Sports Tennis

WTA and ATP Are Dealing with a 12 months of Formative Change

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Steve Simon was feeling optimistic.

Regardless of a 2023 season that ended with an avalanche of grumbling following the WTA Finals in Cancún, Mexico, which featured unhealthy climate, a probably harmful heart courtroom and unrelenting complaints from the gamers, Simon, the chairman and chief government of the ladies’s tour, was doing all the things he might to maneuver ahead into 2024.

“The WTA may be very high-quality,” Simon stated by video name in mid-December, simply after it was introduced that the WTA will soon separate the roles of chairman and chief government, with Simon changing into government chairman. He now not will likely be answerable for day-to-day operations and as a substitute will likely be tasked with, as he stated, “engaged on strategic geopolitical points, which at the moment are very prevalent and affecting our enterprise in many various methods.”

There are formative adjustments coming to the WTA and ATP this 12 months. The ATP has put into place its OneVision strategic plan designed to align the pursuits of gamers and tournaments with an eye fixed towards enhancing the fan expertise whereas additionally creating extra profitable media contracts.

A part of the plan includes rising the length and draw dimension at a number of ATP tournaments. Madrid, Rome and Shanghai all went from one-week, 56-player-draw occasions to 12-day, 96-draw tournaments in 2023. Canada and Cincinnati will do the identical in 2025. Indian Wells and Miami are already staged that approach.

All are Masters 1000 tournaments, the best stage when it comes to prize cash and rating factors apart from the 4 majors — the Australian, French, and United States Opens and Wimbledon. A number of of the tournaments are mixed males’s and girls’s occasions. Different tournaments, like ones in Dallas, Munich and Doha, Qatar, are rising in worth whereas nonetheless others, together with Atlanta and Newport, R.I., are falling off the calendar after this 12 months.

In 2023, the ATP launched a 50-50 profit-sharing plan that distributed $12.2 million in extra bonus pool cash to the highest gamers, elevating the general bonus pool to a file $33.5 million.

The WTA just isn’t in a monetary place to supply revenue sharing, however Simon stated he was decided to supply equal prize cash to men and women at mixed tournaments by 2027.

Simon can also be making putting adjustments for 2024. Regardless of objections from high gamers who felt they have been being compelled to compete an excessive amount of, the WTA would require gamers to decide to 16 tour occasions, the most important tournaments and probably the year-end WTA Finals. Ten of these occasions are on the newly fashioned WTA 1000 stage — a time period designed to align extra carefully with the ATP — and 6 extra on the WTA 500 stage. A complete of 18 tournaments will now rely towards a participant’s rating.

For this 12 months there’s an added occasion, the Paris Olympics. Simon is conscious that can place an added burden on already overworked athletes.

“I’m unsure there’s ever a good time or a nasty time to introduce change,” he stated. “Clearly the gamers play a ton, and it’s very demanding and they’re drained. However we additionally know that the gamers must play to ensure that us to drive the worth of the product and the worth of {the marketplace}. Followers wish to see them play on a regular basis, they usually wish to see them enjoying in opposition to one another on a regular basis.”

Simon stated that 12-day occasions profit gamers as a result of they typically get a day without work between matches, which helps their our bodies get better. Martina Navratilova doesn’t agree.

“Two-week occasions are nice for the followers as a result of it provides them extra probabilities to see the highest gamers,” stated Navratilova, a nine-time Wimbledon singles champion and former No. 1. “However the gamers are nonetheless in suspended animation. A day without work isn’t actually a day without work as a result of they nonetheless should apply and be emotionally invested. It’s simply exhausting and rather more stress.”

To shore up funds following the money-depleting Covid season in 2020, the WTA bought 20 p.c of its stake to CVC, a enterprise capital agency that when was an proprietor of Formulation 1, which is infusing $150 million. Talks proceed about merging the ATP and WTA, however nothing is predicted to occur within the close to future.

Simon likened the WTA to different skilled sports activities just like the 82-game N.B.A. season and 162-game Main League Baseball season. However that doesn’t take note of the multimonth low season of group sports activities, whereas tennis breaks for barely a month. Staff sports activities additionally don’t require worldwide journey each week and permit for relaxation substitutions throughout competitors. Tennis doesn’t.

Some individuals really feel tennis is combating an uphill battle.

“I believe we’re at a disaster level in our sport,” stated Mary Carillo, a former touring professional and longtime tv commentator. “There are all these silly turf wars over scheduling. And with everybody having to go from time zone to time zone each week it’s very arduous for anybody to connect with what’s occurring except you’re actually within the weeds. It all the time looks as if we’re making an attempt to show round a leaky cruise ship.”

One of many largest controversies surrounding each excursions is the willingness to play in Saudi Arabia, a nation with deep pockets for giant payouts with a troubling human rights file.

Final 12 months the ATP performed its year-end 21-and-under occasion, the Next Gen Finals, in Jeddah and Novak Djokovic and Carlos Alcaraz held an exhibition in Riyadh proper after Christmas.

Phil de Picciotto, the founder and president of Octagon, a sports activities administration company, has labored in tennis for greater than 4 many years. He sees the nice and the unhealthy.

“That is essentially the most tenuous time for tennis,” stated de Picciotto, who has represented many high gamers, together with Steffi Graf. “Everyone seems to be jockeying for place amid a brand new panorama that provides monumental alternatives.”

“However it’s vital to comprehend that the game can’t maintain a sequence of short-term visions,” he added. “Everybody has to consider the product in the long run, whether or not it’s governance or marketability. If Billie Jean King hadn’t thought long run within the Nineteen Seventies, then we’d be nowhere at this time.”