SBJ/May 20 - 26, 2002/Opinion

ATP scheduling needs to get its act together

The ATP plans to fine the world's most recognized male tennis player, Andre Agassi, for skipping the Tennis Masters Series Hamburg, which was set to end on Sunday. It's one of 10 Masters Series event, the most prestigious and lucrative tournaments outside the four Grand Slam extravaganzas. ATP rules call for fining uninjured players who skip a Masters Series event.

Agassi begged off from the tournament, citing scheduling. But it's just as likely that he needed a rest after unexpectedly winning the Italian Open. The French Open, the real gem of the European season, begins next Monday. The impending fine, perhaps no more than just an annoying little detail in Agassi's annual expenses, coupled with the lure of Hamburg's prize money, together are no match for the draw of the red clay of Paris.

So, while it's hard to defend athletes who can't find the motivation to play, perhaps the culprit lies elsewhere.

Instead of fining Agassi, the ATP should get its house in order. Squeezing Hamburg between the Italian Open and the French Open might be good economy when considering airfare and time, but it might not produce the best tennis for players and fans.

The sport is not served if after winning a big tournament a star player is compelled to drop out, or if the rigors of back-to-back scheduling results in that star being eliminated in an early round.

For Agassi, if a week's extra rest helps him advance further in the French Open, then the fine would be well worth it. For the ATP, however, it's hard to stage big events without big stars. All four North American Masters Series events are scheduled back-to-back, two in March and two during the summer. Tennis will never rise beyond its second-tier status in this country without addressing its scheduling problems.

SportsBusiness Journal

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