Tour delighted with new TV deal

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The Independent Online


reports from Stuttgart

The day at the Eurocard Open began with a Damm playing a Sinner, at which point the ATP Tour stepped in with glad tidings: a new television contract has been signed and the players have launched a campaign to attract children to tournaments.

Eurosport, which reckons to reach 160m people in 37 countries, will present coverage of the men's professional circuit for four years, starting in 1996. "It has been a principal objective to give tennis fans in Europe a rational and coherent presentation of the game," Mark Miles, the Tour's chief executive, said.

Too many poor quality tennis events have been screened, and frequently repeated, which was one of the problems addressed by the Tour when debating its future prosperity. "We have tried to focus on quality exposure," Miles added.

Some of the Tour's innovations designed to make tournaments "fan friendly" have failed to impress, notably musical accompaniment and the freedom of spectators to move around during matches. One of the successes, however, is the on-site "fanfest" theme park, at which specators are able to meet the players.

As a logical extention of this, the Tour is introducing "kids' days", to be funded by the players ($1.5m will be deducted from this year's prize-money). Players will make themselves available for clinics and demonstrations, autographs and question-and-answer sessions. "We are then committed to co-operating with federations, clubs and teaching pros in an effort to maintain the kids' interest in the sport," Miles said.

One of the promotions to be hosted by players is "Smash Tennis", which will take the sport to city streets. One of these events - there will be 11 during the year - will take place around the time of the Stella Artois Championships at London's Queen's Club, or Wimbledon. Youngsters will be given an opportunity to compete for prizes or hit for fun on short tennis courts.

Smash tennis featured prominently at the Stuttgart event yesterday, though not all was as it seemed. When Petr Korda was swept aside in the first round in 50 minutes by Yevgeny Kafelnikov, 6-2, 6-1, one could have been forgiven for imagining the Czech to be suffering from a virus. Surprisingly, it was the Russian victor who was sent to bed by the doctor.

"I have a high temperature and my head is spinning," said Kafelnikov, who is projected to play Boris Becker in the quarter-finals. "I still don't know how I managed to win the match. I felt like I was going to collapse. I called the trainer on court and I decided to get the match over as quickly as possible. Luckily all my shots went in. Maybe that distracted Petr."

Michael Stich opened with a 6-3, 6-4 win against Carlos Costa which enabled the former Wimbledon champion to make the first move towards a semi-final against Becker. Costa, a top-10 performer in 1992, has won only one match this year and the Spaniard seldom looked capable of improving on four previous defeats by Stich.

Martin Damm, of the Czech Republic, dispatched Martin Sinner, of Germany to earn a $30,300 (£19,000) pay-day guaranteed by advancing to the second round. Both had survived a pre-qualifying event so strong that the top eight seeds were all ranked in the world's top 90.