The men's and women's pro tennis tours, all too often like oil and water when it comes to the sport's betterment, may be moving toward a nice mix here in the desert.
Charlie Pasarell, director of the Grand Champions men's event that in recent years has followed the women's Evert Cup at the same facility here the week before, said Sunday that he is working hard toward an integrated two-week tournament. Pasarell said that it is his wish to have it that way next year.
If this came to pass, the Indian Wells event would become only the sixth of its kind in the world, joining the four Grand Slams--Australian, French, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open--plus the Lipton in Florida later this month as a fully integrated, top-level tennis event for both genders.
Both Sydney and Japan have events that play men and women simultaneously, but neither do so with the best players from both tours. The men's tour calls its top events, other than the Grand Slams, "Championship" events. There are currently nine of those, including Indian Wells. The women's tour calls its top events, other than the Slams, "Tier One" tournaments. There are currently eight of those, not including Indian Wells.
Were the tours to combine for a two-week, Lipton-like tournament here, the women's portion would be upgraded from Tier Two to Tier One.
"This isn't done, but we're coming close," Pasarell said. "We're certainly progressing, and, in my opinion, the clear reason for doing this is that it is in the best interests of tennis."
Ann Person Worcester, chief executive officer of the Women's Tennis Assn., and the person who would be responsible for dealing with all the dominoes in tour scheduling were this to be enacted, agrees in principle with Pasarell.
"There has never been a greater realization," Worcester said, "that having men and women play simultaneously (at tournaments) will be good for tennis as a whole."
That being said, Worcester also admitted that she faces considerable problems. If she gives Tier One status to Indian Wells, she will have to take it away from another tournament. And if she goes along with Pasarell's plan, scheduling of three women's tournaments--Del Rey Beach, Fla., Hilton Head, S.C., and Houston--could be affected.
Del Rey Beach is now a lead-in tournament to the Lipton, played the same week as the men at Indian Wells and allowing the women to go to Florida and stay in the Southeast for the entire month of March. Pasarell's proposal would have the women playing at Del Rey Beach before the two-week Indian Wells extravaganza and forcing them to go from Florida to California and back again. Moving Hilton Head a week or so in the schedule might prompt many women players to skip the clay-court tournament because of lack of practice time on the soft surface. And Houston, the first tournament after a month of events in the Southeast this year, might be moved right off the spring calendar.
"For Charlie, doing this is easy," Worcester said. "He's taken this hook, line and sinker. For us, it's not quite that easy. But it is clear that there has never been a greater awareness (on the women's tour) that the timing is right for another blockbuster event like the Lipton."
No less a spokesperson than Chris Evert, in whose name the women's event here proudly hangs its marketing and imagery, leans toward Pasarell's plan.
"(This tournament) is not on a good place on the calendar," she said. "Something needs to be done to spruce up this event. Where are the crowds? This tournament looks the same as 10 other tournaments around the country. . . . I can't say I'm happy with the way things are now."
Times staff writer Julie Cart contributed to this story.