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.

Coronavirus: Squeezing the 2020 tennis year

By TennisReporters.net staff writers

Question: What to do with the 2020 tennis year in the time of the coronavirus quarantine?

We can pretend that in three-and-a-half months, the players will walk on the court and will play in the matches on the ATP and WTA tours. 

Obviously, the coronavirus pandemic has become the biggest threat to professional tennis in the Open era. The elongate shutdown – starting with Indian Wells in March – has created havoc for the tours, tournaments (including the feeder tours), national governing bodies and the ITF. The support staffs, including officials, physios, agents, etc. have all been hit hard. A year without Wimbledon … it’s worse than shocking, it’s numbing.

But, no group has had it rougher than the lower-ranked players. Considering the years that they have worked, trained and practiced to get into or near the top 100, they are now going months without tournament earnings. These are the players who don’t have the clout to do television commercials or appear in magazine ads, earning substantial off-court income. This financial burden could put some outstanding players into a career-wrenching stall. The players really want to play the events and not just stay at home. We care about these players and hope the tours and tournaments can make some adjustments to get as many players back on court and earning prize money.

Hopefully, our tireless doctors, nurses, researchers and other medical staff will somehow get us through this mess. The next step is to get players back into tournaments, whether with or without fans.

The Quebec government has canceled the women’s edition of the Canadian Open. The question is when will they play every week, starting in Toronto (for the men), Cincinnati, the US Open, Roland Garros and then the Asian swing? But, is it fair to the spring tournaments to just watch their franchises suffer?

The fans really want to see play resume at the tournaments, whether in person or on television. But, how can you put on a tournament, especially with fans, if everyone has to stay six feet apart?

Squeezing down

If play resumes in August (that may be a big “if”), it will mean five months of tennis will be lost. How can you squeeze 10 months of tennis into five?

Play less, play shorter. That may mean making some hard decisions on how tournaments are played in 2020. Any real changes could also affect pro tennis after the coronavirus is defeated or disseminated.

Do you like the three out of five at the Slams, or do you want to see them in just two out of three? The very best players — as Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic have won 56 Grand Slams — can take down most every opponent in the majors. They do it year after year because, when they are playing beyond three hours, they wear the lesser players down. Physically and mentally. So, few men have won the majors because their opponents are exhausted. That is huge, and that is why these great players rarely lose in the majors.

When watching at home, we can find some five-setters riveting. Others, even in finals, not so much. The endless trek through five sets just runs too long. Casual fans have to wonder if it makes sense to sit and watch TV for four-plus hours.

How do you condense tournaments? Shorter matches and less players in some tournaments so other competitors can play in other tournaments.

So, we think the majors and tours should start rethinking their match schedules. Consider reducing the length of the 2020 slams to 10 days. Changing week-long tournaments to five days. Give tournaments the their week slots they lost from March to July and then move the competitions to late summer and fall.

Here are some solutions. With the men, at the US Open and Roland Garros, use two out of three sets, rather than three out of five. For the women, who already use two out of three, they can switch to the best of two sets and then use a match tiebreak, not another set. Plus, at these Slams, instead of having a 128-player draw, they can go down to 96 or 64. Instead of using two full weeks, they can reduce them to 10 days. That could work. 

Of course, everyone’s goal should be to make more playing opportunities to the lower-ranked players. They don’t have revenue streams from huge endorsement deals. So, before the main draw, the all 2020 tournaments could expand the qualies. Additionally, they could reduce those matches to two short sets and a match tiebreak. The matches would contain added intensity from the first point.

That would be a blast. That may be a real solution to heal the coronavirus wounds and salvage the 2020 tennis year.

Coronavirus boots Indian Wells

These are tough days now. Not only in tennis, but millions of people are in need and we feel for them.

But, presently, all eyes are on the coronavirus as it spreads throughout the world. People are getting sick everywhere.

On Sunday night, at Indian Wells, the 2020 BNP Paribas Open was cancelled. No one could play on court against the fantastic competitors, like Novak Djokovic, Rafa Nadal, Ash Barty or Serena Williams. All the healthy players were already there, at Indian Wells when word came – practicing, smacking the balls, talking with their coaches. They were pretty surprised on Sunday that the owners did not want to take chances in this situation. Even though it was super sad that no one could go to watch at the matches, but at the same time, many people would are nodding. Since then, the infections numbers just keep rising.

The players, too, assuming that they learning about the coronavirus (like everyone else), know that it is dangerous to play. More importantly, it is even more dangerous to watch. Packing in thousands of spectators right now is not a smart move. In other sports and non-athletic events, cancellations are everywhere.

The Miami tournament will start in 12 days. The owners already have said that they will play, even though the coronavirus is spreading in Europe and North America. No one can predict what will happen; it’s very day-to-day. Everyone wants to watch Miami, another big tournament, but you just have to wait and see what happens. If you want to help, make sure to wash your hands … a lot! That would help, for sure. It is a crazy life, now.