Tennis is a sport. But its business model if more like that of several different concert tours crisscrossing the globe. Many sports involve hometown and regional pride at a far greater rate than tennis. World Team Tennis and competitions such as Davis Cup are exceptions to this model. Indianapolis ceased to operate an ATP Tournament in part due to Andy Roddick missing the 2008 and 2009 editions of the event.* Hometown stars and compatriots help sell seats at various stops on these tours, but tennis does not have a series of home and away matches. Regional rivalries such as that between Boston and LA in the 1980s NBA do not exist in tennis.
From my experience of seeing Masters Cincinnati from qualifying rounds to the championship weekend, if tennis can sell enough tickets and generate enough advertising revenue on television and apps, it is profitable. Cincinnati can make this work for 10-14 days every summer and then on to the next stops on the tours where other cities try to do the same thing.
A Look at the WTA and ATP Season Finale Fields
WTA Finalists – Aryna Sabalenka (Belarus), Barbora Krejcikova (Czech Republic), Karolina Pliskova (Czech Republic), Maria Sakkari (Greece), Iga Swiatek (Poland), Garbine Muguruza (Spain), Paula Badosa (Spain), and Anett Kontaveit (Estonia) [World #1 Ash Barty (Australia) is not playing]
ATP Finalists – Novak Djokovic (Serbia), Daniil Medvedev (Russia), Stefanos Tsitsipas (Greece), Alexander Zverev (Germany), Andrey Rublev (Russia), Matteo Berrettini (Italy), Casper Ruud (Norway), and Hubert Hurkacz (Poland) [Rafael Nadal (Spain) is not playing].
On the face of it, 9 of the 16 finalists come from Eastern European nations (Some of these countries could be labeled as Central European and Russia is a Eurasian nation so I am over simplifying a bit) Rafael Nadal and Ash Barty would push these numbers to 9 of 18.
But in addition to those 9 players, Alexander Zverev’s parents were both born in and played tennis for the Soviet Union. Stefanos Tsitsipas’s mother is Russian. Denis Shapavolov, Sofia Kenin, Seb Korda, and Milos Raonic among others do not claim Eastern or Central European countries for citizenship but have family ties that are not terribly distant from Eastern or Central Europe as well.
Simona Halep is one of several strong Romanians in the professional ranks. Bianca Andreescu and Emma Raducanu have ties to Romania as well. It would be easy to make a list of champions currently playing and from tennis lore who claim citizenship or have roots in Eastern and Central European countries.**
Where are the Big Events in Eastern or Central Europe?
All of the ATP’s Masters 1000 events take place in either Western Europe, North America, or Shanghai. The Grand Slams are pretty well locked into Australia, France, the UK, and the USA. Yet, would Madrid have a Masters 1000 if not for the waves of great Spanish champions on the men’s side? I would be foolish to claim that fans in Prague would automatically warm up to Russian players, but champions from Spain made a 1000-level event make sense in Spain. Should big events be held in other places that have produced a lot of champions?
The WTA did a great job of promoting the Transylvania Open, but it is not on the level of WTA events in Cincinnati, Madrid, or Beijing. The Kremlin Cup has good tradition. Umag in Croatia has a nice spot after Wimbledon. The Serbian Open enjoys Novak Djokovic’s support. But …
If Novak Djokovic holds 20 majors and the most Masters 1000 shields, if champions from Ivan Lendl to Marat Safin were born east of the Iron Curtain, why is there not a Masters 1000 in one of these countries?
Some answers may surround contracts with existing Masters 1000 events. Some answers may be found in the currencies of the host nations of current Masters 1000 events being more solid. Some answers are found in corporate sponsorship. Still, if 50% of the WTA & ATP finalists hail from Eastern and Central Europe, there should be prestigious tournaments that have large impacts on world rankings held in those parts of the world.
Maybe the ATP and WTA could have a large series of 500 level events in this cradle of tennis talent.
What do you think? Should the tours make more of an effort to feature the countries a lot of their top draws call home?
*Roddick sold a lot of tickets to Indy as did Agassi and Sampras before him along with a host of faster surface loving Europeans such as Boris Becker and Goran Ivanisevic. Indy was fading when more European stars preferred to only play Cincinnati and Canada to prepare for the US Open. Roddick’s absence only slightly hastened its demise.
** Martina Navratilova, Hana Mandlikova, Helena Sukova, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Maria Sharapova, Ana Ivanovic, Elena Dementieva, Victoria Azarenka, and Petra Kvitova quickly come to mind on the WTA side. Ivan Lendl, Miloslav Mecir, Goran Ivanisevic, Andrey Medvedev, Yevgeny Kafelnikov, Petr Korda, and Marat Safin quickly come to mind on the ATP side.