“A lot of times money rules”: Martín Jaite on the strength of the Saudis and the limits of Djokovic
BUENOS AIRES – Money moves the world, they say. And tennis, of course. Martín Jaite, director of the ATP 250 in Buenos Aires, a vibrant, crowd-pulling tournament that is looking to jump to the 500 category, knows this well, but always comes up against the limit of reality: the United States, Germany and Qatar are much more powerful and interesting markets than Argentina.
“A lot of times money rules,” said Jaite during an interview with CLAY in Buenos Aires, home of the Argentina Open, a tournament that this year features three Grand Slam champions in Stanislas Wawrinka, Carlos Alcaraz and Marin Cilic.
Former world number ten and winner of 12 tournaments on the ATP tour, the Argentinean not only explains the ins and outs of the tour: he also goes into current issues such as the future of Rafael Nadal, the status of Novak Djokovic and the growing power of Saudi Arabia.
. The Argentina Open seems in many ways more than an ATP 250, do you have that feeling?
– Actually in the last few years it has been a bit like that, maybe this presence of Alcaraz makes it more visible, but in the last few years we have had some great players. We have three Grand Slam champions and a great moment of Argentine tennis that also raise the bar. There are many South American players, it’s a big draw.
– The list of champions since the first edition in 2001 is impressive: Kuerten, Moya, Nadal, Wawrinka, Alcaraz and many others.
– The positive comments of the players worked a lot, and when you look at the players who have won you realise that they are all great clay court players. That does the tournament a lot of good.
– What’s different about the tournament in 2024?
– I think this is the year that the public is going to find the most differences. We have made a lot of changes. The players are going to find a completely new locker room and players’ lounge. The previous locker room was torn down and something new was made. The lathe has grown to the sides because we have several things laid out next to the railway line, a new gastronomic pole, and with an agreement with the city government we have part of the streets of Palermo.
– Toni Nadal complained that the ATP discriminates and does not support the 250, something he experienced as the director of a tournament of that category in Mallorca. Do you share that feeling?
– What is happening is that they are putting a lot of eye on the Masters 1000, but I do not have that feeling. It is true that we want to continue to grow and this year we have come up against a decision by the ATP to prioritise their economic issue and we lost the bid for the 500 to Doha. When the issue is only economic, for some countries it is not easy.
– Sport and tennis are more about economics. Is there a solution to that?
– You can’t complain because this is a business, a business for everyone. And the ATP also has its pressures, especially from the players, who want better prizes. And the tournaments want to win more. That’s the way the world is going, it’s not easy to put money aside.
– Dallas and Munich were also promoted, is there any chance in the near future that Buenos Aires will be a 500 or is it advisable to forget it?
– Munich is another date, it’s no competition for us.
– Of course, but I am referring to the profile of the cities chosen: Europe, the United States and the Arab world. They are all big markets.
– What the ATP wanted is for two tournaments to come together. Munichs was combined with Lyon or Bucharest. The tournament becomes a 500, but one of the two disappears. And the same thing happened with Dallas and Atlanta: two 250s joined to create a 500. We could have joined with another 250 or bought the date, which was finally bought by the Qataris. We believe that at some point another date will be put out to tender, and then we’ll see. But now we are focused on this tournament, we are not dreaming of being a 500.
– As a former player, when you see the current players and the current tour, do you feel that you played a very different sport?
– As a sport it’s almost the same, even though it’s a different speed and a different type of game. What has changed a lot is the external environment, what accompanies the tennis player, there were fewer people around. Today there are more people, for example in the coaching staff. There is a lot of care, and that’s why players last longer. Players who are 36, 37 years old and are at the top of the rankings, that has to do with how the players are looked after.
– When the debate about the best player of all time comes up, do you choose Djokovic?
– It’s very difficult for me to put a ranking of the best players of all time, because there are a lot of important players that I didn’t see play. For example, many people talk about Laver, and I didn’t see Rod Laver play. I started watching tennis with Bjorn Borg, Guillermo Vilas and all that bunch. Then you have to go by the number of titles won and the number of Grand Slams. In that sense one might think it’s Djokovic, but for me the duels of Federer and Nadal were stronger than the duels of Nadal and Federer with Djokovic. It’s very difficult to take sides with any of the three.
– Nadal is trying to come back, what do you see from him this year, what is he capable of?
– Nadal has nine lives. He’s been injured many times and he’s come back. Everything will depend on what the body tells him, because he wants to. But if the body does not respond it will be impossible.
– Nick Kyrgios says that his game today is better than Boris Becker’s in 1985.
– I imagine Becker with today’s technology and today’s care and he could win Wimbledon again. Those who were great then, if you put them to play taking advantage of today’s progress, they would be great again. And these players of today, put in the previous era, would also be very great.
– Did you see “Break Point”?
– What is it? The series, the Netflix one? I haven’t seen it.
– Del Potro’s farewell two years ago in Buenos Aires, what did it mean for you and the tournament?
– It was good for everyone. For him and for the tournament. For him, because he was able to play in front of his home crowd and say goodbye. And for the tournament it was very good because it generated a very high expectation. It’s one of the great milestones in the 24-year history of the tournament.
– Alcaraz has a contract with Rio that expires next year, will that make it difficult for him to return to Buenos Aires?
– Last year, when he came here, I didn’t imagine he would come back this year. And he came back. I couldn’t answer that question.
– When you see Alcaraz play, what do you think of him?
– I think he’s a great player, a nice player to watch. He goes forward, he’s always trying to create something. I think it’s incredible to have him in Buenos Aires Lawn Tennis playing our tournament.
– What does the presence of Stanislas Wawrinka imply?
– For many years we wanted to have Wawrinka back. For me he is a very interesting player, I love his backhand. The three times he came here he felt very good. Maybe in his case it will be the last time we will see him in Buenos Aires.
– What do you think about the entry of Saudi power in tennis?
– I’m not really aware of it, I know about the “Six King Slam”. But it’s something that is naturally in sport. It happened in football, in golf and now it’s coming to tennis, it’s very difficult for it not to happen.
– So it’s going to happen, there’s no way to stop it.
– It’s just that it’s very difficult for players to resist such a huge amount of money.
– Back to the beginning: the weight of money on the tour..
– It would be very easy to say that you don’t have to go for all the aberrations, but money often rules.
– Nadal has been criticised a lot for becoming an ambassador for the Saudi Tennis Federation.
– What can you say about that? It’s difficult to give an opinion when there is a lot of money involved, regardless of what you think is ethical or not.