A proposal for reconfiguring the professional tennis tour.

erikm

New User
The current shutdown of pro tennis and the accompanying discussions over its future discussion got me thinking about the various problems and possible fixes. I don't claim to be any sort of expert or insider. I'm a rec player and fan who tends to think at larger time and space scales.

Problems with the current tour setup:
- economic sustainability for players. At most a few hundred men and even fewer women are able to make a living from playing pro tennis. Lower ranked players tend to lose money on the tour. Many excellent players with unique techniques or ways of seeing the game are unwilling to risk going pro because of the low probabilities of making a living at it (this is anecdotal evidence, restricted to my observations of Pac 12 college players, but I would guess that it holds true almost everywhere)
- economic sustainability for events: few events can sustain themselves from ticket sales. The majority rely on sponsorships, which are subject to the vagaries of the economy at large. Television teams and the tennis press must also travel the globe, reducing the number of outlets willing to finance coverage and the costs of television broadcasting.
- economic sustainability for certain match formats: doubles and mixed doubles are extremely popular at the recreational level, among the majority of the tennis playing fan base. However, at all but the latest of events, they are not financially feasible. Some might argue that this is due to the impartial workings of the market. However, this view is subject to the same counter-arguments that apply to equal pay for the Women’s tour, which I find valid.
- Inequality. The COVID-19 crisis has brought the extreme levels of inequality on the tour to the forefront, as it has society-wide. While there are justifications for the levels of inequality and arguments against more evenly distributed prize money, as with society at large, most evidence suggests that large levels of inequality are detrimental to the long term health and viability of the organization (be it the tennis tour or society as a whole) in question
- lack of consistency between the male and female tours. Event schedules don’t always coordinate, ranking points structures differ, prize money scales differ, even at the same event, etc.
- Environmental sustainability: players and their teams flying around the globe all year is the opposite of a sensible use of limited supplies of fossil fuels, apart from the problems with carbon emissions. Expenses with hotels, food, and transportation all contribute to the problems with economic sustainability for players. These expenses multiply when the adjustment period for differing time zones is taken into account.
- Playing style homogeneity: The current tour is dominated by a narrow range of playing styles, from defensive to aggressive baseliners. Previous generations displayed a wider variety.
- (In the US, and probably elsewhere) Declining participation and fan base
- Pandemic and other disaster sustainability: The costs of pandemics such as the current one are higher as the tour as a whole cannot resume until there is infection rate parity across the globe. While the current pandemic may be historically unprecedented, there are many reasons to believe that it will not be the last.

Proposal:
- a unified tour. The ATP, WTA, Challenger, ITF, and Grand Slams should merge and create a single ranking point system, a single prize money structure, and a coordinated schedule. Optional items for future discussion include a unified ranking system for singles and doubles (results from all forms of sanctioned matches count towards ranking points), limits on prize money differentials (analogous to salary caps in other pro sports, financial fair play, etc.)
- Regional sub tours. This means separate tours in different geographical regions, such as North America, South America, Europe, Africa, and Asia. Each tour would hold its own events, open to players based in each respective region. The Grand Slams would be the only international events, analogous to the World Cup, except that they would occur 4x a year instead of every 4 years. Players would of course be free to relocate to other regions.
- The Grand Slams should move away from the homogenization of playing surface speeds. Wimbledon should return to the faster grass previously used. Consider changing the US Open to an indoor tournament in November, the AO to February, Wimbledon to Late May / early June, and the FO to the fall. This would space them out better, and they would represent all the major playing surfaces, with the greatest variety of surface speeds. The USO used to be on grass and green clay. The AO used to be on grass. Changing surfaces at the GS events has ample precedent in tennis history.
- _Perhaps_ consider opening up the definition of allowable racquets to undercut the tendencies of the current technology (carbon fiber sticks and poly strings) to favor particular play styles.
- Alternately, hold tournaments with restrictions on equipment. For example, many have mentioned that it would be interesting to hold a tournament where only 65 s.i. wood frames were allowed. If these events were sanctioned, it would encourage far greater experimentation with technique and tactics, which could probably inform technique and tactics even for matches where "normal" equipment is used.

Possible outcomes:
- Increased playing style and tactical variety: Each region will eventually develop its own playing identity, as a result of climate, predominance of playing surfaces, culture, etc. Even if one style (e.g. aggressive baseliner) proves to be generally superior to others at the international events, this may not be true at all regional events, and the greater variety of playing surfaces and speeds at the Grand Slams would encourage a greater variety of playing styles.
- Increased environmental resiliency: The carbon footprint of tennis overall would decline due to the reduction in flying and transportation
- Increased economic resiliency for players: Players would see reduced expenses as travel, hotel and food expenses for themselves and their teams would all decline. They would see greater income at the lower levels and as they begin their careers due to the caps on prize money differentials.
- Increased variety and economic resiliency for events: there should be an increase in the number of sanctioned events, albeit smaller ones, as the costs for hosting an event decrease, and as the size of the facilities required also decreases. The pro tour may start to overlap with higher level pro-am events, which would improve fan access to events.
- Increased public exposure for the pro tours: The number of outlets willing to pay a reporter to cover events would increase as travel and other expenses decrease. Television and press coverage would increase, leading to higher public visibility.
- Increased fan bases: the fan bases would enlarge as a greater variety of playing styles develops and kids and adults experiment more with stroke production, tactics, and game styles. More players may be tempted to turn pro as it becomes easier to make a living from playing pro tennis.
- Resiliency against pandemics and other environmental disruptions: will increase as different regions are able to start up their own tours according to the particularities of their respective areas. Climate change disruptions are in all probability coming. The fires at this year's AO were likely a preview. Disruption in one region will not throw the entire pro tour into chaos if it's more decentralized.

The overall advantage of a tour reorganization as I'm proposing may be a broader and deeper fan and player base, with greater variety and richness of playing styles. The downside may be that the stratospheric levels of the current big 3 may never again be reached, and the Grand Slam record, weeks at #1 record, and most of the other criteria that people seem to consider part of the GOAT argument probably won’t be broken again as the surfaces diverge in terms of playing speed and as competitions draw primarily from the smaller populations regions as opposed to across from the entire globe, but I think those are small prices to pay for the overall health and sustainability - at multiple levels - of the sport.
 

Knovax

Rookie
Wimbledon should return to the faster grass previously used. Consider changing the US Open to an indoor tournament in November,
For this statement alone this thread should have already been given a chance. No one has replied up to this point and that is disappointing. Just think of what Novak could finally prove if surfaces at these two slams were speeded up.
 

Robert F

Professional
I worry if you regionalize tennis the tennis hotbed will be the events to watch outside of the slams. Right now most of the best players are from Europe, so most tennis fans will be watching the Euro events say Nadal vs. Djokovic in Monte Carlo and pass on the North American Event when Jack Sock beats Taylor Fritz to take Cincy.

A lot of soccer fans in the US don't pay as much attention to the MLS as many of the European leagues.

Maybe the 250's could be regional only and then bring international level competition to the 500's and Masters?
 

Blade0324

Hall of Fame
I have to give credit to the OP for really putting a lot of thought into this but it basically sounds a lot like tennis socialism to me. I'm also not a fan of moving the schedule around at all!! It has a wide ripple effect that could make the entire tour unsustainable. The surfaces are just fine the way they are and you will see even more homogenization as the players want consistency week to week, tournament to tournament so that they can prepare properly. The only reason Wimbledon hasn't been converted to hard or clay is due to tradition. The rest of the post about more equity in prize money etc. is more socialism. What I hear is boo hoo the players that win more make more money. Why don't I get more money for loosing first round. If you want to earn more money, get better and win more.
 

erikm

New User
I worry if you regionalize tennis the tennis hotbed will be the events to watch outside of the slams. Right now most of the best players are from Europe, so most tennis fans will be watching the Euro events say Nadal vs. Djokovic in Monte Carlo and pass on the North American Event when Jack Sock beats Taylor Fritz to take Cincy.

A lot of soccer fans in the US don't pay as much attention to the MLS as many of the European leagues.

Maybe the 250's could be regional only and then bring international level competition to the 500's and Masters?
All good points, if the reorganization were to happen immediately and all at once. That can't happen. Transitional stages like the one you suggest - regionalization / decentralization of some events first, with a timetable for the larger events, to allow for prep time - will be necessary to get us from here to there. I was only trying to outline a goal to aim towards. That said, come of the proposals, such as the ATP / WTA merger, could be implemented sooner rather than later, as some tennis luminaries have recently been suggesting.
 

erikm

New User
I have to give credit to the OP for really putting a lot of thought into this but it basically sounds a lot like tennis socialism to me. I'm also not a fan of moving the schedule around at all!! It has a wide ripple effect that could make the entire tour unsustainable. The surfaces are just fine the way they are and you will see even more homogenization as the players want consistency week to week, tournament to tournament so that they can prepare properly. The only reason Wimbledon hasn't been converted to hard or clay is due to tradition. The rest of the post about more equity in prize money etc. is more socialism. What I hear is boo hoo the players that win more make more money. Why don't I get more money for loosing first round. If you want to earn more money, get better and win more.
It's true that the homogenization of surfaces and the huge prize money discrepancies (which have existed, in tennis history terms, for a relatively short period) have produced incredible levels of play and incredible records. I acknowledge this and recognize that those levels probably won't be reached with my proposals. Every design has tradeoffs and compromises, and it comes down to which ones you consider preferable and which benefits you're willing to give up to obtain other benefits. I'm looking more towards the long term viability of the tour and the sport, whilst we're seeing plenty of warning signs that the current path may not be the most sustainable, in the various terms I've outlined.
 
D

Deleted member 768841

Guest
Tennis isn’t a sustainable sport for people unless they are in the top 40 mainly because tennis isn’t mainstream. Compare it to basketball, where a “small” contract is in the millions over around 5 years. Tennis doesn’t have crazy funding, crazy marketability, and crazy personalities like Agassi and Federer. I don’t expect money to flow into the ATP tour and WTA tour like the NBA or NFL. Your money comes from sponsorships and you’re ability to win.
 
D

Deleted member 768841

Guest
Fast surfaces will naturally eliminate the Nadal without a ban :)
Fast clay? 2007 looks to have been the fastest clay I’ve seen imo, but I’m new to the idea of fast and slow surfaces.
 
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