Sunday Times (Sri Lanka)

Money and Japan’s tennis saga


Miami Open in Florida is a big name event in the annual tennis calendar of WTA and ATP. In their draw this year, many big names were missing. At present travel-rules and virus precaution­s, are the reasons for participat­ory hold back by players. A speculativ­e pointer indicates another reason for the absence of good players, the size of the pay cheque.

In events, elite player content in the draw will attract large audiences. The men’s draw in Miami Florida, elite presence was lean. Are the best players in a squabble over prize money and other benefits, which the events management are not in a position to accommodat­e? Elite names have a support team under their pay and that is expensive. This is unknown to the Tennis audience.

I believe the ATP and WTA have worked out a method for the prize money distributi­on. Their formula, I guess could be the first 200 of the rankings to earn big, second 250 will earn good and the next 150 will earn to be encouraged. This approach apart from permitting progressiv­e earnings platform to players, will also keep the talent channel open for the best to come through at intervals to deliver the momentum, freshness and the popularity.

Home base of tennis

Western countries are the home of tennis. Their spring and summer are the prime time for events. Their own players have played each other in exiting encounters in the past. Western elite player participat­ion is an attraction now. Even in the world ranking, more have come from the western half of the globe than the eastern. Their events in the next two months will decide the strength and popularity of tennis in 2021. Some mass sports have anchored into a formula to minimise the bad impact of the virus. Tennis is not one of them.

Unlike football and cricket, tennis popularity is in the public participat­ory strength. Football and cricket strength is in spectators­hip. This does not mean Tennis do not have the spectator strength to attract sponsors.

Japan Saga

If winning Grand Slam events is a scale to judge the popularity of tennis in a country, Japan will come on top in Asia. Nishikori and Osaka combines have four Grand Slam titles. The only other Grand Slam title in Asia is with China. [Li-Na of China won the Australian Open]. The Japan Open as an event only began in 1972, more than a century after European events. About two decades ago, Kimiko Date and Ai Sugiyama of Japan were prominent. In 2007, there were no Japanese in the top 200 of the world ranking. Nishikiori, started playing profession­ally in 2007 and in 2014, he reached fourth position in the ATP ranking. Osaka’s history differs. She went live in New York when three years of age. Attended American tennis academies and became WTA number one with more Grand Slam titles.

There are laws governing gambling in Japan. Use of tennis for gambling is unlawful. This could have an impact on tennis popularity in Japan. Most countries permit gambling with tennis.

Japan’s soft and hard tennis

The controllin­g body of Japan has indicated tennis is declining. The number of registered players has come down by a large number. Some time ago, Japan found the regular tennis ball to be very hard for a slim Asian physique. To overcome this they started soft tennis, using a softer ball. In fact, there was a promotiona­l team from Japan in Colombo few decades ago during Lam Seneviratn­e’s SLTA presidency. Apart from using softball, they also modified the court to enable longer rallies with a lighter racquet. The game never caught on. However, softball stayed and became popular in juvenile mini tennis programme.

Osaka and Nishikori

Even with Osaka’s and Nishikori’s global success, Japan is not experienci­ng a tennis boom. Overall, Asian players did not have the success they had in the 1960’s and 1970’s. In that era, tennis was skill and artistry based game on natural surfaces of clay and grass with wooden racquets. Artistry was the appeal of tennis then. After the easy maintenanc­e asphalt concrete playing surface appeared, the speed of the game increased. The game is very physical now than ever before.

Good many countries tried maintainin­g overseas training centres in weather friendly part of the for their player developmen­t. Japan was one of them. Apart from being an expensive venture, it did not produce the projected results. At present Japan’s industrial giants are fostering some players. Nishikori success came from one of them.

Olympics of 2020

Japan will host the Olympic game this year, with all the virus prevention in place and with no foreign visitors rule. Tennis is one of the discipline­s in the Japan’s Olympics. Late as it is, no country is sure of games materialis­ing in the prevailing situation. Osaka and Nishikori are the benchmark and the player developmen­t lead for Japan at present. They will lead their national tennis teams. Finding others to their distinctio­n will be difficult.

Japan does not permit dual citizenshi­p after the age of 22. Osaka is a dual citizen. She has indicate that she will choose to be Japanese. She is ranked eighth in all-time endorsemen­t earnings. A big money spinner in sports. This aspect must have weighed high in her decision to remain Japanese.

---George Paldano, Former internatio­nal player; Accredited Coach of German Tennis

Federation; National coach Brunei and Sri Lanka, coached ATP, WTA and ITF top 200 ranked players, Davis-Cup, Federation-Cup

coach. --- geodano201­

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