From Challenger Champion To Director: Galovic Transitions To New Role In Verona
Former pro Viktor Galovic is embarking on a new career on the ATP Challenger Tour, as the tournament director in his hometown of Verona
On Saturday, Holger Vitus Nodskov Rune became the last man standing in Verona, Italy. The Danish teen continued his ruthless run of form on the ATP Challenger Tour, clinching a second straight title in dominant fashion. Rune did not drop a set all week at the inaugural Internazionali di Tennis Verona, culminating in a 6-4, 6-2 victory over Nino Serdarusic in the final.
It was a fitting conclusion to an impressive ATP Challenger debut in Verona, as the tournament kicked off a new era on the circuit. And with former pro Viktor Galovic at the helm, it was a success from start to finish. With renowned local chefs and live concerts throughout the week, as well as dramatic light shows marking the night sessions, fans were given world-class entertainment and players were treated like rock stars. After traveling the tour for nearly a decade, this is exactly how Galovic envisioned the ideal tournament.
It has become one of the novelties of life on the ATP Challenger Tour. More and more former players have made the transition to a different role, stepping into the office as tournament director. From Top 10 stalwarts Arnaud Clement (Aix-en-Provence) and Andres Gomez (Guayaquil), to the likes of Luis Horna (Lima), Rik De Voest (Vancouver) and Nicolas Escude (Brest), past champions are giving back. Each of these players' careers were launched on the Challenger circuit. Now, they are returning to their roots.
This week, Galovic is the latest to enter the fray. The Croatian, who is based in Italy, has embarked on a new career as tournament director in his hometown of Verona. It marks the return of the ATP Challenger Tour to the Italian city for the first time since 1990.
Galovic, a mainstay inside the Top 200 of the FedEx ATP Rankings for many years, lifted his lone Challenger trophy in nearby Recanati, Italy, in 2017. He would also make five appearances on the ATP Tour, most notably reaching the quarter-finals on the clay of the Swiss Open Gstaad in 2018, where he upset World No. 38 Robin Haase.
After a 10-year career, Galovic announced his retirement from professional tennis in July. Persistent back and hip injuries may have forced him to hang up his racquet, but the 30-year-old is not leaving the tennis scene. He recently launched 'VK Events', with plans to organize many ATP Challenger tournaments throughout Italy in the coming years.
It all starts with this week's inaugural Internazionali di Tennis Verona. Held at the Associazione Tennis Verona, the tournament site was founded in 1929 and previously hosted a Challenger tournament from 1988-90. Now, the historic club welcomes players and fans for a new era of tennis in northern Italy.
Galovic spoke to ATPTour.com during his first week in his new role...
First of all, Viktor, congrats on this new endeavor. How did this come about?
I was playing good for the past few years and enjoying my time on tour, but I got stuck with a back injury and had four hernias. I had to do surgery on my hip too. I'm almost 31 now and don't want to have to go through another surgery, so that's it. I played my last tournament in Todi (in July). But now I'm staying in tennis, but in a different way. I think I'm going to enjoy this more than practising and sweating all day.
The tournament actually started as a joke. Me and my friend were saying that it is crazy that a club like this in Verona does not have a Challenger. For fun we said, 'let's contact the ATP and do it'. That's how it started. I actually had this idea earlier in the year. We started at the end of April and didn't have much time to organize everything. But we managed to do one of the best Challengers in Europe I think.
Now that the first edition is complete, what are your impressions? How did it go?
I'm the tournament director, but I'm also the organizer of the tournament. With my colleagues, we organized everything from the beginning. Just four of us created this from nothing. We did an amazing job in just a few months.
The courts are completely new and we have a great hotel and great food. Having a team that knows what the players need is important. We brought in Elena Marchesini [co-founder of MEF Tennis Events] to do the player desk. Also, in the first few days, we had to train the guys that were cleaning the courts, the ball boys and some of the staff, but as soon as they knew what to do, it went smoothly.
Being a former player gives you a unique perspective. How has that helped you in this role?
Being a former player helps a lot. I know everything the players need. I was the one complaining sometimes at some Challengers. We did everything for these players. For example, we could have taken a hotel that was less expensive but we wanted to go with the Crowne Plaza and make it more comfortable. With the staff here in the restaurant, all the food is good. If it wasn't, I would have hired someone new. We did almost everything for the players.
For the fans, we put the lights on the centre court, so people from the streets can see them and walk in. We didn't expect to have so many people on site. On Tuesday, we were already completely full. People have to be vaccinated or have a negative test. We had 200 people sitting and 200 more standing. It's holidays in Verona now, so everyone is free to watch the tennis. It's been 31 years since Verona last had a Challenger and we wanted to have no payment to come watch.
You mentioned the importance of making everything perfect for the players, but how have you also improved the fan experience?
The main goal was to make this feel like the ATP 250 tournament in Umag. We decided it's going to be an event, with great food and music and tennis. It's a tennis tournament, but also a big event. The centre court has flashing lights and after the matches we have parties in the club. Even before the night matches we have an 'aperativo' (a light pre-dinner drink) hour. If you come with your wife and she's not as interested in the tennis, she can still enjoy it and stay for the concerts after the matches are finished. It's similar to Umag and to Braunschweig on the Challenger Tour. Here, we have something like this going on every night.
What's been the biggest challenge to make this happen?
Just working with so many people and so many groups to make things happen for the tournament. Organizing everything and contacting everyone. The coordination. It's like a puzzle. That is the main complicated thing. I'm sure it's like this with many tournaments. That's the biggest challenge in organizing a tournament.
You just started a new event management company, VK Events. Is it just tennis tournaments or do you have plans to expand into other areas?
For now it's just tennis and next year we have plans for three Challengers. Again, the main thing for us is to create an event. An entertainment experience. Not just going to see a tournament and that's it. Next year, we will try to go to Lido di Venezia. It's going to be in Venice, so you have to come by ferry. And the other one we're looking to do is in Murano. We also want to do something that no one has done in Verona, and that is to bring an ATP 250 here. We still don't know how or when, but the main goal is to have a centre court in the arena here. That's the goal.
Now that your playing career is over, how rewarding is it to be able to give back to the Challenger Tour and help it grow as a director?
It's very rewarding. It was the best period of my life. I was struggling a lot at the beginning of my career, but to get to the Challenger Tour and have these experiences with a coach and a physio was everything. It was already rewarding in the past and now to be able to organize one of these tournaments, it is even more special.
Finally, what are your fondest memories of competing on tour? What will you remember most from your playing days?
I don't have so many memories that pop out from winning matches. But the main thing that I really liked is that it taught me about dealing with pressure and about people getting involved to organize something. It taught me a lot in that way, because tennis is stressful. Traveling in planes two times a week is already stressful and then you have the on-court stress. Tennis is all about solving problems. That helped me a lot to solve the problems right now in organizing a Challenger.