Verbeeck: 'Venus is an early bird' - 'Lei Clijsters didn't pressure me' - ...
“In our tournament, everybody is equal”
Bob Verbeeck is the inspirator of the Antwerp tennisevent. Inspired by the magic duo Justine and Kim, de Limburger started the Proximus Diamond Games 3 years ago. The tournament quickly grew out to be one of the most succesful indoor tennis tournaments in the world. ‘It’s all a matter of timing’, says Verbeeck
“We couldn’t have picked a better moment. The first year we welcomed 70 000 people, the next year 98 000 and now 120 000! In the 2 first editions, Kim and Justine were crucial. Now, we are trying to moderate this complete ‘dependence’. On the long run, this tournament has to survive. In Antwerp, indeed.”
Your predecessor of the ECC tournament didn’t achieve that goal ...
Well, If the ECC would have been well managed, It would still exist today. That tournament showed us that there *is* a tennisculture in Belgium. But the ECC was too much built on glamour, even on decadence. We are really trying to avoid that. In our tournament, everybody is equal. No stuck-up VIP-stuff. The tournament doesn’t even have boxes right next to the court where only five people can be seated. In almost every other tournament they have those boxes. 85% of our crowd are families. During the ECC tournament, that was totally different. That’s also why we had a long thought about the diamond racket, because the link with the ECC would be too obvious. But now, I don’t regret we are able to ‘show off’ that wonderful trophy. When you see how in love Venus is with those little diamonds, you know you’re ok. It’s a bit like the Porches and the Filderstadt tournament. Even the players, who are used to a lot of luxury, stay ‘vulnerable’ to such things. By the way, Venus is ready! Weeks ago, she informed about her hotel room and her training schedule and she arranged for a trainings partner. Let’s hope she can stay without injury.
Aren’t you ‘tormented’ by all these injuries? When Kim has trouble with that ankle ...
... then you think: Sh*t, Let’s just hope that it will heal quickly and that she can play the Paris tournament without further damage. Last week she called me, right after she arrived, and she told me she had an injury. I almost had a heart attack, but luckily she was only joking.
What about your dependence on the Clijsters-Clan? Elke received a wild card and Els Callens didn’t, whereas she deserved it more based on her rank and achievements. En plus, Antwerp is Callens’ hometown!
And than people start saying that I did it under pressure from Lei Clijsters. I can formally deny those rumours. As she showed us in Tokyo last week, Els has a lot more chances to get into the main draw than Elke has. I really regret Els is making it seem as if we didn’t talk about that. Months ago, I told her, I couldn’t guarantee her a WC, but that she *could* be sure of an ‘interesting bonus’.
A kind of self-censorship then, to remain good friends ... ?
No. There was no ‘package-deal’: ‘You want Kim, then you have to give that WC to Elke’. That’s not the way it works. Elke is facing a very important year. This is our way to help her. Can I point out that there are player ranked around 45 who call me asking me for a WC. And, that there is not one single country where all the WC go to local players!
How many spectators would you have without Kim and Justine?
I think you can divide the current number by three. I would be pleased with 40 000 tickets in that case.
Most people are nervous when they have to organise a party for friend and family.
I can still sleep ok, thank u. I’m born a real optimist. My studies in the US only strengthened my optimism. In the US, people arn’t easily afraid of a challenge. I try to lose all stress by cycling. I’m hoping to climb the Mount Ventoux this year. Running isn’t for me anymore. My tendons are totaly worn-out (Verbeeck was European champion on the 3000m indoors in 1985).
The prizemoney is about 600.000 euro and you are welcoming more than 100.000 spectators. Those numbers are gigantic, almost un-Belgian-like?
Fairly quickly, we found a strong partner in Proximus. Otherwise i wouldn’t have started all this. Proximus is not only a financial support, but also helps ‘thinking’ and communicating. Most likely, we will close a deal for 3 years to come. Together we are trying to renew the tournament every year. Like that exhibition match between Appelmans and Monami. We are even thinking about organising a second tournament next year.
Just on the side: isn’t soccer an ‘unexploited area’ in this case? Even during the Champions League, the spectator gets to see *just* soccer.
Soccer is bound by traditions an club structures. When you see what a great total-package an NBA spectator gets ... Or let’s just think about the ‘Janet Jackson-scandal’ during the Super Bowl. Soccer is struggling with the hooligan problems too..
Teenagers who receive tons of money and who are treated like real stars: it seems like the perfect recipe for disasters?
The caprices of those tennisladies are quite ok. We are trying to be thoughtfull, obviously. We notice that even small things ,like placing a small box of Belgian chocolats in their hotelroom, are very appreciated. The players come back. That’s the biggest compliment to me. Caprices, you say? If you compare them with the demands of The Pointer Sisters or Gloria Gaynor during the athletics meeting in Brussels ... You know, we are dealing with topathletes. Kim, Justine, Venus: they want to train and play. If they want something extra, that’s perfectly normal. Venus is on the court every morning around 7.30 am. That means she gets out of bed around 6.30. You can’t do that when you’re hanging around in dancings till 3 in the morning.
Marc Vermeiren, Gazet van Antwerpen
J u s t i n e x p l i c a b l e
Justine: feb. 5, 2007:
"I hung on to tennis. I have done so for the past 20 years. It is something that is in me, it is me."
Last edited by pigam; Feb 14th, 2004 at 10:25 AM.