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Tennis needs to find more movers and shakers

Matt Zemek

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Brian Spurlock - USA TODAY Sports

Earlier this week, I wrote about prize money in tennis here at Tennis With An Accent. 

This began a conversation which is extending through the week, and why not? Justin Gimelstob isn’t the only big problem right now in tennis. Prize money needs continued examination, and so we should want the conversation to continue.

A friend of mine, Ty Henry, writes about sports at the Twitter handle @SportsDroppings, and at his blog site. On Wednesday, Ty published this thoughtful rebuttal to me, explaining why the prize money on offer in Stuttgart (WTA, not ATP) is not as much of a problem as I think it is.

There are several highly revealing details in that article. I won’t tackle all of them right now, in this individual piece. The one I wish to spotlight is Ty’s perceptive note about how shifts to less open, less progressive countries or localities have coexisted with more available prize money at certain tournaments or in certain segments of the tennis calendar. It’s a great point.

China — more capitalist than it used to be under Chairman Mao, but still significantly totalitarian — has opened up a spigot of money. It is great that players get to benefit from it, but it is true that tennis has had to get in bed with less-than-ideal partners to create additional prize money for its athletes.

Ty didn’t directly ask this question in his piece, but I will ask it because he all but suggested it: Why can’t tennis (and more often than not, the WTA instead of the ATP, since Stuttgart’s comparative lack of prize money relative to Barcelona was the detail which started this conversation) find localities and wholesome partners which can open up the money faucet instead of having to go the totalitarian capitalist route? (Singapore is also a notably repressive country, even as capitalist activity explodes within it.)

It is no secret that Madrid massively upgraded its tournament a decade ago by leaving a conventional sports arena and moving to the new La Caja Magica, Ion Tiriac’s new-age sports complex. Tiriac owned the tournament and used his clout in tennis to move Madrid from autumn to spring, from indoor hardcourt to outdoor clay. Tiriac, of course, is not what one would call “wholesome” in his actions or attitudes. Tennis felt it had to get in bed with an unsavory figure in order to increase its financial bounty for players.

If Tennis can do business with or in the United Arab Emirates and in China and Singapore, and with Ion Tiriac, can’t it find movers and shakers elsewhere as well, to beef up events such as Stuttgart?

I won’t claim this is easy as pie, but I will claim that with better leadership, it could happen.

That seems like a modest plea, all things considered.

Matt Zemek is the co-editor of Tennis With An Accent with Saqib Ali. Matt is the lead writer for the site and helps Saqib with the TWAA podcast, produced by Radio Influence at radioinfluence.com. Matt has written professionally about men's and women's tennis since 2014 for multiple outlets: Comeback Media, FanRagSports, and independently at Patreon, where he maintains a tennis site. You can reach Matt by e-mail: mzemek@hotmail.com. You can find him on Twitter at @mzemek.

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