Thursday October 27th, 2011

Roger Federer beat Rafael Nadal to win his fifth title at the ATP World Tour Finals. (Zumapress)

Last week's Toss featured a debate on the success of two 30-year-old greats in 2012, Roger Federer and Serena Williams. Readers voted Serena as more likely win a major in 2012.

This week, Stuart Fraser, a freelance sports writer based in Scotland, joins Courtney Nguyen to break down the likelihood of a combined men's and women's year-end final.

Today’s Toss: Should the ATP and WTA year-end championships be combined into a joint event?

Courtney Nguyen: Thanks for joining me this week, Stuart. WTA CEO Stacey Allaster announced this week that talks have been held with the ATP about combining their year-end championships into a joint event. You opened up some discussion about the prospect on Twitter, but I thought it would be interesting to discuss the issue outside the 140-character-limit confines. So away we go.

Let me start by saying that there are some significant roadblocks to getting both Tours on board for a combined event. Most notably, the men's season is longer than the women's, which makes the prospect of synching the Tours' calendars difficult. As it stands, the men finish four weeks after the women, though that will move down to two weeks starting in 2012 when the men's season is shortened. Additionally, trying to coordinate any significant changes with the ITF schedule for Davis Cup and Fed Cup may result in a standstill.

That said, a joint championship would be a great solution to two problems that currently exist within each Tour. We've all heard the griping from the men about the length of their season, while the women have been quite content with their two-month offseason since the implementation of the WTA's Roadmap in 2009. If the WTA can hold the line and refuse to move its Championships, the top guys would get what they want: a season that finishes around the end of October/beginning of November, giving them a proper offseason.

Meanwhile, the WTA has to love the prospect of attaching its product to the ATP's whenever it gets the chance. This is particularly true as a new generation of players begins to fill the top ranks and the WTA can no longer rely on Serena Williams, Kim Clijsters and Venus Williams as marquee players during the Championships. Caroline Wozniacki, Victoria Azarenka, Samantha Stosur, Petra Kvitova. Though all are top players, they don't hold the same star power as the men's best and are unlikely to move tickets at the moment. A great solution is to give these players a platform to perform on a stage with an existing captive audience. A joint year-end championships would do just that, allowing the WTA to leverage the power of the ATP's Golden Era to increase exposure.

Lastly, it would simply be good for tennis. A combined event would lend finality to the season and draw more eyes on the sport. It's effectively the second week of a Slam that can help retain some of the momentum gained at the U.S. Open and propel the game toward the Australian Open. It's a win for tennis.

Stuart Fraser: Hi, Courtney. Thanks for allowing me the chance to weigh in here as, you're right, the 140-character limit on Twitter can be constraining at times and limit debate. The possibility of a combined ATP and WTA year-end championships is an intriguing idea, but one that I am not sure is feasible or necessary.

As you mention, the difficulty that first springs to mind is how to schedule it. Although the gap in start dates between the two events will go down next year from four weeks to two, the ATP had to work extremely hard to reduce the length of the 2012 season and I'm not too sure that the Tour will be able to reduce it any more to align it with the WTA Championships. The WTA may consider putting it back if there is a chance of combining it with the ATP, as the benefits for the women far outweigh those for the men. The ATP would undoubtedly hold the bargaining power in any negotiations.

But even if scheduling difficulties are worked out, I am not convinced of the merits in holding a combined year-end championships. They can be hugely successful as separate entities. The ATP World Tour Finals have proved a major hit since they moved to the O2 Arena in London in 2009, and although they are still in their early days, the WTA Championships appear to have made a great choice in moving to Istanbul, with crowd figures on the first day being very impressive compared to those in Doha last year. If they can be successful on their own in separate weeks, why combine?

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It's true that the WTA may experience an even bigger audience if it were to combine with the ATP, but do the men really need the women? The ATP Finals are hugely successful already, and I am not sure the men's Tour would be keen on sharing the focus of the audience with the WTA if there are no substantial benefits gained. You also have to wonder if the ATP would lose money, as revenue from tickets and TV and sponsorship rights would surely have to be shared.

I also enjoy the fact that all the action in that one week at the end of the season is held on the same court. If you were to combine the event with the WTA, then there would have to be another court to accommodate the extra matches. It would be a shame, but this would undoubtedly mean that doubles would lose its rare chance to be in the spotlight.

Nguyen: Whether the men need the women is a fair question. Right now the answer is no, and maybe that's an impediment to the deal. The ATP is as popular as it has ever been and with Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, its marketability needs no boost (nor would it get a boost) from the WTA. There would have to be something in the deal to make it worthwhile for the ATP. But with the growing commitment to Asia by both Tours, one would think that a combined year-end tournament could net a significant investment, resulting in increased prize money. More money and a shorter season? The men would be crazy to say no.

As to your point about pushing aside doubles, why not make it a 10-day event? That would allow matches to be played across two weekends (when people are actually free to attend), and it would give everyone an equal spotlight.

Besides, fans love seeing the men and women compete side-by-side, and the Tours are used to it. The joint nature of Indian Wells and Miami add to the prestige and excitement of the events, and Cincinnati and Rome are two tournaments that have benefited from recently going to a joint tournament.

Do the players or the Tour benefit directly from combining? Maybe not. But the sport on the whole greatly benefits when more people are watching, and I have no doubt that a combined event would bring greater attention to the event and thus grow the sport. The more tennis fans, the better.

Fraser: There is no doubt that there are a number of tennis fans who would like to see a combined year-end championships.  The prospect of seeing Wozniacki vs. Sharapova followed by Nadal vs. Djokovic would be an enticing one for many.  But there are also other fans who are only keen on men's or women's tennis, and have little interest in seeing both alongside each other.

The possibility of a 10-day event is an interesting proposition.  But I am not sure there is scope in the current ATP calendar for this.  In reducing the schedule by two weeks in 2012 and 2013, the ATP was forced to schedule the Paris Masters for the week immediately preceding the Tour Finals.  It seems having a 10-day event would add another week back onto the calendar for those competing in the Davis Cup final, which is scheduled the week immediately following the Tour Finals this year. If Paris, the Tour Finals and Davis Cup final are held on consecutive weeks, there's really no way to squeeze a 10-day event in the middle.

But aside from having to completely alter the schedule, I am still not fully convinced of the merits of holding a combined end-of-season event.  I think both Tours benefit from having separate exposure for their respective year-end championships.  Look at this week, for example.  The WTA owns the tennis headlines across the world.  If a combined event were to take place, I think the women would be overshadowed -- as recent history tells us that the ATP makes up the majority of the column inches.

Combined events can work, as we have seen at the Grand Slams and some of the regular Tour events.  However, I just can't see a combined year-end championships taking place in the near future.  The WTA may want it, but the ATP already has a hugely successful product in the Tour Finals and I can't see it tinkering with the format to accommodate the WTA. But perhaps I will be proved wrong ...

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