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Monday, April 16, 2007
ATP, Masters Series at odds

Monte Carlo is under way, kicking off the official lawsuit season! OK, it's supposed to be the onset of the clay-court season.

The clay-court events that will transpire over the next few weeks constitute a de facto Roland Garros Series much like the U.S. Open Series. The RG Series is not as formally organized (there are no points tables linked to performance and prize-money bonuses) or comparably branded, although it wouldn't be a tragedy if they embraced that model. I'm not just playing the xenophobic Yankee here, ignorantly wondering why the rest of the world can't do things our way. I mention this because it underscores a significant similarity -- and a noteworthy cultural difference, in how the geopolitics of tennis work.

The RG Series takes place in at least five different nations, all of which have not just tradition in play, but self-interest as well. By contrast, the U.S. Open Series takes place in just the U.S. and neighboring Canada, making it an easier mini-circuit to organize and administer. The issue is particularly relevant because of the lawsuits brought recently by two tournaments (Masters Series Monte Carlo and Masters Series Hamburg) against the ATP.

In a nutshell, these two clay-court fixtures in the Elite 9 Masters Series are suing the ATP because they find themselves in the crosshairs of the ATP as it tries to iron out the calendar. Monte Carlo's problem is, partly, that while it's a jewel of an event, it takes place at an exclusive country club in an exotic playground for the rich and famous. Hamburg's problem is that it begins the day that Masters Series Rome ends, which is a little like scheduling the same NFL team to play on consecutive days.

Hamburg and Monte Carlo became Masters Series events partly because they brought a great deal of tradition to the table, consistently ponying up at the high-stakes tournament prize-money table. The problem is that under the accelerating globalization of tennis, Hamburg and Monte Carlo (taken together) look more and more like events that were grandfathered -- and shoehorned -- into the Masters Series grid.

The ATP is doing the right thing in reviewing the calendar, and I think it has not just a right, but a mandate to do so. That's what the lawsuits are about: the ATP's right to run the game the way it sees fit. Monte Carlo and Hamburg staked out the Masters turf before anyone else did, and that's fine. And while tradition and service to the game count for a great deal, they aren't everything.

These suits represent a clash between entitlement (deserved or otherwise), and the ATP's theoretically even-handed vision of the game's future. I'm with the ATP on this one, and will take the issue one step further: The ATP should review the entire Masters Series grid to strike the most appropriate geopolitical balance, eliminate back-to-back events, and add an event to make it the Elite 10.