Tennis: How the French Open triggered a power struggle

Tennis: How the French Open triggered a power struggle



Tennis is a sport of individualists. More than 3000 players are listed in the world rankings, everyone fights for himself. As in almost all other sports, tennis is currently at a standstill due to the corona crisis. Many players can only train in the endurance area, nobody can estimate when professional tennis can be played again.

In this uncertain situation, a tournament organizer rushed ahead on Tuesday with the French Open and single-handedly announced a new date for the second Grand Slam of the year. Originally, Paris was to be played from May 24th to June 7th. The French tennis association, headed by President Bernard Giudicelli, wanted to avoid having to stay for a whole year at all costs and moved the French Open to the weeks between September 20th and October 4th. This is how Roland Garros avoids the Olympic Games and the US Open, and yet outdoor games are still conceivable.

At first it was unclear whether it was actually a French solo, even if the reactions of some professionals suggested exactly that. So the former world number one Naomi Osako tweeted a short one “excusez moi ???” (Excuse me?) And Vasek Pospisil, Canadian tennis professional and well networked as a member of the players’ council of the men’s organization ATP, let his social channels say: “This is insane. No communication with the players or the ATP. We have nothing to say in this sport . “

On Wednesday followed a joint announcement from the ATP and the WTA, the organizational counterpart of the women’s tour. No tennis will be played until June 7th, the places in the world rankings will be frozen until then. The French Open was not mentioned, and there was no information about what the tournament calendar could look like later in the year. The end of the message shows how big the affront of the French Open must have been:

“Now is not the time to act unilaterally, but in harmony. All decisions related to the effects of the corona virus require an appropriate review of everyone involved in the game.” A view shared by ATP, WTA, the World Tennis Federation ITF and the organizers of the other three Grand Slam tournaments (Australian Open, Wimbledon, US Open).

A power struggle is imminent in tennis

It inevitably boils down to a power struggle, regardless of whether 2020 can still be played in this global sport. The new French Open date is one week after the US Open. Two of the most important tournaments on different surfaces (hard court and sand) and continents are lined up in a very short time. It’s hard to imagine how the top players can seriously fight for two Grand Slam titles within five weeks. The US Open is also considering relocating, Wimbledon (June 29 to July 12) has not yet commented.

The timing of the Grand Slam tournaments is one thing. The new date of the French Open, however, puts a total of five events under pressure for women and even six for men, including the Moselle Open and the Laver Cup, which are also held in France. This is an insignificant sporting competition between a European team and one with players from the rest of the world. The tournament is co-organized by Roger Federer, who thanks to his position and popularity in the tennis world has been able to hire many top players such as Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal or Alexander Zverev for the Laver Cup. A voluntary waiver of the appointment at the end of September is out of the question for the organizers.

This conflict shows how complicated the situation in tennis is with very different stakeholders:

  • The International Tennis Federation (ITF) As an association of national associations, it is a kind of world association and sets the tennis rules. However, it only affects the Davis Cup, Fed Cup and the tournament at the Olympic Games.

  • ATP and WTA are principally the unions of the professionals, but there the tournament organizers unite in addition to the players. This leads to disputes, most recently seen at the Australian Open, when the professionals felt they were not sufficiently heard about the impact of the bush fires.

  • Therefore let the Players, led by Vasek Pospisil, checked by a law firm to find out whether, unlike in American sports, a union can form. Then they could enter into direct negotiations with the two tours and the Grand Slam tournaments.

  • Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and US Open organize themselves independently of ATP and WTA and, thanks to their importance, have a special power.

  • Roger Federer plays a special role with his agency Team8, which now also looks after Zverev. The Laver Cup forced the Davis Cup to end the season. The competitor competes with the ATP Cup organized by ATP and the Australian Association.

In a sport with 69 men’s and 67 women’s tournaments per year, Pospisil therefore particularly depends on communicating together and then making decisions about a new tournament calendar, like the Canadian in that Beyond the Baseline podcast tells. “It cannot be that every tournament does its own thing. Then we have anarchy,” he says. The canceled tournaments deal with the situation differently, while Munich (April 27 to May 3) is aiming for a new date, the Masters in Madrid (May 3 to May 10) speaks of a complete cancellation.

The French Open, in turn, under financial pressure due to investments of EUR 380 million in recent years, hope to get by thanks to its importance as a Grand Slam. Pospisil considers a boycott of individual professionals unlikely, the players should better come to a common solution.

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