Michael Emmett: “Tennis needs a 5th major!”

Written by: Michael Emmett

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***Michael Emmett is the Director of Tennis Operations at all Mayfair clubs.  He is a certified Tennis Canada Coach 3 with a Journalism degree from the University of Texas. Michael spent several years working in sports television at TSN and Sportsnet.  Michael is a former National champion who finished his last year of junior tennis ranked #1 in Canada.  Michael has coached several National champions when he worked for the All-Canadian Academy at the National Tennis Centre at York University in the early 90s.  Michael spent 2 years traveling the world playing the ATP tour satellite circuit as a member of the Molson National Team in 1985 and ’86.***

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For most sports fans in North America tennis is still a fringe sport.  The sport comes to life four times a year in Melbourne, Paris, London & New York City.  Eight weeks out of 52 is not enough to bring the sport to the upper echelon. To find tennis on most websites in North America you have to scroll down to the “other sports” category. It is not front and center and on the main pages like it is in Europe, South America and Asia. It can’t compete with the likes of the NHL, NBA, NFL or the MLB.  Women’s golf – a sport on life support – has gone this route – they added a fifth major to their schedule and broke with tradition. What’s wrong with the concept of adding another Grand Slam to a sport with a rich history? It’s along the same lines as the major sports increasing the number of teams participating in the playoffs. It’s a risky move but in all instances it has been successful.

There is no down side to this suggestion except for those who are historians and statisticians – adding another ‘slam’ makes it that much easier to get to the top of the mountain especially on the Women’s side.  Serena Williams is on dramatic chase toward Margaret court’s all time Grand slam mark of 24.  Adding another major will make it that much easier over the final stretch of her career to reach this lifelong dream.

For me, the biggest challenge is picking a host country/city.  Who deserves the right to host such a prestigious event?  Maybe it should be chosen in a similar fashion to picking an Olympic host city for both the summer and winter games.  Potential cities should be required to put together a comprehensive package which highlights their strengths and weaknesses and illustrates why they would be the best candidate.  A committee with folks from all over the world would need to be formed to make this all important decision.

The criteria should not consider that Europe already has two majors. It should simply come down to who is going to do the best job. Tennis in Europe is at an all-time high as far as television numbers, overall participation, players ranked inside the top-100 and quality coaching. Having three majors in Europe might not be fair but I believe it is the correct thing to do. What city has the history and the recognition, the know-how and the support of the players? The candidates are many – Toronto/Montreal, Rome, Indian Wells, Monte Carlo, Miami, Shanghai and Madrid. What surface does this fifth major need to be played on? The likely answer is clay – two majors on hard courts, two majors on red clay and Wimbledon on the grass. If Clay is the final answer then my vote would go to Rome. The Italian Open is a tournament that is oozing with tradition, history and memories. The Italian Open is an event that has been going strong since 1930. The Spanish Open in Madrid would be my second choice based on the fifth major being on red clay.

Rafael Nadal, no doubt, would be in favour of this decision. He currently has eight French titles and likely would add a few more on the red clay of Rome. Many would be against the idea as they would say we are cheating all those great legends of the game as they only had the opportunity to compete in four majors in a calendar year. Adding a fifth major would almost certainly guarantee Nadal the all-time majors record on the Men’s side. Federer’s 17 has always felt insurmountable but put two of the five on clay and Nadal would be a shoe-in for twenty and maybe more.

By adding the fifth major it would afford the tour the opportunity of completely re-working the schedule. We all saw the unbearable conditions in Melbourne in January at the Australian Open. Now we can move the date and play that tournament in a month when the soaring temperatures won’t reach 110 degrees Fahrenheit or 43 degrees Celsius.

My proposal would be to play the slams at the beginning of the third, fifth, seventh, ninth and eleventh month.

The order of the slams would be based on keeping the surfaces together. In other words – it would look like this:

March 1-15 (Rome on Clay), May 1-15 (Paris on Clay), July 1-15 (Wimbledon on Grass), Sept 1-15 (New York on Hard), November 1-15 (Melbourne on Hard) – this schedule would allow the players plenty of time between majors and keep the interest there for a much longer stretch without the big gaps in the schedule. The layoff between the Australian Open and the French Open is far too long. While the current gap between the French and Wimbledon is far too short. This new schedule would drastically improve the spacing throughout the entire schedule. The difficulty would be playing in Rome in early March but based on previous weather patterns this would not be a far-fetched as some might think.

Golf added the FedEx Cup at the end of their season to keep the interest going into October. Tennis needs to change it up. The last big change of the ATP tour and WTA tour was the implementation of the Hawkeye review system. This was a fantastic addition that made the game much more enjoyable. However, this system is only FULLY in place at the Grand Slams. Adding another Grand Slam would just make the game that much better, keep interest spread out over a longer period of time, and add revenue to both tours when the game is definitely on the way back and show the tennis community that it is not afraid to make fundamental changes to its core schedule.

I believe this is a move that must take place. Tennis needs a shot in the arm and this is the best way to revitalize a game that lacks intensity for the majority of its season. Grand Slam tennis is appointment television – the regular tour can be boring and mundane – why not increase the majors by one? It’s a gamble worth taking.

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