Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Ten notable features of the Roadmap
By Kamakshi Tandon Special to ESPN.com
Under the 2009 Roadmap parameters, the Williams sisters could face suspension if they continue to eschew Indian Wells.
1. Premier tournaments
The WTA tournaments below the Grand Slams are currently divided into four groups: Tier I, Tier II, Tier III and Tier IV. Officially, there will be just two next year -- premier and international events.
Unofficially, however, the premier events will consist of four distinct types: mandatory (all eligible players must play), premier five (seven of the top 10), premier (two to three of the top six marquee players), and open (no minimum or maximum commitment because the events are a week before a Grand Slam or the year-end championships -- expect a feast-or-famine situation).
Mandatory events: Indian Wells, Miami, Madrid and Beijing
Premier five: Dubai, Rome, Canada, Cincinnati and Tokyo
Premier: Paris indoors, Charleston, Stuttgart, Stanford, Los Angeles and Tokyo
Premier open: Sydney, Berlin, Eastbourne, New Haven and Moscow
2. International tournaments
These will be a minor league of sorts for the tour, as only one of the top 20 will be allowed to participate in each event. Top players will be able to play only one international tournament during each half of the season. This would allow a player like Radwanska to play her home event in Warsaw but would limit her to premier events for the rest of the summer and fall.
There also will be a year-end event in Bali for the top eight performers in international events -- a poor woman's Sony Ericsson championships, as it were.
3. New big events
A new combined men's and women's event in Madrid will become the main lead-up to the French Open. A mandatory event in Beijing will take place during the fall, the same week as the men play a smaller tournament in the Chinese capital and a week before the new ATP Masters event in Shanghai.
The likely losers include Berlin, which will move to the week before the French Open. In the U.S., the Charleston, S.C., tournament can expect a weaker field than before, and the nearby tournament in Amelia Island will become an international event.
4. Longer offseason
The offseason will increase to eight weeks from the current seven -- again a little less than planned, but players who are not taking part in either the year-end events or the Fed Cup final will get 10 weeks.
5. More prize money
Prize money is set to increase significantly next year. Mandatory tournaments will award $4.5 million in total prize money, the same as the equivalent men's events -- a big symbolic and financial victory for the WTA. Premier five events will give $2 million in prize money. Both are a considerable increase from the $1.34 million given by the top WTA events this year.
Premier events will award $700,000, and open events will stay the same with a purse of $600,000. International events will be $220,000 each.
Sticks and carrots for not fulfilling commitments -- i.e., fines and bonus pool money -- also are being increased.
6. New ranking system
The system will count a player's 16 best results, one fewer than this year. Players will get zero points in their total for missing any of the Grand Slams or mandatory events. They must also play four of the five premier events.
Rankings points will be doubled across the board to keep the winners' total in mixed events the same for the men and the women. (The men are doubling the points for winning a Masters Series to 1,000 from 500.)
7. Marquee list
The allocation of top-six players to premier events will be determined not by ranking but by a newly created marquee list, although the format is still under discussion. According to Allaster, it could be based simply on tournament directors' ratings of the players' marquee values, or go the opposite way and be based only on year-end rankings.
The tour's current Gold and Silver exemption lists, which are a hybrid of marquee value and rankings, will no longer be in use.
In principle, this is a big, new (controversial) stick for the tour to use in compelling players to play mandatory events. In practice, however, the rule has so many loopholes that only a very stubborn player would end up barred from an event.
Players originally were supposed to be suspended for two weeks for missing a mandatory event, though there were allowances for injuries. Now, there are no allowances for injuries, but a player can avoid suspension if she shows up at the event to give a news conference, or if she does some publicity work for the event in the area at some point during the next year.
For example, it appears that if the Williams sisters continue not to play at Indian Wells, they could do a promotional appearance in nearby Los Angeles during the summer instead. That would take care of the problem -- all except for the incongruity of the Williamses' promoting an event they have boycotted since 2001, when Serena Williams was booed by the crowd during the final after Venus had pulled out of their semifinal encounter the day before.
9. Fewer byes
For the moment, byes have been removed at midlevel events such as Sydney, Stuttgart and Stanford, which often attract a number of top players. That means the top four players would have to win five matches rather than four to win the tournament. For them, four of these events without byes would involve the same number of matches as winning five events with byes. That effectively would wipe out the gains of having to play 16 events next year rather than this year's 17.
Currently, there are no byes at the mandatory events in Madrid and Beijing, which require winning six matches to win the tournament. However, Allaster says that byes may be introduced at these events because they are during the week after premier five events in Rome and Tokyo, respectively. Without byes, top players would face the prospect of having to play 11 matches in two weeks.
There are limits to the number of byes that can be awarded at certain events, Allaster said, because the WTA has commitments to the rank-and-file to provide "56 main-draw jobs a week" under the Roadmap.
10. Other elements
Although a large number of players nominally remain against it, on-court coaching becomes official next year at the behest of television.
And in some direct good news for fans, there are plans to begin an Internet-streaming subscription package next year, similar to the ATP's Masters Series TV.
Kamakshi Tandon is a freelance tennis writer for ESPN.com.