British No 1 Johanna Konta has rejected a softly, softly approach towards a tennis merger, calling for full equality in any united body that attempted to combine the Association of Tennis Professionals and Women’s Tennis Association tours.
Ever since Roger Federer tweeted on April 22 that “now is the time for men’s and women’s tennis to be united”, the idea of a merger has been at the forefront of the sport’s agenda.
But how would it actually work? In a Telegraph Sport interview published a fortnight ago, WTA chief executive Steve Simon was cautious on the subject of players’ pay.
“You certainly can’t go in with those expectations that it [financial equality] is immediately there,” Simon said, when asked about a pay gap that sees the ATP Tour hand out almost $250 million in prize money to the WTA’s $180 million. “I think it’s a long-term goal.”
Konta, who is one of eight members of the WTA player council, took a tougher stance while speaking to reporters on Tuesday. “I don’t understand how it wouldn’t be [a merger] of equals,” Konta said. “Because if we are then talking about that, would it be us literally saying we are worth less than our male counterparts?
“It would have to be a merger of equals because that’s what we are,” she said. “I wouldn’t see how, right now in today’s age, it would be allowed to be called anything else.”
Just wondering…..am I the only one thinking that now is the time for men’s and women’s tennis to be united and come together as one?
— Roger Federer (@rogerfederer) April 22, 2020
While Simon’s stance might seem negative, it does have a certain logic. The main obstacle to the idea of a merger is likely to come from male players who do not have Federer’s financial resources. They do not like the idea that the ATP’s prize money might be slashed in order to bring the WTA Tour to parity.
Simon, then, is a pragmatist. He is keen to get the deal done and then work the numbers from the inside, whereas Konta advocates a more hardline approach, based on her strong principles of equality.
Asked on Tuesday about Federer’s tweet, Konta said: “[WTA founder] Billie Jean King beat him to that a long time ago. So I think it is something that has been talked about for a long time, but having Roger vocalise it drew attention to it.
“I definitely think in the long run it makes sense for it to be one tour. But I also know there are a lot of moving parts to it. There will be a lot of people who won’t want it to happen, but also a lot of people who do.
“There is a long way between saying, ‘This is what should happen’ and ‘This is what will happen’. I am definitely for it and think it makes sense. I guess we will have to see what the people in suits are able to come up with.”
Konta has launched a podcast in which she opens the door to the world of tennis and interviews guests from other areas of life. Episodes are available on iTunes and other podcast platforms.