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Friday, August 21, 2009
Siamese event intriguing but unlikely

On the surface, it's a head-scratcher. Tennis Canada, which runs the Canadian Rogers Cup men's and women's events that alternate between Toronto and Montreal every year, is considering a radical new way of splitting the two events between the two cities in 2011: divide both draws in half, and put one half of each draw in Toronto and one half in Montreal.

This year, for example, Toronto might have ended up with Roger Federer and Andy Murray as headliners on the men's side and Serena Williams and Elena Dementieva on the women's side. Montreal, meanwhile, would have had Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, Dinara Safina and Venus Williams.

Toward the end of the week, one men's and one women's semifinal would be played at each location (e.g., Toronto semifinalist winner Murray then flying to Montreal to face Juan Martin del Potro in the men's final in Montreal and vice versa for the women -- the winning Montreal finalist would fly to Toronto).

It would be a big change from the current format, where the men and women's events merely switch between Toronto and Montreal every year.

So why take something so simple and make it so complicated? The impetus comes from the effect of a broader calendar shift on the ATP and WTA Tours.

Currently, the two Canadian events are held back-to-back over two weeks. In 2011, they will be held simultaneously over one week. To make up for having its exposure time cut in half, the federation is trying to maximize bang for its buck.

Consider this: When the men play in Toronto and the women in Montreal, Tennis Canada makes $3 million more than when the events are reversed.

That's because the tennis-loyal Montreal crowd shows up no matter who's playing, while Toronto spectators need big names and deep fields to be lured in large numbers (they also face a more difficult hike to the tournament).

Putting both men and women in one location is not an attractive option. Montreal has the fans, but Toronto has the money. Not to mention that choosing one city over the other would disrupt the delicate French-English balance.

The half-and-half solution, on the other hand, would allow both cities to have a true "combined" event, with all the resulting benefits in ticket sales and publicity: a double-double, in local coffee parlance.

But can it work? There are major logistical challenges involved.

Some have relatively simple solutions that have already been sketched out. The draws could be done a few weeks in advance, so players can make travel plans knowing what city they'll be playing in. The disadvantage for the traveling finalist could potentially be balanced out by letting them play their semifinal a day earlier.

Some will be complex to resolve. It's difficult to see how the doubles can be made to work in normal fashion, for example, given that teams could find themselves playing singles in different cities. (How about mixed doubles instead?)

Even if a workable Siamese system can be developed, however, there would remain the difficulty of getting the tours and the players to buy into the concept.

Players in Toronto this week have been skeptical, with one prominent name even calling it "ridiculous." (Interestingly, the normally conservative Roger Federer is open to the idea.)

If it could be made to work, the concept could also be applied to other linked events like the ATP Shanghai and WTA Beijing tournaments in the fall, helping the tours further their goal of coming together more often.

But like the idea or hate it, it's all likely to be academic. The chances of this kind of fledgling format navigating tennis' administrative quagmire are slim indeed, especially because the existing annual switch is such an easy alternative.

If someone does manage to get it through, can we get that person to fix the calendar issues, too?