John Newcombe in top hat and stockings? More importantly, there are momentous changes ahead for the ATP.

While I was rooting around the internet trying to make sense of the upcoming changes to the structure of the ATP , I came across a 1997 article about the Monte Carlo tennis tournament by the esteemed New York Times writer, Christopher Clarey. There were two very interesting pieces of information in the article.

It seems that tennis players used to appear in amateur stage productions while they played in Monte Carlo. In 1969, for instance, Pancho Segura appeared as Tarzan. No surprise there, but in the same production Fred Stolle appeared as Shirley Temple and John Newcombe as Marlene Dietrich. I have to wonder if those players might well have been more welcoming to an openly gay player since they were already comfortable cross-dressing. And wow, would I love to see a youtube clip of John Newcombe in a top hat and stockings singing Falling in Love Again.

In 1997 it seems that the ATP was debating whether to drop Monte Carlo from the Super 9 – a series of nine tournaments that was the precursor to the Masters Series. The European players were apparently so unhappy about the possibility of losing the event that they formed their own player organization.

Monte Carlo survived that debate but it doesn’t appear that it will survive the current changes. And the European players are very angry yet again because Europe will likely lose two Masters Series events – Monte Carlo and Hamburg – while North America will hold on to all four of its events.

And it’s not just the European players, it’s also the clay court players because that’s two less clay court Masters Series events. The ATP is reducing the number of Masters Series events from nine to eight. Shanghai will get the new event in return for losing the Tennis Masters Cup – the year end championship – which is moving back to Europe. The surface for Shanghai has not yet been announced but all previous Asian tournaments have been hard court.

Rafael Nadal must be exceptionally pissed and I don’t blame him. As for me personally, it’s bad enough that Americans are in such disrepute worldwide at the moment, I don’t want the tennis world mad at me too. There are reports that the Madrid Masters will move to the spring and become a clay court event and that might make Rafael feel a bit better but that still means one less clay court Masters.

I haven’t heard much from the Monte Carlo organizers but Hamburg isn’t going down without a fight. Bloomberg.com reports that Hamburg has filed a suit against the ATP in U.S. District Court in Wilmington, Delaware. They accuse the ATP of taking “control of the supply of men’s professional tennis players and of men’s professional tennis tournaments. It has done so to establish a favored class of tournaments, in which the ATP has a significant proprietary interest, while relegating all of the ATP’s other member tournaments to a disfavored status.”

True, they have, but that’s what the ATP is supposed to do. They created the Super 9 series and they can take it away. This is not an easy problem. If you take away one of the U.S. Masters events, it shouldn’t be Indian Wells or Miami. In 2007, Indian Wells was the first tournament outside of a slam to go over 300, 000 in attendance and Miami wasn’t far behind. If you eliminate Montreal/Toronto or Cincinnati, you weaken the U.S. Open Series.

I was one of the few humans in the tennis world who supported round robin tournaments. I did it because I didn’t think Etienne De Villiers, the ATP CEO, had the clout to eliminate tournaments and round robins were the next best answer. Evidently he has enough clout to downgrade the status of two tournaments that are more than one hundred years old – Hamburg and Monte Carlo – but the better solution might be to reduce the total number of tournaments and shorten the season if he’s concerned about injuries and no shows.

The problem is that injuries and no shows are only part of the reason for the changes. Asia is paying huge money to host tournaments in Dubai, Doha and Shanghai. De Villiers is taking a Masters away from Europe and giving it to Asia to follow the global market. The ATP is following the money but Europe hosts the highest number of ATP events because it has the most tennis fans. What’s good for the pocketbook might not be best for tennis in the long run.

Larry Scott is the CEO of the WTA and he does have enough clout. He has shortened the season. I’ll talk about momentous changes to the WTA in my next column.

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