WTA needs to ace its CEO search
Blinded by the science of topspin on green clay, it's hard to notice the WTA Tour leadership void.
Walking around this week at the Family Circle Cup, you get distracted by the smell of Kettle Korn, the sight of Richard Williams on the practice courts, free samples of almonds and raisins and winning players slamming souvenir tennis balls into the crowd after victories.
Many tennis enthusiasts might not care about the search for a new CEO. But the WTA Tour lost a good one last month when dynamic Larry Scott resigned to become commissioner of the Pac-10 Conference.
The sun rises.
The Williams sisters hit the ball real hard.
And this is one of the most important hiring decisions in WTA history.
"Hopefully, we get the new person sooner than later," tour veteran Nadia Petrova said.
Scott in his six years running the WTA Tour took over a splintered organization and presided over great global growth, the enhancement of star power, relatively sweet TV contracts and an $88 million sponsorship deal with Sony Ericsson.
No wonder the Pac-10 likes the 44-year-old Harvard grad, who happens to be a former pro tennis player.
Scott oversaw the WTA Tour's ambitious Roadmap project, which sought, among other things, to make for better tournament fields and fewer injuries by giving players a longer off-season and more prize money in exchange for some participation requirements.
Tweaks are necessary. The Roadmap has condensed the tour schedule to create a few logistical problems and some long time U.S. tour stops have lost prestige, or been severely wounded.
The Family Circle Cup went from a rare WTA Tour "Tier I" event last year to one of 15 "Premier" events this year, and prize money dropped from $1.3 million to $1 million.
The delightful Amelia Island stop formerly held the week before the Family Circle Cup has been moved to Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., on the other side of Jacksonville and downgraded.
"We have a little more of an off-season break but now there are a couple of tournaments that are out of the schedule and hard to get to, or tournaments gone that for many years were part of the schedule," said Petrova, No. 10 in the WTA rankings. "For top players the Roadmap is a lot of commitments, which makes it a bit difficult when you're kind of forced to play a particular tournament.
"If you talk to many of the top players, they're not happy about that and would like to come up with changes for the next season."
But Scott's greatest WTA skill was juggling salesmanship with a personal touch.
The man speaks fluent French.
"Larry Scott was a strong leader and he was working so hard on so many things," said worldly Patty Schnyder, the popular tour pro from Switzerland. "It was a shock to lose him. We definitely need a strong personality again."
The WTA Tour board has met to discuss the CEO opening but there is no official timetable.
If the hire comes from within, WTA Tour president Stacey Allaster, shining in her role as No. 2 in command, makes perfect sense. The former president of Tennis Canada was impressive during her 2007 visit to the Family Circle Cup.
If not Allaster, start guessing.
She likes sports, has said she wants to run the NFL and knows the globe. But even a former secretary of state would find Larry Scott a tough act to follow.
Reach Gene Sapakoff at firstname.lastname@example.org or 937-5593.