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Is tennis ripe for a LIV Golf-style revolution?

As we move towards finals weekend at the Australian Open, the locker rooms and dining halls are gradually emptying out. But when the place was buzzing in the first week, players and agents spent a lot of time asking “What if there was a LIV Tennis?”

So far, there has been no sign of a sovereign wealth fund reaching out from the Middle East to trigger a breakaway tour. But you can see why tennis’s rank and file – who envy their wealthier golfing counterparts – might be praying for a petrodollar injection.

A recent document circulated by the Professional Tennis Players’ Association – Novak Djokovic’s embryonic attempt to start a new union – stated that tennis is only gathering $700m in revenues per annum. This is less than half the PGA golf tour’s $1.6bn, and the PTPA blamed chaotic leadership for the shortfall.

Tennis has never been more ripe for a takeover attempt, because its seven bickering stakeholders – the four grand slams, the two tours and the International Tennis Federation – have never been more disunited.

There are two immediate reasons for this. The first relates to the ongoing bitterness swirling around from Wimbledon’s decision to ban Russians last summer, and the two tours’ intemperate response, which involved stripping ranking points from the tournament.

The second stems from the collapse of the much-loved Davis Cup on the eve of this tournament. The ITF had effectively sold the 123-year-old competition to Gerard Pique’s Kosmos group in 2018, for the implausible sum of $3bn over 25 years, and then acted surprised when Kosmos couldn’t pay their bills. The four slams are so frustrated that they are talking about trying to run the Davis Cup themselves.

In such unstable times, it wouldn’t take much to push the tottering Jenga tower of tennis administration over the brink. Say that Saudi Arabia began running alternative tournaments during the regular season, rather than staging lucrative December exhibitions as in recent years. The tours would surely appeal to the slams to exclude any rebels, as a powerful incentive not to sign up with the Saudis. But the people at Wimbledon might be tempted to thumb their noses in response.

As a potential disruptor, you wouldn’t need to spend anything like the $784m that LIV Golf is reported to have invested last season. At least, not on the players. Tennis professionals come a lot cheaper than the likes of Phil Mickelson. The problem would be where to play. A golf tournament can go ahead on any half-decent course, but how many tennis clubs have proper stadium courts?


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