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Last Updated: Monday, 5 March 2007, 18:44 GMT
Tennis chief comes out fighting
By Mark Barden
BBC Sport at Queen's Club

ATP executive chairman Etienne de Villiers is clearly a man who believes in fronting up to his mistakes.

ATP executive chairman and president Etienne de Villiers
This is not a 'disaster', this is about a furry ball going over a net

De Villiers calls for perspective in the round-robin dispute

Having apologised once for wrongly intervening in a row over the Tour's controversial round-robin format, he did so again in London on Monday.

The South African was at Queen's Club to lend his support to this year's pre-Wimbledon Artois Championships, but knew the system remains a hot topic.

He made it hotter by personally reinstating James Blake in last week's Las Vegas Open, believing his exit under the new rules to be unfair.

De Villiers swiftly saw the error of his ways and reversed his decision, adding weight to the view that the format has not been properly thought through.

Several leading players have been critical, with Roger Federer predicting it will not be around next year.

The world number one said of De Villiers: "He's burnt his hands on this issue, that's for sure."

606: DEBATE
Normally a model of Swiss diplomacy, when Federer delivers such a damning verdict, the tennis world tends to sit up and take notice.

Maybe that's why De Villiers went to such pains to shoulder the blame for the Blake mistake at Queen's.

Having declined to discuss it during questions about the Artois event - which decided last month not to use the round-robin format having initially indicated it would - De Villiers launched into a bravura defence of his ATP mission.

I don't regret trying new things to help make the sport bigger and better

Etienne De Villiers

"If you want to make changes and move forward, you have to accept you will make mistakes," the former Disney Television boss told the assembled media.

"I made one over James Blake, but the important thing is to learn from it and move on.

"I know some feel the whole round-robin experiment was doomed from the outset, that it was cobbled together.

"But a lot of effort and research went into deciding the format, assessing what the complexities were likely to be, and what rules were best applied.

"We knew there were going to be issues, but that's the beauty of experimenting - it gives you the freedom to change your mind.

"We said, 'Let's see what happens, get a sense of what the issues are and how frequently they arise, and whether the negatives outweigh the positives.'

ROUND-ROBIN FACTFILE
Because his second round-robin opponent retired, James Blake missed out on quarter-finals in Las Vegas.
Introduced: 2007
ATP events using it: 11
Groups: 3 players in each
Formats: 24, 32, 48-player
24: 8 groups; winner into qtrs
32: 16-player elimination rd; 8 winners then enter groups
48: 16 groups; winners into round of 16

"We've learnt a lot, and the results of the research we've done among fans and tournaments organisers is incredibly supportive."

The dynamic De Villiers was recruited in 2005 to revitalise a men's tour that was, in the eyes of many players, fans and pundits, in serious decline.

He has revamped men's doubles, replacing the third set with a tie-break, and allowed players to challenge line-calls through 'Hawk-Eye' technology.

"We're on the right path," he claimed. "We'll make mistakes along the way, but I'm happy with that.

"The thing is to make new ones - learn from past errors and move on. That was the mantra when I was at Disney.

"I don't regret trying new things to help make the sport bigger and better. We will continue to experiment, and we need a sense of perspective here.

"If you want to believe the sky is falling in because of this issue, that this is a 'disaster', you can believe it.

"We didn't make a decision to invade Iraq. I've heard words like 'doom' and 'apocalyptic,' but 2.5m people starving in North Africa is a disaster.

"This is about a furry ball going over a net. This is a storm in a tea cup."

The ATP Board will discuss the round-robin format in Miami on 22 March.

Will the views of Federer, Blake and other critics hold sway, or can De Villiers show he has seen enough signs to call his experiment a success?



SEE ALSO
Round-robin is doomed - Federer
03 Mar 07 |  Tennis
ATP to trial round-robin format
26 Oct 06 |  Tennis


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