Scott: Tried to "bridge the gap" with the Williamses

Updated: September 3, 2008

Salient issues

Editor's note: WTA Chairman and CEO Larry Scott on Wednesday formally announced changes in the circuit's calendar and other rules and standards, including on-court coaching, the rankings system and mandatory player commitments. Many of the questions from reporters afterward concerned the Williams sisters' stance that they will not play at Indian Wells -- which will be one of four mandatory events in 2009 -- because of a racially tinged incident in the stands there in 2001. That's where ESPN.com writer Bonnie D. Ford decided to start when she had a chance to sit down one-on-one with the former player and ATP executive.

Bonnie D. Ford: You made this announcement Wednesday morning, you put all this work into these reforms, and yet much of the press conference was dominated by an incident that happened seven years ago, that involves two of your hundreds and hundreds of players, albeit two of the most important ones. How personally difficult and frustrating is it for you that you haven't been able to get closure on this?

Larry Scott: I'm disappointed that there's not an easy solution, but by the same token, I'm looking at moving on, the sport's moving on, the tour's moving on, and I don't think it's going to hold us back from making the type of progress we need to make. As I've dug into the issue, I've gotten heightened empathy for how Serena and Venus feel about the situation and I also feel empathy for the tournament. I've tried to do what I can to bridge gaps. You can only do so much. I respect where they're coming from.

Jarrett Baker/Getty Images

He has issues aplenty, but Larry Scott is confident the WTA Tour will be a healthier structure.

Ford: Do you have any realistic hope that there's going to be movement on this between now and March?

Scott: Not for the 2009 tournament. I'm not expecting they're going to play; they've told me they're not planning on playing. If they do, it's a bonus. I think everyone's expectations are managed. I'd like to think that by the time both Venus and Serena's careers end, fans at Indian Wells will see them again, but I'm certainly not predicting that.

Ford: And the promotional activities players can do in lieu of attendance, they've agreed to do that, so you don't anticipate a suspension coming out of this?

Scott: No.

Ford: Did you cringe when you saw the stories about the LPGA's English-language requirement?

Scott: I felt for them because I certainly understand what they're trying to achieve. I'm sure they regret how it was handled and played out and all the controversy it created. We haven't gone as far as they've gone and don't intend to. But we're the most international sport in the world and we deal with some of the same issues. The way we approach it is we provide media training and support, but we don't have any rules that govern language proficiency.

Ford: Were you holding your breath waiting for the verdict in the Hamburg tournament's [antitrust] lawsuit against the ATP?

Scott: I'm certainly a keen observer and in fact, I was a witness in the trial. There are a lot of parallels between the WTA and the ATP, so if the ATP had a problem, in theory, it could have presented a problem for us. But we also have some different rules that govern how you downgrade and compensate [tournaments]. An individual sport like tennis had never been tested in the courts like that, so I think it's a positive in terms of stability and confidence that our structure passes legal muster.

Ford: Does the turbulence in the ATP's administrative affairs -- the turnover in player representatives, the top players seeking spots on the player council, and now the executive chairman's vacancy -- trouble you at all?

Scott: In general, I would say that it's a great thing that their top players are engaged. The structure of the ATP and the WTA is similar in that the players have a voice. We're fortunate that we have players like Venus Williams that play a very active role, and she's had a lot of influence on the agenda for things like equal prize money and the Roadmap changes. Having the top three men's players involved can only be a positive.

Ford: Were you surprised by the announcement that Etienne de Villiers would be stepping down in December?

Scott: Yes. He had a lot of momentum coming out of the Hamburg lawsuit and there had been some positive things that had happened, so I think it took a lot of people by surprise.

Ford: I know talking about that job is a tricky area for you, since you've been approached [Editor's note: Scott says he's not interested in leaving the WTA] and there's still talk about joint leadership at some point. Can you comment on de Villiers' tenure and what qualities you'd like to see in the ATP's next leader?

Scott: He and I shared a lot of common vision for the sport. He brought an outside marketer's perspective. A lot of his ideas were very consumer-focused, which I think was healthy. As he was making changes, as we were making changes, we aligned in a lot of good ways. In the world I'm in, the ingredients to success are being able to have a fresh perspective, knowing what your fans, what sponsors and what television want, and being able to sell your sport. But by the same token, you have to be insider enough to have street cred with the players and tournaments. In these roles, you're a servant leader, not an imperial leader. You have to bring people along with you, and you have to have the confidence of the athletes and tournaments in terms of the nuances of sport, the rankings system and calendar and player commitments. Having been a former player has certainly helped me with our players and ATP players in the past. The ATP board has to decide what's important to them. When Mark Miles left, they decided they wanted someone from outside the sport who was going to be an agent for change. Whether they recalibrate now, I don't know.

Ford: Briefly, how is the new rankings system more fan-friendly?

Scott: There will be more alignment between who the fans see winning the big tournaments and who's at the top of the rankings. We still have a complicated rankings system because it's still a 52-week rolling system. The history of tennis has always been king of the hill, not a race.

Ford: Or queen of the hill, in your case.

Scott: Yes, thank you. So by having more of the top tournaments count and not be able to be replaced by results in smaller tournaments, there's shift toward quality rather than quantity.

Bonnie D. Ford covers tennis and other Olympic sports for ESPN.com. She can be reached at bonniedford@aol.com.

Bygones be bygones

An enthralling match on one of the tennis world's grandest stages, it seems, goes some way toward quashing bad blood.

Andy Murray and Juan Martin Del Potro -- who traded insults at the Rome Masters in May -- exchanged a semi-hug at the net after Murray's four-set, 4-hour win at Arthur Ashe Stadium in a quarterfinal that began late in the afternoon and ended early in the evening.

The two also engaged in an extended conversation at the net, and the Rome remnants vanished.

"I think, quite early on in the match, there was sort of a feeling of respect between us, in terms of our games and stuff," Murray said. "There was no arguing over line calls or anyone trying to get in anyone's face. At the end of the match, he said, 'I'm sorry for what happened before.'"

Murray claimed in the Italian capital that del Potro insulted his mother, an accusation the latter denied. At one point, del Potro drilled a shot near Murray's head during a rally and didn't apologize.

On Wednesday, del Potro wasn't averse to applauding Murray winners, and the Scot let out a "yep" when the Argentinean ripped a forehand winner in the fourth set.

"He's a great player, and that's it," said del Potro, whose 23-match winning streak came to an end.

Murray did get annoyed early in the second set -- asking the chair umpire to switch off the big-screen TVs in the stadium. The request was denied. With fans wanting to see more tennis, Murray drew boos for challenging a call in the fourth.

-- Ravi Ubha


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Pressing issues

Navratilova

You don't often see opponents hitting with each other just before they're about to do battle, but it happened Wednesday.

Yes, there's a catch.

The two were 18-time Grand Slam singles champ Martina Navratilova and former Wimbledon winner Jana Novotna, who are taking part in the Champions Invitational, which is back at the U.S. Open for a third year.

After a brief practice session on Court 4 -- they shared the court with a junior -- Navratilova scurried across the grounds to ready for their match at Louis Armstrong Stadium. Walking along the premium practice courts, Navratilova yelled to autograph hunters, "I got a match to play, guys. Gotta go." One replied, "You said that the last time," to which Navratilova responded, "No, I didn't, because I'm playing today."

Continuing her journey, Navratilova took the time to discuss a few pressing tournament issues. One was third-seed Novak Djokovic and his spate of injuries. His fourth-round opponent, Tommy Robredo, accused the Serb of faking it Tuesday, with Andy Roddick seeming to suggest the same.

"I didn't see anything what they said," Navratilova said. "About him being a drama queen? Well, we knew that. That's not news."

Navratilova echoed the sentiments of a few others when she said Roger Federer made "uncharacteristic errors" in his arduous five-set victory over Igor Andreev later Tuesday, though she was glad he rushed the net more. (Federer won 15 of 19 points at the net in the fifth set alone.)

She suggested that Djokovic's clash with eighth-seeded Roddick in the quarterfinals Thursday night was a toss-up. Roddick, the 2003 champ, won their last meeting, in the spring.

"It's very open," Navratilova said. "I think Andy is serving really well. He's going to have the crowd going crazy for him, and he's playing the best ball I think of [his] year right now. I think it's going to be a tight four- or five-setter, and it could go either way."

-- Ravi Ubha

Fight to the end

Muller

Safe to say Horacio Rearte won't have to worry about keeping his job.

Rearte, a former pro from Argentina who spends much of his time on the French Riviera and in Boca Raton, Fla., began working with some fella by the name of Gilles Muller on the eve of the U.S. Open.

A qualifier, Muller has merely upset three players in the fortnight in dramatic fashion, and his ranking is expected to rise from 130th to 65th no matter what happens in Thursday's quarterfinal against four-time defending champion Roger Federer.

The Muller and Rearte met through mutual friends on the circuit.

"I knew a little bit about his game," Rearte, a young-looking 45, said in the players' lounge Wednesday. "He needed to make some changes. Sometimes when you watch from the outside, it's easier. I think he didn't play enough as a lefty player."

Muller, a former junior No. 1 in possession of a big lefty serve -- he leads the tournament with 112 aces -- wasn't using the serve out wide, hitting his cross-court forehand and changing pace enough, according to Rearte. Muller, who hails from the tiny European nation of Luxembourg, did the latter against fifth-seeded Nikolay Davydenko on Tuesday and admitted it made the difference.

He also needed to alter his thinking.

"I think he realized to play tennis better, he has to change his attitude, change the way he thinks, and fight to the end," Rearte said. "That's our thing. Fight to the end."

Muller did that, too, against volatile German Tommy Haas and Spanish baseliner Nicolas Almagro in the second and third rounds, respectively, coming back from two sets down each time. Against Davydenko, he wrapped up the encounter by winning a fourth-set tiebreak 12-10.

"I was used to watching the second week, and especially the quarterfinals, from home, on my sofa watching on TV," said Muller, 25. "Now I'm here, and I'm in it. It's really exciting."

-- Ravi Ubha

A little love?

Safina

Semifinalist Dinara Safina of Russia has won 37 of her last 41 matches, lifting her ranking from No. 17 to No. 5, and has a shot at No. 1 -- if she can get by a Williams sister and win the final. Asked whether a pro-American crowd might adversely affect her, she reacted with mild scorn. "After being in China playing two Chinese [players]?" said Safina, the Olympic silver medalist. "And also being in Israel, playing Israeli, it was even worse. I mean, I hope the people will also cheer for me."

-- Bonnie D. Ford

Critic's choice

Federer

(2) Roger Federer vs. Gilles Muller
With all due respect to the lad from Luxembourg, who's riding a seven-match streak here including qualifying rounds, we think his magic carpet ride is due to end as Federer gets back to business.

(3) Novak Djokovic vs. (8) Andy Roddick
The big question here is whether Djokovic's variously stated ailments will actually get in the way of his game. Roddick, finally healthy, is playing with confidence, but his forays to the net need to be judicious. Aside from those pesky serves, forehands and backhands, this match might come down to who gets under whose skin.

ESPN.com picks:
Bonnie D. Ford: Federer in three sets, Roddick in four sets.
Greg Garber: Federer in three sets, Djokovic in four sets.
Ravi Ubha: Federer in four sets, Roddick in four sets.
Matthew Wilansky: Federer in three sets, Djokovic in four sets.

-- Bonnie D. Ford