Konta welcomes bid to merge tours – but it must be marriage of equals

‘Treat us like men’: GB ace Jo Konta welcomes bid to merge tennis tours – but says it must be marriage of equals

  • Roger Federer believes the ATP and WTA tours should be merged into one body
  • Federer feels the time has come for tennis to be ‘united’ amid the pandemic
  • The 38-year-old’s comments attracted support from the likes of Rafa Nadal 
  • The tennis calendar has been decimated by the pandemic, with Wimbledon off 

Jo Konta has welcomed Roger Federer’s proposal to unite the men’s and women’s tours – but insists that it will have to be a marriage of equals.

The Swiss master sparked a firestorm of debate within tennis when he suggested that the Covid-19 crisis presented an opportunity to reshape the game and merge the ATP and WTA circuits.

While many broadly support the concept, some doubt that it will survive its first collisions with reality. There will be some (mainly male) players who fear that it could restrain their earning capacity.

Jo Konta has welcomed Roger Federer’s proposal to unite the men’s and women’s tours

Konta, who has influence as a member of the WTA’s player council, likes the sound of the idea but warned against the men’s game effectively absorbing their female colleagues.

‘For me, I don’t understand how it wouldn’t be of equals 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.’ 

As the world number 14 pointed out, Federer – whose call has been echoed by Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray – is not the first to have dreamed of such a thing happening.

‘Billie Jean King beat him to that a long time ago,’ she said. ‘It is something that has been something talked about for a long time but having Roger vocalise it drew attention to it.

Roger Federer says tennis should use the current shutdown to merge the ATP and WTA tours

‘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. I know there will be a lot of people who won’t want it to happen, but also a lot of people who do.

‘I think 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.’ The stiffest opposition could come from some tournament directors, and top 100 male players beyond those who have already banked many millions. They may resist any moves to dilute their superior economic clout.

Yet these are strange and uncertain times, in a week when Konta and hundreds of others would now be in Paris preparing for the climax of the clay court season, had wider measures not put the sport into the deep freeze.

Instead Britain’s highest ranked player of either sex has just resumed practice after a two-month hiatus. Rather than honing herself for the French Open, where she made the semi-finals a year ago, she has been adjusting to lockdown like everyone else.

This has involved turning the living room at her South London apartment into a makeshift gym. She has also used the time to start her own Johanna Konta Podcast, with the first episode involving her interviewing her actor friends, twins Jamie and Oliver Phelps, who have featured in the Harry Potter films.

The Swiss legend took to Twitter last month to share his thoughts on merging the tours

He clarified he meant merging the tours into one body rather than playing against each other

Konta admits that the memory of her unexpected run to the last four at Roland Garros, on supposedly her weakest surface, is a bitter-sweet one. Her spectacular demolition of Sloane Stephens in the quarter finals was followed by defeat to the lower-ranked Marketa Vondrousova.

‘I played Sloane and that was a very good match from my point of view. But then there was bit of heartbreak for me. I lost the match against Vondrousova under difficult conditions. It was wet and chilly, we were at the back of the grounds somewhere.

‘It was a tough match to lose because I had opportunities. Whoever was going to lose that match was going to hurt, and it definitely hurt. But I can look back and say I am a semi-finalist at the French Open and it’s something I can be proud of. Who knows, I may get another opportunity.’ 

Even with a seat on the player council, she concedes she has little idea about when that might be. It may turn out that her next appearance will be in some kind of Brit-only event that is likely to emerge, and she is open to that.

Tennis has been decimated by the coronavirus crisis, with this year’s Wimbledon cancelled

‘It would make sense for something to happen domestically before internationally because our freedom of movement will be the last thing that will get to any form of normality. Without that we don’t exist because everyone is coming from everywhere.

‘I haven’t heard anything specific but if I’m fit and ready then I think it would be great to having something to play at home.’ 

With the tours suspended until at least August, the next developments are likely to be firmed up next month: ‘Until the June announcements I am thinking I’m preparing for something in July.’ Practice restarted on Friday with hitting partner Dan Smethurst at the National Tennis Centre, both of them using a separate set of balls under safety guidelines.

Konta laughed off her recent hints that she might end up walking down the aisle with long-term boyfriend Jackson Wade: ‘Right now I’ve been in a loving relationship for the last three and something years with an Englishman, so as of now I am on track to have an English husband, however he might decide he doesn’t want to be my husband, so I guess it is an English boyfriend that I have right now.’ For now there is just relief that some sort of normality is returning, although like everyone else she has been denied a few of the simple pleasures in life.

‘I have missed being able to go to Battersea Park to a café there that does amazing breakfasts. My boyfriend and I enjoy going there at the weekend, walk the dogs and have a lovely breakfast. I miss people being relaxed as well. When you’re outside you can feel people being anxious. I think there are quite a lot of angry people about, although there are also a lot of very kind people who being more friendly than normal and want to interact.’ 

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