Report: Saudi Arabia offers $2 billion to merge ATP and WTA Tours; Grand Slams offer alternative streamlined, equal prize-money Tour

The tennis word could be set for an imminent shake-up, with two rival offers on the table

Illustration picture of money and tennis on March 20, 2020 in Brussels, Belgium © Photo News / Panoramic

Tennis is at a crossroads, it seems.

After more than a year of behind the scenes discussions regarding a closer alignment of the ATP and WTA Tours, leading to a merger, Saudi Arabia has arrived on the scene to throw a giant spanner in the works. So what exactly is happening?.

Grand Slam-led streamlined Tour

According to the Daily Telegraph newspaper, the Grand Slams, led by Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley, have proposed a streamlined ATP and WTA Tour, with equal prize-money across the board. The top 100 players would have to play only 10 Masters events; one team event and a combined season-ending Finals.

That received the backing of the rest of the Grand Slams, with the Telegraph reporting that Wimbledon were particularly keen. That’s not surprising as it maintains the slams as the focal point of the Tour, while offering the top players the kind of reduced commitment that many have been crying out for over the years.

Below the top 100, there would be a Development Tour, the Telegraph says, which would encompass the current Challenger Tours. These ideas were communicated to players in Indian Wells, the report said.

Saudi’s blockbuster bid

Having heard the slams’ offer, the Masters 1000 tournament directors were then introduced to a $2 billion offer from the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund (PIF), which would be split between the men and women.

This one is being pushed by the ATP chief, Andrea Gaudenzi, and would see the Tours go it alone, without the Grand Slams being involved, as things stand. The Telegraph says the offer is for 90 days only.

Saudi Arabia have already made moves to enter tennis, becoming a strategic partner with the ATP two weeks ago. The Next Gen Finals, for the best under-21 players in the world, is already held in Jeddah and there has been talk of Saudi Arabia hosting a Masters 1000 event.

The poor human rights record in Saudi Arabia, and the country’s treatment of women, means that any Saudi involvement in tennis is controversial. Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert recently co-wrote an open letter opposing any Saudi move into tennis.

But with the Tours struggling to make money, while players demand a greater share of the pot, something has got to give. Saudi has already made big moves in Formula One and golf, and is pushing for involvement in athletics. Tennis, it seems, may be next.

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