Federer leads new calls for merger of ATP and WTA
Tennis star Roger Federer has today called for a merger of the men’s and women’s professional tours as the sport considers how to move forward from the current shutdown.
The men’s ATP and the women’s WTA have this week joined forces with tennis' various other governing bodies to announce the establishment of a fund to support professional players most impacted by the halting of the season as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
However, some leading figures in the sport believe it is the right juncture to consider even closer ties.
Federer (pictured), the winner of a record 20 grand slam men’s singles titles, wrote on Twitter: “Just wondering… am I the only one thinking that now is the time for men’s and women’s tennis to be united and come together as one?
“I am not talking about merging competition on the court, but merging the 2 governing bodies (ATP and WTA) that oversee the men’s and women’s professional tours...”
Federer received swift support from women’s tennis legend Billie Jean King, who founded the WTA almost half a century ago.
Responding to the Swiss player’s suggestion, she said on Twitter: “I agree, and have been saying so since the early 1970s. One voice, women and men together, has long been my vision for tennis. The WTA on its own was always Plan B. I’m glad we are on the same page. Let’s make it happen.”
There have long been calls for a merger of the ATP and WTA but talks have rarely progressed beyond potential joint selling of television rights to events.
Earlier this week, King called on tennis’ governing bodies to address the financial “inequalities” in the sport, adding that the present stoppage represented “a good time to reset” and work together to improve the overall situation.
She added: “Maybe someday, and I didn’t think it was possible, we might have a [single] commissioner. I don’t know. We are not the biggest sport in the world, we don’t have as much money as say, soccer. So we need to stick together and everyone needs to help each other.”
International tennis has been suspended since the start of March, with no resumption anticipated until at least mid-July, and the shutdown has highlighted the gulf between the top players, who can command lucrative endorsement deals, and those who rely on tournament prize money.
On Tuesday, the ATP, the WTA, the International Tennis Federation and the organisers of the four grand slam tournaments announced the launch of the Player Relief Programme, which is aimed at supporting lower-ranked players in particular.
In a joint statement, the tennis bodies said: “With so much uncertainty around when it will be safe to restart the professional tennis tours, the International governing bodies of world tennis can confirm they are in discussions to create a Player Relief Programme to provide much-needed assistance to the players who are particularly affected during this time of the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis.
“These discussions have been progressing well and details are being finalised with an announcement expected in the near future. Already agreed is that the ATP and the WTA will administer the Player Relief Programme and all seven stakeholders will make a significant contribution.”
It is reported that one plan envisages $4.5 million in funding being redirected from the top players and governing bodies for donation to the lower players.
However, some believe the fund has been too long in coming, with Nick Kyrgios, the often outspoken Australian player, saying on Twitter: “Should have happened a lot sooner, [they are] leaving all the players in the dark. Poor form to be honest. Hurry up.”