As sports became more and more professionalized and commercialized, organizing bodies were created to ensure consistency and safety for the athletes.
However, due to the historical mistreatment and exclusion of women from professional sports, many sports have different organizing bodies for men and women. Tennis is no different, and the two major governing bodies within tennis are the ATP and the WTA.
The main difference between the ATP and the WTA is the gender of the athletes. The ATP regulates men’s and boys’ tennis, and the WTA regulates women’s and girls’ tennis. Each organization is independent, although they work closely together with the International Federation of Tennis (ITF) and the Olympic Committee.
Differences in History: The ATP is Slightly Older
The ATP stands for the Association of Tennis Professionals, and it was started in 1972. This was four years after tennis made a major shift into what’s known today as the Open Era.
Although tennis is an old sport, 1968 marked a change in the professionalization and standardization of the game. The ATP was thus formed to provide fair ranking systems and to protect player interest.
Deciding on a way to rank players was a major goal of the ATP, and computer rankings began in 1973. They’re still used to this day to determine the men’s ranks throughout professional tennis.
These rankings allow players to enter certain tournaments based on their rank order and influence seeding within the tournaments.
Sixteen years after the initial formation of the ATP, players pushed for changes to the way the organization was structured. This movement, supported by the majority of the top players, led to the creation of the ATP Tour, which kicked off in 1990.
Billie Jean King and the Original Nine
By contrast, the WTA (Women’s Tennis Association) began in 1973, the year after the ATP. Tennis legend Billie Jean King, along with eight of her fellow female tennis stars, was a huge proponent of creating a women’s only tennis tournament in order to combat the huge pay disparity that existed in tennis at the time.
Rather than continue to play in tournaments controlled by men, Billie Jean King and her contemporaries wanted to plan and play in their own events.
They too began using computerized ranking systems (in 1975) and gathered major sponsorships and television deals. This created an environment where the best women tennis players in the world could thrive.
Although there is still pay inequality throughout tennis, the difference in overall prize money earned is less than in other sports like basketball and soccer.
Grand Slam Sets
Both men and women play in the four Grand Slams (the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon, and the US Open), which are put on by the International Tennis Federation. However, the setup for the matches is different across the gender lines.
Women play a maximum of three sets, whereas men play a maximum of five sets. This means that women can win a match playing only two sets, but men have to play a minimum of three sets in order to win and advance.
There is some criticism about the best-of-five format. On one hand, some say that the Grand Slam tournaments should be more challenging, which is why they’re the only tournaments that feature such lengthy matches. This makes them, in a sense, more grand than other tennis events.
Some proponents of the best-of-five format think that women should be given the opportunity to play best-of-five in the Grand Slams to further showcase their power and skills.
However, there are many in the tennis world who are in favor of shortening the Grand Slams so that the men also play best-of-three matches. Some of the top-ranked players support this idea, since the best-of-five matches are grueling and can lead to player injury later in the tournaments.
Additionally, such long matches cause issues with broadcasting and fans’ attention span. The Grand Slams may need to evolve in order to remain as dominant as they have been throughout their history.
However, for now, this is a major difference in ATP and WTA players who show up at the Grand Slams:
- ATP players (men) play best-of-five matches in all four Grand Slam tournaments.
- WTA players (women) play best-of-three matches in all four Grand Slam tournaments.
- Both ATP and WTA players use best-of-three formats in all other tournaments, including the Olympics.
Number of Players
The ATP has more ranked players than the WTA. On their website, they show 1,965 rankings for men’s singles players. The WTA says they have (more than 1,650 tennis players and provides 1,469 rankings on their website.
This means that there are currently almost 500 more ranked ATP players than WTA players.
Although the two organizations use similar ranking systems, there are some small differences in how the ATP and WTA rank their players. Both organizations use a rolling 52-week time frame to calculate the rankings.
However, the limit on how many tournaments are counted in the rankings are different. Looking at singles matches only, the ATP uses the past 19 matches in their rankings. In the WTA, the ranking is currently determined by the past 16 tournament results.
Additionally, how points are awarded is slightly different. In general, players receive a number of points based on their performance in tournaments.
For example, the winners of the Grand Slam tournaments receive 2,000 points towards either their WTA or ATP ranking. However, the runner-ups receive different point allocations.
- WTA Grand Slam Runner-Up: 1,300 points
- ATP Grand Slam Runner-Up: 1,200 points
- WTA Grand Slam Semi-Finals: 780 points
- ATP Grand Slam Semi-Finals: 720 points
This point allocation continues on down the line, with each organization offering slightly different points valuation at the various levels.
While the Grand Slams offer the most opportunities for points at a maximum of 2,000, both the WTA and ATP organize other tournaments based on the amount of points available to the winners. These most prestigious tours (after the Grand Slams) are called the ATP Tour Masters 1000 and the WTA 1000.
The ATP has nine tournaments in its 1000 series, and the WTA has ten tournaments. Both tours play in:
- Indian Wells
However, the ATP Masters 1000 plays its additional three tournaments in Monte-Carlo, Shanghai, and Paris. The WTA 1000 plays its four additional tournaments in Wuhan, Beijing, Guadalajara, and either Dubai or Qatar.
While the style of play can vary between men’s and women’s tennis, the organizing bodies have created more or less standard ways of ranking and playing across the gender gap.
The rules of the game are the same for all of the players, but there are differences in the regulatory, back-of-office requirements. Regardless of the differences outlined above, the two organizations are indeed very similar.
They work together, offering a joint ATP and WTA app so fans can follow their favorite players in one place. The tournaments where players from the WTA and ATP participate are packaged, advertised, and broadcast together, providing a seamless fan experience.