Roger Federer raises prospect of merging men’s and women’s tours

Roger Federer of Switzerland, left, and Serena Williams of the United States celebrate a point during an exhibition tennis match in Melbourne, Australia. (Shuji Kajiyama/AP)

Roger Federer used a string of tweets Wednesday to call for the merger of the governing bodies for the men’s and women’s professional tennis tours, sparking a conversation among players and fans.

The 20-time Grand Slam champion’s comments drew plenty of support, including from rival Rafael Nadal and 12-time major singles champion Billie Jean King, who founded the WTA and has long said men and women should share one tour.

"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?" Federer wrote, leading to a flurry of responses online.

The professional era in tennis started in 1968, and the ATP was founded in 1972, running the men’s game since. The women’s WTA began a year later. The idea, not new, but spotlighted by Federer: combine the two into a single body.

"It probably should have happened a long time ago," Federer wrote. "But maybe now is really the time."

King agreed, noting that the suspension of the tours until at least mid-July because of the coronavirus pandemic might offer an opportunity to study restructuring tennis.

"Now I think it’s a possibility. A real possibility. And why not?" King said Wednesday. "I just think this would be so huge for our sport. I’m just so happy Roger said something."

Federer’s statements came a day after the ATP and WTA announced they were joining with the four Grand Slam tournaments and the International Tennis Federation to form a relief fund that will offer money to lower-ranked players in need of financial help because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

As with plenty of other industries, tennis has been hit hard by the recent economic downturn because of a loss of income from things like ticket sales and media rights.

"Our sport has a big opportunity if we can come together in the spirit of collaboration and unity," ATP CEO Andrea Gaudenzi said in an email. "Recent co-operation between governing bodies has only strengthened my belief that a unified sport is the surest way to maximize our potential and to deliver an optimal experience for fans on-site, on television and online. To that end, I welcome the views of our players."

Simona Halep and Garbine Muguruza, both recent Wimbledon champions, were among the players taking to social media to give a thumbs-up to Federer’s idea.

Nadal, a 19-time major champion, wrote on Twitter to Federer: "As you know per our discussions, I completely agree that it would be great to get out of this world crisis with the union of men’s and women’s tennis in one only organisation."

There has never been a united tennis tour, but male and female players do play at the same tournaments several times each year, including at the four Grand Slam tournaments.

Much of the season, however, they are completely separate.

"It’s too confusing for the fans when there are different ranking systems, different logos, different websites, different tournament categories," Federer said in a response to a reader’s comment.

He emphasized he was "not talking about merging competition on the court" but streamlining the leadership and organization of tennis.

"These are tough times in every sport," Federer said, "and we can come out of this with 2 weakened bodies or 1 stronger body."

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