ATP to begin suspending players who skip mandatory events

NEW YORK -- Players who skip mandatory events on the men's tour are to be suspended under a new set of rules designed to ensure the best performers enter the top tournaments.

The changes announced by the ATP, the governing body of men's tennis, in a news conference at the U.S. Open on Friday are due to come into force in 2009, with the rebranded "1,000" events boasting an increase in prize money.

Events in Indian Wells, Miami, Rome, Madrid, Cincinnati, Canada, Shanghai and Paris will have "1,000" status, with 1,000 ranking points awarded to the winner.

Monte Carlo will also have "1,000" status but will not be mandatory.

Anyone who misses one of the eight mandatory events without a legitimate reason, for example an injury that must be ratified by a new committee, will be banned.

"This is one of the boldest things this board has done," said Etienne de Villiers, the ATP's executive chairman. "This was a unanimous vote by the board. Player and tournament reps felt this was the right thing to do for the sport.

"You get suspended once but it's a cumulative suspension. It's a little bit like points on your driving licence. It stays on your record," he said. "We have a $7.5 million bonus pool for the top 20 players. If they're suspended they lose half of it. If they miss two,
they'll lose all of it."

De Villiers said the committee which will determine if a player is injured had been approved by the ATP Player Council.

"[It will be] one player representative, one tournament representative and one ATP representative," he said.

"If the players want to have an independent, we're happy to have an independent there. This is not about witch-hunts. This is about establishing exactly whether a player is capable of traveling or not. We do not want to hurt our stars," he said.

Of the existing Masters Series events, Hamburg loses its status and will be replaced by Shanghai while Madrid will change from a hard-court event in the European autumn to a clay-court event before the French Open.

The ATP board has received 22 applications from tournaments that want to be part of the second tier of tournaments, the "500s," where the winners will receive 500 ranking points.

The 2009 calendar, which will end in London with the eight-man ATP Tour Finals, is to be confirmed in Shanghai in November.

By 2011, six of the eight events will become combined tournaments with the women's tour, the ATP said.