The ATP's 2011 "year-end" championships have just concluded in London, but the year isn't quite over -- that would make a little too much sense for tennis and its schedulers. There's still the real year-end event, the Davis Cup final, this weekend.
Why is there an event after the final event?
To understand the answer to that, you have to understand the fundamental split that has sliced through men's tennis for the last 40 years, the one between the ATP (the tour and the players) and the game's original and much older establishment, the ITF. But in thinking about that age-old split again this week, I've found myself wondering if we've been looking to the wrong group of people to try to fix the schedule.
The ITF once ran the Grand Slams and the Davis Cup; that was their territory. In 1989, though, the year after the ATP (yes, we're dipping in tennis' alphabet soup here) announced that it was breaking ranks with the game's other organizing bodies and forming its own tour, the ITF retrenched by forming what it called the Grand Slam Committee. This committee would consist of the four tournament directors of the majors, who would "join forces to strengthen their control" of the premier events. The ITF said it was a necessary step "to maintain a uniform policy" at the world's most important tournaments.
By all measures, the Grand Slam Committee has been a success. The majors have indeed been strengthened, in terms of revenue, prestige, and public profile, over the last 20 years, to the point where players, fans, and media often act as if they're the only things in the game that matter. All of which makes it an enduring oddity that we continue to look to the players and the ATP, rather than the people who run the sport's most important events, to fix something like the yearly schedule.
And it is the majors that are at the root of that mess.
There isn't much that the tour or the players can do with a Slam calendar that starts in Australia in January, goes dark until late May in Paris, crams the French Open and Wimbledon into six weeks, and concludes another two months later at the U.S. Open. There's no rhyme or reason to it except that this is the way it's always been done.
The biggest headache is the seemingly illogical proximity of Roland Garros and Wimbledon. One former member of the Committee, Chris Gorringe, the ex-chief of the All England Club, spent a fair amount of time in his memoir trying to explain why Wimbledon couldn't move its dates. He talked a lot about TV schedules and the lineup of British summer sporting events that need to go in a certain order, but it's never entirely convincing. You're Wimbledon; whenever you decide to hold the tournament, whether it's two weeks later or the middle of winter, the TV cameras will be there.
For two decades, the Grand Slam Committee has done well by its four events. But tennis, no matter what anyone may say, is more than the majors. Isn't it time that they thought about strengthening the sport as a whole? The committee members aren't as famous as the players, and you never see them on TV, but everything in the game starts with them. That includes any serious discussion of the schedule.