No Love in This Match The WTA is coping with a players' revolt while wooing a new sponsor

February 09, 1998

These are schizophrenic times for women's tennis. Television
ratings and attendance at events are at an alltime high; prize
money has more than doubled since 1989; and the game's stable of
young, marketable personalities has never been bigger. Yet
disarray threatens the stability of the sport's governing body,
the WTA.

In December the WTA named Ric Clarson, the PGA Tour's vice
president of business affairs, as its new CEO. That concluded a
yearlong search that was fraught with political infighting,
during which several WTA board members were rejected as
candidates. But after accepting the $250,000-a-year position,
Clarson changed his mind the week he was set to take over,
staying instead at the PGA Tour. Left at the altar, the WTA
board scrambled to hire Bart McGuire, its longtime legal
counsel, who teaches law at Lewis and Clark College in Portland.

One of McGuire's most urgent assignments is to find a sponsor to
replace Corel, a Canadian software firm that lost nearly $250
million last year and recently announced plans not to renew its
four-year, $12 million contract after 1998. "The tour has set a
negotiating floor of $8 million a year with the next corporate
partner," says a WTA insider. "That pays for all our
administrative costs. We're in big trouble without it."

The quest for a new sponsor is hampered by fallout from a failed
coup attempt in the WTA Tour Players Association. Last fall a
number of rank-and-file players led by association president
Patricia Hy-Boulais and treasurer Linda Wild (ranked 67th and
250th, respectively) convened a meeting and voted out much of
the association's board. Upset by rules that favor top players
and a dearth of tournament opportunities for lower-ranked
players, the cabal installed a slate of board members--including
Hy-Boulais's husband and Wild's stepfather--more sympathetic to
their interests.

Enraged by a maneuver that flouted the organization's bylaws, a
group of top-ranked players, including Martina Hingis, Monica
Seles and Steffi Graf, filed suit against the coup's architects.
In December a state supreme court justice in New York City
granted the plaintiffs a preliminary injunction, restoring the
supplanted board members and ordering a 60-day mediation period
for the two sides to resolve their differences. Nevertheless, at
last week's Australian Open, the dissidents were unable to reach
an accord with the plaintiffs. The dispute will go before a
judge later this month.

In Melbourne there were rumors that the top players might form a
tour of their own that would feature smaller draws and,
consequently, bigger payouts. "I don't necessarily think it will
come to that, but it's definitely doable," says Bob Kain, a
senior executive vice president at IMG, which represents most of
the game's elite players and runs some WTA tournaments.
"Historically, the top players have been very sensitive to
players lower down, but this coup woke up the sleeping giants."

COLOR PHOTO: BOB MARTIN SEE YOU IN COURT Graf joined the suit to stop the players' association coup. [Steffi Graf in game] COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ART BY NATHAN HALL/WWW.WINTERSPORTS.ORG [Drawing of 'infohut' in 'Olympic village']

DOT.COMMENTS

ADMIT IT. You'll spend two weeks camped in front of the tube for
the Winter Olympics, but when it comes to ice and snow sports,
you can't tell a triple Axel from a hit-and-roll. Here are a few
sites that can help you become a more plugged-in winter-sports
fan.

--www.luge.com
This site is devoted to a sport that dates back to the Vikings
and is much more than a cafeteria-tray thrill ride.

--www.exploratorium.edu/sports
Check out this San Francisco museum's Science of Hockey link,
which outlines the mechanics of starting, stopping and slap
shooting on ice and describes how quickly a goalie reacts to a
speeding puck.

--www.inthehack.com
Not sure of the difference between the hog line and the tee
line? This site devoted to all things curling should sweep away
any confusion.

--www.wintersports.org
Slide to the Winter Sports Foundation's site (left) for
descriptions of most Nagano events, plus details on where you
can go in the U.S. to brave the cold and try everything from
bobsledding to the biathlon.

WEB.DREAMS
sites we'd like to see

--www.2bad2play.com
Chat room for young guns left off NBA All-Star rosters.

--www.drive&drive.com
Casey Martin's home page.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)