Kim Clijsters reopens debate about potential WTA-ATP merger

(Photo by Roy Rochlin/Getty Images)
(Photo by Roy Rochlin/Getty Images) /

A potential merger between the WTA and ATP tours has been bandied about for years. Kim Clijsters spoke with Reuters news service recently that the WTA-ATP merger should definitely happen. And the move would make sense, especially to fans.

One aspect of the merger would be combined events, meaning men and women would participate at the same tournament. No, this does not mean men competing against men, but it means sharing the limelight of the tournament. For instance, a late-night center court marquee match might feature Iga Swiatek versus Elena Rybakina instead of Stefanos Tsitsipas against Jannik Sinner.

Tennis’s audience is fairly evenly between men and women so sharing center court makes sense. It would also make sense to have prize money awarded equally to the winner on the men’s side and the women’s side, but not all tournaments do this. It simply makes the game stronger if a fan shows up to a tournament and sees high-level play from men and women instead of one or the other.

How real is a possible WTA-ATP merger?

As Clijsters told Reuters, “Would I like to see (a WTA-ATP merger)? Yeah, I think it would make the brand so much stronger. A lot of times to the outside world people automatically assume that it is one organisation. You know what I mean? Like people who don’t know much about tennis, they say, ‘Oh yea, ATP and WTA’, but behind it there’s one unit.’ But that’s, you know, far from that.”

A few years ago, all-time great Roger Federer posted on Twitter that he would like to see the WTA and ATP merge into one governing body. There were many who agreed, but several others, including Nick Kyrgios, seemed to disagree. But Federer is correct.

Plus, Federer’s post, which seems perfectly clear, appeared to confuse many who read it, potentially Kyrgios. Federer wasn’t talking about men playing women but about the tours melding together. Again, the point of that is that it’s better for the fans and should also help equate prize money and attention on both sides of the sport.

The ATP (the men’s organization) was formed in 1972 after the modern Open era began to help regulate tournaments and prize money. Billie Jean King helped start the WTA the following year. On Friday, King will be part of a players’ meeting at Millennium Gloucester Hotel where the WTA was formed. The meeting won’t all be about a potential merger, of course, but likely the topic will come up.

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But there is one big reason a merger between the WTA and ATP won’t happen soon. It’s because the people in charge of the ATP would have to give up their jobs, most likely, in a WTA-ATP merger. Therefore, progress once again is halted by the very thing that is supposed to make things better: Politics.