Tennis Masters Series tournaments have been a vital part of the ATP tour for many years.
First called the Championship Series in 1990, then Super 9 in 1996, then Masters Series in 1999—they are now remodelled for the 2009 ATP World Tour, renamed as Masters 1000 events.
The nine tournaments across the world—Indian Wells, Miami, Monte Carlo, Rome, Madrid, Canada (alternating between Montreal and Toronto), Cincinnati, Shanghai, and Paris, in chronological order—form the backbone of the 11-month, worldwide, and multi-surface men's tennis tour.
This year the jewel in the crown, the World Tour Finals, will be based in London at the unique O2 arena. A culmination of the year's eight best tennis players and best ATP events, the Finals always produce excitement and drama as the world's best fight it out for the year end championship in front of thousands of fans.
Not only do these prestigious tournaments form the basis for the ATP's schedule, they pose some of the toughest tests for players. The majority of the events have a 64-man format—yes, the top eight seeds receive a bye in the first round, meaning there are only 56 players—but from Wednesday until the final Sunday—five rounds—it's play everyday, for everyone.
Moreover, the restricted drawsheet, combined with the current immense breadth and depth of skill and talent within the top 50, even 100 players, means that each and every match for all players are potential upsets.
Seemingly they form a test to rival even the Slams, which are played out over two weeks (with almost always one full days' rest between matches).
Of course, Slam matches are best-of-five sets, adding to the endurance element of these most illustrious championships (and the need for one day's rest!)—but often in the first few rounds, top players outclass their much lower-ranked opponents. Not so in Masters events with the three set 'sprints' against often evenly-matched opponents.
Of course, this is excellent for fans and sponsors alike. Arguably no other type of tournament offers such value for money; from the first day, players like Marat Safin, Stanislas Wawrinka and Mardy Fish, joined later in the week by Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, mean that there are enticing match-ups proceeding on every court.
Additionally fans can get up close and personal with all the top players during practice—again, the short duration of each tournament ensures that most players will practice every day.
Consequently the tournaments are lucrative for sponsors and broadcasters—even in current difficulties, corporate sponsors are lining up to endorse Masters events.
BNP Paribas, already headlining the BNP Paribas Masters Internazionali BNL d'Italia and Monte Carlo Masters, has this year acquired the BNP Paribas Open Indian Wells, formerly the Pacific Life Open, as one of its principal tournaments.
The lucrative nature of the events mean they have also been the most contentious. One only has to look at the 2008 lawsuit between the ATP and the organisers of the former Hamburg Masters Series event to see how important the tournaments are to sponsors, cities and fans.
Hamburg, annoyed that their Masters clay tournament was to be relegated to a 500 event in order to make way for a richer, more modern clay event in Madrid, accused the ATP Tour of violating antitrust laws and creating an 'illegal cartel', with Hamburg to be used as a 'minor league' event, unable to attract elite players, and subsequently loose vital revenue.
In this landmark battle, the ATP won; this year, the third and final clay court Masters event of the year is in a new complex in Madrid (from May 11-17).
Currently, Andre Agassi is the title-leader, with 17 to his name. Can Rafael Nadal—or Roger Federer—soon equal or surpass this? They hold 15 and 14 titles respectively.
All in all, it is fair to say that the Masters 1000 events offer a world-class tennis experience for players and spectators. They may not have the prestige, or endurance and hype, of Grand Slam events—but they certainly have huge importance in players' fight for tennis supremacy.
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