The tennis calendar sometimes feels never-ending. It’s relentless. It’s in every corner of the globe. There are tournaments that are attended by hundreds of thousands of spectators, and there are tournaments that barely have an eyeball on them.
Regardless, if you’re a tennis fan, you undoubtedly have your favourite event, or favourite time of year, which, most probably, will differ from the next person. That’s the beauty of the sport.
For me, the Aussie summer is the early pinnacle in the year – obviously because it’s in my timezone, and it’s easily accessible. The month following seems a bit slow, and then once the clay court season begins in Europe, the schedule feels like a balloon….inflating more and more through Monte Carlo, Rome, Paris, and into Wimbledon, before…bang. The air leaks out, and everything falls a bit flat for a month or so.
It got me pondering…imagine we could completely reset. Wipe the tennis calendar clean, and start all over again. Would I make wholesale changes, or just a few tweaks?
There are a number of ‘big picture’ things that could make tennis better…ie. a combined WTA/ATP tour, prizemoney increases, better TV streaming coverage, etc. But for the purpose of this piece, I am narrowing my focus purely to the ATP/WTA tennis calendars, and the tournament schedule.
Here are the 4 top things I would modify in the current calendar:
Create a worthwhile South American swing
Tennis appears to be garnering more popularity in South America, and with the enormous current success of the Argentinian men, I would love to see that permeate throughout the continent.
Currently, after the Australian Open, the men’s tour does head down there for a few clay court 250’s, and a 500 in Rio. The problem I have with this, is that we then head back to North America for a month of hardcourt Masters tournaments, with Indian Wells and Miami back to back, before the European clay court swing gets underway.
I would bring Indian Wells forward a couple of weeks to begin in February, with the usual 250’s and 500’s throughout the month. Then the whole South American Swing, - including the women’s tour, which currently largely ignores this part of the world - can be moved into March, as a lead in to the European clay court season.
The Miami Masters would be replaced by a Masters event in Rio, or Buenos Aires, thus ensuring the best players in the world make the trip to the continent. Not only does this promote tennis in South America on a whole new level, we get a continuation of hardcourts through Jan and Feb, before the clay court season commences in March, and goes through to the French Open.
A longer grass court season
With the clay court tournaments starting a little earlier, we could move the French Open forward a week, and push Wimbledon back a week, allowing for an extra two weeks of tournaments on the natural surface. The obvious event to fill those couple of weeks, is a grass court Masters tournament, which has been touted more openly by Andrea Gaudenzi over recent years.
With back to back hard court Masters as the lead in to the US Open, I would look at moving one of those to a pre-Wimbledon grass Masters event. Giving the players a couple of extra weeks on a more forgiving surface, could aid in prolonging careers, and at same time, allow a different style of player to have a longer season during the year to ply their trade.
As we witnessed during this grass court period, new players won titles, and others made career best runs. An extended grass court season may offer up even more surprising results.
More opportunities for women
Possibly a little more ‘big picture’, but the opportunities on the calendar for female tennis players are lacking when compared to their male counterparts. Currently, the main WTA tour has a handful of extra events when compared to the ATP tour, and the ITF tours are almost identical when comparing the number of tournaments staged.
However, the clear differential comes when we consider the men have a whole second tier tour – the Challenger tour, while the women have 25 events classified as WTA 125’s, which you could almost say is their version of a Challenger event.
The ATP Challenger tour has 150 odd events held throughout the year, all around the world. This gives the men a huge advantage in the ability to earn prizemoney, and the opportunity to play high level matches in their local region during various times of the year.
I would love to see either the 125 tournaments expanded significantly, or the WTA to adopt a similar Challenger tour structure like the ATP have, thereby filling the calendar with opportunities for women.
An earlier finish to the main tour
We all know tennis is a year round tour, with barely an off season. The final women’s 250 event finishes on the week of Oct 10, with the tour finals the following week. The 125 events continue all the way through to mid-December, for those players needing, and wanting, to pick up points late in the year.
When we take a look at the ATP tour, we finish with a Masters event throughout the first week of November, followed by the Next Gen finals, ATP tour finals, and Davis Cup finals, meaning top level tennis goes through to the end of November.
I am happy for the men to have a calendar similar to the women, where Challengers and ITF’s push through until the end of November, but I would like to see the ATP and WTA tours wrap up by mid-October, and have all end of year finals done by the end of October. Obviously to do this, may require the Paris Masters tournament to be scrapped.
However, if it meant players (and coaches, media, etc), had a few extra weeks to themselves before the Australian summer begins, I’m ok with that. This allows two full months off for players to rest, recover, and enjoy some valuable time at home. Again, for those lower tier competitors, who need events to make money and points, the opportunity to play those events can continue for another few weeks.
From a personal point of view, my interest level in tennis begins to wane after the US Open, and I know there are some who would be happy to have it 12 months a year, but I believe the benefits of a slightly shorter year, would outweigh the negatives.
There’s no perfect solution to the tennis calendar, and creating a schedule to suit everyone is nigh on impossible. We have to consider the players, stakeholders, TV rights, and the growth of the sport across all continents. There’s a lot to consider. But with some minor adaptations, it’s possible to improve on what we already have.