A marriage made in quarantine

WTA Tour/ATP Tour merger?

By TennisReporters.net staff writers

Roger Federer started (restarted) the conversation. Now the debate is on.

Last week, the most TV commentators said that they were all in favor of an ATP Tour & WTA Tour merger. In a sense, that would be wonderful, but even if they make the effort, it will take years to complete.

They should start right now to pull it off ASAP, while the coronavirus has managed to stop all play. For months. With the players not playing each week all over the world, they might have talked about it only occasionally. Then, they couldn’t sit down and have a real conversation. But right now, they cannot get on a plane or play matches. It was time to “Stay at Home.’”

So now, because of that, they can really discuss the issues, perhaps for the first time ever. That is exciting and very real. No B.S., just talk and see if you can really figure it out.

After Federer threw out his now famous tweet suggesting the merger, Nick Kyrgios retweeted, wondering if he or others had consulted with ATP players. But, there are more votes siding with the merger. So far, both tour leaders have said they do see enough merit in the concept to explore it. Positive responses came from obviously Billie Jean King (who proposed the idea when the tours were born) and Simona Halep and Garbine Muguruza. There are two votes, from the men’s side: Rafael Nadal and Stan Wawrinka.

Here’s a quiz:

• I am a fan of men’s tennis only.

• I am a fan of women’s tennis only.

• I am a fan of tennis, both genders.

What answer do you think would prevail? No doubt that “both genders” would win hands down. The tennis world agrees.

The tours should merge, gradually. Why? Because most tennis fans watch both tours. Sure, the ATP gets more attention and some fans are more focused on the men. But, TV ratings show that interest in women’s tennis is growing: Tennis.com cited a ESPN report that the 2018 Wimbledon women’s final between Serena Williams and Angelique Kerber drew a 2.1 rating, peaking at 2.4 during the final quarter. The men’s final between Novak Djokovic and Kevin Anderson was “0.9, down from 1.5 in 2017 and the lowest since ESPN began broadcasting the finals in 2012.” Agreed that Anderson — who is a very nice person off court — but that doesn’t have great star power. But, Kerber doesn’t have the clout, however, the famous Serena has.
The entire tennis world is coed, except for the pro tours. National governing bodies regulate boys’ and girls’ junior tournaments and follow through into adult championships. In the majority of college tennis, schools have men’s and women’s teams, some lead by one coach. The ITF also oversees both genders.

So, why is there a split into ATP/WTA when players get to the highest level?

Let’s look at history. The world of the 1970s was in a vastly different place when it came to acceptance of equality between the genders. In the famous Battle of the Sexes between King and Bobby Riggs, the admitted “sexist pig” Riggs was able to flout his disregard for King’s talent. While King went along with the promotion, there was no doubt that this was not just a battle on the court. Following the emergence of a strong women’s lib movement in the 1960s, King’s goal was not to defeat Riggs as to prove that women can roar, and win.

The ATP was established in 1972 and the WTA was established in 1973. Is there any doubt that there was no “separate and equal” or even equal at that time, in tennis or the world in general. The tours were not comparable, in star or financial power. As James Brown sang, “It’s a Man’s World.”

Now we are in 2020. When women and men compete in the same tournaments, equal pay is expected. While the dominance of the Big 3 in the men’s game has helped keep the ATP Tour ahead in the public eye, Serena and Venus Williams and a cast of top players can draw larger TV ratings.

There has been a comparison to the golf world where men and women’s tours are different. Men and women golfers (in almost all tournaments) don’t play on the same golf course at the same time. But, in tennis, men and women regularly compete at the same location at the same time. Plus, at the Grand Slams, they play mixed doubles together.

There isn’t much discussion about the merger in conjunction with the Slams and the top tournaments where men and women already compete together. But, the question is around the lower level pro tournaments: Should a merged tour always have both genders at the same facility at the same time?

We see two different paths.

Play together

The Tennis Channel commentators like Lindsay Davenport have backed the concept of a merged tour means merger events. While there are many positives to this approach, there are challenges.

Currently, men and women play at the same time at many events: the four Grand Slams, Brisbane, Acapulco, Indian Wells, Miami, Madrid, Rome, Eastbourne, Washington, Cincinnati and Beijing. And a few more. However, in 2020, the ATP has 63 events, and the WTA has 69 events. If some of these tournaments have both fields, will all of the tournaments survive? Who will stay and who will go?

Can these lower-level tournaments fit an event during a week? For example, at the beginning of April, the women have Stuttgart and Istanbul, and then the men have Houston and Marrakech. How would you merge those fields? Will there be enough courts together? In Houston, there are enough courts for the men’s in singles and doubles, but if you throw in the same thing with the women, that means double of everything. That is almost impossible.

Play apart at smaller tournaments

Many smaller tournaments (ATP 250s and WTA Internationals) play in facilities that couldn’t accommodate twice the players and matches at the same time.  Besides tennis courts, the tournament would need to find twice the hotel rooms and more volunteers. Is that financially possible, especially for these tournaments that have to pay player appearance fees to offset small purses?

The unique arrangement used by Tennis Canada – playing during different weeks – could work for the smaller tournaments. One solution is to run women one week and men right after. Then the tournament could keep up temporary stands, concessions and sponsor booth. Staff, volunteers, officials, etc. would be onsite for two weeks, instead of one.

So, a merger doesn’t have to mean a combined event every week at every city.

The final analysis
We have learned that the Winston-Salem Open [which is the week before the U.S. Open begins] has tried to get a WTA event merged into their tournament. But, the ATP shot it down. The ATP is in a position of dominance and they will need to use a real financial motivation to give up the top spot.

We hate to down to the nitty, gritty, but: It’s all about the money. If tennis can grow, if more fans will watch in person and on TV, then there will be some movement here. For the long-term good of the sport, serious work should continue to make this happen.

Because a tennis fan is a fan of all players, male or female.

Bring it on.

2001 Indian Wells: Serena Soars Amidst Scandal

Editor’s Note: For most observers in the world of tennis, the story of Serena Williams’ emotional rejection of the Indian Wells tournament is a faint and distant memory. However, our coverage of the last 14 years of pro tennis is unrivaled in the world of online news.

Matt Cronin of TennisReporters.net was there.

With the return of Serena Williams to Indian Wells, we are re-running Matt’s story written from the tournament that appeared on this site. Matt’s coverage of the event originally appeared in Inside Tennis. 

020415-TENNIS-Serena-Williams-Kim-Clijsters-SS-PI.vadapt.620.high_.0INDIAN WELLS — Meet cheerful and cheeky Serena Williams, four days into the Tennis Master Series Wells after a casual second-round victory where she wowed fans with blazing groundstrokes and her new hot pink dress. “Hot pink for a hot girl,” said Williams of her color of choice. “Attractive, a very attractive girl.”

Revisit Serena, 10 minutes after her sister, Venus, had caused the biggest hullabaloo the desert had seen since the discovery of the hot springs by pulling out of the sisters’ highly anticipated semi with a sore knee.

When informed that few people believed that Venus was too injured to play and that Elena Dementieva had stated the day before that it would be Richard’s decision as to who would win the sisters’ match, Serena wowed no one with her casual indignation and less than emphatic denials.

“People have freedom of speech,” she said. “They can say whatever they want. It’s going to happen. Obviously we’re sisters, we’re very close. People often speculate things like that. People are always just going to speculate things.”

God bless America, let the speculation ring.

Over the next few days, newspapers, wire services, TV, radio and the Internet were filled with more tennis-related stories than the sport has seen in a non-Grand Slam week during the Open era. Unfortunately, the stories were of the “Are the Williamses rigging matches?” veriety.

That Serena was able to fight off the most hostile crowd in California history and subdue hard-hitting Belgian Kim Clijsters 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 for the title is a minor miracle, if you consider that the debate that raged for four days over the Williams’ family affairs had ruinous implications for the sport. Serena and Venus rarely read the press and appear sheltered enough that they don’t yet comprehend what even the suspicion of matches being fixed can do to a sport — like the Black Sox scandal did to baseball.

If the Williamses did get this, then they might not have kept shrugging off questions for the two days leading up to the final and would have emphatically denied the accusations when they occurred. Instead, tennis was bloodied from the moment Dementieva let loose on Wednesday evening and didn’t come off the mat until Sunday morning, when the last newspaper hit the sidewalk with Serena’s denials. Without question, the Williamses are partly to blame for the scandal.

Who else is to blame? The players who speculated that the sisters’ matches have been fixed with no evidence save for how badly they usually play against each other. Senior Sanex WTA Tour officials, who ignored the significance of Dementieva’s comments until it was too late; and who have little or no personal connection to the Williams’ family despite the fact that the family has been on the tour for five years now. As a result, the situation got so out of control that the tour gave itself a gigantic black eye, one that may take years to repair. Why didn’t they act more quickly? Some claim that officials feel that any press is good press and that the players should be viewed more as entertainers than athletes — the integrity of the sport be dammed.
So why the meltdown here and why the first two weeks of March, rather than in some other month at some other tournament? Could it be because it was the emotionally volatile Richard who accompanied the girls to the desert, rather than their more mellow mother, Oracene, who is now separated from Richard?

Williams observers say that Venus and Serena are much more skittish when Pop is around and, given the numerous problems that have occurred between Richard and Oracene over the past six months, it’s no wonder that both Venus and Serena have played sparingly since last October. At Indian Wells, both the Williamses played reasonably well, but off court, they were as cagey and as defensive as they’ve been at any time during their careers.

Coming into Indian Wells, Serena had played in only three tournaments since being bounced out of the 2000 UAP C01 RICHARD 26 S TEN USA CA.S. Open quarters by Lindsay Davenport. She won Tokyo at the end of September, but took time off to go to school and suffered a stress fracture in her foot. She didn’t reappear on tour until early January in Sydney, where she lost to Martina Hingis in straight sets. At the Australian Open, Hingis took her down again, this time in three marathon sets.
Serena, who ended last year ranked No. 6 but failed to win a Slam title, wouldn’t let on to what her goals are this year.

“My dad and I already went over my goals and that’s where I’m really going to work harder,” said Serena, who crushed defending champion Davenport in the quarters. “My goal this year is to reach my goals…. But I like to keep them to myself so I don’t put too much pressure on myself or other people.”

Venus, who dominated the tour for five months last year, has yet to win an event this year and is playing nowhere near up to her capabilities. Yet in the quarters she slugged tough-talking Dementieva into the pavement in a 6-0, 6-3 victory.

That’s when the trouble began — KGB style.

When asked what the outcome of the semi between Venus and Serena would be, Dementieva said, “I don’t know what Richard thinks about it,” Dementieva said. “He’ll decide who’s going to win tomorrow.” Dementieva said she suspected foul play when she watched the sisters’ ‘99 Lipton final, which Venus won 6-1, 4-6, 6-4. “I remember when they played,” said Dementieva. “If you saw the match, it was so funny.”

The sisters have played five times, with Venus owning a 4-1 edge. Serena’s won once — in a fairly inconsequential ’99 Grand Slam Cup final.
This wasn’t the first time that players have questioned whether the outcome of the Williams matches are decided by Richard. Hingis has repeatedly said that the outcome of their matches is a “family affair.”

At 2000 Wimbledon, Serena came into their semi red hot, losing only 13 games in five matches and was favored by many to win it. But Serena fell apart and Venus won 6-2, 7-6(3). “I thought Venus was going to win,” Davenport said in the desert. “I just thought that Serena had won a Grand Slam title, whether it was on purpose or subconsciously or whatever, Venus was going to win the match. That was my opinion.”

The Williams family chose not to respond to Dementieva’s comments during the day on Thursday and it wasn’t until after Venus’ withdrawal four minutes before her semi against Serena that they discussed it. But now the situation had been compounded, because most observers believed that Venus should have at least tried to play, despite patellar tendonitis in her right knee. WTA Primary Health Care Provider Michelle Gebrian did back up Venus’ claim, saying that Venus was unable to pass basic functional testing.

Pete Sampras rolled his eyes when questioned about Venus’ knee. “I guess it flared up, the tendonitis,” Sampras said, adding that he would have played if he had a similar problem. “Yeah,” he said. “There’s always something you’re feeling. Every morning you wake up, it’s a little stiff here, your arm is sore from serving. I don’t think any player on tour really walks out there feeling great.”

Because the match was canceled until most people had already taken their seats, fans reacted in anger, raining a loud chorus on to the court when it was announced that Venus was pulling out. A handful of fans went to ticket windows and demanded their money back. “I did everything I could do to be able to play tonight,” said Venus.

When asked about her peers’ suspicions, Serena said,
“We always go out to compete and that’s how it’s been,” said Serena. “I think if my dad would decide, then maybe Venus wouldn’t be up 4-1 [in their matches], maybe it would be 3-3 by now. So I don’t think so.”

Venus added, “It’s not a true opinion at all. Everyone makes their own comments. That’s how rumors get started. I guess rumors are more exciting than the truth.”

But neither Williams yelled, “No,” at the top of their lungs, even when they were specifically asked to do so.

The next day, the National Enquirer published a cover story that alleged that Richard had rigged their 2000 Wimbledon match. When approached by IT the day before the final, Richard said, “I don’t want to open my mouth anymore. Every time I do, all that’s printed is lies. I’m scared. I’ll never talk again. It’s all lies. I don’t speak English anymore.”

At the final, Serena faced Kim Clijsters. First the crowd raged at Serena when she walked on court, then booed and hissed at Richard and Venus Williams as they walked down the stair to the Friends Box. The crowd continued to hoot and holler with a vein-popping intensity throughout Serena’s three-set win.

So it wasn’t until after Serena’s ragged victory over Clijsters in the final that the issue was somewhat sorted out. But not before Serena was subjected a two-hour symphony of booing. Serena felt hurt. “I wasn’t happy,” said Serena, who nervously went down 3-0 in the first set. “I won here before. I don’t think I was mentally ready for that. But eventually you get over it and start playing.”

In her acceptance speech, Serena told the crowd, “You guys were a little tough on me today. I want to thank everybody who supported and everyone who didn’t. I love you anyway.”

For the past 18 months, Serena hadn’t shown the mental fortitude that she displayed in winning the ‘99 U.S. Open, frequently skipping tournaments and folding in big matches. But in the desert, she dug within herself and rediscovered the it’s-me-against-the-world mental toughness that made her the Queen of New York.

“I won a big battle today mentally, more than anything,” Serena said.

Serena then (finally) took the Enquirer’s Wimbledon claim head on.

“C’mon, it the National Enquirer,” Serena said. “Next thing you know, I’m going to be pregnant by some Martian. It’s just not true. It’s really kind of hurtful because it’s just lies, just scandalous lies…..Besides, I was really trying to make the singles competition in the Olympics, so I was really disappointed about that. I didn’t make the singles when I lost. That was heartbreaking for me.”

Wawrinka Smokes Roddick, Petra-fied by Kvitova

MELBOURNE – The expectations for Sam Stosur here in Australia were pretty high coming into the tournament and for those of you who read me regularly know I didn’t share them. I certainly thought she had a shot at the semis when the draw was released, but I also thought that what occurred to last night — a decisive 7-6 (5) 6-3 loss to Petrova Kvitova — was a real possibility.
The lefty Czech has tremendous talent, significant power off her forehand side, a tough to read backhand, a fine hooking first serve when she gets it in and decent hands at the net. Due to her struggle with English (and my obvious ignorance of Czech) it