A new men’s professional tennis organization founded by Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray has raised eyebrows since news of its formation emerged last month, but the organization, called the new U.S. Tennis Association, is officially launching in the next few days.
The organization will take over responsibility for all aspects of the sport’s business and marketing in the United States, creating a joint venture between the two players on the ATP and WTA tours. It will include the players’ old names, clubs and sponsorship deals — though they will not become the organization’s official players’ association — and include the operation of the Professional Tennis Channel.
The move was widely seen as an attempt by the players, who are concerned about a “pay gap” between the men’s and women’s game, to organize and negotiate a better contract structure for the sport. It comes after seven of the best women players hit out at the men’s game and aired their frustrations that the prize money from men’s finals and the men’s tours themselves are much greater than the women’s tours. (Women earn around $85 million a year on men’s tours while men’s prize money is around $40 million. Wimbledon’s prize money for the men’s final is $2.6 million, whereas the women’s final is $1.58 million.)
Relations between the two camps have been tense since that debate, which is based on the fact that men’s tennis tournaments such as the Grand Slam Finals and WTA tournaments are funded by broadcasters, while the WTA tournaments are predominately funded by sponsors.
Earlier this year, though, there was a rather awkward moment when Serena Williams appeared to mock Michelle Obama’s famous “when they go low, we go high” speech in a BBC documentary about women in tennis.
Williams said the women’s sport was “still in the days of agriculture, because they go low, we go high.” She added: “There’s no trick. There’s no trick here. I just think the tennis world, the Wimbledon, the French, the Australian, the Wimbledon final, the Sunday, the final — that we got, that we got to go for, that’s where we keep the greatest, because they don’t care who won — they just care who won. Because they put their money on who won, and that’s pretty cool.”
The new U.S. Tennis Association has yet to be formally appointed, although some of the players have said it will become the players’ association. But it will need many years of growing before it will be recognized as a federation similar to a union.
Many have been cynical about the players’ group. It is being spearheaded by two players who have been in the limelight of the sport for some time, so are unlikely to have much insight into the business issues that have dominated men’s tennis for many years.
It’s also suspicious given that both Murray and Djokovic — who have both had long stretches of inactivity — are still regarded as among the most powerful figures in the sport. It is unclear if they are getting adequate compensation from sponsors, or receive some of their pay from TV deals, which are not recognized as a player income category by the WTA.
So far, the reception to the group has been more positive. It has already won the support of a host of former players including Jim Courier, Andre Agassi, Martina Navratilova and Jimmy Connors, as well as Svetlana Kuznetsova, Ashleigh Barty and Demián Bichir.
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