Saudi Arabia has looked at tennis as the next step of its plans to invest in global sporting properties, focusing on the ATP and WTA tours. While the sports governing body has already agreed a ‘multi-year strategic partnership’ which will include significant sponsorship rights, many commentators see the ATP/WTA proposal as a takeover of the sport.

The investment option was presented to the heads of the ATP Masters 1000 tournaments, the top tier of events outside the four majors that would not be included in the deal.

Unlike the PIF’s backing of LIV Golf and the tension this created with the PGA Tour and golf’s traditions, the news of the Saudi investment in tennis seems to be welcomed by players. However, there does seem to be some resistance from the tennis establishment, which will see their power and influence wain significantly, with Craig Tilley, chief of Tennis Australia, firmly against the plan.

What is clear is that tennis needs a new direction and a plan as to how to move forward. For too long, tension has existed between the players and the tours, tournaments, and organizers of tennis’ showpiece events.

Players like Andy Murray have long complained that there is too much tennis, and a unified calendar has failed to develop which would bring much-needed clarity to the tennis season.

While there is an unofficial order to the way the year is structured, players have long felt that the penalties imposed for not playing in every tournament, namely the loss of ranking points, are too harsh and impact their commercial success away from the court as well as their standing in the game on it.

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On the flip side, tournament organizers want as many ‘names’ to appear on court to sell as many tickets as possible, generating revenues and making events feasible. It is this delicate ecosystem that Saudi Arabia is buying into and attempting to change, and is being met with resistance.

The disparity between the profile of the men’s and women’s events also needs to change, with the WTA very much the less high-profile tour.

Some players, such as Nick Kyrgios, have suggested that the PIF’s investment is welcome as it will mean players getting what they are worth, stating last year: ‘“We are going to get paid what we deserve to get paid. Sign me up.”

While it is tough to feel much sympathy for a player who has earned over $12 million from tennis, the reality is that the sport rewards top players significantly while those lower down the list do not get the same rewards.

While there is little point in suggesting that Saudi Arabia will start throwing money at those players outside the top 100, a bigger pot of money at the top suggests there is an opportunity for more rewards for those at the bottom.

Additionally, the inclusion of the WTA Tour in these negotiations should be seen as significant. While the WTA has operated for the benefit of female tennis players, there is still a significant gender disparity in terms of financial rewards between men and women, as well as the attention and focus given to the women’s game.

By bringing the tours under one banner, and by combining certain events, the opportunity to sell media and sponsorship rights as a single package would mean that equalizing prize money for combined tournaments is a reality, helping to bring the value of women’s tennis in line with that of the men’s game.

While valuing women’s tennis equally to men’s would be a significant step forward, the irony that Saudi Arabia is driving this should not be lost on anyone.

While critics will point to the treatment of women within the kingdom and highlight the problematic nature of Saudi Arabia’s approach to human rights, the fact remains that the country is the one driving equality in a sport that has in essence maintained a status quo for decades.

Even the move to equalize pay at the grand slams was met with resistance, with Novak Djokovic an outspoken opponent before changing his stance and apologizing for his comments.

While the players have seemingly taken a progressive stance, this has not been matched by those in charge of the sport. While many will see the involvement of Saudi Arabia as a negative, the reality is that the Middle Eastern nation is the one pushing for change in a sport that once saw a ‘Battle of the Sexes’ with only one clear winner in that instance.

The fact that equality in the sport will come as a direct benefit of Saudi involvement may make some uncomfortable, but it is a necessary step.