Federer promotes unification of tennis tours

“Just wondering,” Federer posted via Twitter. “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 picturing a merger between the WTA and ATP.”

Roger Federer [Photo by: Vinod Divakaran. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license
Roger Federer [Photo by: Vinod Divakaran. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

At a time when the world is growing accustomed to social distancing, Roger Federer is making a racket about bringing everyone under one umbrella.

The Swiss tennis legend took to social media to promote the idea of uniting the two gender-specific pro tennis tours into one governing body that would oversee all of professional tennis. Currently the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) operate the men’s tour, while the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) rules over the women’s side of the sport.

“Just wondering,” Federer posted via Twitter. “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 picturing a merger between the WTA and ATP.”

The 20-time Grand Slam champion made it clear that he wasn’t talking about combining male and female events into one. His goal is more about utilising the collective strength of both tours to create one super power of a tour that would help to promote and grow the sport even further.

“I am not talking about merging competition on the court but merging the (two) governing bodies (ATP and WTA) that oversee the men’s and women’s professional tours,” Federer tweeted.

Professional tennis came into existence in 1968. The ATP was founded in 1972. The WTA was created one year later.

While there has never previously been a united tennis tour, both male and female players contest several tournaments simultaneously, including all four major events that comprise the sport’s Grand Slam – Wimbledon and the Australian, French and U.S. Opens.

Groundswell of support

Billie Jean King [Photo by: Gage Skidmore. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license
Billie Jean King [Photo by: Gage Skidmore. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Federer certainly ranks among the all-time great men’s tennis players, so when he speaks, everyone in the sport listens. That’s definitely been true in this instance. A number of the world’s leading tennis stars chimed in to agree with his opinion of combining the two tennis tours.

Among the first to tweet a positive response was Rafael Nadal, Federer’s long-time rival to the throne of men’s tennis.

“As you know per our discussions, I completely agree that it would be great to get out of this world crisis with the union of men's and women's tennis in one only organization,” Nadal responded to Federer.

A number of women’s players also offered support for Federer’s idea. “Yes, (it) would be a good idea,” noted 2017 Wimbledon women’s singles winner Garbine Muguruza.

“You are not the only one,” added 2019 Wimbledon champion Simona Halep.

Not everyone was on board with Federer’s vision, however. “We shouldn’t merge,” posted Australian Nick Kyrgios. “Did anyone ask the majority of the ATP what they think about merging with the WTA and how it is good for us?”

One of Federer’s strongest messages of support came from an iconic tennis legend and someone who’s unsuccessfully tried to make this merger happen previously. In the 1970s, women’s star Billie Jean King sought to unite the men’s and women’s tours. The men didn’t share her vision back then, and the proposal faded away.

This time, with an iconic men’s player also on board with the plan, King is ready to work with Federer to make it a reality.

“I agree, and have been saying so since the early 1970s,” King tweeted to Federer. “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.”

Advantages of a unified front

Federer also took time to assess exactly why he felt that combining the world’s two leading tennis tours into one entity would prove valuable to all involved.

“It’s too confusing for the fans when there are different ranking systems, different logos, different websites, different tournament categories,” Federer noted.

Currently, the WTA and ATP market themselves separately. They even broadcast their tournaments on completely different streams – TennisTV for the men’s tour and WTA TV providing coverage of women’s events.

Federer is far from the first to suggest that this is a good idea for the future. There’s also recently been talk of this approach from those on the women’s side of the tennis world.

Earlier this month, Anne Worcester, former chief executive officer of the WTA, also called for a combining of the two tennis tours in an interview with Forbes magazine.

“I’ve always believed that the right thing for tennis is for there to be one entity, and one commissioner, with plenty of independence in all the right ways,” Worcester told Forbes.

In 1994, when she was named CEO of the WTA, Worcester became the first women to be put in charge of a professional sports organization.

She thinks the shuttering of tennis due to the coronavirus presents an opportunity for both sides of the tennis world to assess and debate the merits of such a move. Worcester is also of the opinion that the COVID-19 outbreak may leave them no choice, if survival of pro tennis is their goal.

Federer and Worcester each agree that both tours working in conjunction might offer the best chance for the sport to rebound from its COVID-19-induced shutdown.

“I do think that the silver lining of this crisis will be increased collaboration,” Worcester said. “To what extent, I don’t know. I always say, ‘Crisis reduces smugness’ and really increases the sense of collaboration.

“If tennis is going to come out of this and compete, we’ve really got to get it right this time around.”

Via Twitter, Federer echoed those sentiments.

“It probably should have happened a long time ago, but maybe now is really the time,” Federer pointed out. “These are tough times in every sport and we can come out of this with (two) weakened bodies or (one) stronger body.”

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