Should the WTA and ATP Combine? Davydenko Is Cleared, More or Less

Is it time for the WTA and ATP to become one? Nikolay Davydenko has been cleared on gambling charges but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a fixed match.

The WTA + the ATP = WWT?

There are tennis matches this week despite my phase out last Sunday when I forgot to post fantasy tennis picks for the ATP tournament in Bucharest. Sorry about that. And I’m even more sheepish now because I’d picked Gilles Simon for the US Open so he rolled over to my fantasy team. That means I earned $90,000 when he defended his title in Bucharest today by beating Carlos Moya in straight sets. Anyway, I thought Davis Cup was this weekend but it’s not, instead we have the Federation Cup final between Russia and Spain.

Russia had won three of the last four Fed Cup titles and today makes it four out of five as Svetlana Kuznetsova beat Anabel Medina Garrigues. Kuznetsova and Russia’s other singles player Vera Zvonareva are, incredibly, the fourth and fifth best Russian players and they’re both in the top ten. You might be tempted to think that Russia chose Kuznetsova and Zvonareva because they’re better clay court players than higher ranked Elena Dementieva and Dinara Safina, but Dementieva is 14-4 on clay this year and Safina is even better at 14-3. At that rate, it’ll be 2015 before Russia loses a Fed Cup tie.

Davis Cup is next weekend and I don’t see why Fed Cup isn’t scheduled at the same time. Players need more than five days off after a slam and this brings up a bigger conversation: should the ATP and the WTA combine to become one organization? First of all, what would we call it? The Professional Tennis Association (PTA)? That’s a no if you live in the US because there’s a PTA in every school. It stands for Parent Teacher Association. Hmm, how about World Wide Tennis Association (WWTA)? Is that too close to World Wide Wrestling? Maybe, but what’s wrong with that? Let’s drop the A and go with World Wide Tennis (WWT)? If you’ve got a better suggestion, and I hope you do, leave it and I’ll post the best one.

The issue came up because Etienne de Villiers is out as the ATP CEO at the end of the year and some have suggested that Larry Scott, the CEO of the WTA, would be a good choice to take his place. I bet you can guess the first issue that popped into most players’ minds: prize money. When someone asked Ivan Ljubicic – who was recently voted onto the ATP Board of Directors as a player representative – what he thought about the possibility of the ATP and the WTA combining, he said, “Maybe, but there couldn’t be equal prize money.” When someone asked Jelena Jankovic the same question she said, “Maybe, but there would have to be equal prize money.”

By next year, prize money will be equal at ten events which are either combined events or events played in the same venue. For instance, men and women both play in Dubai but on different dates. Both organizations already have required minimum prize money for tournaments at the same level – the slams are at one level, Masters events at the next level, etc. If the combined organization – what did I call it, the WWT – required the same minimum prize money for men and women’s events at the same level, that would be a good start.

If there were fewer women’s events at that level or some of the women’s events didn’t pay as much as the most lucrative men’s events at the same level, I think the WTA should still combine with the ATP. The trend towards equal prize money is only going to continue and it’ll be more likely to continue with a combined organization because women will have equal power in that new organization.

And that, of course, is the problem. The men don’t want to give up their power or financial advantage. But both tours attract similar enough sponsors and combined events increase popularity in a sport that needs some help. It’s time for the first combined men’s and women’s professional organization among the big sports.

Davydenko Can Breathe Easy

The ATP has cleared Nikolay Davydenko and Martin Vassallo-Arguello of fixing a match they played in Sopot, Poland, in August 2007. It was a big deal because the irregular betting pattern in that match caused, an online betting site, to void all bets on the match and that kicked off huge changes in the ATP’s handling of gambling issues. They now have an anti-fraud unit and several players have been suspended for gambling on matches.

But it doesn’t mean that the match wasn’t fixed. It means that the ATP couldn’t prove the match was fixed. The ATP couldn’t get access to the phone records of Davydenko’s brother or wife. Those records – from a German cellphone carrier – have now been destroyed, the New York Times reported today, in accordance with Germany’s data protection laws.

Without the phone records, the ATP can’t connect Davydenko or his camp to the gamblers on Befair who would have benefited from Davydenko losing the match. Those phone records may not have proven anything either but no one has come up with a better explanation for the highly irregular betting pattern on the match. Davydenko suggested that Russian speakers at the tournament may have overheard him talking about his injured toe to his wife or brother on court, but that doesn’t explain why his opponent already had enough money bet on him to make him the prohibitive favorite before the match had even started. And it’s extremely unlikely that two account holders would bet a combined $6 million dollars on Davydenko’s opponent because someone overheard a comment at the match. If that were the case, there’s be a whole lot of irregular betting patterns.

Davydenko wasn’t the only player to be exonerated, kind of. Last month, Roscoe Tanner had grand theft charges against him dropped after paying restitution for bouncing checks to buy two Toyota Highlanders from a dealership in Knoxville, Tennessee. This is the same guy that bounced a check for over $35,000 then spent two years in jail for failing to pay restitution payments thus violating probation. Tanner bought those cars for the daughters of his third wife and he has now added two more children to the his world of disappointment. Three other daughters are already too familiar with unpaid child support and courtroom visits with their father. By bouncing a check then paying court costs and the depreciation due to driving the cars off the lot, Tanner has avoided further legal problems.

I think both men got off easily.