An ATP Tournament Director’s Journey
Is all that happens behind the scenes of the tour exciting to you? You should be pleased with this interview of the Open 13’s tournament director
Jean-François Caujolle answered TecniMag’s questions about the organization of a pro tennis tournament and his role as a director.
While driving, Jean-François is answering our questions. The man is warm and open-minded. The atmosphere is immediately relaxed and laughter fills the car.
Hello Jean-François. Can you tell who you are?
I’m French, born in 1953, and above all I like to define myself as a tennis lover. I am a former pro player. My best ranking was 50th in the world. When I went pro, my passion decreased a little because defeats were more common than wins (laughs).
My racket was the Major Anaconda, I even had my name on it! I was the first ambassador for the Major Sports company (today known as Tecnifibre) at the beginning of the 80’s.
I have been in charge of more than 40 ATP tournaments.Jean-François CaujolleOpen 13’s tournament director
What did you do after your professional career?
I became an ATP tournament director and I still am after 25 years. I initially started with exhibitions. In 1993, I started the adventure as the director of Marseille’s Open 13, and in 1999, I purchased the tournament. I have also overseen Brussels, Nice and BNP Paribas Masters’ tournaments. In total, I have been in charge of more than 40 tournaments. Many of them are still to come, as the ATP 250 of Lyon starts on the 20th of May.
The words ‘job’ and ‘director’ are not part of my vocabulary.Jean-François CaujolleOpen 13’s tournament director
In a few words, what is the job of a tournament director? What is your role?
To start, the words “job” and “director” are not part of my vocabulary. For me, the “director” of a tournament must know how to put himself in the background. I don’t like to have the spotlight on me.
I’m passionate about this sport. The goal of this kind of event is to bring happiness and positive emotions. I want to set up something with humility. I consider myself as an atypical person in the tennis world, because I never take myself seriously.
Sharing is also essential! With my team, partners, crowd and players. My goal is that players feel at home when they come here.
In one sentence, the tournament director’s role is to unite and combine the various skills and goals so that the people on my team all work in the same direction.
What are the qualities of a good tournament director?
Not necessarily, but of course, it makes things easier. It opened doors for me and allowed me to understand that my job is the real deal.
What are the qualities of a good tournament director?
Step aside as much as possible. The real stars are the players and partners.
A pro player can’t quit!Jean-François CaujolleOpen 13’s tournament director
What are the difficulties when organizing huge sports events?
The main difficulty is that you work an entire year for an event that will last a week. As a matter of fact, a year passes before your eyes in seven days and you can’t stop anything.
We know what we can manage, but hazards or weather can make it all collapse.
Often, players don’t realize the tournament needs them. Their attitude can badly affect it. They are not aware of what’s on the line. People put their souls, passion and money into the tournaments. A player can’t quit!
Speaking of the players, do you have to look for them and recruit them if you want them to play the tournament?
Of course, I have had very good relationships with agents for a long time. There are also great relationships I have made with the players. I feel particularly close to French players like Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Gilles Simon, Richard Gasquet or Gaël Monfils. I’m not looking for a simple relationship between players and organization. I want something else.
And I think players appreciate this. For example, let’s talk about Stan Wawrinka who came to the Open 13 several times. One year, he lost in the first rounds of the tournament where he had pretty high financial guarantees. He wanted to give the money back. I said no.
Stan Wawrinka wanted to give back his financials guaranties. I said no!Jean-François CaujolleOpen 13’s tournament director
How do you deal with a top-player who decides not to participate just a few days before the tournament?
Basically you can’t create an event and focus everything around one player. You must promote the game of tennis above all. Anybody can cancel or lose quickly in this game. The sport is not limited to champions.
And because of this, I have invested in young players. It’s way more rewarding at the end. I find the ATP Next-Gen program very innovative. It allows 8 players under 21 years old to compete in the ATP Finals in November just like their elders.
I have a funny anecdote with Roger Federer, who by the way made his first great victory here in Marseille by defeating Carlos Moya in 1999. That day he told me he would come back until he won the tournament. He finally did in 2003.
We used to say that as a tournament director, you don’t have time to watch any matches. Is this true?
I’m able to watch some. Especially the first rounds which are very stressful for me. If one of the top seeds lose it’s very bad for the tournament.
This year, I loved seeing Nick Kyrgios play. It’s a nice story because I was one of the first to find him. That’s what I like in this adventure: meeting people.
What role do the sponsors have?
Its two-sided: to finance the tournament and to advance their brand through different actions.
I prefer to choose the historic ones rather than others because their involvement is way more intense. They defend the game and tennis’ interests. They can really boost the tournament with their actions.
How are you able to manage everything?
I delegate a lot because I trust my team. I’ve been doing this for 25 years.
I started to get used to the logistics and organization (laughs).
Boris Becker…I couldn’t believe it at first!Jean-François CaujolleOpen 13’s tournament director
What moment will you remember forever?
The time I saw Boris Becker on center court of the Open 13 in 1995.
There were 1500 people in the stadium, it was empty, and I saw him looking at the crowd. I couldn’t believe at first that Boris Becker was there. His aura was indescribable. For me, he was a monument.
Going back to your career, who was the biggest player you ever played?
I will surprise you if I tell you it was Fernando Luna, who beat me every time I played against him. He is not the most famous one, but because at some point I beat all the best at the time (Jimmy Connors, Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe, Arthur Ashe), I will stay with Luna.
There was Mohammed Ali then Jordan and now FedererJean-François CaujolleOpen 13’s tournament director
Who is your favorite player?
When I was younger, it was the Australian Roy Emerson. Growing up, I would have loved to be Ilie Nastase and a little bit Jimmy Connors for his fighting spirit.
Today it’s Roger Federer who continually fascinates me. There was Michael Jordan in basketball, Mohammed Ali in boxing and now there is Federer in tennis. He’s a legend. A mix of class, aesthetics and technical/tactical skills. For me he is the prototype of the magnificent sportsman.
First, to make things clear, this Wikipedia page contains false and incomplete elements like my best ranking (which is 50, not 71). But I prefer to leave it like it is to keep the mystery (laughs).
Anyway, the part about my racket is true. Indeed, I never wanted to pass on middle head rackets. Back in the day, I had this “slacker” side. It was never my fault about anything. Keeping the wood racket with a little head was a way to justify my defeats or a drop in my skill level. I regret it now, I know I should change my attitude.
During my career, I tried to avoid problems. Now, I’m the opposite, because I am facing them all the time.
I should pass in racket middle head, I regret it.Jean-François CaujolleOpen 13’s tournament director
Has the tennis equipment evolution really impacted the game?
Yes without a doubt. The new equipment, with lighter rackets, with the use of graphite, has allowed for more speed in the player’s game. When I think about that time, it was all very slow! And that’s the same for others sports also.
However, the style of game is suffering because of that. Now it’s harder to be in touch with the game.
As for me, there is no originality anymore in the game. Both at high level and club levels. Nowadays, young players want to hit the ball as hard as possible. They are not looking for the smart play, a good hand or a good vision. Years ago, players tried to destroy their opponents tactically by setting a defined gameplay for the whole match. Now from the start, players unfold all their game. It seems like they have no plan B.
For example a guy like Lukas Rosol, who hits everything, can beat anybody when he is “in the zone”. That’s what he did when he beat Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon in 2012. But for me, with all the respect that I have for these kind of players, they will never make history.
But I won’t say those guys didn’t exist at my time. The difference is they were doing serve and volley.
I’m not nostalgic though! For me, the equipment evolution is a good thing. It allows everybody to express their best qualities.
In your opinion, can the technical material still evolve?
I don’t think so. Everything is controlled like the size of the heads for example. The equipment manufacturers can’t do what they want.
The only thing that can still evolve is string productivity.
Fabien Lacamoire : 27 years old, I am in charge of the Web Business Development at Tecnifibre.
Sport is my passion but tennis is my favorite sport. I played at a pretty good level and Rafa Nadal is a model, even beyond tennis.
Digital is my other passion. In order to be able to combine these two passions within a family business such as Tecnifibre is a chance that I measure every day!