Last Word: Money, money, more money!

The chairman of the ATP, Andrea Gaudenzi, has announced Saudi Arabia’s PIF has committed a billion dollars for a newfangled tennis ecosystem.

Published : Apr 29, 2024 09:15 IST - 3 MINS READ

Andrea Gaudenzi.
Andrea Gaudenzi. | Photo Credit: Getty Images

Andrea Gaudenzi. | Photo Credit: Getty Images

The louder he talked of his honour, the faster we counted our spoons. So said Emerson (not the Australian tennis player Roy, but the 19th-century American philosopher Ralph Waldo). Modern sports’ version of that might be: the more they talked of streamlining a sport and making it better for players and fans, the faster we looked for Saudi money.

Golf and soccer have succumbed in various degrees to the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF), worth some 700 billion dollars. And now it seems to be the turn of tennis. The chairman of the ATP, Andrea Gaudenzi, has announced the PIF has committed a billion dollars for a newfangled tennis ecosystem. It will be ‘streamlined’ by another tournament, although nothing is final yet.

One proposal will see a coming together of the ATP and the WTA to sell media rights and sponsorships, but with separate tours and financial support from the PIF.

There is also a proposal for a ‘Premier’ Tour run by the four Grand Slams and 10 other events, with finals for both men and women at the same venue. This proposal envisages a four-week off-season. It would mean the end of the ATP and the WTA Tours and the elimination or downgrading of over 100 tournaments.

The U.S. Tennis Association’s tennis chief said in an interview that changes are necessary because “events (the four Slams apart) lack consequence.” There is also the matter of an extra billion dollars flowing into the tennis kitty with the Premier Tour.

The Professional Tennis Players Association (PTPA) believes that players should have a say in how the sport is run. Ironically, this was the principle on which the ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) was founded. Four years ago, Novak Djokovic and Vasek Pospisil formed the PTPA when they felt that the ATP (and WTA) focussed on tournaments and the voices of players began to get muted.

Meanwhile, the PIF wants to own and run an elite Masters tournament ahead of the year’s opening Grand Slam in Melbourne. It already has the naming rights for men’s rankings and a year-end tournament for young players in Saudi Arabia.

All parties agree there is more money to be made from the game, and the sport is ripe for an overhaul. A nagging question is: do you invest some money to attract more money, or do you negotiate with the PIF and leave it to that entity to handle the show? The latter is not as ridiculous as it sounds. This is what golf’s PGA Tour has done, more or less.

Tennis is in upheaval as a result of the realisation that more money could be made with less effort. It is a formula that elite players in most sports and not-so-elite administrators understand and endorse. It will be at least another couple of years before agreements are hammered out and the naysayers are taken on board.

Sport is getting to a stage where there are billions of reasons to ignore sportswashing.

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