German federation challenges new tournament structure

WILMINGTON, Del. -- A lawyer for the German Tennis Federation argued Monday the ATP Tour violated antitrust laws in a reorganization that would relegate a Hamburg tournament to second-tier status.

"This is the end of tennis now in Hamburg," GTF attorney Robert MacGill told a U.S. District Court jury on the first day of a trial over the federation's claims that the Association of Tennis Professionals' planned tournament restructuring attempts to monopolize player commitments and tournament sanctions in men's professional tennis.

Joining the federation as plaintiffs are Rothenbaum Sport GMBH and the Qatar Tennis Federation, which lost a tournament calendar bid to Dubai despite offering $10 million more to ATP.

The plaintiffs say that the tournament reorganization plan, dubbed Brave New World, is the result of collusion among officers for ATP -- the governing body for professional men's tennis -- and owners of certain favored tournaments acting in their own self-interests.

Under the plan, the Hamburg tournament would be downgraded to second-tier status and moved from May to July. The plan would reduce the clay-court Masters tournaments leading up to French Open to Madrid and Rome, starting in 2009, eliminating Hamburg's status as a major clay-court warmup for the Grand Slam event.

The plaintiffs say that the new plan will cause significant economic harm to the tournament in Hamburg

Under the reorganization, set to take effect next year, ATP players would be required to play in all eight top-tier tournaments, known as the Master Series 1000, and four of 11 tournaments in the second-tier Master Series 500. Combined with the year-end Masters Cup event and the four non-ATP Grand Slam tournaments, that represents a full calendar for top players. MacGill suggested many might pass up Hamburg.

MacGill also accused ATP officials of deciding to downgrade Hamburg in 2006 -- before tournament applications under the new plan were submitted.

Brad Ruskin, a lawyer representing the ATP, said the plaintiffs are simply upset that they have been left out of the top tier in the new tournament scheme and that they have previously acknowledged that the ATP has the authority to determine both tournament status and schedules for its members.

"When they were in the highest tier ... they didn't think that there was anything wrong with the fact that there were 50 other tournaments in other tiers," Ruskin told jurors.

Ruskin said the Hamburg tournament has lost money for several years, perennially plagued by rain and a lack of interest among Germans following the retirements of homegrown superstars Boris Becker and Steffi Graf.

Ruskin claimed that attendance figures reported by Hamburg officials in recent years have been greatly exaggerated and that they have refused to make the necessary investments to improve the tournament. On the other hand, Shanghai and Madrid, both top-tier venues under the new tournament plan, are making stadium investments of $200 million each.

"There's not a shred of evidence that anyone is out to get Hamburg," he said, adding that Hamburg can be a successful second-tier venue.