BRISBANE • Australian tennis officials said yesterday they were working on a new concept for women's tennis after top players complained they were being shunted aside to make way for the inaugural edition of the ATP Cup.
Brisbane International tournament director Mark Handley said tennis in Australia was in a transitional period with the 24-country men's team event being played in Brisbane, Sydney and Perth.
Maria Sharapova and Sloane Stephens have strongly criticised scheduling at the WTA Brisbane International, also being played at the Queensland Tennis Centre, saying the women had been unfairly relegated to the outside courts.
"It feels like a little bit of a second-hand event," said Sharapova.
Fellow Grand Slam winner Stephens fumed: "It was what the ATP wanted. They got what they wanted, girls to the side, that's kind of how it always is."
Handley, while not directly addressing the concerns, said Tennis Australia was looking at a new format for the women next year.
"We are working with the Tours to create an Australian summer of tennis that is an incredible global launch to the international season," he said. "The ATP Cup is the first step and now we are in great talks with the WTA about a new concept and are really excited about the potential in this space."
Initial responses were positive, with former US Open runner-up Madison Keys saying she would welcome possibly a "WTA Cup".
So did 16-time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic, who beat Chile's Cristian Garin 6-3, 6-3 in Brisbane yesterday as Serbia won 2-1. Serbia will travel to Sydney for the last eight with a perfect three wins in the group stage.
He said: "Why not? I mean, I think this kind of format is something that would, I think, bring benefits as well and kind of positive outcomes for the WTA tour.
In Perth, world No. 1 Rafael Nadal beat fellow left-hander Yoshihito Nishioka of Japan 7-6 (7-4), 6-4 to seal Spain's spot in the knockout round after a 3-0 win.
The last round-robin matches in Brisbane were played yesterday, meaning the women can play on centre court only from today.
Said Handley: "From Thursday, there will be exclusively women's matches on Pat Rafter Arena, with more women's matches played on centre court than in previous years.
Sharapova, who lost in the first round to American Jennifer Brady in Brisbane on Tuesday, questioned why the women could not use centre court earlier.
ATP Cup rules allow for on-court coaching while team zones are in the corners, rather than on the sidelines by the umpire.
"It's definitely a bit of a strange strategic move," said the 32-year-old. "I heard that because of the way the court is constructed, that it's not regulation for us to be playing with benches on the side.
"I don't know what else it might be that's preventing (us playing there), because there are a lot of girls that are deserving of that centre court spot in this draw."
The Russian, ranked 147th, was given a wild card to play in the Jan 20-Feb 2 Australian Open, the year's first Grand Slam.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS