Reaction to Federer's combined-tour tweet shows why it hasn't happened

Reaction to Federer's combined-tour tweet shows why it hasn't happened

While the great majority of stakeholders want to see the ATP and WTA come together, it will take substantial time to work out the details—and, just as important, egos will need to be put to the sidelines.

"Just wondering…..am I the only one thinking that now is the time for men’s and women’s tennis to be united and come together as one?"

When Roger Federer tweeted this question out Wednesday morning, ‘Tennis Twitter’ naturally exploded. Fans, media members and players replied in delight. Several WTA stars past and present, like Mary Pierce and Simona Halep, shared that they agreed with Federer’s sentiment. Rafael Nadal quoted his rival’s post referencing prior personal discussions, before adding that emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic with one tennis union would be great.

But after Federer’s initial tweet had time to simmer, the general tone shifted from an overriding positive reaction to mixed messages, and a few questions surrounding the Swiss’ intent. Serena Williams deleted a tweet that read, "ummm that was confidential and not supposed to be shared yet….", but the statement was up long enough for followers to screen shot. Vasek Pospisil, who is on the ATP Player Council with Federer and Nadal, tweeted, "Great idea. The ATP has been working on this since they brought the vision forward to us in January."

Pospisil has previously led a group alongside the likes of Novak Djokovic and Sloane Stephens advocating for the four majors to funnel a higher percentage of their revenues to competitors, noting the importance of the perspective being shaped by players from both tours. His response to Federer may have intended to inform the public the notion of the ATP and WTA merging has been in motion long before the 20-time major champion's tweet, but the Canadian's comments soon created a divide. Some fans supported him, with opinions like ‘Roger and Rafa just want the limelight’, while others felt the former Wimbledon doubles champion was being passive-aggressive, taking away from the big picture.

Regardless, uniting the tours is a far cry from a fresh take. Fifty years ago, Billie Jean King envisioned one governing body in tennis, feeling that men and women working side-by-side would not only result in the strongest product, but produce one that would have a lasting social impact. The men of that era disagreed, and King, along with her fellow pioneers, were left to prove them wrong that women’s tennis was sustainable in every way.

Following the 2002 French Open, when Serena defeated older sister Venus for her first Roland Garros title, Jon Wertheim reported in Sports Illustrated that the ATP wanted to host more combined events, even attempting to court the women's tour to join their ATP Americas division in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. In a 2009 interview with TENNIS.com, former WTA tour Chairman and CEO Larry Scott revealed that one of his two principal reasons for resigning from his post resulted from impasses that prevented the WTA from merging with the ATP.

"I really thought the sport needed to do to unlock its full potential was for the WTA and the ATP to merge," Scott said. "I have a deep belief that that needs to happen. It’s obviously not going to happen on my watch."

Later on Wednesday, Stan Wawrinka told Chris Evert on Instagram Live that "[Andrea] Gaudenzi was already talking about it, trying to find something to put the WTA and ATP together, to make one tour, to try to find how we can help each other."

Less than two weeks ago, the ATP and WTA launched Tennis United, a joint digital show that Pospisil co-hosts with Bethanie Mattek-Sands. Djokovic, the president of the ATP Player Council, shared a Player Relief Fund proposal that has since been confirmed to be supported by the two tours, ITF and controllers of the four Grand Slam tournaments. If the ATP and WTA have any hope of coming together completely, egos first and foremost must be checked at the door. Gaudenzi, who began his four-year term as ATP CEO on January 1, has spoken openly about tennis wasting considerable energy on resolving infighting, rather than directing efforts toward the true competition: other sports and entertainment properties.

"There is a big opportunity for tennis, but we can only grasp it if we work together as a group," he told Tennis Channel Live last week. "This crisis could divide us further or unite us once and for all, I hope the latter will happen."

As Andy Roddick noted on Wednesday's Tennis Channel Live show, Federer and Nadal offering up their views magnifies the discourse of one tour being pursued. While the idea is "amazing in a soundbite", the 2003 US Open champion added, "Before we all go in a circle of agreement, I would challenge you to find someone who doesn’t agree with the premise of the idea."

One candidate appears to be Nick Kyrgios. Never afraid to use his voice, the Australian inquired, "Did anyone ask the majority of the ATP what they think about merging with the WTA and how it is good for us?"

Demonstrating how the concept can evolve beyond an enthusiastic suggestion will be imperative for getting players with an open mind on board. In Federer's view, the current climate is the catalyst. "We can come out of this with two weakened bodies or one stronger body," he wrote.

King once said, "Champions keep playing until they get it right."

One harmonious tour has merit to be a championship idea. Should it move forward, let's allow those in position to bring it to life the necessary time, and reinforcements, to make the puzzle fit together correctly—so that no one is left out.