By Krystle Russin
Italian former professional tennis player Fabrizio Sestini travels the world as one of five ATP tour managers. The job entails responsibilities many tennis fans would die for, organizing the ATP tour’s top men’s events throughout the year and watching as many matches as he can in perfect view — as if the second bit could be considered a “responsibility.”
At only 28, he is the unexpected tennis official among middle-aged executives. And he just pulled off working a little tournament called the 2009 US Open.
“I was the ATP representative at all the meetings we had during the event, involved in player relations and scattering of matches. Basically, the tournament director is there, the referee is there and the WTA representative. All of the TV representatives are there from CBS, ESPN and the Tennis Channel. We discuss among ourselves how to put the best possible show on for fans on TV,” he says. “It turned out very well. It was a great event. We saw yesterday that the result with an amazing five-set final.”
“I’m also there to make sure the players’ needs are taken into consideration, in terms of a player being injured and needing an extra day of rest. If a guy is still involved in competing in a previous tournament’s semis or finals during a weekend somewhere in Europe and the following wk he needs to travel to the United States, he’s going to ask, ‘I need at least a day to get used to the new conditions. It’s going to take me a while to get there.’ We make sure to have each player 100 percent ready to compete and perform well.”
For injuries, “there are degrees of how severe the injury is, so we check with medical staff and the ATP physiotherapist because we cannot accommodate their requests every time. It’s impossible to make everybody happy in our business. When we can’t it’s because of a valid reason,” not someone faking an injury, he says.
He explains his work in the meetings as arranging “all the singles and doubles draws and I make sure the competition goes smoothly, rules are respected and there is fairness in all the decisions we make for the players.”
Rule breaking — anyone with a remote control and cable in the last week knows about Serena Williams’ temper tantrum that cost her a point during the final leg of the US Open and eventually, a spot in the final.
Sestini doesn’t talk about everything that happens on the tour. As he says, “When they [the players] have something private, they talk to us because obviously, we need to know if it affects their professional career. And of course, that stays private.” But it is likely he and his co-organizers had to hold an emergency meeting after Williams’ outburst on what to do should anyone on the men’s side fall into the same situation.
“That’s why we have rules. She lost it and said what she said. She’s human. She acknowledged her mistake, and now, I think everyone can move on,” he says.
Right before the tournament, US Open officials warned players against online blogging from the courts. Because of new media innovations like Twitter, Facebook and blog comments, Sestini says players should be extra careful with statements they write online, directly or anonymously.
“I make sure when there are delicate topics like Twitter and posting personal information on the web, whatever the portal is, you need to be careful. Sometimes, especially the young guys, people get carried away with all this new technology and how easy it is to get access to their private lives. The tour manager has to make them aware of the potential consequences of this.”
Sestini does talk about one part of the US Open: scheduling block difficulty. Organizing matches is like arranging a concert tour from opening act to main performer — it needs to happen in the right order.
“I can tell you one issue was basically when we schedule matches, we try to keep the sections in the draws as close as possible so when the players are competing, they’ll play more or less at the same time. One day, that didn’t happen. It was very important for television that two matches be played at Arthur Ashe Stadium, one in the day session and one in the night session,” he says.
“One played first at 11 a.m. and the other match played last, so what happened was the night players had the day off the following day, but they had 10 hours less to rest because they finished later at night than the other guys. Instead of starting at 7 p.m., we started at 9:30 p.m. It was Blake versus Robredo. The first night match was a women’s match, Safina. We had to move her to Louis Armstrong Stadium because otherwise, if she would’ve played a long match — which she did — then our guys would’ve walked on court around midnight and possibly finished at five in the morning, which is not ideal.”
Interested in applying for his job, are you now? Anyone in school hoping to work for the ATP someday like Sestini should quit daydreaming in foreign language class.
“I speak four languages: English, Spanish, Italian and French. Language skills are the most important thing. Communicating with all the players in their native languages breaks the barrier and improves the long-term relationship tremendously. They feel much more comfortable, and they open up more easily.”
Multitasking is the second most important skill, “because especially with the Grand Slams or our Masters tournaments, we work 12 to 14 hours a day, nonstop. You need to do several things at the same time, all day long,” says Sestini, a Texas Christian University graduate.
To nail an ATP job, it is important to love tennis and meet people in the field who realize your passion for it.
“I have a strong tennis background. I started networking in tennis. I knew I had the right requirements for the job. With a bit of luck, I talked to the right people. I guess they liked em and they hired me,” he says.
Finally, be prepared for a crazy travel schedule and work load.
“I travel an average of two weeks per month. When I’m in the office, it’s more administrative work and organizational work, where when I come back from a tour I have some paperwork to do to close the event. I will also work with our officiating department. When I leave for a new tournament, I need to prepare for the upcoming tournament. Just like the game, our rules and policies have evolved and changed. You always need to be informed as best as you can.”
The fun part? Being required to watch tennis. Sestini has to oversee everything so “I can be there in case anything happens and I can be a liason between the officials and the players in terms of a fine, code violation or issue in the match.”
He is a lawyer in another form, representing players when they need him most, and he isn’t kidding about the exaggerated traveling. Sestini gives this entire interview in his hotel lobby, suitcases by his side. As soon as he finishes, he leaves to the airport because soon, he must get to work on the next tournament.
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