Seven-time major champion Mats Wilander has seen generations of tennis come and go, but nothing like what is happening to the sport today as the Coronavirus pandemic grips the globe and threatens to wreak financial havoc on the sport.
But even so, prescient Wilander recognizes that tennis is at a crossroads at the moment, as the game’s great approach closer to the end of their careers while the sport is on effectively quarantined and in danger of not returning until 2021.
“We have a new breed of men and women that are really exciting, great athletes, great attitude but they are missing out on a bit of the limelight while the likes of Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic continue to play,” the Swede told Reuters.
“Now is the time to re-brand the sport a little to attract a younger audience. Maybe we can see more men’s and women’s combined events so the young players can be marketed better.”
In light of Federer’s tweet about future collaboration between the WTA and ATP Tours, Wilander says that now is a good time to create more cooperation between the men’s and women’s tours. He feels that the tours have always been on the right side of history in terms of equal prize money at the majors, but admits that there are logistical and financial hurdles to week through before a true union can be made.
“Tennis has always been at the forefront of equality between men and women’s prizemoney,” Wilander said. “This is a perfect time to somehow make it a working relationship where we combine.”
ATP CEO Andrea Gaudenzi has shown a keen interest in working with the women’s tour ever since he took over the helm from outgoing Chris Kermode in January. The Italian has helped the tours start a joint-television show called Tennis United and talked regularly in interviews of the women lending a competitive advantage to tennis in comparison with other major sports.
“It is extremely important and I think it is one of our biggest advantages towards our competitors,” he said in an interview with ATPWorldTour.com last week. “Not only do we have a great women’s product, but also our audience is fairly split among women and men. A combined event, I strongly believe, is a better event both on site and [through the] media. It is just great. The variety is great. It is really a no-brainer and actually, we are lucky to be at the forefront in that regard.”
Wilanders also adds that tennis needs to tackle the issue of its aging fanbase. Many believe the key to a profitable future will hinge on the sport’s ability to attract more youth in its following.
“Some tournaments wouldn’t work as men’s and women’s event but others would. It’s about demographics and being flexible and adapting to the market. But it’s a necessity for tennis to attract younger fans going forward. The average age of the tennis fan is over 50.”