The rumorus have swirled over a merger between the ATP and WTA Tours for many decades and now it seems the winds of change are set to sweep through the game.
With huge investment from Saudi Arabia offering the potential for radical change in the game over the coming years, the two governing bodies are rumoured to be close to an agreement that will bring the men’s and women’s game in unison.
The Saudi interest in buying into tennis was confirmed after a five-year deal was signed for the ATP finals to be held in Jeddah, while the WTA Tour are also planning to move some of their marquee events to the region.
Those moves appear to have hastened talks between the Tours, with ATP chief Andrea Gaudenzi and WTA’s Steve Simon, with the Telegraph reporting an agreement may be close to being finalised.
Gaudenzi spoke about a potential merger last year, as he suggested a renewed relationship with the WTA was already developing.
“We have worked more closely with the WTA on some marketing initiatives and also with the other major organisations through the launch of the T7 working group made up of the four Grand Slam, the ITF, WTA and the ATP,” he said.
“All of this makes me very optimistic that our sport can achieve great things in the future if we all work together.
“In the near to mid-term future, it would be my wish to see tennis evolve towards shared leadership and governance, where seven organisations work together to make decisions and move the sport forward,” Gaudenzi outlined.
“Right now, that process is making decisions fragmented, which leads to inefficiency.
“Obviously, when we think about competing with other sports, leagues, and the entertainment giants in streaming, music, or gaming, that’s a clear disadvantage for us.
“Still, I have to say that over the last 24 months, we have already made progress that is extremely encouraging, so I have faith that a model like the one outlined in feasible and that it would take our sport extremely forward.”
Tennis great Roger Federer is among those who have suggested the ATP and WTA Tours should work more closely together, as he tweeted three years ago: “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 picturing a merger between the WTA and ATP. 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.
“It probably should have happened a long time ago, but maybe now is really the time. These are tough times in every sport and we can come out of this with two weakened bodies or one stronger body.”
Now Federer’s proposal could be about to become a reality, with a merger offering the potential for joint broadcasting deals on the two tours that could help to drive the push for equal pay.
There has been a huge discrepancy in the prize money cheques handed out to ATP and WTA Tour winners in recent times, even in events when men and women are playing in the same event.
There would also be the potential for joint sponsorship deals, with the value of agreements differing on the men’s and women’s tours, which has an impact on prize money.
It remains to be seen what role the Saudis would have in a new look hierarchy at the top of tennis, but it is clear that the winds of change could soon be sweeping through the sport.
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