SBJ/October 19 - 25, 1998/No Topic Name

New ATP rules trouble for tourneys

Men's professional tennis may feel a modest earthquake in the next few years, as several tournaments are eliminated because of ATP Tour ranking and scheduling changes.

Already, the $870,000 Pilot Pen Championships in New Haven, Conn., and the $714,250 Advanta Championships in Philadelphia have been shut down, and others could soon follow.

At stake are millions of dollars invested by the organizers of these tournaments — mostly midsized events designed as buildups to majors such as the U.S. Open and Wimbledon. In New Haven, for example, the tournament leaves behind the world's third-largest tennis stadium, built in 1991 to attract the event. A new women's tournament that started this year will remain, however.

At issue are new ATP rules designed to pare the often confusing and commonly conflicting potpourri of tournaments and the byzantine method by which tour rankings are calculated.

Starting in 2000, players will be required to play the four Grand Slams, plus the nine major tournaments that make up the Mercedes Super 9. An additional five tournaments can then be counted toward their rankings.

Previously, players could skip Grand Slams and Mercedes Super 9 events and use more of the 60-odd lower-level tournaments like New Haven for their rankings. Since only a handful of these smaller tournaments will now count, the number of players willing to play in them could diminish.

"There's some controversy among some directors who feel it may have an impact," said Charles Pasarell, who manages a Mercedes Super 9 event in Indian Wells, Calif., the Newsweek Champions Cup. "I don't think it will impact the players' schedules."

The ATP is also close to requiring that by 2001 at least one week must separate each Mercedes Super 9 event. This will play havoc with smaller tournaments that now occupy weeks that some Super 9 events will have to move to. This pending rule change convinced New Haven's organizers that their event could not last.

"It would have caused us problems if the schedule would have been moved," said Mike Davies, tournament director for the Pilot Pen, which sold its tournament status to a group in Kitzbuhel, Austria. "Our decision was based on the probability of that happening."

The Pilot Pen tournament lost $1 million this year and last, although officials expected to turn a profit by 2000. But it would have been economically devastated by sharing its week with a Super 9 event — most likely the $2.45 million Greater American Insurance ATP Championships in Cincinnati, which follows days after the $2.45 million du Maurier Open Classic in Montreal, another Super 9 event.

The Austrian group paid $1.7 million for the New Haven event, which leaves behind $2 million of debt. Davies will return to help manage the women's event, which is also sponsored by Pilot Pen.

Other tournament directors, however, may not be so lucky. At Indianapolis' RCA Championships, the ATP changes could prove similarly unkind. This year the event shared its week with New Haven, and next year it is scheduled to share the same week with the $700,000 Legg Mason Classic in Washington, D.C., one week before the U.S. Open.

But if the Greater American event moves to that time slot, it could prove disastrous for Indianapolis.

"It is hard to reconcile the restructuring with our point of view [if] it would require our week to move," said Robert MacGill, president of the $1.04 million RCA Championships. "We have a very valuable event and a very valuable scheduling of our event and have invested on that basis."

The ATP Tour insists it has bent over backward to protect smaller tournaments, but its officials say they had to act in the best interest of the game.

"What we are saying is we expect the top players to play the top events. That is what surveys and television have been telling us," said Graeme Agars, communications director for the men's tour.

"We don't think this will disadvantage the Championships and [World] Series events," he added, referring to the two lowest orders of men's tournaments. "There will always be give and take with the tournaments."

Players participate in roughly 18 to 22 events a year and will be required, on top of their Grand Slam and Super 9 requirements, to play four Championship series events, the classification for the events in New Haven and Indianapolis. That leaves little room for the very small World Series events.

The tour this year established a $5 million buyback fund to acquire tournaments and retire them. The tour has already bought back five events and expects to buy back as many as five more in the next few years.

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