Lawsuits, Suspensions, and Fines…Oh My!
by Lynn Berenbaum | March 30th, 2007

Guillermo Canas’ second dramatic win over Roger Federer had nothing on the off-court action that took place in Miami. Professional tennis turned into a serial drama including a player petition, a storm-off during a meeting with the ATP Chair, one lawsuit being filed, and another threatened to be on the way.

Get the popcorn ready. This is a thriller!

Act I

Key Biscayne, FL, site of the Sony Ericsson Open.

Scene I: The ATP makes two announcements. The obvious one is that they are killiing the Round Robin (pdf). The second is that Shanghai will be a new Masters Series event, and will cede its Masters Cup status for 2009.

While that wouldn’t seem to be a big deal ordinarily, discussions go on with tournament directors and players over changes to the calendar behind-the-scenes, and create a veritable tempest.

Scene II: The German tennis federation (DTB) files suit against the ATP in U.S. District Court seeking to stop the ATP from stripping Hamburg of its Masters Series status, which would make it harder to attract top players and harm the future of the tournament. The DTB maintains that it has valid contracts with the ATP beyond 2009, and that the Tour is in breach.

[Bob and Mike Bryan enter stage-right, raise forefingers to the sky, and sing in chorus, "Doubles Revolution!". They depart, stage-left.]

Scene III: According to papers filed in the DTB lawsuit, we learn that the 2009 calendar would create three new tiers of ATP tournaments: Masters Series 1000, Masters Series 500, and ATP 250. The gaps are also being filled in by disgruntled players who are talking to the press.

The newer plan reported to be on the table would move the Madrid Masters Series tournament to May, possibly as a combined men’s and women’s event, two weeks before Roland Garros. The plan will affect not only Hamburg, but also downgrade the Monte Carlo event. Questions about the clay Masters Series event in Rome are still hazy.

Scene IV: The plans regarding all three clay court Masters Series events lead to a petition signed by 60 players, and results in dozens of players walking-out during a meeting with ATP Chairman Etienne de Villiers in Miami.

[Rafael Nadal and Tommy Robredo enter stage-right, raise forefingers to the sky, and sing in chorus, "Revolución!". They depart, stage-left.]


Act II

Scene I: The WTA makes two announcements. On Tuesday, they hold a press conference to announce (pdf) changes to the tournament calendar; and an increased presence in China, including a new office in Beijing (pdf). The ATP’s China announcement and the WTA’s China announcement seem to be linked, but are instead not-coordinated-but-might-be-in-the-future announcements.

The WTA also announces a prize-money increase and stiffer penalties for players who skip mandatory events. Top players who fail to play at required tournaments will be subject to suspensions and larger fines than in the past.

Scene II: In the presser, which includes Indian Wells Tournament Director Steve Simon, reporters poke around on the issue of the Williams sisters boycott of the tournament since 2001, when the family was booed after Venus withdrew just before a semifinal match against Serena.

WTA Chair Larry Scott says that there will be a sanctioning process for players who dump out of one of the Tour’s “Crown Jewel” events, which will include “suspensions if players are not legitimately injured and able to play, which will last …for the next two premium tournaments.”

Larry Scott: “I’m very sensitive to some of the concerns that Venus and Serena have had with Indian Wells. I’ve discussed this with both of them, and I think they understand that we can’t design a system around individual issues that players have.”

Scene III: Serena Williams press conference the following day.

Serena Williams: “I need to have a sit-down and pow-wow with Larry Scott because we haven’t had a chance to talk about it. But I can guarantee you the chances of getting me to Indian Wells are slim to none, unless — I’m not going to go back. I have no interest in going. It’s just how I feel.”

[Assorted WTA players enter stage-left, they stop, place hands on hips and sing in chorus, "Oooh, snap!". They exit, stage-right.]

Scene IV: Richard Williams is talking to a reporter about Indian Wells. The reporter asks if his daughters will play there.

Richard Williams: “No. And the WTA don’t make the rules for America.”

Reporter: “What happens if they’re suspended?”

Richard Williams: “We’ll definitely have to consider legal action.”

[Assorted WTA players enter stage-right, they stop, place hands on hips and sing in chorus, "Oooh, double snap!". They exit, stage-left. One blonde girl stops at the edge of the stage before exiting, turns to face the audience and says, "Welcome back Williams sisters!" She chuckles, then exits behind the rest.]

Scene V: Another part the sanctions scheme is that players will have to submit themselves to WTA doctors for verification of their illness or injuries.

LS: “We’re not going to allow excuses or allow players to hide behind injuries that aren’t legitimate or to say it’s exhaustion if it’s not, because there’s been some of that going on. We’re not going to allow that anymore.”

(Aside, Me, to my friend: Wow. Did Larry Scott just accuse his players of lying? Or did he say he talked to the Williams family? All the lying and accusations have confused me.)

Flashback, Scene II: Reporters question the positioning by the WTA in China. The WTA seems unprepared. Scott bobbles through an answer about grass-roots development in the country by muttering something about ‘UNESCO’ and ‘UN partnership’ a few times, but doesn’t seem to know about any specific plans in place.

On a second-round question about China, LS: “I wouldn’t want to give you a wrong number, but we’ve got good data from the ITF about data, but I know the numbers are pretty staggering.”

(Aside, Me, to my friend: What did he just say?)

On the third-round question about plans in China, Scott pushes Sony Ericsson Marketing Director Dee Dutta up to the mic. LS: “Dee may know more than I do actually”.

[Title Card: To be continued...]


Walking out of the theater, I realized that the ending really seemed surreal at best. Why on earth would the corporate sponsor know more than the WTA CEO about tennis? Say, who’s running the women’s tennis tour anyway? I have to admit that I’m still confused. Why is this plot so hard to follow?

Honestly, this is the crappiest movie I’ve seen in a while — and I’ve sat through some Hungarian slapsticks in my day. I don’t know if I can stomach to see part two, but I’m thinking it might go straight to DVD anyway.

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24 Comments for Lawsuits, Suspensions, and Fines…Oh My!

Richard Says:

This has got to be the most hilarious piece of news/commentary I’ve ever read. Top stuff.

The ATP shouldn’t touch the Monte Carlo/Rome/Hamburg tournament. I don’t think a Masters Series in China will be any more successful for the men’s tour than their current European masters. The WTA should capitalize on China first, they already have an established star in Li Na and Olympic Gold medalists.

togo Says:

ha. that was hilarious.

i must say in regards to all the changes, how come the U.S. keeps all its tournaments while europe loses their’s? here in the U.S. no one cares about tennis. but i guess they don’t in europe, either. and we all know about china/asia, that’s just for the money.

Jessica Says:

As always, bashing tennis

FloridaMan Says:

Are they going to do ANYTHING…ANYTHING…about Wimbledon and the French open being too close together? That is the absolute worst scheduling in all of sports.

FloridaMan Says:

I take that back. I think it is ONE of the worst schedulings in all of sports.

And as far as overall scheduling goes, I can understand that a lot of players complain that there are too many tournaments on tour, and they get injured, and all that. However, there’s no doubt that the technology is what’s hurt the game. It’s made people hit the ball harder, but also have to run much faster, and expend a lot more energy.

So given that fact, I doubt that players will really ever find a schedule that will make everyone happy. Even if they decreased the schedule to something extreme, like maybe 10 tournaments a year, just once every 4 weeks…a lot of players probably wouldn’t like that, because they’d then be complaining that they’d be making less money, and getting less chances to improve their ranking.

It’s a very tough situation for tennis right now. I know there’s been other tough situations in the past, but this is no easy issue to solve, that is for sure.

Rockville Says:

I find it hard to believe they would try to make certain tournaments mandatory without an alternative. After what happened to Serena this week in FL (racial slur) and her/Venus steadfast boycott of Indian Wells I feel that the WTA is making a hugh mistake.
The rule is not catering to an individual player, but to the players feeling no hostility at a tournament. It is clear that the WTA has no control over the behavior of fans and the players should have an alternative.

jsnj Says:

Interesting. So if Sharapova, Serena & Venus decide to skip Indian Wells the same year, the WTA would prevent them from playing Key Biscayne and the next Tier 1 later that year in California? Do you really think the organizers of those tournaments would really tolerate that? Seems very easy for players to change this rule.

jsnj Says:

Actually, the next Tier 1 would be a clay clourt event. Anyway, same point made.

BABackhand Says:

On a specific note: Why should Germany lose its Master Series tournament while France keeps the Paris Masters? There is already a grandslam event in the very same city! Besides the top players often seem to pull out of Paris anyway. Maybe its the French hospitality.

I can see the United States definitely keeping Indian Wells and Key Biscayne as they are on opposite ends of a much larger country. But they should not be held back-to-back. No Masters Series tournaments should be held back-to-back without lower tiered events held inbetween. It diminishes the depth/quality of the field and the reverence for the events. With this logic it could be argued to eliminate Cincinnati’s Masters status. I think that Canada deserves at least one men’s and women’s combined (or the existing two separately in Montreal and Toronto) as they have no other events. But currently they are running this event back-to-back against Cincinnati which should not be done (see Federer’s flame out to Murray in the second round due to fatigue…no, not to Murray’s superior play Murray fans). Moreover, Italy ought to keep her Rome Masters as the only major event in that country.

Further, if players are going to be forced to enter events we are going to see a whole lot of tanking going on. Remember all of the times Agassi had committed to events one right after the other and blew off the first-round-match at the second tournament because he had won the first tournament. Rather than citing an injury like he did more often later in his career he would one-shot his way to a loss and out of the first round of the second tournament.

This is why Federer is so careful of his scheduling commitments. Its the handful of players always making it deep into tournaments that are driving this change. You can’t force them deep into every tournament on the ‘current’ calendar with round robins and threat of sanctions. The fat, doubles hacks, powers-that-be don’t realize the physical toll that tennis takes on the body and mind.

Spread the big tournaments out so that the top players can and want to play all of these events. If we ideally have a 10 month tennis calendar with 4 grandslams lets fill in the the other 6 months with 6 Masters Series Tournaments. The finale does not count as it has only 8 players but ought to be held in a different country EVERY year. Nix Cincinnati, Paris, and Monte Carlo’s Master’s Status and add another Master’s Series tournament in Asia or South America.

Tough decisions…somebody has to make them.

Rockville Says:

jsnj Says:
Interesting. So if Sharapova, Serena & Venus decide to skip Indian Wells the same year, the WTA would prevent them from playing Key Biscayne and the next Tier 1 later that year in California? Do you really think the organizers of those tournaments would really tolerate that? Seems very easy for players to change this rule.

That is the point that I am trying to make. It will be interesting to see if you can get a few big named players to skip Indian Wells or either Key Biscayne. It just seems a little extreme with the changes.

Lynn Berenbaum Says:

I agree with you guys. The suspensions and fines are a good idea, but will be ridiculous in execution. It’s probably not going to work, and they’ll just make a bad situation worse. Add to this that making special provisions for certain players sets up an added layer of complexity that they’re obviously unprepared for.

The calendar reorganization, otoh, is horrid business and I don’t envy TPTB. …Too many cooks and all, that is one small kitchen.

I agree that there needs to be a higher level tournament in South America, and with all the players and fans there, that would make sense. If I recall correctly, there’s an economic hurdle to overcome with sponsors. (Correct me if I’m wrong…)

Part of the calendar woes answer may lie in tour coordination and creating a completely new structure. If I feel inspired next week, maybe I’ll take a stab at it and we can all debate the plan merits/detriments.

Then again, an ulcer may be more fun… and is best achieved with much beer and much NCAA bball.

Go Hoyas!


P.S. Any thoughts on the women’s final in Miami? Good for Serena, but Henin crumbled and gave away the match. Definitely suspenseful though.

David Says:

All agree the tennis season should be 9 months not the current 11 or 12.

4 slams are the back bone of tennis then the master events.
I would of course keep the Master events in Miami and Indian wells due to being a huge city in a vast country. Keep the Candian one. Maybe nix Cinncy sine nobody really cares about it.

Nix hamburg and Monte Carlo and Paris. Keep Rome and Madrid add they are going to add another in China. Maybe another one in Japan would be good.

Just dont mess with Indian Wells because that is the only major tourney remotely close to me lol.

David Says:

4 Slams…..
Master Events in Indian Wells, Miami, Madrid, Rome, Shanghai and Canada. That is 6 master events.
Having the Candadian open and Cinncy master back to back is completely ridiculous with the U.S. open looming a week later. Cinncy is an amazing set up I have been there twice but the timing is horrible.
Nobody cares about Paris or Madrid or Hamburg master events

David Says:

Being American I dont think we should have a Monopoly on the Master Events. We have Miami, Indian Wells and CInncy plus Canada is right there.

U.S. should only have 2 master events and of course the U.S. open. What better master events in the world than Miami and Indian Wells on hard court.

FloridaMan Says:

Agreed on having the season shortened to 9 months, not 12. I don’t have an issue with Indian Wells and the Sony Ericsson Open being back to back, because it’s not totally back-to-back. There’s about 5 days in between. It’s much better than having Canada and Cincy so close together. And as I mentioned previously, the very worst scheduling in tennis in my opinion is the French and Wimbledon being only 2 weeks apart from each other. Something really needs to be done about that.

scineram Says:

[quote]and I’ve sat through some Hungarian slapsticks in my day.[/quote]

What are you trying to say with this? ^_^

I want to keep Monaco, Canada a week earlier and best of 5 finals.

Colleen Says:

Everyone talks about Toronto-Cincy back to back but what about Rome-Hamburg? Clearly the back to back nature is what’s sinking the Hamburg event with tons and tons of withdrawals. There’s only one solution here: make Monte Carlo the first week of the clay court season and spread out the other 2 masters events.

I personally don’t agree with giving China anything big. China has no top male players and is a johnny come lately to the tennis scene. Let’s reward history and years of patronage, folks. Cincy has had that prestigious tournament since I think 1899.

But I do agree we should nix the Paris masters first and foremost. They already have Roland Garros… I’m sure the French would be up in arms if New York City had a masters in addition to the US Open.

-cj- Says:

The biggest problems with making changes to either tour is that the changes are trying to appease too many parties. What should really happen is this: The ATP and WTA should sit down with their players and determine when the new 9 month schedule will start and end. Determine that there will be X number of Masters/Tier 1 events and distribute them evenly across the calendar. Then, open up a bidding process for sponsors and cities to host the prime events. Next, open a similar bidding process for events around that calendar but favoring sites that make for a reasonable travel schedule.

You have to make a clean break from an old system instead of slowly tugging at the bandages what’s not working.

John Says:

My 2 cents:

Here’s what I’d like to see:

1) 12 months of tennis and the players pick and choose when and if they want to play.

2) No mandatory events. The purse should be the attraction. The bigger purse gets the best players.

3) Ranking points (along with money) should be used to entice the best players to the best tournaments.

rudi Says:

Replace Cincinnati with a South American tournament of the same level. So, after TMS Canada they head South then that leg culminates in the US Open. Argentina and Chile have produced fantastic players and should be rewarded. Why should US viewers (and media) who regulate tennis to the back burner of sport be allowed so many tournaments? Their fan base is fed the same diet of mediocre Roddick and Blake matches, when terrific international players (whose visibility can only add to the sport) are being ignored. Jim Courier said this week that “Davis Cup is not relevant” and US fans are not supportive of Roland Garros as their favourites don’t do well there.
So should the ATP let US analysts, fans, media, money, and bias determine the future of tennis when it is clearly shifting (in players,coverage and fan base) in a different direction?
I see the scheduling of events more as a marketing problem .

Sneak Peek: 2009 Pro Tennis Calendar Says:

[...] An unintended consequence of my last post is that it brought on an important discussion around the proposed calendar changes for both Tours. I laid out each Tour’s proposals in one handy document which can be viewed here. [...]

beerme Says:

yes, let players pick and choose where they want to play, that will solve tennis’ problems.

on other dumb-ass comments — apparently just too bad for you in youre monte or hamburg. these historic tournaments get shafted just because the atp themselves put them in bad time slots. i’d like to see a room of monkeys go head to head with atp execs and see who comes up with a better calendar. i’d bet two bunches of banannas and my life savings on the monkeys.

Ann Dalcorso Says:

We are in favour of Monte Carlo tournament being a masters event, a prestigeous forerunner of the big French tournament.

We just hope that they change the colours of the balls so that we can actually see them on TV! We are true addicts of tennis and would be sad to see Monte Carlo lose its status!

Jean Pierre Dalcorso Says:

We are in favour of Monte Carlo!

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