New ATP & WTA Challenger Events Added To Packed 2018 Calendar
It’s called the Oracle Challenger Series. A new series of US tournaments has been initiated by long time tennis supporter Oracle. Comprised of two ATP Challenger Tour events and two WTA 125K Series events, the new events will happen as combined tournaments on January 20-28 at the Newport Beach Tennis Club, and February 24-March 4 at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. (Site of the BNP Paribas Open.) Prize money will be $150,000 per event with equal pay out for men and women.
The top two male and female Americans with the highest accumulated points at the events will be awarded wild cards in their respective singles main draws at the 2018 BNP Paribas Open. Player participation in the Oracle Challenger Series will be determined by ATP and WTA rankings and procedures used for similar tournaments.
Judging from the comments of Oracle CEO Mark Hurd, the focus appears to be to give lower-ranked pros here in the United States another home-turf shot at the big time. We always hear about the star players, but for every Federer and Nadal, there are several hundred players with amazingly great games that you never hear about, battling in the lower-tier ATP Challenger or WTA 125K events. They don’t have their own signature Nike outfits and sneakers, or personal Wilson frames. They’re out there scuffling in front of a few dozen people, hoping to reach the rare air of the tennis elite, and praying they don’t pop a string because they’re down to their last racquet.
“Tennis players in the United States need more chances to compete at home and more chances to earn a living from the sport,” said Hurd. “Oracle is committed to American tennis and these events are designed to provide opportunities for players to make meaningful gains in both prize money and ranking points on their home soil. We hope to continue to grow the number of events annually in the years ahead.”
The heads of both pro tours echoed Hurd’s comments:
“Our players in the United States are eager for more opportunities like this,” said Chris Kermode, ATP World Tour Executive Chairman and President. “We’re so pleased to partner with a company like Oracle to further promote and develop tennis in the United States.”
“We are thrilled that Oracle is making this commitment to grow the pathway for young emerging national and regional talent here in the USA to reach their goal of competing on the WTA Tour. This will lead to great things for tennis in America,” said Steve Simon, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the WTA.
Of course, there is another side to this added competition. Just prior to the US Open, you might recall the article we posted about how the tennis tours need to address the escalating injury situation among its players. As the tennis season comes to a close for 2017, the tours are missing many of their top players such as Murray, Djokovic, Nishikori, Monfils, and others. (Just today, Nadal pulled out of the Paris Masters due to his recurrent knee issue.) The seasons are too long without affording players the time to recuperate.
Does pro tennis need more events to “give more opportunities,” or is this another corporate incursion into a sport already top-heavy with title sponsors and presenting sponsors? There were 60 events booked for the ATP calendar in 2017, and 53 WTA events. Those numbers do not include Slams. On the men’s Challenger tour, there are 115 such events. We also haven’t mentioned exhibitions (highly lucrative, although no one twists anyone’s arms.)
See you in Newport Beach January 20!