Commentary

Posing 10 ATP questions for 2009

With significant reform coming to the ATP in 2009, many questions have come up. Kamakshi Tandon delves deep into the issues to provide answers.

Originally Published: November 6, 2008
By Kamakshi Tandon | Special to ESPN.com

With the ATP taking on a new look in 2009, many questions have come up.

From marketing changes, to revamped naming conventions of elite events, to stiffer penalties rendered, the tour is hoping for a more fan-friendly, healthier and streamlined structure. Here are 10 salient questions that will provide some clarity for the upcoming season.

1. How does the new tournament structure work?

By design, very simply:

Grand Slams (4): Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, U.S. Open
Masters 1000s (8): Indian Wells, Miami, Madrid, Rome, Canada, Cincinnati, Shanghai, Paris (Monte Carlo)
500s (11): Rotterdam, Memphis, Acapulco, Dubai, Barcelona, Hamburg(?), Washington, Beijing, Tokyo, Basel, Valencia
250s (39-40): The rest

There are four big shifts: Madrid moves from the fall indoor season to the spring clay season and becomes a combined event, replacing Hamburg. Shanghai will no longer host the Masters Cup but will be a Masters event in the fall. The year-end event will move to London. Monte Carlo has the prize money and points of a Masters series but is not mandatory for players.

2. Will we get used to the new names?

The ATP tour becomes the ATP World Tour, and any in-house rationale is dwarfed by the annoyance of having the circuit fiddle with its name yet again.

The Association of Tennis Professionals, established in 1973, was reborn as the ATP Tour in 1990 and then became just the ATP. Thankfully, consistency could be maintained by dropping a capital letter and calling it the ATP tour -- a solution which also works for the latest change.

The year-end event will also change from the Masters Cup to the World Tour Finals (just don't use the new acronym).

As for the rest of the tournaments, there's a certain logic to giving them a self-explanatory hierarchy as 1000, 500 and 250 events. And the Masters prefix has survived for the 1000s, which should help with continuity.

3. Will rankings mobility be reduced in the long term?

The division of events into 1000s, 500s and 250s creates an equally rigid structure for the rankings, making each tournament worth half the other (the number refers to the points awarded to the winner). The effects are difficult to explain in concrete terms, but they essentially widen the gaps between results. Read on if you dare.

In the points table drawn up for next year, Grand Slam and Masters Series winners will receive 2,000 and 1,000 points, respectively, or double the current amounts. But earlier rounds and small events will be getting less than double, so expect a larger gulf to open up between the very top players and the rest.

Net Writing
Kamakshi TandonIt's safe to say some players won't be enticed by the writing on the nets, which will be implemented in some fashion in 2009.
According to ATP spokesperson Dent, all players will have all their ranking points doubled at the end of this year and then go forward from here, so ranking movements toward the beginning of next year will not be too wild -- just complex.

The basic formula will count a player's four Grand Slam results, plus eight Masters 1000s, plus four 500 events (one after the U.S. Open) plus two other results. For the first time, ranking points will be awarded for Davis Cup.

4. Forget the wages, what about the bonuses?

Based on the published schedule for the first three months of the year, there will be small increases at most events, with some significant increases at the top Masters events. Indian Wells and Miami will raise their purses by about $900,000 to $4.5 million each.

But the more significant increase could end up being in the bonus pool, for which new figures have not yet been released. Currently, the No. 1 player gets $1.5 million for playing eight of the nine Masters Series events and the Masters Cup. The No. 2 player gets $750,000. Not exactly small change, even for the likes of Nadal and Federer.

5. What will the impact of the suspensions rule be?

As it's currently written, the rule states players must play all eight Masters 1000s or next year be suspended from the one where they had their best result. Unlike the equivalent rule on the women's tour, it makes allowances for injuries -- but also unlike the women's tour, it has eight mandatory events, not four.

If the standard for medical excuses turns out to be too strict or too lenient, the new rule would end up being either draconian or meaningless. We'll start to find out the next time a tired player makes a preventative withdrawal from a Masters event. Likely locations are Miami, Rome or Paris, which take place at the end of a subseason swing, as well as Shanghai, which involves a trip to Asia a few weeks after the U.S. Open.

6. Will the new Davis Cup dates encourage players to play?

New Davis Cup dates were worked out after lengthy negotiations between the ITF and the top 20 players. The ties will now take place closer to the start or end of big events -- a counterintuitive request from the players, for sure, but it's what they wanted.

The opening round is the week before Indian Wells, the quarterfinals two weeks after Wimbledon, the semifinals the week after the U.S. Open and the final the week after the World Tour Finals.

7. Is the writing on the net?

At Indian Wells this year, the tour recruited Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer to try playing with a net that had white lettering printed on it. For spectators, the effect was slightly disconcerting but subtle. But what about the players?

"I'm no fan of such exercises, you know," said Federer afterward. "I think it plays with the visual aspect of our game. The only way I would see this working is if they put it through the TV -- players don't see it, only the fans at home.

"I just don't think it's necessary to try out so many different new things. I don't think tennis is that boring or that bad to have to put banners and stuff all over the court."

According to Dent, the plan has been approved and the "technical points" will be worked out in Shanghai.

8. What happens after Mercedes drives off?

Mercedes-Benz ends its 12-year, multimillion-dollar sponsorship of the ATP at the end of this year. It's a loss for the tour, but it still appears to be in reasonable shape with deals involving South African Airways, Stanford Financial, Enel and Ricoh.

Dent confirms that the tour is looking to add one more major sponsor.

9. What will be the political fallout of this year's conflicts?

The ATP won a potentially devastating lawsuit from organizers of the downgraded Hamburg event, but there are still leftovers from the conflict. The tournament is appealing the verdict, and the ATP has filed for Hamburg to pay its multimillion-dollar legal expenses from the first court hearing. The ex-Masters tournament is now slated to become a 500 event, though until recently it had yet to confirm it would accept its new spot in the calendar.

But a bigger factor going forward could be the increased involvement of the players in the tour's business decisions. Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic are now all on the Player Council, which in turn elects three regionally divided player representatives to the 10-person ATP Board. (Three tournament representatives and the ATP Chairman make up the rest of the members.)

Having the world's top three on the player council gives it -- and their board representatives -- a lot more clout at the corporate level and could have a significant effect on the future priorities of the ATP.

Previously, there had also been a feeling that player board reps tended to ignore the players' views. That is less likely to happen now. The European representative is actually a current touring pro, Ivan Ljubicic -- a direct channel of communication between players and administrators. Former pro Justin Gimelstob represents the Americas and former ATP communications director Iggy Jovanovic is listed as the international rep.

10. Who will be the new ATP CEO/Chairman?

The hope is to have the position filled before next year. A surprise candidate could emerge, but Paul McNamee, Brad Drewett, and now, Arlen Kantarian appear to be leading contenders to fill one or both of de Villiers' positions. Butch Buccholz has also said he would consider the role(s).

The feeling among the players seems to be that at least one of the positions should go to a tennis insider this time, and the Europeans would prefer a non-American.

Kamakshi Tandon is a freelance tennis writer for ESPN.com.