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Women's Tennis: Off Season Changes A Step In Right Direction

Monday, 8 Sep 2008 | 10:09 AM ET
Serena Williams
AP
Serena Williams

Last night, Serena Williams won the U.S. Open title with a victory over Jelena Jankovic. With that, most Americans will now forget about watching tennis for another three months. But when women's tennis comes back in 2009, WTA CEO Larry Scott is changing up a whole lot of things.

The announcement called "Road Map 2009" was made last week, but it was buried in all the college football and NFL ramp up.

Lost among many was the fact that Scott actually announced he was extending the off-season, at a time when the NFL is thinking about negotiating for its players to play one or two more regular season games. What's more remarkable is that the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour will promise $13 million more in prize money.

With player injuries hampering the tour and the amount of no shows growing, Scott said he had enough with hearing from fans, sponsors and his TV broadcast partners. So his plan involves rest (longer off-season by two weeks), fewer changes in surfaces and three fewer required tournaments to play.

"We are trying to prove the thesis that less can be more if it's done the right way," Scott told me. "Growing and expanding to try to get more money for the athletes comes at a cost. If you dilute the product and over tax the athlete, then that's not a good formula."

So how is Scott generating more money?

He's taking away some of the players flexibility. They have to show up to fewer tournaments, but when they don't show up to the required tournaments, they are forced to do something within that community at some point during the tournament or the year or face a penalty. He's also trying to make the game on television more exciting by allowing on-court coaching, providing that the coaches wear mikes (I'm not sure how many coaches will agree to do this).

With all this comes incentives for the players if the game is grown. A revenue sharing plan will commence in 2011. I asked Scott to show me the math. It's a pretty well thought out revenue sharing plan, that I'm not allowed to publish. But, like anything, it will come down to a whole lot of auditing and fuzzy math can take place from the tournament level all the way up to the WTA Tour.

Overall, I'm extremely impressed by the sweeping changes the tour has made. Will it stop injuries? No. Some of it might have to do with the fact that these kids are starting and drilling at younger ages in the drive to become pro. So by the time they are at the top, they start to fall apart. But these changes are definitely a step in the right direction. It should be interesting to watch what happens. As it turned out, someone could argue that all these injuries and no shows added up to more exciting tennis for women's tennis, which has been also been plagued by the predictability of its top players winning.

With Serena winning, she now joins Justin Henin, Maria Sharapova, Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic as players to take the No. 1 spot this year. I'm not the best tennis historian, but considering that only 18 players have called No. 1 home since rankings started in the mid 1970s, I'd bet it would be pretty hard to find a year when the women's No. 1 was owned by five different players.

Questions? Comments? SportsBiz@cnbc.com

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