Novak Djokovic Wimbledon 2022

Opinion: Has the ATP become the judge of global behaviour as it restructures its tournament calendar?

So far in 2022, Russian players have been forced to give up their nationality at tournaments, Wimbledon lost its points, and the ATP calendar has undergone five significant changes. While the ATP has been making judgements on Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, it seems to have ignored Israel’s colonial aspirations in the Middle-East, as the Tel Aviv Open has just been re-introduced for the first time in 26 years. Tennishead looks at the history of the tournament and the ATP’s decision to give Israel a one-year license to stage the event.

This week the ATP tour arrived in Israel for the first time in 26 years, for the Tel Aviv Watergen Open. Tel Aviv last held an ATP event in 1996 after hosting the tournament between 1978 and 1981 and then between 1983 and 1996. During that time, Jimmy Connors won his final career singles title, buy winning the tournament in 1989. Israeli player, Amos Mansdorf, appeared in the Tel Aviv Open final five times and won the tournament in 1987 and the tournament still holds the record for the youngest winner of an ATP event, when Aaron Krickstein won in 1983 at the age of 16 years and 2 months.

The Tel Aviv Open was due to return to the ATP tour calendar in 2014 but was cancelled due to security concerns after Israel launched a military offensive against Hamas. There was deep concern over the instability in the region after Gaza officials reported that more than 1800 Palestinians (mostly civilians) and 64 Israeli soldiers and 3 Israeli civilians had been killed in the month since the Israeli offensive was launched.

However, with the suspension of all tournaments in Russia, the ATP has awarded Israel the week that the St Petersburg Open was due to be held, to hold the Watergen Tel Aviv Open, an ATP 250 tournament. Tel Aviv has not replaced the St Petersburg Open on the tour however, it is just taking that week on the calendar while the St Petersburg Open has been moved to Nur-Sultan, the capital of Kazakhstan. Tel-Aviv is one of five new cities added to the ATP tour calendar in 2022, along with San Diego, Seoul, Gijon, Florence, and Naples. At this stage, all five cities have been awarded a single-year license to avoid any gaps in the ATP tournament schedule, caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine and China’s efforts to completely irradicate covid.

The return to Tel Aviv has been met with surprise and anger from many people across the middle East region and globally. Israel continues to attract significant criticism for its approach to its neighbours, in particular Palestine and the fact that the ATP has pulled all tournaments from Russia but allowed Israel to host an event, has been met with surprise and anger, around the world.


Daniil Medvedev Miami Open 2022


Along with the criticism of the ATP awarding the tournament to Israel, there has also been a great deal of criticism aimed at Novak Djokovic (on social media in particular) for deciding to compete in the tournament. Djokovic has a had a controversial year so far in 2022, being deported from Australia in January, for breaching immigration laws, by arriving in the country unvaccinated. His unvaccinated status also stopped him from competing at Indian Wells and Miami and then at the US Open or any of the tournaments in the US Open swing. Djokovic’s controversial 2022 follows his organising of the Adria tour in 2020, at a time when global professional tennis was effectively shut down by the pandemic. Djokovic organised a series of exhibition matches and a full-on social agenda to accompany them, which resulted in Dimitrov, Coric, Troicki and Djokovic himself contracting coronavirus. As well as the shambles that was the Adria tour, Djokovic was also disqualified from the 2020 US open for hitting a female official with a ball, struck in anger.

There is no doubt that the decision to award an ATP 250 tournament to Israel at a time when the country is attracting international condemnation for its aggressive use of military force against Palestine is controversial. Especially after the ATP has acted against Russia, pulling the tournaments held there and forcing Russian players to compete without any reference to their country of birth. The ATP must be even handed in its treatment of all countries for the good of the sport and it is very easy to think that this is not the case with the awarding of a tournament to Israel.

If you enjoyed this then check out all of Tennishead’s weekly opinion articles.

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Tim Farthing, Tennishead Editorial Director & Owner, has been a huge tennis fan his whole life. He's a tennis journalist and entrepreneur as well as playing tennis to a national standard. He also helps manage his local club and volunteers for his local tennis organisation. He's a specialist in content about the administration of professional tennis and tennis coaching for all levels.