British tennis suffers blow as ATP Finals 2020 likely to be the last staged in London

Simon Briggs
The Telegraph
The ATP Finals has been hosted at the O2 for 12 years - Action Plus
The ATP Finals has been hosted at the O2 for 12 years - Action Plus

British tennis is on the verge of losing one of its biggest assets, as the Association of Tennis Professionals prepares to shift the ATP Finals out of London after a 12-year stay. Barring a late change of heart, the 2020 event will be the last staged at the O2 Arena.

After a nine-month tender process, the Telegraph understands that ATP executives are likely to rule out another extension – which would be the fourth – to the O2’s hosting agreement. Turin is the favourite to win the new deal, which will last for five years, although Tokyo is also seen as a strong contender.

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The loss would not have a direct financial impact on the British game, as all proceeds go directly to the ATP. But the visibility of this event has been huge, with both the BBC and Sky Sports running live TV coverage, and posters all over London advertising the presence of the world’s eight best singles players – not to mention a doubles contingent that now regularly includes Jamie Murray.

Played on an indoor hard court at the O2 Arena in North Greenwich – the world’s most sought-after entertainment venue – the ATP Finals have demonstrated to a British audience that there is more to tennis than Wimbledon and the grass-court swing. Tickets for under-18s were available last year for just £10.

London’s 12-year residency is the second-longest in the history of the ATP Finals. The tournament has been played in 14 different cities since its inception in 1970, and the pressure for change has been building. Novak Djokovic, who is now the head of the ATP player council, has been calling for a move since 2014.

Djokovic’s restlessness was only held at bay by London’s profitability. The tournament was established in 2009 by Chris Kermode, the 54-year-old Briton who is now in his final year as ATP president, and his big gamble was to separate each day into two tickets. With more than 250,000 fans attending annually, the Finals thus brought in 15 per cent of the ATP’s revenues, which stood at US$144million in the last financial year.

<span>Novak Djokovic has been calling for the ATP Finals to leave London since 2014</span> <span>Credit: Getty Images </span>
Novak Djokovic has been calling for the ATP Finals to leave London since 2014 Credit: Getty Images

The alternative venues are unlikely to match London’s bottom line on their own, but a state guarantee could make up the difference. Italian sources have reported that Turin’s mayor, Chiara Appendino, may be prepared to offer an annual guarantee of E15m over the five years of the new contract. Ironically, the Turin bid originally missed the deadline for applications, but after submitting a late entry, it is believed to have moved ahead of the three other new cities on the shortlist: Tokyo, Singapore and Manchester.

Another factor is the presence of a home player. London lost this advantage, at least for the moment, as soon as Andy Murray’s right hip began to degrade dramatically in 2017. Tokyo can point to Kei Nishikori’s regular position in the top ten, but a long-haul flight to Japan, immediately after the European indoor swing, is unlikely to be popular with the players.

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