When Will Tennis Be Able To Unite Itself?

Match Points (photo: @Tennis_Majors/Twitter)

WASHINGTON, May 4, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

The possibility of an ATP/WTA merger has been a hot topic of discussion during the COVID-19 shutdown of the pro tennis tours.  A recent tennismajors.com virtual round table gathered coach and broadcast analyst Patrick Mouratoglou, ATP player and Behind The Racquet creator Noah Rubin and New York Times tennis correspondent and podcaster Ben Rothenberg to debate a variety of topics or “match points,” if you will, facing the sport with host Josh Cohen. Among them: Is the possibility of an ATP/WTA merger a good idea or a bad idea? Here’s what each panelist had to say:

Noah Rubin: “As a player, we play some tournaments with the WTA and ATP mixing, and at the same time we’re talking about it, they’re telling us we are not one unit. I think there’s too many sectors right now within tennis, too many entities. There are too many major role players in the game right now. Its tough to look at it in the long run, but slimming it down and having, hopefully, a commissioner at the end of this would be really helpful in the long term.”

Patrick Mouratoglou: “A good idea for sure. As we all know, there are much too many bodies in tennis. People don’t understand because some decisions are made by one and some by the others. All those decisions don’t make sense together. There are also a lot fights between the entitles, which is not great. Ideally, there should be one body that makes all of the decisions for the good of the sport. Coaching, no coaching … super tie-break, no super tie-break. … All this is very confusing and we want to create one brand that is called tennis with the same rules wherever you are, with an ideal format for the fans.”

Ben Rothenberg: “I think it’s definitely a good idea that people have been talking about for a long time. Having seven competing, governing bodies –  the four Grand Slams, ITF, ATP, WTA – is very scattered, very fractious. This is as good a time for unity as any. However, there does need to be – especially by the WTA – some wariness about what kind of a deal they’re getting from the ATP. It makes me a little suspicious that the ATP guys are the ones who are suddenly very interested in this idea (of merger) after not being all that enthusiastic about it before. Rafael Nadal, especially, has openly expressed skepticism of what the ATP would ever have to gain by adding the WTA and now he’s doing this sort of (quote) tweet of excitement (end quote) with Roger Federer. It all seems very choreographed. I mean, Roger Federer had this tweet where he just started off wondering dot, dot, dot … which is clearly a way to make is seem casual, but it wasn’t casual at all. Clearly, it was a very calculated moment for him to make this pitch. He had this all ready to approve of it and endorse it right away.

“The women need to come to the bargaining table and make sure they get a fifty-fifty deal. They don’t want to come in thinking the ATP is in a position of power. Equal prize money is still not a thing the vast majority of the core events – there are only three ATP/WTA combined events that have equal prize money – so the women should be able to set some terms and not just bow down to Roger’s star power and influence.”

Last week’s virtual tennis a welcome distraction

In a normal tennis season, the Mutua Madrid Open would have started Sunday with an eye toward Roland Garros in three weeks. Instead, the novel coronavirus outbreak has grounded pro tennis since early March. Last week, a virtual version of the Madrid tournament for men and women brought together 16 ATP and 16 WTA players, who set down their racquets and used PS4 controllers to navigate the virtual red clay of Manolo Santana Stadium from the comfort of their homes. At the end of the four-day competition, Andy Murray and Kiki Bertens lifted the virtual trophies. It was a welcome distraction.

Afterward, Murray, who beat World No. 10 David Goffin in the final, said during a post-match interview that he had fun despite some technical glitches along the way. “It was good. I enjoyed it. There’s not much we can do just now. We spend most of the days indoors and can’t get out much, so it was a fun thing to do.”

Aside from giving the players who participated and tennis fans who watched online something to rally around under the COVID-19 lockdown – plus offering money for charity – there were plenty of laughs and hiccups as well as some trash talk, too. Much of it came from Murray, who is a gaming veteran, and used to travel to ATP Tour events with a console to pass down time off the court. The Scotsman’s antics provided some comic relief. However, too often, the players were often drowned out by the non-stop chatter from the commentators.

George Bellshaw, who covers tennis for metro.co.uk, summed it up succinctly when he wrote: “Potential future virtual tennis tournaments would do well to do away with commentators for the matches and instead let the players communicate in-game, while the selection of game – Tennis World Tour – may be revised.”

The Way Back Machine – David Ferrer, Madrid 2019

What they’re saying

Florian Broska of Germany, who plays college tennis in the United States at Mississippi State, was asked by The Associated Press after Friday’s first day of the Tennis Point Exhibition Series on indoor clay at the BASE Tennis Academy in Höhr-Grenzhausen, Germany, to describe what it was like playing a match in front of no spectators. He said: “I like working with the crowd. I like having the energy on the court. There’s people watching, they get pumped, so that gives me a lot of energy and makes the thing more fun. … It’s kind of hard that it’s gone completely. So I’m trying to get my own energy, but obviously it’s not the same.”

• Canada’s Gaby Dabrowski, who is currently ranked No. 7 in the world in doubles, was recently asked by the WTA Insider what attracted her to play tennis: “I always liked sports that had to do with hand-eye rather than foot-eye. So I preferred tennis, volleyball and ping pong to soccer. That I was pretty good at it probably made it more fun. I guess also being an only child and then being out on the tennis court by myself is kind of relatable. It wasn’t such a foreign feeling, just kind of being by myself and entertaining myself.”

• Dan Evans, British No. 1 and currently ranked No. 28 in the world, told Tennis Brain Work’s Dan Rodenby he was passionate about squash and golf before deciding to pursue a career in tennis: “Yeah I enjoyed playing squash and golf whilst I was playing tennis. I always had a passion to go pro in tennis so when the opportunity for me to try to make my ambition happen, I felt as though it would’ve been a waste not to take it.”

• Ajla Tomljanovic of Australia and Matteo Berrettini from Italy are a tennis couple. They have been quarantining together in Florida. During a guest appearance on last week’s fourth episode of Tennis United, the fifty-sixth-ranked Tomljanovic was asked if she likes practicing with the World No. 8. She said: “It’s not that I don’t like practicing together, I did in the beginning. But now when it’s more often, the thing is, he wants to get better too and my arm is hurting by like the 40th minute because his forehand is massive.”

What they’re sharing on social media

g.e.m.s.Life / What are your Top three favorite series during quarantine?

Petra Kvitova / Grateful for Sundays spent with nature

Roberto Bautista Agut / Feliz Día de la Madre