ATP chief warns against ‘civil war’ in tennis amid radical breakaway tour rumours

ATP chief Andrea Gaudenzi with Carlos Alcaraz

The threat of a breakaway tennis tour has been floated in recent weeks, with Saudi Arabian money rumoured to be ready to fund what could be the biggest change 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 its successes working in football, boxing, golf and other major sports.

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.

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.

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The nine Masters 1000 events would be ‘bought out’ and added to the new-look breakaway tour.

Now ATP Tour chief Andrea Gaudenzi has offered up his feisty response to those rumours, as he insisted the notion of a breakaway featuring the four Grand Slam events would not be realistic in the current tennis set-up.

When asked whether he was fearful of a breakaway tour by The National, he suggested closing alignment between the men’s and women’s tour along with Grand Slam event organisers would be the way to move the sport forward.

“I think that generally there is a lot of noise in that regard,” he said when asked about a breakaway tour.

“Ultimately, whatever was written in that article, it’s definitely the concept of focusing on a premium product, which will mean the Slams and the Masters and the premium product, all together combined, is a very powerful proposition for the consumers. That I agree with 100 per cent.

“Obviously, I don’t know, different people probably come up with different ideas on how to get there.

“I’m 100 per cent pro unity and pro finding solutions through conversations in a room. I strongly believe we can agree a lot more than we actually believe, when you’re together,” said Gaudenzi.

“Because ultimately we are aligned. We are all pushing for tennis to be stronger and growing, vis-à-vis the other sports and vis-à-vis the other entertainment properties. So we’re on the same side, we’re on the same team – that’s team tennis. Having civil war doesn’t help.”

Money talks in sport and with Saudi Arabia eager to make a big impact in tennis, tennis needs to move quickly to find a solution to their interest.

Gaudenzi suggests that will mean closer ties with the nation as he looks to embrace the opportunity they are offering.

“We are exploring a number of different opportunities” with Saudi Arabia, said Gaudenzi.

“We want to work with Saudi. I think we had very good relations the last couple of years and very interesting discussions.

“They have expressed the willingness and the desire to do more in sport and in tennis. I think the biggest challenge on our side is the calendar. In all honesty, it’s very tight, it’s very jammed.

“But the desire for us to actually be here and be in the region, because we value the Middle East a lot, is there.

“I think we’re going to have to work it out together in phases or we’re looking at all opportunities. We don’t have the solutions at the moment, but we’re definitely going to keep discussing with all the parties.”