Tennis

Roger Federer's call for merger of men's, women's pro tours gains wide support among tennis stars

Roger Federer began a string of posts on Twitter by saying the shutdown of tennis because of the coronavirus outbreak has given the sport an ideal opportunity to assess its future.

Tennis Canada says move could create myriad opportunities to grow sport

Roger Federer says its time for the ATP and WTA, the governing bodies of men's and women's tennis, respectively, to merge. (Associated Press)

Roger Federer made a plea for women's tennis equality on Wednesday, calling for the merger of the two gender-specific governing bodies that oversee the sport's professional tours.

The 20-time Grand Slam champion, who is recovering from knee surgery while sports around the world have been shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic, expressed his opinion in a string of posts on Twitter.

"Am I the only one thinking that now is the time for men's and women's tennis to be united and come together as one?" Federer wrote, sparking a flurry of responses from fans and fellow players.

The professional era in tennis started in 1968, and the ATP was founded in 1972 and has run the men's game since. The WTA was founded in 1973, uniting the women's professional game into one tour.

The idea proposed by Federer, and others before him, would be to combine the two into a single body that deals with both men and women.

The social media posts were met with plenty of enthusiastic replies, including from Rafael Nadal and some of the world's top female players.

"As you know per our discussions," Nadal, a winner of 19 Grand Slams, wrote to Federer, "I completely agree that it would be great to get out of this world crisis with the union of men's and women's tennis in one only organisation."

'One voice … has long been by vision for tennis'

Simona Halep and Garbine Muguruza, both recent Wimbledon champions, also gave the thumbs-up to Federer's idea.

So did Billie Jean King, the American great who founded the WTA and tried unsuccessfully to unite the men's and women's tours that decade.

"I agree, and have been saying so since the early 1970s. One voice, women and men together, has long been my vision for tennis," King tweeted in reply to Federer. "The WTA on its own was always Plan B. I'm glad we are on the same page. Let's make it happen."

There has never been a united tennis tour, but male and female players do play at the same tournaments several times each year, including at the four Grand Slam tournaments.

Much of the season, however, it completely separate.

"It's too confusing for the fans when there are different ranking systems, different logos, different websites, different tournament categories," Federer said in a response to a reader's comment.

Ex-WTA chief exec previously called for merger

He emphasized he was "not talking about merging competition on the court" but rather the two governing bodies.

"These are tough times in every sport," Federer said, "and we can come out of this with 2 weakened bodies or 1 stronger body."

Former WTA chief executive Anne Worcester called for a merger of the men's and women's tours in an interview with Forbes this month.

Tennis Canada sees opportunity

Tennis Canada said a merger could create myriad opportunities to grow the sport moving forward.

"Uniformity of rules, denomination, fan-friendly access, increased influence, increased commercial force," a spokesperson for Tennis Canada said Wednesday in an email to CBC Sports. "Any idea to improve the world-wide governance of our sport by re-uniting, by bringing international bodies together to join forces, we believe is a good idea and we should pay attention to it. Tennis should not be competing with tennis, but with other sports and entertainment out here."

The national sport organization said a merger would give rise to Canadian tennis star-power.

"Our Canadian stars are also stars of their respective Tours, each trying to maximize exposure separately. A merge can only better contribute to their stardom globally, which is a great news for the promotion of tennis back here in Canada." 

The spokesperson said a merger would also help close the gender-equity gap still existing in tennis.

"There could still be hurdles, but it would probably be a step in the right direction," they wrote to CBC Sports.

All professional tennis has been suspended until at least mid-July because of the coronavirus pandemic, plunging the sport into financial problems because of a loss of income from things like ticket sales and media rights.

The 38-year-old Federer had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee in February. The Swiss great had planned to be sidelined for at least four months before the outbreak suspended sports around the world. He has tweeted videos of himself practicing during the pandemic.

with files from Devin Heroux

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