As the 2023 US Open unfolds, the tennis world's attention is increasingly drawn to discussions of a potential merger between the ATP Tour and the WTA Tour. Scheduled for the upcoming month, the meeting between officials from both tours in London aims to explore the possibility of uniting the two entities. Among the key attendees will be ATP Tour Chairman Andrea Gaudenzi and WTA Tour Chief Executive Officer Steve Simon, alongside other tour representatives.
This move comes in response to the escalating interest and influence of Saudi Arabia in the world of tennis. Saudi Arabia has shown aspirations to host more tournaments and even create a competing tour to challenge the established ATP and WTA Tours, sparking debates among officials and players alike. Both tours are motivated to preempt any controversies akin to those faced by the recently-backed LIV Golf tour, also with Saudi interests.
Notably, Saudi Arabian organisers recently revealed that the Next Gen ATP Finals would be held in Jeddah, commencing in 2023 as part of a new five-year deal. However, it's important to stress that any merger between the ATP Tour and WTA Tour would not be an immediate development. It would necessitate approval from various stakeholders due to the unique sponsorship and TV licensing agreements each tour currently holds.
Crucially, the four major tournaments, including the prestigious US Open, would remain distinct entities unaffected by any potential merger.
The call for such a merger is not entirely new; three years ago, tennis legend Roger Federer publicly advocated for both tours to combine forces. Present and former players have voiced their perspectives on Saudi Arabia's growing involvement in the sport.
John McEnroe, an all-time great, expressed his opposition to Saudi investment, deeming it "comical" in light of the ongoing issues in golf.
On the other hand, Ons Jabeur of Tunisia welcomes the prospect of change, particularly as an Arab player, emphasising the importance of expanding opportunities, especially for women.
However, tennis icon and 18-time Grand Slam champion Chris Evert stands in opposition to any change, characterising it as "sports-washing." Evert raises concerns about Saudi Arabia's human rights record, particularly its treatment of women.
Nick Kyrgios recently used his Twitter platform to voice support for Saudi Arabia investing more in the ATP Tour in the future.
In parallel, reports suggest that Saudi Arabia is being considered as a potential host for this year's WTA Finals, an event still in search of a host city. Organisers have put forth a substantial increase in prize money, totaling over $12 million. Other cities under consideration for the event, which is to be decided in the coming week, include Washington, DC, Prague, and Monterrey.