What Better Time For Men’s and Women’s Tennis To Come Together, Suggests Federer

WASHINGTON, April 23, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

When Roger Federer tweets, people listen up and respond. At 1:28 p.m. (CEST) Wednesday afternoon, unsolicited, Federer asked his 12.7 million Twitter followers a simple question: “Just wondering, 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?”

Talk about a mic drop moment.

Immediately, it sparked a flurry of responses from Federer’s fellow professionals and his fans. As of Wednesday night, Federer’s original tweet had been liked nearly 44,000 times and received more than 4,000 retweets.

With one straightforward tweet, the 38-year-old Federer’s plea for tennis equality between the ATP and WTA, calling for the merger of the two gender-specific governing bodies of tennis, not only became trending on social media, it became the No. 1 tennis topic of the day among players as well as amidst tennis fans and the media who follow the sport.

Since the beginning of the Open Era of tennis, which began in 1968, the men’s ATP was founded in 1972 while the women’s WTA began a year later. The two separate bodies have run the men’s and women’s tours, respectively, and in more recent years there have been an increasing number of cross-over events beyond the Grand Slams, such as the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif., the Miami Open, and the Mutua Madrid Open. There are also annual cross-over events in Rome, Washington, D.C., and Cincinnati, Ohio.

While Federer’s suggestion came as a surprise, especially after men’s and women’s tennis have been run as separate entities for decades, it received positive support six weeks into the coronavirus pandemic lockdown – a global health crisis that has shut down pro tennis. For the first time since 1945, Wimbledon has been cancelled and there will be no tennis competition until at least July 13.

Soon, after his original post began to gain traction, Federer added: “I am picturing a merger between the WTA and ATP. I am not talking about merging competition on the court, but merging the two governing bodies (ATP and WTA) that oversee the men’s and women’s professional tours. It probably should have happened a long time ago, but maybe now is really the time. These are tough times in every sport and we can come out of this with two weakened bodies or one stronger body.”

Of course, merging the ATP and WTA into one governing body is easier said than done. Among the things that would require combining include: the ranking systems, schedules, and the rules of each governing body. Also, as Kevin Mitchell of The Guardian of London reminded everyone: “The existing hierarchies will take some persuading to vote themselves out of high office, for a start, whatever the passing observations of a universally admired legend of the game who has won 20 majors and whose opinion carries probably more weight than that of any other player.”

Regardless, the response from Federer’s peers on both the ATP and WTA tours was tremendous. Among them, Rafael Nadal, wrote to Federer via Twitter: “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 organization.”

Carrying over their Instagram Live rapport that began Monday evening, the two greats of the men’s game – not surprisingly – were thinking on the same page.

Federer also received positive, thumbs-up support from current and former Wimbledon champions Simona Halep and Garbiñe Muguruza. Also, Nick Kyrgios was an instant supporter of the Swiss maestro, quickly tweeting a simple “Yes,” and Judy Murray, mother of Andy and Jamie Murray, approved of Federer’s remarks. She posted a #strongertogether hashtag in reposting his tweet.

In reply to Federer, Hall of Fame great Billie Jean King, who founded the WTA, tweeted in reply to Federer: “I agree, and have been saying so since the early 1970s. One voice, women and men together, has long been my vision for tennis. The WTA on its own was always Plan B. I’m glad we are on the same page. Let’s make it happen.”

Christopher Clarey, tennis correspondent for The New York Times, wrote on Twitter: “For someone like Federer to float this publicly gives it heft. One of tennis’s great strengths has been that it was way ahead of the curve when it came to me and women sharing the same stages. It’s part of its identity. This would only accentuate that. Has long made a lot of sense.”

During Wednesday’s broadcast of Tennis Channel Live in the United States, tennis writer and analyst Jon Wertheim commented: “I think the fact that this was Roger Federer, who doesn’t cavalierly hop around hot takes is really significant. … As far as merging tours, I think it’s a no-brainer. … Credit to Roger Federer and to Billie Jean King for saying it 50 years before. I say, Let’s get this done.”

Hall of Famer Andy Roddick, also appearing on Tennis Channel Live, said: “I think the ideology of it is undefeated. Yet, here we are with two separate tours. For my mind, I think this whole vision of unity is great; it sounds amazing. If you’re the ATP and the WTA, is there a way where your combination leverages an asset? So therefore, you can ask for more in a TV deal so that everyone wins in a financial stake? … Can it work for everyone? After all, at the end of the day, we are all participants in the business of tennis.”

Arguably, having the most high-profile tennis players in support of the ATP and WTA tours merging means a lot, and leveraging the current unity that the tours are sharing and enjoying during this time of global pandemic is a worthwhile pursuit. But, like David Law asked Wednesday evening during a special edition of The Tennis Podcast, “Why has it taken until now, during a global pandemic and 50 years after Billie Jean King first proposed the idea, for some of the top men to get behind it?” Good questions that deserve a meaningful discussion and a proper response. Indeed, how likely is it that a merger can actually happen?

Whether Federer’s pipe dream becomes a reality remains to be seen. It won’t happen in a fortnight. But, at least let’s see the governing bodies sit down together during the sport’s downtime and have a serious discussion about it. It’s about time.