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What is WTA

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The WTA (Women’s Tennis Association) is the most important governing body in women’s tennis. Asking ‘What is WTA’ is fundamental to understanding the game as it is today.

The ATP (Association of Tennis Players) is the body which governs men’s professional tennis. Again, understanding it is fundamental to understanding how the professional tennis circuit operates.

While the WTA covers women’s tennis and the ATP cover’s men’s tennis, the two can and often do work together to bring epic mixed doubles matches to the world stage and cooperate to promote the sport around the globe.

In this guide, we’ll take a look at what these organizations are, how they function, their structure and the major events they hold every year around the world.

These two fascinating institutions have a long and rich histories and have seen some of the greatest players of all time pass through their ranks.

As a result of their efforts, tennis has grown into a global phenomenon watched by tens of millions of people around the world with prize money climbing into tens of millions annually.

Let’s explore the journey from how things started out to today.

We’ll start out with the ATP, and explore the WTA thereafter.

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What is ATP – Fast Facts

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  • The Association of Tennis Professionals outdates its women’s counterpart by 1 year, having officially formed in 1972, making it 44 years old at the time of writing.
  • The purpose of the association was and largely remains to protect the interest of male tennis players. It was involved in an early struggle with the ITF and ultimately wrested control of men’s tennis away from that institution. When asking ‘What is ATP and what purpose does it serve?’, keeping players interests in mind is vital.
  • It was founded by pro players Donald Dell, Jack Kramer and Cliff Drysdale as well as sports manager Bob Briner. Drysdale went on to become the association’s first president and Kramer its first director.
  • Headquartered in London, the ATP has offices all over the world from the USA to Europe to Australia.
  • Unlike the WTA, the ATP does not oversee Grand Slam tournaments, but does award points based on the results.
  • The ATP World Tour Finals, the biggest of the tournaments overseen by the ATP, saw over $4.5 in prize money up for grabs in 2015.
  • Despite not overseeing Grand Slams, the ATP does control world rankings and bases this on the same cumulative points system the WTA uses.

ATP History – A New Beginning for Men’s Tennis

 

  • The ATP was founded in 1972, although men’s professional tennis had existed before it. It was founded as a way to unite tournaments and look after player interests.
  • After only 1 year, the ATP found itself embroiled in its first drama. When asking ‘What is ATP’, this is an important and defining moment. With Nikola Pilic suspended by the International Lawn Tennis Federation for not playing in the Davis Cup earlier that year, the ATP voted to boycott Wimbledon and so 81 of the world’s best players, including Stan Smith, who was the reigning champion, did not play at Wimbledon that year.
  • In 1973, the ATP established a computer ranking system with the aim to create fairness and transparency in the ranking system, enabling them to determine both ranking and who should qualify for tournaments using points based systems.
  • Despite growing influence, the tour was still run by the ITF until 1988, when there was a player overthrow of the system. The ATP announced their withdrawal from the tour citing reasons of player interest and tour dysfunction and announced their own tour going forward. This event is heralded as a defining moment in the history of men’s tennis and is known as the ‘press conference in the parking lot’.
  • With 85 pro players signing a letter of support for the new tour, this marked the beginning of the ATP world tour, with 19 tournaments being broadcast on global TV. Mercedes-Benz became an early sponsor and signed an ongoing deal with the ATP.
  • 2016 is the 27th consecutive year the ATP has governed the men’s professional world tennis circuit.

Hopefully, that answers some of the question ‘What is ATP?’

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ATP Structure – How the Rankings Work

The ATP world rankings are a points based system used by the association to determine player rankings as well as entry to tournaments and player seeding.

It takes into consideration all points scored within the past 52 weeks, with different tournaments offering differing amounts of points to victors. The ATP does count the points awarded in Grand Slam tournaments, although these aren’t overseen by it.

In all, the ranking system calculates the points scored over the 4 Grand Slams, the 8 ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tournaments, and the ATP World Tour finals as well as a player’s best 6 over several other tournaments including the World Tour 500, World Tour 250 and the Challenger Tour.

Players who are injured can petition to have their rankings protected if they don’t participate due to injury for 6 months or more.

Points awarded for tournament victories range from as low as 18 for the Future’s 10,000 to as high as 2000 for the Grand Slams.

Points are also accumulated for runners up and other participants.

At the time of writing, Novak Djokovic is ranked world number 1 according to the ATP rankings.

In the end, the result of these tournaments determines a player’s world ranking, their qualification for tournaments and their seed in given tournaments.

ATP – Organizational Structure

The ATP operates as a corporation, as so has a formal corporate structure.

At the top sit the board of directors, who make key decisions regarding the business elements and direction of the association.

The chairman is next in line, this is currently Chris Kermode.

The player’s representatives and tournament representatives equal 3 in number each and look after the interests of each respectively.

The player council has a representative for each major segment of the sport. For example, Novak Djokovic is head of the player’s council for singles players 1-50, while Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares represent doubles players 1-100.

The tournament council is split into 3 sections, with 5 representatives for Europe, 4 for the international group, and 4 for America.

The players from divisions 1 and 2 and tournament members both full and conditional come next.

Finally, the ATP staff who handle the ins and outs of operations and administration run things on the ground level.

ATP Rules

Anti-Doping: Any player who commits to play in an ATP sanctioned tournament agrees to anti-doping tests by the ITF.

Disqualification: Players can be disqualified from ATP sanctioned tournaments for a number of reasons including doping, failing to attend or deliver a commitment to attend by the deadline, and inappropriate behaviour during gameplay (think John McEnroe).

Good-Standing: Players must complete a number of duties and obligations to the ATP to be considered in ‘good standing’ and therefore be eligible for various financial and performance incentives. This includes paying debts, participating in tournaments and doing some promotional work.

Minimum Age Requirements: Players can participate in major events, including Grand Slams, from age 14 upwards.

Minimum Commitments: Players who break commitments will be financially penalized at the end of a tribunal and hearing process.

Withdrawals: Any top-ranked player withdrawing from a tournament will be replaced by the next-ranked player moving up.

ATP Highlight: There’s no doubt that the most monumental moment for the ATP was the ‘press conference in the parking lot’. Unhappy with the way men’s tennis was being conducted, the ATP, using a printed logo, duct tape, and a rented PA system, announced the formation of a new tour, with CEO Hamilton Jordan delivering his now famous ‘Tennis at the Crossroads’ speech. This changed men’s tennis forever and those changes are still relevant today.

 

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What is WTA – Fast Facts

  • The WTA was founded in 1973, making it 43 years old at the time of writing.
  • It was founded by legendary women’s tennis player Billie Jean King, who won no less than 39 Grand Slam titles in her career.
  • The WTA governs the WTA Tour, which is the pro-circuit for women tennis players today. This tour includes 4 Grands Slams and a multitude of other tournaments including year ending tournaments, international tournaments, and several premier tournaments.
  • The WTA has a players council consisting of 8 pro players who handle players affairs, deal with grievances and disputes, and facilitate any changes throughout the tour. When asking ‘What is WTA all about?’ the player’s council is vitally important since it represents players interests which was a key reason for starting the WTA.
  • The WTA keeps a record of every women’s tennis match played and determines world ranking. When you see that Serena Williams, Angelique Kerber or anyone else is ranked number 1 in the world, the WTA decided that based on their accumulative points system.
  • The WTA sanctions anti-doping measures taken to keep tennis clean but does not itself administer doping tests. The ITF do this on their behalf.
  • The WTA currently has more than 2,500 players flying under its banner from 92 nations.
  • The WTA negotiates business deals, sponsorships and the promotion of women’s tennis around the world. In 2015, it brought $137 million in prize money to the table, which pro players competed for.

As you can see, the WTA functions as the lynchpin for women’s tennis. With vital roles in every element of the sport from players ranking to promotions to governing disputes, the WTA is the most important institution in women’s tennis today.

WTA History – From Humble Beginnings

The answer to the question ‘What is WTA?’ can be found in its history, which is a fascinating one. It has its roots in the fight for gender equality and stretches back 43 years to the days of Billie Jean King dominating the courts and championing women’s tennis.

While the WTA itself was formed later, most historians agree it has its roots in the original Virginia Slims tournament held in September 1970. This was the first professional women’s tennis tournament, arranged by King and 8 others, and offered $7,500 in prize money provided by tobacco company Philip Morris.

This was a monumental moment for women’s tennis, one that would set in motion an unstoppable train that would grow, develop and thrive, eventually becoming the colossal sport women’s tennis is today.

It’s difficult to image that the first players signed $1 contracts, but that’s a fact. Compare that to the likes of Serena Williams who has collected well over $100,000,000 in her career, and you’ll see just how far things have come.

Timeline

In 1973: Just 3 years after the first tournament, Billie Jean King founded the WTA. This united all of women’s professional tennis under a single tour and saw the US Open offer equal prize money to both men and women for the first time.

In 1975: The WTA adopts the computerized ranking system which sees Chris Evert become the world’s number 1 on November 13th.

By 1980: More than 250 women were registered and playing as pro tennis players around the globe. The prize money had leaped up to $7.2 million spread over 47 annual events.

By 1984: Martina Navratilova surpassed the men’s world number 1, John McEnroe, in earnings. She made $1 million in a single season and receives $1 million from the ITF for holding all 4 Grand Slam titles together.

By 1990: The WTA had secured sponsorship which takes the tour’s prize money to $23 million.

In 1999: German superstar retired from the WTA tour with 22 Grand Slam titles and having won over $21,000,000 in prize money.

In 2002: The Williams sisters burst onto the women’s tennis scene and dominated the sport. Venus ranked world’s number 1 first, the Serena. The battle between these two helped propel women’s tennis to a new level.

In 2008: The WTA celebrated its 35th year by opening Asia-Pacific headquarters in Beijing, showing that women’s tennis had become a global phenomenon.

By 2010: The WTA prize money has increased to $85,000,000 for a season. Compare that to the original Virginia Slims tournament 40 years earlier!

In 2013: The WTA celebrated its growth over 40 years by running the 40-LOVE campaign. The campaign promoted both the originals and the current stars of the game. 2013 generated $118 million in prize money.

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Structure – How the WTA Rankings Work

The WTA world rankings comprise the overall structure of women’s tennis. A cumulative points system spanning the past 52 weeks is used to determine player rankings.

Over a maximum of 16 singles tournaments and 11 doubles, players accumulate points. Grand Slam wins accumulate the most points with victor gaining 2000 points, with other tournaments such as the Premier tournaments and BNP Paribas WTA championships awarding further points ranging from as low as 200 to as high as 1500 to winners. Runners up and participants are also awarded points.

In order to appear in the world rankings, players must win ranking points in at least 3 tournaments or win 10 singles and 10- doubles points in more than 1.

According to current WTA rankings, Angelique Kerber is ranked world number 1 in women’s tennis.

WTA – Organizational Structure

The WTA is a corporation and is headquartered in St. Petersburg, Florida.

It has a president, currently Mickey Lawler.

It also has a chairman, Steve Simon, who also acts as the chief executive.

The WTA also has a players council, headed up by top-ranking players, to look after players interests and affairs.

WTA Rules

Being a governing body, the WTA does have rules and regulations. Here are some of the most important:

Acceptance to Tournaments – With the exception of Grand Slams, the WTA is obligated to accept players into tournaments based on an agreed upon formula laid out in the organization’s official rule book.

Age Requirements – A player can not be named a top 10 player before the age of 17.

Injury Leave – For a player to have officially sanctioned injury leave of absence, without affecting her rankings, she must submit a detailed physician’s assessment, in English, stating that she is not able to play for 8 consecutive weeks.

Minimum Commitments – Other than Grand Slams and major finals, WTA top 10 players are obligated to commit to playing in some other tournaments such as the Premier Mandatory and Premier 5.

Withdrawals – Once a player has submitted their declaration of commitment to play in a tournament, she can not withdraw to participate in another within the same week without incurring withdrawal fines.

World Champion – The world champion shall be decided at a consultation between the ITF and the WTA.

WTA Highlight: The highlight of the history of the WTA has got to be its inception. Struggling against gender bias and societal norms at the time, Billie Jean King and 9 ‘renegades’ as they are often referred to as proposed the revolutionary idea of bringing together all of women’s tennis and forming a governing body to both holds pro tours and look out for player interests. It’s easy to look back and think ‘no big deal’, but that would be to ignore the entrenched sexism and biases of the time.

 

WTA & ATP Frequently Asked Questions

Q. Are the WTA and ATP private companies or government institutions?

A. When understanding what is ATP and WTA, it’s important to know that both are both are registered corporations and conduct business on behalf of women’s and men’s tennis respectively, including negotiating and signing sponsorship deals.

Q. How is the prize money for both tours determined?

A. Prize money is determined by the business deals both are able to negotiate. They are open to corporate sponsors and often multi-year deals are signed. Top global brands like Mercedes-Benz and Kraft Foods have previously been sponsors.

Q. How are members of the player’s councils determined?

A. Usually, these will be voluntary positions awarded to professional players currently competing. For example, top-rated men’s players Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray handle the affairs of singles players ranked 1-50 for the ATP.

Q. Does the Davis Cup count toward world rankings?

A. Yes, points earned from playing in the Davis Cup are counted toward overall world rankings. From 2016 on, Davis Cup ties will not be counted.

Q. Are the two bound by any other bodies?

A. Both are bound by the ITF rules of international tennis. These rules are more to do with gameplay and various other aspects related to the game itself such as acceptable specifications of a tennis racket.

Q. What are the most important tournaments for both the WTA and the ATP tennis?

A. Whether talking about men’s or women’s tennis, the 4 grand slams are by far the most important. They offer the most points, the highest prize money and the most exposure and subsequent fame gained from winning them. The 4 Grand Slams are the Australian Open, the French Open, the US Open, and Wimbledon.

Q. Who are the current corporate sponsors of both organizations?

A. Both have multiple current sponsors. The ATP does business with Emirates, FedEx, Peugeot, Infosys, Lesports and several other partners. Partners are ranked Premier, Platinum, Gold and Silver. Emirates is the current ATP Premier partner.

The WTA does business with Dubai Duty-Free, SAP, USANA Health Sciences, Tennis Warehouse and Western Union.

Corporate sponsorship goes towards prize money and promotion of tennis as a sport on the international stage.

WTA and ATP Summary

So there you have it, the need to know information on the two biggest governing institutions in tennis.

While both are ultimately corporations, they play vital roles in shaping policy, procedure, structure and the bylaws that govern tennis. Both have stated openly they are committed to a 100% doping-free sport and take serious measures to educate, warn and encourage players to stay clean.

These two organizations have shaped the landscape of both men’s and women’s tennis for the past half century, and will no doubt continue to do so going forward into whatever the future holds for the sport.

When looking back at where they’ve come from and their humble origins and considering the global powerhouses they have become today, tennis fans quickly realize they owe a debt of gratitude to these two fundamental institutions.

Whatever the future holds for world tennis and wherever it goes from today, you can be sure the ATP and WTA will both play a vital role.

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