The recent Adria Tour fiasco, organized by Novak Djokovic, has highlighted the difficulties of the protocol for the resumption of the men's circuit scheduled for August 14 in Washington, in the United States. A recovery of the gentlemen on the American courts preceded on August 3 by that of the ladies. Nearly four weeks before the New York meeting of the US Open, the second Grand Slam tournament to be contested in 2020, from August 31, while hoping that the virus is only a distant and bad one remember, tennis could suffer the economic crisis by the end of the year. Global confinement will also have allowed the governance processes of this sport to be questioned and raised questions about the evolution of a very traditionalist game. What impact on the economy of the professional circuit? How will players be affected by the recession? Could ATP and WTA circuits merge? Will the doubles matches disappear for lack of interest? What about the format of the tournaments in the future? Questioned byLe Figaro , observers and actors of French tennis deliver their vision of what tennis could be like after Covid-19.
What concrete impact on the economy of professional tennis?
Top level tennis in survival mode? He will not escape shaking in the coming months. The concern is great, because the sponsors, impacted by the economic crisis, could run out. "The year 2021 may be very complicated," confirms Lionel Maltèse, lecturer at Aix-Marseille University, specializing in the economics of sport. It is a family that will be affected. Some federations may be in danger. For example, that of Canada is deprived in 2020 of its Masters 1000 and its women's tournament, which constitute 90% of its revenues. If there had been no Grand Slam this year and some Masters 1000s, it was a whole economy that could have collapsed under the domino effect. "
"It will lead to lower revenues for events, but I don't think there will be any breakage for the partners in the short and medium term ."Jean-François Caujolle
If the Grand Slams are not threatened in the short and medium term, some ATP 500 or 250 and, worse still, the challengers (2nd division) could however be wiped off the map. "Many tournaments are going to die, predicts Henri Leconte, former world number 5 and finalist in Roland-Garros 1988. They do not appear in the 2020 calendar, and I think they will not be there in 2021, because the situation financial will be untenable. "The former player and founder and director of Open 13 Provence, Jean-François Caujolle, who takes the opposite view from Michel Houellebecq, letting go:" The next world will be the same, only a little better ", believes that the global economic crisis could also have positive effects: "Even once the virus is chased, we will live a post-traumatic period with the imposed distancing. It will lead to lower revenues for events, but I do not think there will be any breakage for the partners in the short and medium term. Businesses that have suffered will need to communicate when life takes over. And partners will not have an interest in letting go of events, because, for them, sport is a showcase. "
Will doubles matches be questioned?
2013 Wimbledon winner Marion Bartoli opened the debate by proposing to reduce the prize money and the number of double tournaments to redistribute the money to singles players in difficulty on the secondary circuit. The double having become a discipline of specialists, ignored by the public and the media. If it has evolved in its format in recent years with a super tie-break in the third set, no advantage outside Grand Slam, and matches in winning sets everywhere except at Wimbledon, it has lost its meaning for the players and tournament directors. "The double is a wart in the system, loose Jean-François Caujolle. There is a selling product, the simple one, and a product, the double, which does not bring anything and which is a huge load, almost 20% of the prize money and 5% of the total budget of a tournament. Doubles players have the same advantages as singles players with no economic model behind. "
“We have to find a system to allow singles players to play more doubles, to attract more audiences. "Henri Leconte
Former world number 6 in the specialty and winner of 1985 Roland-Garros with Yannick Noah, Henri Leconte regrets: “The double is part of the history of the game, but was abandoned by singles players because of the very high cadences. We need to find a system to allow singles players to play more doubles, to attract more audiences. Because he likes double, but you need names. "The number 1 in the ranking are now Robert Farah and Juan Sebastian Cabal, who have never been in the top 150. Long gone are the days when, in 1983, John McEnroe finished world number 1 in both rankings ..." Some Double specialists barely play in singles, adds Caujolle. In my day, many singles players practiced serve-volley, and therefore naturally played double. But, today, the game has evolved, and almost no one practices this style of play. So the double has lost its interest. There are already ideas flowing: organize an exclusive day for the doubles at the start of the tournament, involve more doubles players in the events' animations, propose the broadcasting of meetings in streaming with lower production costs for the organizers.
The end of the “always more” for the top players and the best players?
For Arnaud Clément, former Davis Cup captain and finalist of the 2001 Australian Open, this crisis could well mark the end of the “always more” of the elite of very greedy players. “Everyone is going to have to make an effort if the revenue and the endowments of the tournaments decrease. Including players. For decades, there have been permanent increases in prize money in the Grand Slams and the Masters 1000. A quarter of a Grand Slam finalist now earns more than I earned as a finalist in Australia. But already in my time, we were earning much more than the generation before. We will have to prepare for it to calm down a bit. This crisis has also brought to light the abysmal differences between the “without rank” and the best. An increasingly obvious difference in the eyes of all. "The general public has understood that if you are a good player, 200th in the world, you do not necessarily earn a living," continues Clément, also director of the Open du pays d'Aix (challenger). Efforts have been made, but the gap continues to widen further. »Find a better distribution of wealth so that the pyramid of earnings is more acceptable. The work remains enormous…
Towards new formats for tournaments?
In the midst of a pandemic, Serena Williams' French coach Patrick Mouratoglou launched an independent tennis league (UTS) behind closed doors within his academy. First, there was the desire to fill a void by offering high-level tennis live, but also the desire to continue after the crisis. Played in four ten-minute quarters, the Ultimate Tennis Showdown (UTS) also aims to capture a young audience that does not necessarily know tennis, using the codes of e-sport and short formats. "There are people, attached to tradition, who will not like our concept", warned Patrick Mouratoglou. The UTS is in fact debating. Arnaud Clément welcomes the initiative, but ... "I took pleasure in looking at this as an exhibition, not like the tennis of tomorrow. It's good to offer something different. We have the right to reflect on certain developments, but there, it's a bit extreme for me (smiles). The uncertainty and beauty of tennis is linked to the length of the match. This sport is not linear. "
“I enjoyed watching it as an exhibition, not like the tennis of tomorrow. "Arnaud Clément
Jean-François Caujolle is skeptical about the content and the form: "The UTS will not mark the history of the game. I have a lot of respect for Patrick Mouratoglou and his involvement in tennis, but we will not suddenly change this sport and play it on watch. And if a test is not placed under the ATP label, it does not exist. I think that our discipline can only evolve by relying on its institutions. Tennis is aging, but it's not new. There is the strength of tradition, and let's not forget that the players are very traditionalists. If we tell Federer that we make the sets in four games or in quarter time, he will not agree. Nadal either. A certainty: if, for the moment, nothing indicates a revolution of the post-Covid circuit, this crisis will have raised questions in order to move (a little) the lines.
Will there be a fusion of male and female circuits?
With its different entities (Grand Slam Committee, ITF, ATP and WTA), tennis remains difficult to govern. Can this sport finally speak with one voice? For the time being, no key leader is emerging. "Tennis is an individual sport and there is always a lot of individualism in the authorities, with divergent interests", notes Arnaud Clément. With a simple tweet, Roger Federer had mentioned the fusion of the female and male circuits (WTA and ATP). Henri Leconte imagines a simplified calendar: “We should already stop loading the calendar permanently. The creation of the ATP Cup (team competitions in early January in Australia, editor's note) has only made it heavier. The merger of the WTA and ATP seems to me a good idea. This could allow for a better organized and less tortuous program. If we put men and women in the same tournaments, it brings more visibility and partners. This will increase male and female tennis. "
Jean-François Caujolle likes the idea, but moderates: “This crisis has made a positive thing possible with a general regrouping. We got together. The players, the promoters, the Grand Slams, the ATP and the WTA got closer. But there will be no merger. Women's tennis is not structured like its male counterpart. However, we could have more mixed tournaments. The idea is to defend the general interest of tennis with one voice. Then there are special interests, and it is good that there are different structures. A mixed circuit is therefore not (a priori) for tomorrow.
- "Of course I miss Wimbledon," admits Federer