Tennis’ Grand Slams are attempting to team up with a collection of the sport’s other most popular tournaments in what could become the game’s most revolutionary transformation since the 1990s.
Their goal, according to five people involved and briefed on those discussions, is to form a partnership with at least the 10 largest tournaments and their events — Wimbledon, U.S. Open, French Open and Australian Open — to create a premium tour that resembles a tennis version of Formula 1.
The move comes as the sport’s most powerful entities, officials and top players have come to accept that tennis in its current form does not work as well as it should. Among their criticisms: It’s confusing for fans to follow; hundreds of millions of dollars that could be earned are left on the table; His near-endless schedule takes its toll on the best players, whose careers are cut short by injuries and mental fatigue.
Those factors, officials fear, have left tennis prone to the kind of aggressive disruption that has plagued golf over the past two seasons, as the Saudi Arabia-backed LIV Golf venture separated top players from the established PGA Tour and led to a costly legal battle that forced a merger whose details are still being worked out. Avoiding a similar turn of events has become a top priority for the seven governing bodies that oversee tennis and tennis.bringing together the most valuable and well-known properties in the sport to create a collection of elite events, and a streamlined season is widely seen as the best defense.
“We all know that premium drives business,” Steve Simon, chief executive of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) tour, said in an interview Tuesday.
For a week in Turin, Italy, earlier this month, top tennis officials eagerly awaited a proposal from the sport’s largest and most powerful entities after about six months of debate and discussion. The organizations that run the four Grand Slam tournaments have come together in rare unity.
Many gods The officials interviewed for this story asked not to be identified to avoid jeopardizing their professional relationships.
In the end, officials from other governing bodies who were in Turin, home of the men’s ATP Tour (Association of Tennis Professionals) finals, left without receiving the long-awaited proposal. Grand Slam tournament officials, who declined to comment publicly for this article or did not respond to messages seeking comment, told officials on the men’s and women’s tours that they needed more time to finalize their proposal. The aim is to have a plan ready to present when the sport gathers in Australia in January for the Australian Open.
In In a sign of how serious the Slams are about forcing change, they have yet to sign the next three-year agreement with the tours that codifies the ranking points system. This move signals their view that a significant transformation is in the offing, so signing a multi-year deal based on the current schedule is pointless, even if it means starting the 2024 season without a deal.
Executives involved in the discussions described them as smooth and largely positive. Everyone said there was a significant chance they could collapse, or that the premium tour could be expanded to include more than just Grand Slams, top-tier events and a few others deemed worthy. In recent years, tennis officials have collaborated with top consulting and investment firms that have come up with proposals similar to the one now under consideration, only to fail to move tennis beyond its status quo.
A more focused, premium tour over which the Grand Slams had partial control could also protect them from significant changes in the schedule preceding their events. In recent months, this has become a major concern for Craig Tiley, chief executive of Tennis Australia, as the men’s and women’s tours have considered adding a top-level event in Saudi Arabia during the first week of the season, starting in January 2025.
A top-tier event in January in Saudi Arabia would likely doom the series of tournaments in Australia and New Zealand that, along with the Australian Open, form the first swing of the year. It could also mark the end of the United Cup, a mixed team event launched by Tennis Australia last year.
The plan for a premium tour that the Slams are formulating is in line, at least theoretically, with one of the main objectives of Andrea Gaudenzi, CEO of the ATP Tour.
Gaudenzi has long wanted to bridge the gap in prestige, import and financial power between the Grand Slams and the biggest events on the men’s and women’s circuits. These are often referred to by the men’s tour as the “Masters” events and by the women’s tour as “the 1,000” – due to the number of ranking points the women receive.
These tournaments include mixed events in Indian Wells, Miami, Madrid, Rome, Toronto/Montreal and near Cincinnati. Already more than half of the major events have been extended to 12 days from a week, compared to the two weeks of the Slams.
““We want to grow our premium product and this is something we have spoken very openly about,” Gaudenzi said during a meeting with a small group of journalists in Turin two weeks ago. “For sport, bridging the gap between Masters and Slams is good for everyone. Now there is a very big gap.”
While Gaudenzi and the Slams may share a vision of what is best for tennis, it is unclear what role he, his WTA Tour counterpart Simon, or the tours themselves would have moving forward. They could be left to oversee a collection of small to medium-sized tournaments, known as 500s and 250s. In one scenario, developing players could largely fill the field at those events, while players ranked in the top 100 , who could earn a season-long “tour card” and a specific guaranteed salary, will focus on the top-level tour but can still participate in smaller events if they wish.
An important question, Simon said, is: “How do you create an easier-to-follow calendar?”
Players who have begun to learn the details of the plan the Slams are trying to formulate have so far generally supported the concept, particularly those involved in the Professional Tennis Players Association, the players’ organization that Novak Djokovic helped launch three years ago .
Tennis players play the longest seasons in professional sports. Among their top priorities are earning more and having to compete less, so they can rest and stay healthy. A premium tour could achieve both of these goals and produce a more streamlined version of the sport than the sprawling one that exists now.
If the top 100 players were to focus primarily on the Slams and a dozen top-tier tournaments, that would represent about 32 weeks of competition and leave them ample time to play some smaller events, where they could receive lucrative entry fees. , while maintaining enough time for rest and a real off-season.
Sports executives say revenues would likely rise if the Slams and major tournaments were able to sell their television and sponsorship rights more collectively, rather than undercutting the market by competing against each other, although the partnership structure is not been finalized. They may not include all commercial rights for all tournaments, officials said.
The changes would likely take at least a year or two to begin and more time to take full effect as executives work to dissolve or renegotiate long-term media and sponsorship deals and figure out how to split revenues among top-tier tours. and other tournaments.
(Top photo: Adrian Dennis/AFP via Getty Images)