Andy Murray on holding a Masters 1000 in Middle East, tennis unity and Super Tour rumours

Three-time Grand Slam winner heads into Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships with a grand plan for future of tennis

Andy Murray believes there should be a Masters 1000 tournament on grass, in the Middle East, and in South America. AFP
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Tennis’s fragmented structure has long been the sport’s Achilles heel, with seven different governing bodies often at odds with one another.

But what if tennis had one commissioner, fully in control, and what if that commissioner was Andy Murray?

That was a hypothetical question posed to Murray on the eve of his participation in the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships and the former world No 1 was quick to share his views on what he would tackle first in order to create a healthier tennis ecosystem.

“Probably the schedule. If I could do whatever I wanted, and there were no contracts in place that would stop me from moving the schedule around, there's obvious things that I would do,” Murray told The National ahead of his Dubai opener against Denis Shapovalov, where he is aiming for only his second win of what has been a tough start to the new season.

The world No 50 – who is 1-5 win-loss in 2024, with his sole triumph coming in Doha last week against France’s Alexandre Muller – says he'd like to add a Masters 1000 tournament on grass, a Masters 1000 tournament in the Middle East, and a Masters 1000 tournament in South America.

“I think that the South American swing gets a bit of a bad rap from some people but if you watch the matches over there, the atmosphere is unbelievable,” he explained.

“They love tennis over there. But it sometimes doesn't always get the best player fields because maybe of the surfaces that it's on and the time of year and things like that, but I think they deserve to have one because of how big the sport is over there and how well they support the events.”

The Scot feels the Australian summer swing should be one week longer, allowing for a tournament to be added ahead of the opening Grand Slam of the season, and for the grass season to be extended as well.

More importantly, the three-time Grand Slam champion wants there to be a balance between players’ calls for a shorter season and their participation in exhibition events that contribute to their fatigue and their hectic travel schedules.

“I think there should be a longer off-season as well,” he added.

“I don't know if I would want restrictions on exhibitions. I just think that sometimes the players are a little bit hypocritical [over] the tennis schedule, and it’s like the tennis schedule is too long, but then players are flying all over the world in the off-season to play exhibitions, and that's their choice.

“But it just seems hypocritical because they don't have to play the exhibitions. And they don't have to play every tournament on the ATP tour; they can decide not to come here [to Dubai] or they don't have to play Indian Wells.

“Yes, that might harm their ranking, but they can choose to miss those events. So yeah, I would probably like to see a longer off-season.

“And I wouldn't want to ban exhibitions. I would just ask the players to be a little bit more selective with how they talk about the tour and the schedule and everything when they're off playing exhibitions. And now there's going to be more in the middle of the season.”

Murray noted how exhibitions are no longer restricted to the off-season and are popping up on the calendar midseason as well, as is the case with Patrick Mouratoglou’s UTS events and the newly-announced "Six Kings Slam" which is set to take place in Saudi Arabia in October.

“It's the top players in the world that are able to play exhibitions, where they make lots of money, but the rest of the players they don't have that opportunity and who should you feel more … Well, the players that are at the top of the game make loads of money from prize money, commercial sponsorships, appearance fees and everything, and exhibitions,” said Murray.

“It is the slightly lower-ranked players that obviously don't get those opportunities. So for them, they want more tournaments, because it's a chance for them to earn more money. So there has to be a bit of a balance to that.”

Murray would also like to see the ATP and WTA tours merge, to make tennis a more attractive product for television and sponsors. He believes combining the tours would help with scheduling and logistics too.

“Imagine for the tour supervisors, how much of a pain that must be for them when they're going through the schedule for like Indian Wells and it's like, ‘Oh, you can't put a men's match on at this time because we need two women's here and this TV can only show men's matches at this time and this TV can only show women's matches, so we can't have like overlap in the schedule’. I don't know, it must just be a complete pain for them to have to deal with all that,” he said.

Murray believes unity should be the way forward, but it seems the sport is considering moving in the opposite direction with rumours suggesting the four Grand Slams and the nine Masters 1000 tournaments are looking to form a breakaway “super tour” that would focus on creating a premium product for the fans to consume.

The 36-year-old Brit does not have any details about the rumoured “super tour” but is concerned it is a move fuelled by self-interest rather than overall progress for the sport.

“Tennis is in a difficult spot just now because I don't think anyone knows exactly what's next,” he stated. “I know there's issues between Tennis Australia and the ATP; the Grand Slams and the ATP and the WTA.

“There's obviously been discussions with Saudi Arabia and the PIF; who's going to work with them and what's that going to look like? Will that be a tournament that happens there? Will it be multiple tournaments? Will there be like this ‘premier super tour’ that the Slams are creating with Saudi Arabia? I don't know. I don't know what it’s going to look like.

“Everyone's looking out for their best interests and that's not always the best thing for the sport. Everyone is sort of fighting a bit with each other and it would be much easier if everyone actually worked together for the common good. And I don't know. That's what I hope will happen; I'd say it's unlikely.”

The world No 50 is 1-5 win-loss in 2024, with his sole triumph coming in Doha last week against France’s Alexandre Muller.

Murray was on a six-match losing streak before beating Muller – a stretch he described as one of the most difficult of his career. He lost the following day to eventual finalist Jakub Mensik in a third-set tiebreak three and a half-hour battle but walked away from the Qatar Open feeling optimistic about his progress.

“I think the last two days, like, there was some positive stuff,” said Murray.

“I was hitting the ball a bit harder, I was trying to come forward to the net, and I wasn't the one getting pushed around all of the time. So yeah, that was positive. But ultimately, yeah, today, disappointing to lose that one.”

Murray, a champion in Dubai in 2017, will take on Shapovalov on Centre Court on Monday (not before 16:00 local time), searching for just his second victory of the season. He is 1-1 head-to-head against Shapovalov and has won their most recent meeting, in Madrid on clay two years ago.

Updated: February 25, 2024, 3:55 PM