April 19, 2024

Open Court


Mallorca wins ATP grass sweepstakes


There were several bidders for the spot on the ATP Tour’s grass-court schedule that until this year, has been held by the Turkish Airlines Open in Antalya, Turkey.

And the winner is … Mallorca.

A partnership between the AELTC and a German company called e|motion sports will put on “The Mallorca Championships” from June 20-27, 2020.

(The resemblance to the official nickname of Wimbledon – “The Championships” – does not escape us).

The tournament director will be Mallorca’s favorite uncle and coach, Toni Nadal.

Notably, the 250-level tournament will offer €900,000 in prize money. That’s nearly double what the Antalya tournament (which struggled to attract fans) put up in 2019.

Mallorca beat out bids from Monza, Italy and Skurup, Sweden. The process began with a February application deadline. And the winner was due to be announced no later than June 30. But of course, it took longer.

Italy a stubborn competitor

We dug into the application process. And we’ve uncovered some interesting details.

The Monza application had as its tournament director Giorgio Tarantola, a former chair umpire and Challenger tournament director.

We also found that the application suggested a major Italian fashion brand was interested in a joint-venture partnership.

(Originally, that brand had been identified early in the process. When we originally reported it, we immediately received a letter from said brand’s attorney. The letter stated no such association was anywhere close to confirmed).

Tarantola did an interview about the project back in May.

With the fashion tie-in, the group was prepared to increase the prize money well beyond the prescribed minimums, up to a million euros.

The Swedish bid would have had Mats Wilander as tournament director.

As the process went on, the bids were modified a bit.

The Mallorca application had originally had the e|motion company as the licensee. That was changed to the AELTC being the licensee for the three-year term. e|motion became the promoter.

With that, the AELTC undertook to underwrite the entire project, which then was longer contingent on government sponsorship in the region.

Champions’ perks: yachts, luxury cars

The Mallorca bid kicked in luxury villas for the top four seeds.

And, for the champion, the use of a staffed Sunseeker yacht for a two-week Mediterranean cruise for up to eight people. !!!

(Sunseeker is a Chinese-owned British company, as it happens).

Even better, a player who won three editions of the new Mallorca tournament … would win a Sunseeker yacht (probably not the same one).

Monza countered with more prize money. It also kicked in a $200,000 Lamborghini Urus for the champion !!!

At this point, the Swedish bid, which couldn’t match the prize money nor the perks, was pretty much out of luck.

Permanent courts, and no rain

In the end, if the Mallorca bid offered a little less prize money, it had the advantage of already having six permanent grass courts built for the WTA event. The AELTC, as it happens, financed the construction of those courts.

Plus, it almost never rains in Mallorca in mid-June.

That’s a priceless plus.

The Swedish bid would have included the construction of six permanent grass courts.

The Monza bid would have constructed five permanent courts. It would have built temporary stadium court on the start line of the Formula 1 race track. But with that, a commitment to make it a permanent installation if the temporary court proved problematic.

The projected attendance for the Monza event was about four times what the Mallorca and Skurup bids projected.

The AELTC also are looking to purchase a permanent tournament membership at the end of the proposed three-year term, given their significant investment already in the installations.

Italy got a pretty good consolation prize, though. Earlier this year, it was awarded the ATP Tour Finals for five years beginning in 2021. Turin is just 100 miles from Monza.

The WTA hits the German grass

But the AELTC is doing a whole lot more than that, even if surprisingly there hasn’t yet been a peep from the WTA on these significant changes to its calendar.

The press releases from both the ATP and AELTC confirm that the current WTA International tournament in Birmingham, England will be relocated to … Berlin, Germany.

Well – not QUITE. Technically, the Mallorca WTA event will be relocated to Berlin. The Premier license will be transferred from Birmingham to Berlin, and the Mallorca International license will be transferred to Birmingham.

Or Mallorca will move to Birmingham and Birmingham will move to Berlin.

However you want to look at it. Same deal in the end.

e|motion already owns the ATP Tour event in Vienna, Austria and is the event promoter for the ATP Tour grass-court stop in Stuttgart, Germany that, until 2015, was on clay. They add Berlin; the Octagon agency also is involved in this new tournament.

And the AELTC is front and center for another transfer of events.

Istanbul clay —-> Bad Homberg grass

The WTA International-level clay-court tournament in Istanbul, Turkey, which was held on clay the same week as Stuttgart at the end of April, looks to be on the move.

That transfer – which per the AELTC, is “in the process of seeking WTA Board approval” – will relocate the tournament to Bad Homberg, Germany, change to grass, and be moved to the third week of the grass-court season calendar. 

So, in effect, the AELTC will be heavily involved in three “Week 3” events – the Mallorca men’s event, and both the Eastbourne Premier/ ATP 250 and the proposed Bad Homburg event. The latter two will compete directly against each other.

“A strong and successful grass court season is absolutely critical to the future of grass court tennis and thus the future success of The Championships,” was the quote from AELTC chairman Philip Brook.

With the additions, e|motion will now be running events during three consecutive weeks on the calendar: the existing Stuttgart men’s event in Week 1, The Berlin women’s event in Week 2, and then the new men’s event in Mallorca in Week 3.

Cooperation and conflicts

Just to add to the “potential conflict of interest” element in this whole game of musical chairs, the AELTC’s partners in the proposed Bad Homberg event are a company called “Perfect Match” and … Angelique Kerber Management.

As for the AELTC, it now has its fingerprints literally all over the grass season.

Per the press release, it is investing in these four events “to ensure that players will continue to have the best opportunities to compete in high quality grass court tournaments at all levels of the professional game, while also focusing on the commercial success of the grass court calendar as a priority.”

The AELTC already worked closely with the British Lawn Tennis Association on the grass-court season in the U.K. According to its press release, it also invested in the new grass courts in Stuttgart and for the women’s event in Mallorca, “supports” the ongoing joint event in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, and along with the LTA created another junior event in Nottingham this season, to bring the junior grass-court season to three weeks.

As quaint and niche as grass-court tennis is in today’s game, the All-England Club absolutely dominates it.

The only event it doesn’t have a financial investment of some kind in (as far as we know) is the 500 ATP event in Halle, Germany.

Germany – the new grass-tennis hub

Still, if the Bad Homberg transfer is approved, Germany actually will be hosting as many grass-court events as Great Britain.

Grass events in GBR:  4 (Queen’s Club ATP. Nottingham WTA. Birmingham WTA and Eastbourne joint ATP/WTA.)

Grass events in GER: 4 (Stuttgart ATP. Halle ATP. Berlin WTA. Bad Homberg WTA.)

Grass events in ESP: 1 (Mallorca ATP.)

Grass events in NED: 1 (‘s-Hertogenbosch joint ATP/WTA).

Here’s a handy guide:

Ladies say ‘adios’ to Mallorca

In the small print there – almost as a a throwaway at the end of the AELTC press release – is the fact that the Mallorca WTA event is no more.

Our reporting reveals that the AELTC was prepared to hold the men’s and women’s Mallorca events back-to-back, if the Birmingham-Mallorca-Berlin roulette hadn’t been approved at the WTA’s meetings at Wimbledon.

They would have constructed a “second centre court” for the WTA, which would have been relegated … somewhere as the ATP took over the current one.

But it seems it was approved. And that means that Birmingham, which was a Premier-level tournament offering over $1 million in prize money, now becomes a regular International-level event (where the prize money generally is $250,000).

The new tournament in Berlin will take over the “Premier” designation – and, thus, the higher quality field.

All of these changes likely are why the WTA Tour calendar for 2020 is still to be officially signed off on.

But the AELTC and ATP have scooped them fairly comprehensively on this one.

Spain a wasteland for women’s tennis

It’s not as though they haven’t tried.

But with the Madrid joint event and the Barcelona men’s event doing so well in Spain, the reality is that standalone WTA women’s events have never succeeded.

The latest is the Mallorca tournament, although of course it seems it was merely a pawn in a bigger game.

The “Andalucia Tennis Experience”, inaugurated in 2009 with Conchita Martinez as tournament director, lasted just three editions through 2011. The empty stands were pretty depressing to see.

And yet, the clay-court tournament had solid champions: Jelena Jankovic in 2009, Flavia Pennetta in 2010 and Victoria Azarenka in 2011. Spain’s Carla Suarez Navarro made the final the first two years.

The Madrid Open lasted from 1996 through 2003. In its final year, upgraded from Tier III to Tier II, it made Arantxa Sanchez Vicario the tournament director.

Its predecessor was the Spanish Open, played in Barcelona through through some, but not all years between 1972 and 1995. It was, at times, a Tier V, Tier IV, Tier III and finally a Tier II event at the end. 

Sanchez Vicario won it five of the last seven years (and the last six years consecutively in doubles).

Whither Kerber and Nadal?

The questions remaining, beyond the confirmation of the Bad Homberg event, are two-fold.

Will Kerber, whose management company, we now know, has an ownership stake in the proposed new Bad Homberg event, be compelled to play it?

Kerber has played Eastbourne (which will compete with Bad Homberg) six times, including the last three consecutive editions.

As a German, Kerber may well face significant pressure to play the new WTA in Berlin as well. Although with that now being a Premier, it’s an easier choice over Birmingham, which she played a few times before the Mallorca tournament came into existence.

And what of Nadal?

The native Mallorcan will surely face a fair amount of pressure to play his new home-country grass-court event. 

In recent years, Nadal hasn’t played any grass-court tuneups at all. In fact, he hasn’t played between the French Open and Wimbledon since losing in the first round at Queen’s Club in 2015.

But he has proven a major attraction in recent years when he’s merely practiced at the site of the WTA Mallorca event.

It’s a tough one. But this new tournament is not only a 250, it falls the week before Wimbledon.

If Nadal did play, it was would virtually assure the event’s success. But even Uncle Toni might not be able to talk him into it.

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