Some players have the grace to be abashed by their riches. "There's no question we're spoiled," says Courier. "It's embarrassing." Tournament directors, though, make their living by attracting strong fields. But as costs rise, the perks become increasingly questionable. The Lipton Championships cost $10 million to stage, yet for years many of the players petulantly complained about the conditions. Tournament chairman Butch Buchholz says, "We should probably ask ourselves more often what is a fair return on our investment. We've made some money the last few years. Not a lot."
Yet this year Buchholz not only gave all the players free rooms in first-class hotels but also offered those personal concierges—volunteers who picked up each player at the airport and were available throughout the tournament to "arrange a golf game or whatever the player might request," Buchholz said. Agassi, for one, was not just unappreciative but also derisive. "Let me put it this way," he said. "You want my concierge?"
To help restore a sense of reality, tournament directors should refuse to pay hotel costs for players. Golfers on the PGA Tour pay their own expenses. Why shouldn't tennis players?
3) Hire a commissioner.
What's all this alphabet soup? Tennis has too many authorities protecting their own turf: the ITF, ATP, WTA, WTC, USTA, etc. None of them has shown that it can make a decision for the good of the game instead of its own self-interest.
How did this come to be? Tennis was played and run by so-called amateurs until 1968, when player revolts ushered in the open, or professional, era. Suddenly several competing factions, along with a handful of powerful player agents, scrambled for control, grabbing whatever territory they could while the players formed unionlike organizations. The result is a sport that lacks any centralized governance or marketing and is rife with conflicts of interest. IMG, for example, not only manages about 100 players but also runs tournaments, organizes exhibitions, holds broadcast rights to events and owns Nick Bollettieri's tennis academy.
ATP chief executive officer Mark Miles and WTA executive director Gerry Smith often seem more concerned with negotiating yearly prize-money increases for the players who employ them than with correcting the sport's deep-seated ills. Don't hold your breath, but the current tennis bodies should step aside and jointly appoint a commissioner for both men and women who will set and enforce rules and will market the game worldwide—someone who will do for tennis what David Stern has done for pro basketball.
The first thing a commissioner should do is simplify the schedules. Tennis is suffering from market clutter. For instance, during the week beginning Jan. 31, the men's tour featured three tournaments on three continents: the $1 million Dubai Open, the $514,000 Marseille Open and the $289,000 San Jose Open. Two weeks after the eight-player, $2.75 million ATP Championship concludes in Frankfurt in November, the IFF stages the 16-player, $6 million Grand Slam Cup in Munich. Further obfuscating matters are exhibitions or so-called special events, which only the most die-hard tennis follower can distinguish from sanctioned tournaments and which are run concurrently with sanctioned tournaments.
Both tours are supporting too many events and too many players. A total of 1,300 players are ranked by the ATP, 1,000 by the WTA. Last year 1,043 players won prize money on the ATP Tour. By contrast, only 336 golfers earned paychecks on the PGA Tour. The 100th-ranked male tennis player, Henri Leconte of France, pulled in $277,126.
4) How about a little discipline?