Dietloff von Arnim on why the International Tennis Federation needs change, the Davis Cup ‘failure’, and running for president.
With Novak Djokovic still in record-breaking shape, Iga Swiatek underlining her status as one the sport’s new stars and focus turning to the pristine lawns of Wimbledon, it would be easy to assume that all is well with the tennis world.
Scratch beneath the surface, however, and the game faces a number of challenges, from the financial uncertainty threatening the future of the Davis Cup and its women’s equivalent, the Billie Jean King Cup, to the competing agendas of the Grand Slams, elite tours and players.
Some of these issues have caused an existential crisis of sorts at the International Tennis Federation, where under-fire incumbent David Haggerty faces a contest for the presidency from Germany’s Dietloff von Arnim later this year.
“I think tennis needs a wake-up call. Tennis is asleep at the wheel at the moment,” Von Arnim, who has been president of the German Tennis Federation since 2020, told City A.M.
“Tennis is not competing against other racket sports or other sports, tennis is competing against media and I think we have to gain territory. We really must and can do better in this.
“We have had a leader [Haggerty] for eight years – I think that is enough. What he hasn’t delivered in eight years I hope he will deliver in year nine, 10, 11 and 12, but I have some doubts about it.
“I was asked by other federations if I would stand for the change. They see that tennis is working quite well in Germany at the moment. So we think that tennis can work, we see it in certain countries, but from the ITF point of view my strong belief is that we must do better.”
Von Arnim on ITF’s Davis Cup ‘failure’
The collapse in recent months of a $3bn, 25-year deal with private investors Kosmos to revamp the Davis Cup has turned up the heat on Haggerty and the ITF, which has been accused of leaping before it looked over the doomed contract.
Dissenting voices grew louder earlier this year when it was revealed by City A.M. that the ITF was considering selling equity in its other main property, the Billie Jean King Cup, to a group of US investors. That deal appears to have been shelved for now.
“Quite simply we can say it [the Davis Cup deal] has been a failure. Germany was against it. I’m not against the format change but with that approach — not to our astonishment — it could not work,” Von Arnim, 63, added.
“Kosmos offered it, but who is Kosmos at the end? There were strong, loud and experienced voices who said this project was not going to fly. And some of the federations didn’t want to listen to it. The money was very attractive to them.
“I think the future of Davis Cup now is very difficult. We changed the format of it many times in the last years. None really made it possible to refinance this project.
“We don’t have too many assets we can give to the market, so first of all I’m in favour of having our assets on our side. We can have partners and sponsors but I think we should not sell any of our assets. We should control our assets 100 per cent and we should market them.”
Von Arnim: Unite tennis by listening to players
The only way to revive the Davis Cup is to get all stakeholders around the table, says Von Arnim, in a nod to the more collaborative approach he believes the ITF must adopt to win support from players and, ultimately, achieve its principal aim of growing the game.
He said: “Sascha [Zverev, Tokyo 2020 gold medallist] came to me and said: ‘Can you please explain to me why I did not get points at the Olympics? I think it’s so important that tennis is played at the Olympics. But why did Sascha not get points? We are the ITF, we have to talk to the ATP, and let’s make a fair adjustment that players get points. Sascha was not happy at all.
“Second thing, at the moment by the rules [Rafa] Nadal is not allowed to play the Olympics [in Paris next year] because he has to play Davis Cup for the last two years prior to the Olympics. That is the rule. Why do we make it so difficult?
“Rafa is thinking about playing in Paris. Under the rules we make it difficult. Make it easy for them to play there. They want to play. So we have to get the involvement of the players and make our decisions understandable.
“We have to change the rules. If I can still do so I would surely do it [if elected] – and think about points for the Olympics, talk to the ATP. We should make it easy for the players to play and take the obstacles away. Let them play, make it easy for them.”