Sensational rumours of a tennis breakaway tour emerge but could it become a reality?

Kevin Palmer
2023 ATP Next Gen Finals in Saudi Arabia
2023 ATP Next Gen Finals in Saudi Arabia

The tennis grapevine is filling with rumours of a move that could result in the biggest shake-up in the sport in several generations.

There have been reports for several months suggesting Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) is keen to make a major move into tennis, after their successes working in football, boxing, golf and other major sports.

The ATP’s Next Gen Finals are taking place in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, this week as eight of the game’s best young players compete for huge prize money.

Now there are renewed suggestions that the Saudis could have an even bigger role to play in the future of sport than previously envisaged.

The ATP is rumoured to be weighing up the prospect of hosting a 10th ATP Masters 1000 event in Saudi Arabia, which could take place in the run-up to the first Grand Slam of the year, the Australian Open in Melbourne.

That would leave the warm-up events in Australia in danger, with the prize money and ranking points on offer for a Masters event in Saudi Arabia certain to ensure all the game’s top player would make that event their priority at the start of the year.

Now there are rumours that the PIF may be considering wider moves in tennis, by launching a breakaway tour that would include all four Grand Slam events.

Journalist Jon Wertheim from the Tennis Channel has sparked a debate on X (formerly Twitter) by amplifying the gossip that has been mentioned on numerous occasions in recent months.

The suggestion is that the four Grand Slams – Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open – could form the central part of a new-look tour that would feature 10 Masters series events, including an extra tournament in Saudi Arabia.

The nine Masters 1000 events would be ‘bought out’ and added to the new-look breakaway tour, according to the rumours being reported in America.

Wertheim suggests that would leave the ATP and WTA Tours overseeing minor events on the tennis calendar, in what would be a huge blow to their future plans.

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The game’s leading players would presumably need to be consulted and in support of any such plan, which would doubtless have the huge financial backing of the PIF.

The presence of Novak Djokovic and Carlos Alcaraz in Saudi Arabia for a lucrative exhibition match on December 26th highlights the interest of the game’s top players to take part in events in the state, despite some suggestions from former players that their human rights record should be considered before tennis commits too much to a new venture.

There are now suggestions that the WTA Finals will be played in the Saudi capital Riyadh next year, but that has yet to be confirmed.

“For me, I would prefer not to go to Saudi Arabia to play the WTA Finals,” said tennis legend Chris Evert when it appeared the 2023 end-of-season finals on the women’s tour were headed for the Arab state.

“I would prefer the WTA not to go to Saudi Arabia. Obviously, they have human rights issues, just the way they treat women. I would be against it, but I don’t have a vote.”

Tennis great John McEnroe also gave his balanced view on the prospect of tennis accepting huge investment from Saudi Arabia, as he is also against the plan.

“A lot of the people … are hypocrites that sit around and say that golf or tennis shouldn’t go there while tons of businesses and tons of these people that you know about, including our government and many, many others, go there and do business,” he said. 

“All of a sudden it’s outrageous that sports athletes do it. Having said that, I wouldn’t do it. I don’t think our sport needs it.

“I don’t think it would benefit from it, and I don’t think we should do it, personally. But as (Chris Evert) said, it’s not up to us. Someone else is going to make that decision. I don’t understand why we’re going in that direction.”

If the rumours reported by the Tennis Channel journalist are accurate, it seems tennis and Saudi Arabia could be closely linked in the years to come and that may concern some of the established governing bodies who currently have control of the game’s leading tournaments.

Of course, these rumours could also be floated as a way to ensure the ATP and WTA open the door to Saudi investment, with the PIF’s eagerness to make a huge impact on the global sporting stage showing no sign of waning.