ATP: German federation not worried about fairness

WILMINGTON, Delaware -- The German Tennis Federation's challenge of the ATP Tour's planned tournament restructuring is based on a false sense of entitlement, not concerns about fairness, a lawyer for the tour said Monday during closing arguments.

The German federation claims that the Association of Tennis Professionals' tournament restructuring, which would move the Hamburg clay-court tournament from May to July and downgrade it to second-tier status, violates American antitrust laws.

In closing arguments of a federal trial that began two weeks ago, ATP attorney Bradley Ruskin said the GTF has presented no evidence of any anticompetitive conduct by ATP officials but simply disagrees with their decision.

"They don't want competition; what they want is special protection," Ruskin told jurors, who will begin deliberations Tuesday morning.

Ruskin said the GTF has previously acknowledged that the ATP has the right to change tournament classifications and dates and that the case boils down to a disagreement over the ATP's Brave New World plan.

"The differences of judgment are not the stuff of antitrust claims," he said, adding that ATP officials have acted reasonably and responsibly in drawing up a new tournament structure to try to improve the circuit and make tennis more attractive to fans, broadcasters and sponsors.

Ruskin noted the federation had no problems with the ATP's rulemaking authority when Hamburg enjoyed a top-tier classification and that the GTF has encouraged the same mandatory player commitments for top-tier tournaments that it now suggests would make it difficult to stage a successful second-tier tournament.

Robert MacGill, an attorney for the German federation, argued the ATP is illegally trying to lock up the market for player services and tournament sanctions. The plaintiffs claim the tournament reorganization is the result of collusion among officers for ATP -- the governing body for professional men's tennis -- and owners of certain favored tournaments acting in their own self-interests.

Under the reorganization, set to take effect next year, top-ranked ATP players would be required to play in all eight top-tier tournaments, known as the Master Series 1000, and four of 11 tournaments in the second-tier Master Series 500. Combined with the year-end Masters Cup event, the four non-ATP Grand Slam tournaments and Davis Cup matches, that represents a full calendar that will likely prompt marquee players to pass up Hamburg, MacGill argued.

The plan would reduce the clay-court Masters tournaments leading up to French Open to Madrid and Rome, starting in 2009, eliminating Hamburg's status as a major clay-court warmup for the Grand Slam event.

"This move to this time ruins us," said MacGill, who told jurors the only witnesses to testify for the ATP were "people inside the conspiracy."

Joining the federation as plaintiffs are Hamburg tournament operator Rothenbaum Sport GMBH and the Qatar Tennis Federation, which lost a tournament calendar bid to Dubai despite offering $10 million more to ATP.

Prior to closing arguments Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Gregory Sleet dismissed several officers and directors of the ATP Tour from the case, leaving ATP Tour Inc. as the sole defendant. Sleet also dismissed claims alleging contract interference and breaches of fiduciary duty by the ATP, leaving jurors to decide only the antitrust claims.

The jury must decide whether the ATP Tour has tried to unreasonably restrain trade and whether it has harmed competition among various tournaments by maintaining an illegal monopoly over men's professional tennis.