ATP reveals intention to overhaul its calendar
By Neil Harman, Tennis Correspondent
April 24, 2006
AT THE behest of Etienne de Villiers, the chairman of the ATP who is driving the changes in image, bearing and structure that the sport has ducked for far too long, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal strode into a hotel room last month together with Marat Safin and Andre Agassi. They all said that they could manage an hour — they stayed almost three.
Getting four players, three who have been No 1 in the world and the other the next in line, to agree on anything would normally require the patient diplomacy that marked Henry Kissinger’s statesmanship. That the four emerged persuaded that plans being devised and prepared for launch at the start of 2008 will be the sea-change in approach that the sport needs, marks them as the most comprehensive, clear-minded strategies presented in years.
The fine print is yet to be disclosed, as those tournaments directors who gain ground and, more importantly, those who could lose it in the calendar redesign consider their new positions. But what the changes amount to is a recognition that the four grand-slam championships, Wimbledon and the French, US and Australian Opens, are enhanced by the signposting of events that build into theirs, that a group of four or five “Super” combined events needs to be encouraged and that there has to be minimum guarantees of player participation and prize-money, so that tennis is marketed to television and the general public as a sport with a design that makes common sense.
The changes of personnel at the top of so many important places in tennis — at the ATP, the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour, at Wimbledon and Tennis Australia — have allowed those who are not tied to the intransigent positions to relate to the imperatives for change. At their heart is De Villiers, whose impact in less than a year at the ATP has been profound.
He recognises the enormity of what he is asking people in tennis to get their heads around. “I may be a fool but I am a determined fool,” he said. “I will not back down nor be intimidated by either the challenge or any threat to the ATP. I have the support of my board and we are going to make this journey. Some will get travel sick, some may not come and some will love it. But we will make the journey.”
Most importantly, what is being devised has both the involvement and the backing of the grand-slam events. Christian Bimes, president of the French Federation, is encouraged by the new direction; Steve Wood, the new chief executive of Tennis Australia, has expressed his enthusiasm; De Villiers has had a productive meeting with Tim Phillips, the Wimbledon chairman, and Ian Ritchie, his new chief executive, while Arlen Kantarian, the head of professional tennis at the USTA, has defined, with the five-week series leading into the US Open, the prototype on which the new strategy is based.
In the view of De Villiers, the two areas in the calendar that need the most attention are the clay-court season before the French Open and the autumn season leading up to the Tennis Masters Cup circuit finale.
“It’s painfully obvious that the challenges that the USTA, ATP and Sony Ericsson WTA Tour faced to create the US Open Series pales in comparison to those we now face trying to link tournaments in different countries in one cohesive swing,” De Villiers said. “But I believe it can and will be done.”
“In order to do this we will ensure a significant player commitment; add more large combined ATP-WTA Tour events; use the round-robin format at circuit events; build on our national heritage in key emerging and traditionally strong markets by establishing a number of elite “national opens” comprising some of the existing Masters events, and build clear, marketable swings leading into the grand slam tournaments, and the Tennis Masters Cup.”
“While the concept of the Masters Series of nine disappears, the current tournaments are all incorporated into these two categories — the fans understand what the slams mean and have recognised the Italian, German and Monte Carlo Opens for years. We need to celebrate all these things and more people to care about the story of tennis.”
1) The four grand-slam tournaments and four or five “Super” combined events would be mandatory.
2) Round-robins introduced at events below grand-slams and “Super” combined.
3) Masters Series on ATP Tour would disappear.
4) Davis Cup final played in second week of November.