Branimir Horvat On The New ITF World Tennis Tour: “I Was Shocked!”

Branimir Horvat at the Istarska Rivijera in Porec

POREC, April 2, 2019

Branimir Horvat is one of the leading Croatian experts in the field of sports management. After an active tennis career, he graduated from the Zagreb Faculty of Economics and Business and founded the company Top Spin, the first sports agency in Croatia.

He was the tournament director of the ATP Tour 250 Zagreb Indoors (2006-2008) as well as the ATP Challenger event played in Zagreb on outdoor clay-courts from 1996 to 2011. Horvat is the current organizer of the Istarska Rivijera, a three-week clay-court swing in Istria, and is a member of the Managing Board of the Croatian Tennis Association.

Tennis TourTalk: The Istarska Rivijera is the oldest tennis event in Croatia. Can you tell us a bit more about the history of the tournament series.

Branimir Horvat

Branimir Horvat, Nenad Ilekovic, Igor Flego, Goran Prpic (from left to right)

Branimir Horvat: It’s the 48th edition this year and I am proud to have been running this event for 25 years. It used to be a boys’ and girls’ event without any ranking points. The winner received a holiday trip for a weekend or a week. With the start of the Satellite Circuit, we established a series of men’s tournaments featuring five events. One of the tournaments was even held in Portoroz, Slovenia. Back then, it was still Yugoslavia. I was also a player and competed here in Istria 40 years ago. Now my son in playing (laughs). I returned to the place, being a tennis coach and I had the idea to organize the series. I graduated from university and so we started to run the tournament, having a lot of ideas for improvements but no experience. However, we learnt quickly. I remember one tournament in Vrsar with open-qualifying and about 200 players competing. I did everything. I ran the players’ desk, was responsible for practice balls, even stringing, but it was very nice. The system has changed over the years and we were part of the ITF Futures Series and now of the ITF World Tennis Tour. This year, we organized three tournaments in Porec, Rovinj and Opatija.

How pleased are you with this year’s edition?

I am very satisfied. At this part of the year, it depends on the weather and we were pretty lucky. Last year, we even had some snow around and it was very cold. This year, however, it was great.

Talking about the new ITF World Tennis Tour. In which way did the changes affect the organization?

The first time we heard from the Federation about the changes was one year ago. I was shocked. I knew that the ATP was not happy with the number of Futures and the structure of the ATP Ranking points, so I wasn’t that surprised that there will not be the chance of earning ATP Ranking points at this level anymore. The reaction of the ITF, however, caught me by surprise and I don’t understand why less players are supposed to have the opportunity to play. I contacted the ITF and a couple of people, who are involved in the decisions, and told them my opinion and asked questions, in particular why they are cutting the number of players on the tennis tour. In my point of view, it doesn’t make any sense, as in order to promote the sport, more players should get the opportunity to play. I really feel sorry for them. As a consquence, we introduced a pre-qualifying tournament here, giving at least the chance to earn a wild card for the actual qualifying.

What do you think is going to happen?

There will be changes for sure, as this doesn’t make sense. The ITF has already announced some things but I think drastic measures can only be made at the end of the season. Increasing the number of players, however, without putting in question the quality of the tournaments is crucial.

The venues here in Istria seem to be predestined to handle tournaments with a larger number of players. How do you deal with the financial challenges?

We have a few sponsors. The most important partners are the Tourist Boards here in Istria as well as the hotels, which help us to provide a good accommodation for the players with affordable prizes. Yet, at this level you don’t run these tournaments in order to earn money. We try to cover our costs and primarily it is done for the love of the sport.

Finally, talking about men’s tennis tournament structure in Croatia. Umag is the lone ATP Tour event. There is no ATP Challenger and only a few ITF World Tennis Tour tournaments taking place in the country. What are the chances that a new, bigger tournament will be established in Croatia?

Horvat, Pilic

Branimir Horvat with Niki Pilic in Opatija

That’s a good question. We are definitely trying to get back some tournaments. We used to have popular Challengers and more than 20 ITF tournaments per year. We are working on that. I hope that we will have one or two Challengers and more ITF World Tennis Tour events next year. The final goal will be to add another ATP Tour tournament, but that’s not so easy. You need to have the financial base, a very good venue and you have to get the right spot in the calendar. The Croatian Tennis Federation has a new leadership and I am very positive that it will work out.

Thank you and all the best.