Still, the announcement of the Grand Slam Cup came so suddenly, and its scheduling is so clearly provocative, that no one in tennis believes that the tournament is anything but an attempt by the ITF to cling to power. The governing body of the Grand Prix circuit is the nine-member Men's Tennis Council, on which the ITF has three seats. At year's end the MTC will disband, leaving the ITF with control of only the Grand Slam tournaments and the Davis Cup. Says Jordan, "Thing is, if the ITF had done it for only $3 million, it probably could have gotten more players and less criticism."
A player-controlled tour is only the next logical step in the inexorable shift of power in men's tennis from the boardroom to the locker room. The evolution began in 1968 with the advent of the Open era, which eliminated hypocritical distinctions between professionals and amateurs. In '72 the players unionized, and a year later they I boycotted Wimbledon in support of Yugoslavia's Nikki Pilic, who had been suspended by his country's tennis federation in a dispute over (tm) his failure to play in a Davis Cup tie to which he was allegedly committed. In '74 what came to be known as the MTC was formed, with the players holding half of the six seats. (Subsequently, the MTC was expanded to the aforementioned nine seats, of which the players held three.)
The Gdansk shipyard of the most recent unrest was a parking lot outside the National Tennis Center during the 1988 U.S. Open. That's where the players held a press conference—the U.S. Tennis Association had refused to let them use a room inside the tennis center—to announce their plans for a new circuit. In October the MTC offered concessions. But the players said the offers were too little too late and went ahead on their own. "You look after your own car better than the one you rent," says Jordan.
The MTC has been a positive force in the game, but it was so busy trying to bring together all of tennis's disparate constituencies that it never went out and flogged the sport to the public. Jordan sees men's tennis as someday resembling the PGA Tour, with the ATP marketing the circuit so that the typical sports fan starts thinking of men's tennis as a hundred talented players competing on a unified tour rather than as a handful of superstars playing four prestigious dates a year. Beginning in 1990, 18 of the ATP tournaments will have purses worth $1 million or more, 11 of which will have a minimum of six Top 10 players competing. This format will presumably eliminate situations such as the one that Mats Wilander enjoyed in '88, when he won three Grand Slam events: He never faced Becker and played Lendl only once.
The ATP also claims that million-dollar purses will discourage players from playing those devil exhibitions, which often go head-to-head against tournaments. Jordan says McEnroe and Becker have told him that they would consider never playing another exhibition if the new circuit succeeds. The ATP has already collected more than $30 million in sales of worldwide TV rights to its tournaments next year. "Shrink the number of tournaments and force them to raise the prize money," Jordan says. "Then get more of the top players together and get them on TV, and you begin to have a modern sport."
The ATP could do worse than model itself after the Women's International Tennis Association (WITA), whose top players have always taken a more active role in running their tour than their male counterparts have in running theirs. While the WITA has never had any trouble attracting a tour sponsor, as of Monday the ATP still hadn't found a sugar daddy. The men have a much higher prima donna quotient than the women, and doubts persist that they can run their own show. To wit: Just when you think the players have a worldview that extends beyond their next herbal rubdown, they go and put two South African stops on the 1990 calendar. Both tournaments were later dropped.
The ATP's plan to ban on-court microphones seems to be an admission that members can't be trusted to comport themselves properly. McEnroe recently told the
Los Angeles Times
that he would like Jordan's job, because "it's time for someone with vision to carry it into the 21st century. Hamilton Jordan is a politician. He doesn't know anything about tennis." But there he was on Friday, after a lineswoman had called a foot fault on him during a preliminary-round loss to Lendl, moaning that "her wonderful looks must have gotten this lady her job." If that's vision, tennis would be better off groping in the dark.
Of particular concern is whether the stars will sacrifice for the good of the tour. Says one tour follower who knows the players well, "Tennis is about the Top 5. Is Lendl going to call Becker and say, 'Yo, Boris, I can't make Stockholm next week. Cover for me?' No way."
Still, the players' union is steadfast in its resolve and proud of its motives. "We're trying to improve the sport, and we should be given the opportunity to do so," says McEnroe. "They [the MTC and ITF] have had plenty of time to do it and haven't succeeded. Tennis is successful in spite of what they have done. On the other hand, we may not do it even as well as they do it. It's like being an umpire. It's a thankless job. I hope, because we're players, that we'll have the insight to do the little things better."
The squabble has taken on a deliciously nasty tone, with the players referring to the ITF as the "blue-blazer-and-dandruff crowd." Says Jordan, "I tell the ITF members they're bad losers. They don't practice off the court what they preach on it. I've seen people lose things a hell of a lot more important than this, and they've been gracious."