.

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