Professional tennis is broken. Here’s how to fix it

Trending 6 months ago

Tennis is doing what it does each 10-15 years aliases truthful — having a reckoning pinch its endless schedule, its nonsensical governing structure, and a competitory format that moreover devout fans struggle to understand.

The athletics is played crossed nan world, pinch countries connected each continent isolated from Antarctica producing apical players. No awesome athletics integrates men and women much successfully, aliases has travel arsenic adjacent to salary equality, though location is activity to beryllium done connected those fronts. Nearly each time of nan year, an enticing master lucifer unfolds location connected nan planet.

And yet, nan astir unanimous sentiment of everyone progressive successful nan crippled — its leaders, its players, tourney organizers, sponsors, media executives, coaches — is that master tennis is broken, a structural messiness that exhausts its players, cannibalizes its business pinch dueling events and exists successful a changeless authorities of civilian warfare among its alphabet crockery of governing bodies. There are 7 of them, aliases possibly 9 aliases 10, depending connected who is doing nan counting.

“Such an astonishing athletics and truthful screwed up,” said Pam Shriver, nan erstwhile prima subordinate who is now a commentator and a coach.

Marketa Vondrousova celebrates winning Wimbledon (Glyn Kirk/AFP via Getty Images)

“I can’t moreover get quoted astir it anymore without utilizing bad language,” said different erstwhile subordinate who has been progressive successful tennis for decades. She was right. She couldn’t.

Phil de Picciotto, nan main executive and laminitis of Octagon, nan sports trading patient pinch heavy roots successful master tennis, has been successful convention rooms filled pinch leaders of nan athletics trying to hole it connected and disconnected for much than 30 years. What often happens, he said, is that everyone gravitates toward 1 of 2 other poles.

At 1 extremity are those who favour processing nan astir players, which requires giving arsenic galore group arsenic imaginable an opportunity to advancement pinch tournaments each nan clip each complete nan world. At nan different extremity is nan Grand Slams – singular events that target nan elite of nan elite and pull nan astir casual of sports fans.

“Both are really important,” de Picciotto said. “People tin adopt some of those bookends and they do. The battleground becomes everything successful between.”

As nan 2024 tennis play gets underway successful Australia, what mightiness make this reckoning different from each nan erstwhile reckonings is nan adjacent unanimity connected what tennis needs to hole itself. Ask astir anyone progressive successful astir immoderate facet of nan athletics really to hole it, which we did, and nan aforesaid reply almost ever comes back: a intelligibly defined, premium tennis circuit built astir nan game’s astir valuable bequest events and its champion players that is easy to follow, includes some men and women and doesn’t overtax stars.

Even those who person to beryllium against that commonly prescribed solution because location is simply a chance it mightiness harm their investments — namely nan owners of mini and mid-sized tournaments — fundamentally work together this is what tennis needs. They are sports executives and they understand that astir each different successful athletics uses immoderate type of that aforesaid formula.

No 1 knows precisely really to negociate each nan details. What jobs and events to eliminate. How to unwind each nan conflicting contracts. The algorithm to divvy up nan loot from a mixed premium circuit truthful that nan lesser competitions that are basal for nan sport’s improvement don’t go extinct remains a activity successful advancement — and astir apt ever will be.

Djokovic now plays less tournaments (Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Tennis has tried to create versions of this before, only to person nan plans autumn isolated owed to battles complete territory, powerfulness and money. This time, veterans of nan athletics say, it feels different, a consequence of some desire and necessity, arsenic leaders look a operation of soul and outer unit to alteration aliases beryllium changed.

Fixing everything successful tennis successful 1 fell swoop whitethorn beryllium beyond anyone’s reach, but smart, knowledgeable group for illustration John Morris, who represents respective apical players for his company, 72 Sports Group, and is simply a longtime tennis executive, opportunity establishing a premier circuit would correspond a important start.

“If this tin happen,” Morris said, “a batch of nan things that request to beryllium corrected tin beryllium corrected.”

How we sewage here

The tennis world comes together each twelvemonth astatine Wimbledon, nan oldest and astir prestigious tourney successful nan sport.

As nan tennis unfolds connected nan writer courts, nan sport’s movers and shakers, including leaders of nan tours, nan 4 Grand Slams, nan International Tennis Federation, and scores of media executives, agents and firm leaders, trim deals complete glasses of Champagne and catered lunches, cocktail hours and dinners wrong nan firm suites astatine nan All England Lawn Tennis Club and nan stately homes connected nan hilly streets nearby.

This is where, successful early July, connection began to move that Andrea Gaudenzi, nan erstwhile subordinate who is nan president of nan men’s circuit, nan ATP Tour, was connected nan verge of a large one. Gaudenzi was closing successful connected a woody pinch Saudi Arabia to present a apical tourney to nan kingdom arsenic soon arsenic January 2025.

Saudi Arabia had upended play nan erstwhile twelvemonth by launching a rival tour. Gaudenzi wanted to do everything successful his powerfulness to forestall that from happening successful tennis.

Inviting nan Saudis into nan clubby precocious echelon of nan crippled by allowing them to motorboat a awesome caller arena seemed for illustration nan champion strategy. A apical Saudi arena astatine nan commencement of nan twelvemonth would apt punishment nan bid of mini and mid-sized tournaments successful Australia and New Zealand during those weeks, but they weren’t Gaudenzi’s priority. Placating nan Saudis was.

Tournaments for illustration Madrid, wherever Sabalenka won this year, would beryllium portion of a premier circuit (Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Then connection of nan woody made its measurement to Craig Tiley, nan leader of Tennis Australia. Tiley and Tennis Australia’s different leaders were staying successful a handsome ceramic location connected a quiet artifact betwixt nan All England Club and Wimbledon Village. From his perch a fewer streets from nan tournament, Tiley, a South African who played professionally earlier becoming a apical assemblage coach successful nan U.S. and evolving into a starring tennis executive, swung into action.

If Gaudenzi was going to dainty cardinal events of Tennis Australia’s yearly “summer of tennis” arsenic collateral damage, Tiley, who declined to beryllium interviewed for this story, was going correct backmost astatine him.

Long recognized arsenic among nan astir innovative minds successful tennis, Tiley began moving nan phones and nan powerfulness centers astatine Wimbledon to get nan leaders of nan different 3 Grand Slams to support his effort to cleave nan apical tournaments from men’s and women’s tours, known arsenic nan “Masters” and “1,000s” to motorboat nan premium tennis circuit that truthful galore successful nan crippled craved.

Through nan summertime and fall, Tiley’s push for a tennis circuit that resembled Formula One continued to summation momentum, particularly wrong nan Professional Tennis Players Association (PTPA), nan nascent players group that Novak Djokovic co-founded 3 years ago. A general connection is expected successful nan coming weeks.

Why now is different

“We are person than we ever person been,” said 1 longtime manufacture executive progressive pinch nan discussions, some this twelvemonth and successful nan past. Like respective others, he requested anonymity because he was not authorized to uncover specifications of soul discussions.

He past explained why he was optimistic that alteration was connected nan way.

“You person outer forces successful nan shape of Saudi Arabia and nan PTPA that you didn’t person before.”

Let’s unpack that.

LIV Golf changed everything.

When Saudi Arabia launched its quest past twelvemonth to upend master play by paying apical players hundreds of millions of dollars to compete connected a caller rival tour, leaders of nan organizations that person controlled master tennis for nan past half-century knew their supremacy could soon beryllium nether threat.

Tennis players person astir a 4th of nan sport’s revenues, compared pinch astir 50 per cent successful awesome squad sports. It would not return overmuch for a deep-pocketed investor to connection nan champion ones a higher-paying, little demanding alternative.

Buenos Aires, wherever Alcaraz won, could extremity up extracurricular nan apical circuit (Luis Robayo/AFP via Getty Images)

Also, during nan past 3 years, nan PTPA has grown into thing nan athletics has ne'er had — a viable and well-financed independent level for players to onslaught nan position quo.

The men’s and women’s tours, nan WTA and nan ATP, person mostly treated nan PTPA arsenic an extracurricular agitator. In October, Steve Simon, nan main executive of nan WTA Tour, refused to let a PTPA typical to return portion successful a gathering betwixt him and nan apical 20 players, much than half of whom are members of nan PTPA.

The Grand Slams took different tack, utilizing nan PTPA to activity pinch players to effort to meet their workplace needs. That has helped found a respectful management-labor move and a level of spot successful nan Grand Slams arsenic they activity to alteration nan competitory building of nan sport.

“A players relation is present now and they understand that arsenic thing that needs to beryllium accepted,” Vasek Pospisil, a seasoned subordinate from Canada and a founding personnel of nan PTPA, said of nan Grand Slams. “They want nan players to person a spot astatine nan table.”

It besides helps that nan Grand Slams stock much money pinch nan players than nan regular circuit events.

Finally, nan Grand Slams learned successful 2022 that they don’t request nan tours. The tours withheld rankings points from Wimbledon past twelvemonth erstwhile nan All England Club and nan Lawn Tennis Association, which oversees tennis successful Great Britain, refused to let players from Belarus and Russia to participate arsenic a reward for Russia’s penetration of Ukraine.

The remainder of nan players came anyway. Stadiums were packed. Television ratings remained sky-high. No 1 really cared whether players received ranking points.

What would tennis look for illustration nether nan caller framework?

The specifications are still being worked out, but nan wide outline is built astir a premier circuit for top-level players — say, astir nan apical 100.

They would play astatine slightest nan 14 biggest tournaments connected nan schedule: nan Grand Slams, nan 10-12 biggest and astir successful circuit events, and nan 2 circuit finals. They could driblet down and play a fewer smaller tournaments, but thing that happens successful those tournaments is abstracted from nan main tour.

The premier events would see Wimbledon, nan U.S., Australian and French Opens; mixed events successful Indian Wells, Miami, Madrid, Rome, Toronto/Montreal, and Cincinnati; men’s tournaments successful Monte Carlo, Paris and Shanghai; Women’s events successful Dubai, Doha and Beijing. Other apical candidates for inclusion would see events successful Washington D.C., Tokyo, and perchance nan men’s arena successful Beijing, since they are world capitals.

All nan different events would beryllium portion of a developmental tour, pinch players extracurricular nan apical 100 competing to make nan premier tour. Higher-ranked players who request matches aliases want to cod an quality interest could play successful a fewer of those events each year, but nan results would not count toward nan premier circuit standings and rankings.

A Saudi masters would put tournaments specified arsenic Auckland nether threat (Michael Bradley/AFP via Getty Images)

The circuit would beryllium managed by a committee pinch representatives of nan Grand Slams, nan different large tournaments, and representatives of nan ATP and nan WTA. The players would beryllium connected nan labour broadside of nan negotiating array and collectively bargain for their stock of nan revenues arsenic they do successful different successful sports.

It’s unclear really nan International Tennis Federation, which controls world squad competitions for illustration nan Davis Cup, nan Billie Jean King Cup and nan Olympic tournaments, would fresh into this structure, if astatine all. That said, nan ITF is reexamining nan format of its competitions correct now and needs to get its ain location successful bid first.

Why does a premier circuit person truthful overmuch support?

Everyone successful tennis believes nan play is excessively agelong and disparate. It is.

It lasts 11 months and is intolerable to manage, pinch nan 7 different governing bodies perpetually fighting pinch 1 different astir nan schedule. It is besides excessively analyzable for laic fans to support way of.

“It’s for illustration having a almanac pinch 7 different discussions successful 7 different rooms,” Gaudenzi said successful November during a gathering pinch a mini group of journalists successful Italy. “I’m trying to person everybody we’re managing 1 product. We’re each portion of nan aforesaid book. We mightiness constitute different chapters, but we’re portion of nan aforesaid book and we can’t waste different chapters successful different bookstores.”

Selling conscionable 1 “book”, to usage Gaudenzi’s metaphor, would make nan athletics simpler to travel and apt thrust up nan value for media authorities and sponsorships. Right now, tournaments and nan different governing bodies compete pinch 1 another. That drives down prices since buyers tin play 1 disconnected against nan other. Bundling a postulation of premier tournaments, trading them together and partnering pinch networks dedicated to exploiting each nan contented nan athletics produces alternatively of conscionable nan last rounds would apt thrust up finance substantially.

That would beryllium a boon to organizers of nan apical tournaments and to players. They want to play less, gain much money and destruct immoderate inducement to play each week.

“Right now nan strategy is system truthful that if I don’t play each week I can’t get to nan ranking I need,” Pospisil said. “To spell up nan rankings, you’ve sewage to play non-stop.”

Raemon Sluiter, a seasoned coach, said nan commencement of Elina Svitolina’s first kid past twelvemonth gave nan prima from Ukraine an advantage — earlier she returned, she yet had nan opportunity to believe for much than 2 months straight, acold longer than nan accustomed gruelling schedule permits. Top tennis players mostly bask an off-season that lasts astir 2 weeks, which isn’t capable clip to make immoderate important changes. A slimmed-down circuit could make a large difference.

The winners

“It is very bully to beryllium a 1,000 arena correct now,” said a apical executive astatine a institution that owns one.

Indeed, nan biggest tournaments successful tennis extracurricular nan Grand Slams are nan belles of nan shot astatine nan moment. Tiley and nan Grand Slams want them for their premier tour. The ATP and nan WTA want to support their associations pinch these historical circuit stops, specified arsenic Indian Wells, Miami, Madrid and Rome, truthful they aren’t relegated to operating nan tennis insignificant leagues.

Also, see a tennis investor for illustration Ben Navarro, who precocious purchased nan Cincinnati Masters for astir $300million. If Cincinnati lands a spot connected nan premier tour, his arena is now a portion of nan aforesaid circuit and business cognition arsenic Wimbledon alternatively than, say, Delray Beach. Not bad.

The aforesaid goes for CVC Capital Partners, nan backstage equity patient that bought a 20 per cent liking successful nan WTA Tour successful 2023 for $150million. If nan WTA tin discuss an ownership liking and a spot connected nan committee successful nan premier tour, CVC is now successful business pinch nan biggest events successful nan sport.

The losers — but possibly not truthful much

The mini and medium-sized tournaments, competitions successful places for illustration Dallas, Basel, and Buenos Aires, are going to person a difficult clip swallowing nan imaginable of relegation to nan insignificant leagues. They person spent millions of dollars connected licence agreements to beryllium a portion of nan ATP and nan WTA. Also, location is simply a mobility of whether narrowing nan scope of big-time tennis to a premier circuit is bully for nan semipermanent wellness of nan master game.

“The large quality betwixt tennis and astir each different athletics is that tennis events are tied to participation,” said nan proprietor of a mid-sized tournament. “F1 is simply a spectacle. You can’t turn a world information athletics pinch 14 tournaments astir nan world.”

That statement of thinking, however, relies connected nan premise that liking will automatically diminish successful nan mini and mid-sized tournaments pinch nan advent of a premier tour, alternatively than knowing nan entreaty of a cohesive strategy built astir promotion and relegation.

“There isn’t really a circuit correct now,” said John Morris, nan manufacture seasoned astatine nan helm of 72 Sports. “It’s a circus made up of individual promoters and I opportunity that pinch each owed respect.”

Morris said nan small- and mid-sized tournaments mightiness beryllium much appealing than they are now if nan athletics organized them into location circuits, pinch players competing to make nan premier circuit for nan pursuing play and coveted spots passim nan play successful nan Grand Slams and different apical events.

In different words, whoever wins successful Estoril, Portugal, Charleston, S.C. aliases Auckland could person caller import, successful summation to nan constricted prima attractions they now enjoy. Play good for six weeks connected lower-tier tours and person a chaotic paper introduction into, say, nan French Open.

Most importantly, Morris said, players extracurricular nan apical 100 wouldn’t spell collapsed backing their recreation astir nan world since they would mostly play wrong their regions connected a circuit pinch acold much cohesion and possibly moreover a minimum salary. Prize money would not needfully person to emergence each that overmuch because nan costs for players would fall.

“Finding a one-size-fits-all solution that fixes everything each astatine erstwhile is difficult,” Pospisil said. “As for lower-tier tournaments, I don’t deliberation it would beryllium worse. Maybe this results successful a overmuch bigger spot for them.”

(Top photo: Getty Images; design: Sean Reilly)

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