Why Rennae Stubbs is wrong to believe that the ATP has a bleak future

Former WTA Doubles World No.1 Rennae Stubbs (who won four Women’s Doubles and two Mixed Doubles Grand Slams) recently made some comments implying that the future of the ATP is bleak. Unfortunately for the ESPN analyst, it couldn’t be further from the truth. Here’s why…

It all came about when 20-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer suggested that the ATP and WTA Tours should merge into one governing body. Many people in Tennis backed this decent suggestion including Rennae Stubbs, saying that we need “less divisiveness and dilution.” Everything seemed normal so far.

Shockingly, people thought that that Federer had suggested the men and women play each other (even though that clearly wasn’t the case) and so he had to clarify what he meant. This is when the Stubbs’s delusion began.

She took Federer’s attempt at unity to slander the ATP talking about the “HUGE VACUUM in men’s tennis”, which would exist after both he and long-term rival Rafael Nadal retired from the sport. So much for less divisiveness and dilution! With this tweet, Stubbs implies that the ATP need the merger more than the WTA. However, the gag is that the future of the WTA after 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams retires is much bleaker than that of the ATP after the “Big 3” (Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal & Novak Djokovic) hang up their rackets. Thankfully, former British player and tennis pundit Mark Petchey tried to point out that the state of the WTA and the lack of unity Stubbs had displayed.

The delusion of Stubbs’s argument can be exposed with the following graph.

This graph shows the amount of social media followers (from Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) per match win for the current Top 10 ATP and WTA players. By dividing the social media followings by match win, it controls for the contrasting periods of time players have been on tour to build a fanbase. This metric is arguably the closest we can get to identifying star potential.

What we can infer from the graph is that ATP players generally have bigger fanbases than WTA players even without the same success. No men’s Grand Slam champion or World No.1 would ever end up as unknown to the non-Tennis world as World No.1 & reigning French Open champion Ashleigh Barty, former World No.1 (& still Top 3 player) Karolina Pliskova or this year’s Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin.

In addition, social media (especially Instagram) on average gives women more interactions than men. Therefore, the ATP performing better in a metric where the WTA have an advantage highlights that Stubbs was rather inaccurate with her comment and that if anything the “HUGE VACUUM” exists in the WTA.

Upon Stubbs being called out for her delusion she clapped back with the following terrible take. She tweeted the following “the two most watched tennis matches in the last 12 months involved a woman Coco Gauff….at some point Rafa and Roger will be done with their careers, just saying.” Why was this take terrible? Well for starters, the young American Gauff was only part of the most watched matches in the USA, not internationally. Second, the only reason people watched her was because of her young age, not because of anything to do with her character generating a fanbase. Most casual fans do not remember her name but just know of her as “the 15 year old.”
Like the rest of us, Gauff will continue to get older and if she doesn’t keep achieving more success than peers her age and reach the top soon, the hype for her will likely die down rapidly. After this exchange, Petchey perhaps summed up “why a merger will never work.” He quite correctly said “the competing is supposed to stop off court if there is unity,” before mentioning that the most-watched match in the UK last year was the men’s Wimbledon final (which was also the most watched men’s Wimbledon final since 2012).
So what are my conclusions? You may not believe it but I have for the last decade followed the WTA more than the ATP (although that will likely change now that my favourite players Marion Bartoli and Maria Sharapova have both retired). I have always been supportive of any idea of unity. I was one of the many outraged when the mixed-gender Hopman Cup got scrapped for the ATP Cup.
However, what I do not stand for is the disrespect for the ATP Tour displayed by Stubbs, particularly when she is so off the money. The state of the ATP is stronger than the WTA in both the present and future. How can one even consider denying this when the WTA were responsible for the Debrecen debacle this year which was embarrassing for the whole sport? Therefore, we will only be able to unite and bring the WTA up once people stop arguing to bash the ATP and bring it down.

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