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Mag By Craig Gabriel

IN TIMES OF COVID-19, SHOULD TENNIS TAKE STOCK?
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IN TIMES OF COVID-19, SHOULD TENNIS TAKE STOCK?

As we continue to try and operate in these frustrating times with all sport off the grid it could very well be an opportunity for various sports to evaluate their situations. Take the chance to look at ways of improving their lot to maybe make it easier to understand, create a better framework and overall work on upgrading and being better.

Internationally golf for example, which Mark Twain described as “a good walk spoiled” and I have no hesitation in agreeing, could be looking at being more cohesive. 

How on earth could events in the Middle East be classified as being part of the European Tour or that something in Asia be part of the American Tour, or whatever it is? Err, has anyone checked their geography? 

The fact that a player must have a “card” for the American tour to be able to play there even if they have been only playing on the European tour is ludicrous. These different tours that are all administered independently make it come across as being disjointed.

In tennis you can play anywhere and at any time if your personal world ranking gets you into a tournament, and that is the way it should be. Tennis comes across as being way more interconnected than say golf, however tennis is far from pristine. 

There is the ATP, which is the governing body for men’s tennis, there is the WTA the governing body for women’s tennis, then there is the ITF which administers the Davis Cup, the Fed Cup, Olympic tennis, oversees grassroots and wheelchair tennis etc and finally there are the four majors – Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and US Open which operate independently but come under the ITF umbrella. 

Despite the fact there is essentially one tour, the sport has seven world administrations. During this time when no tennis is happening, the sport could be looking at two aspects which could streamline matters even more: 

1. Devise a Better Calendar. The way the circuit flows has been a bone of contention for decades. It has more patches than an Amish quilt. A greater job needs to be done about how the different seasons of the tour blend together. For example, there are clay court tournaments played after the grass court season which comes across as disjointed.

Sorting out the flow and map of the circuit is incredibly difficult because of so many competing interests and stakeholders but this is the time, with nothing happening tournament wise when steps should be taken to put the sport in far better shape. I am not suggesting it is a basket case by any means, but there is room for improvement everywhere and the calendar is a crucial starting point.

2. Appoint a Tennis Tzar. This was not something I used to support because I always felt it was too (and so) American-centric. John McEnroe frequently harps on the fact that tennis needs what so many American sports have … a Commissioner. One person who is regarded as the king pin. However, I have come around to thinking that just maybe it could solve many issues. 

Just days ago, in a move for survival the French tennis federation took the unilateral decision to move the French Open to a week after the US Open. The lockdown in France made it impossible for the French Open to be played during its original May/June dates. That “land grab” decision caught the entire sport off guard. Understandably the French Open was protecting its own interests but it has created issues for the tour.

Having a Tennis Tzar could mean something like that would not be able to happen. Some tennis bodies would be reluctant to surrender some of the power they may have but it should not be viewed in that manner. It needs to be regarded as empowering the sport. 

The ATP would still administer/service the tournaments of the men’s tour, the WTA the same with the women, etc. Things become more cohesive projecting the sport in the best light. That should be the sole motive. Right now, the ATP or WTA cannot tell any of the majors or the ITF what to do and vice versa. The nexus is missing.

The Tennis Tzar would also be responsible for developing the actual calendar following submissions from all sides. The Tennis Tzar is a totally independent body that would also be responsible for player drug testing, the integrity aspect which currently processes through the ITF with the backing of the other administrations.

With the Tennis Tzar in place and the tours etc specifically servicing the tournaments it could open the way for a player union again, something many players want.