McEnroe urges Grand Slams to forge partnership with players

By John Roberts,Florida
Thursday 20 March 2003 01:00

As a fellow, who, not long out of his pomp, once described leading players on the men's tour as "money whores," John McEnroe's 10 cents worth on the machinations of the sport is always worth a listen.

Short of being appointed to his dream job of Commissioner of Tennis, McEnroe's status as the game's most incisive commentator continues to make him a magnet whenever there is a whiff of change.

Financial worries – specifically the knock-on effect of the collapse of ISL, the television marketing group, and its $105m (£67m) over 10 years deal with the ATP Tour – have prompted the players to press for increased prize-money from Wimbledon and the three other Grand Slam tournaments and resulted in summit meetings involving the major tournaments, the International Tennis Federation and the men's and women's tours.

"Ultimately," McEnroe says, "my idea is that the players should be in partnership with the Grand Slams. That's what I said 10-15 years ago; that's what I still believe. The Grand Slams are bigger events than ever, and the other events have diminished in importance."

The Grand Slam Committee took a step towards a "new governance partnership" at their meeting in Switzerland last weekend. At the same time they made it clear that they remain committed to investing in "growing the game from the grass roots upwards."

Concerning the players' eyes on a bigger share of the pot, the Grand Slam chiefs are "committed to the principle that players should be fairly rewarded throughout their careers while taking into account market conditions and the investment needs of the rest of the game." A tennis calendar offering a longer off-season is another imperative.

A joint response by the ATP and the WTA welcomed the developments with certain reservations: "We remain concerned that their view of what is appropriate investment towards these ends is significantly less than what is required."

McEnroe views the players' cause from two standpoints: "First of all," he says, "in the case of Wimbledon, and to some degree the United States Open, the good news is that a lot of the money goes back into programmes to hopefully bring future tennis players. But I know that the USTA, for example, sits on a $100m portfolio. And they make all this money every year. To me, why are they sitting on a $100m portfolio? Why aren't they putting that back into the game? If they're making $80m in one year, and if the players of today feel that they deserve more of a share, they're certainly entitled to try for it."

Like "money whores"? "I think that's true in all sports. I think that money has become too important, there's no question."

In which case, perhaps the millionaire players should look more kindly on the Grand Slams?

"Perhaps there should be less tournaments," McEnroe said, "like people and myself and others have been talking about for 25 years. And perhaps there should be a better schedule for the players. And perhaps there should be a better time frame and a better commitment to Davis Cup. And perhaps we should go back to wood rackets, too. Perhaps there's a whole mess of other things we should do, none of which we've done.

"So why look at this and criticise the players because they're spoiled? We all know that. That's a given, that athletes are spoiled... Yeah, this is tough times, so maybe it will be a reality check for a lot of people. We should be happy there is a Wimbledon, as crazy as things are going on right now."

In his opening match here, Tim Henman, the British No 1, will play Nicolas Escude, of France.

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