Players hit back after ATP chief’s comments on Challenger circuit

The ATP chairman has triggered an emotive debate with his comments about the Challenger Tour

Andrea Gaudenzi, 2021

Furious players have hit back after ATP chief Andrea Gaudenzi implied that those ranked outside the top 100 should not expect to make a living from tennis.

It all started with a 12-minute video that appeared on the Financial Times website on Wednesday, addressing a subject that has come up repeatedly with the shutdown of the tour following Covid-19 and the launch of the PTPA by Novak Djokovic and Vasek Pospisil: the inequitable distribution of income in the world’s tennis elite.

In it, Gaudenzi explains that it is logical and probably without alternative that players ranked outside the top 100 cannot make a living, and that the Challenger Tour – the second tier of international tour competition – provides only the opportunity for lower-ranked players to break even.

“You have to draw the line somewhere,” says Gaudenzi from the Monte-Carlo Country Club. “In the Challenger tour, you should be able to break even and pay your costs, but you have to be conscious that it’s like university (compared to the classic professional world). It’s an investment. Then go and move to the main tour where you have a job. I don’t think any tour is economically viable at this level, simply because it lacks the interest of the fans and the engagement of the sponsors, broadcasters and ticket revenues.”

‘Incredibly ignorant’, says Pospisil

“The Gaudenzi comments about Challengers…are highly disrespectful to quality players, who have no choice!” tweeted former Australian player Paul McNamee. “Perhaps it’s because he’s so focused on expanding the 1000’s to two weeks each, which will reduce the number of tournaments even further?”

Dustin Brown, 37, now 341st in the world and one of the most popular players on tour, wrote on Twitter, “How will it ever be sustainable if our ‘president’ talks and thinks like this? Many guys most weeks playin Challengers aren’t even breaking even. Competition has got better and better over the years and Gaudenzi just trashes the product.”

Canadian Vasek Pospisil, ranked 133rd in the world, was quick to claim Gaudenzi’s comments illustrated another reason to develop the PTPA, the player advocacy organisation he created with Novak Djokovic. “This is incredibly ignorant from the so-called leader of the ATP and the sport of tennis. A multi-billion dollar industry yet this man feels it’s ok for only the top 100 players to make a living. This is what happens when you completely monopolize the sport.”

Gaudenzi has been challenged for his management and positions since his appointment as head of the ATP – but he also has his supporters, particularly in this debate, who suggest he made a fair point.

“In my opinion, Gaudenzi is simply facing reality,” said former referee Richard Ings in response to McNamee. “We know how much a player incurs in expenses each year and much they would need to earn above that. It’s several hundred thousand dollars per year per player. The sport can support that for a finite number of players. How many?”

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