Tennis Elbow: The mad world of the ATP

December 3, 2012 · Print This Article

Welcome to Tennis Elbow, a new column that will look back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon examines a curious decision from the ATP.

Larry Ellison is a rich man, with something like $41 billion to his name from a stake in Oracle Corporation. Because he’s a rich man, he gets to spend a lot of money if he so wishes–what else would he do with it, right?

Ellison is a rich man, and he’s also a sports fan apparently. In 2010, he came close to acquiring the floundering Golden State Warriors franchise of the NBA from then-owner Chris Cohan but missed out. Apparently, Ellison also loves tennis, not strictly basketball.

The same year that he lost out on the Warriors, he became one of the owners of the BNP Paribas Open. And really, this is where it all comes full circle–the 68-year-old has a lot of money, loves to spend it and especially on tennis, because he loves tennis.

In anticipation of the 2013 edition of the event, held March 4-17 of next year, Ellison, tournament CEO Raymond Moore and the entire BNP Paribas Open team made an offer to raise the tournament prize money by $1.6 million–half for the men, and half for the women.

What did the ATP do in November of this year? It voted not to accept the $800,000 increase, of course as three player representatives were in favour of it while the three tournament board members opposed it. The ATP explained that the increase would not be in line with ATP rules regarding prize money distribution–whatever that means, really.

There are concerns with accepting such an increase, namely that the tournament known as Indian Wells could very well become a brand new monster. But saying that is denying that the BNP Paribas already is.

Except for the four Grand Slam tournaments and the Sony Ericsson Open in Key Biscayne, Fla., the tournament is the only one on the calendar to extend beyond eight days. Its venue, the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, is the second largest tennis stadium after only Arthur Ashe Stadium, and over 370,000 visitors attended the 2012 tournament. Not only that, but there’s the matter of the prize money–with or without the $1.6 million increase. This season, Indian Wells awarded more money to any other Masters 1000 event. Meanwhile, the singles draw has 96 players–that, too, is more than most tournaments.

As you see, the Indian Wells monster is already well and alive.

Perhaps it’s to spare other tournaments. By rejecting the increased bid, perhaps the ATP wants to keep the illusion that all tournaments other than the four major ones are on a level playing field. But again, the board would be wrong and do you know why? Because only Indian Wells is run by someone with $41 billion to his name, that’s why.

In professional tennis, there are no salaries. Players must win match after match after match, because they lose money when they lose. Except for the top players, the average tennis pro must compete and win in order to make a living. Milos Raonic doesn’t earn money every match whether or not he serves 12 aces, as Alex Rodriguez does in baseball. In fact, if Raonic doesn’t serve 12 aces he just might lose, both the match and the prize money. But whether Rodriguez hits for .359 or for .221, he will still cash a cheque.

This is precisely what the $1.6 millon raise was supposed to address. The money wasn’t going to the finalist or champion, it was going to the players of the first few rounds–that is, it was going to the Kevin Andersons and Radek Stepaneks rather than the Novak Djokovics and Roger Federers.

Instead, it will stay in the rich man’s pockets. The ATP would be wise to stay on the good side of someone with, again, $41 billion to his name. When’s the last time you turned down $800,000? That’s exactly what Larry Ellison is wondering.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @CeeeBG

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