A behind-the-scenes move to unionize ATP players, led by ATP Player Council president Novak Djokovic, drew varying reactions as it became publicly known on the opening day of the Australian Open.
According to the Daily Mail, it occurred at the annual player meeting three days before the Australian Open, where attendance is required for ATP players. Before the meeting finished, Djokovic got up and said he would like to speak to the players, requesting that ATP officials and board members leave the room. The Serb then invited an Australian attorney to explain the process of forming a union, said the newspaper.
"People were shocked," a player was quoted by the Daily Mail as saying. "There may have been a few who knew about this, but most didn’t."
Djokovic was not playing on the opening day of the tournament, but he was on the grounds practicing. "I have no comment to make on that," he told Fairfax Media when asked about the meeting.
Rafael Nadal also declined to get into the issue following his first-round victory, saying, "There is always an issue here in Australia. I really believe that there is plenty of time [to] speak about things. But now is the moment, for me personally, to play tennis and to try my best on court."
ATP officials did not comment on the meeting, during which Craig Tiley, the tournament director of the Australian Open, detailed plans to keep substantially increasing prize money at the event. Grand Slam prize money has almost doubled in recent years, increasing sharply since male players, led by the Big Four, pushed for bigger amounts. They pointed to Grand Slam tournament income, which has increased significantly, along with the relatively small proportion, around ten percent, allocated to prize money for players.
"Now if you are Top 100 you are making a good living. I think we want to push that to 150, 200 and keep going," ATP Player Council member Kevin Anderson was quoted as saying by the Telegraph following a first-round defeat.
"I can completely understand that guys feel they want more. I think we do deserve more. But I also understand the opposite perspective. Our tour is 50 percent players, 50 percent tournaments. There are some frustrations and challenges with that, but at the same time there’s balances and checks also.
"It's constant discussions. There’s not a lot of substance to it right now."
Some want to see more increases, which could include at the Grand Slams along with ATP events.
"I feel like the percentage of the income that we get from all of the Grand Slams is just ridiculous, even though they say they are raising the money all the time. They are, but they are earning much more than they did in previous years and I think that’s a bit of a problem," Viktor Troicki was quoted as saying by the Independent.
For all the media which are trying to say that the GS tournaments are “generous” here are some facts :— Sergiy Stakhovsky (@Stako_tennis) January 15, 2018
2012 was the year when players started to be united for fair pay...years before that players where relying on “generosity” of GS . pic.twitter.com/ToHvJM18Zi
Gilles Simon, a vocal proponent of prize money increases for male players, declined to comment.
Others at the meeting also gave reactions.
"It was not about prize money as far as I'm concerned. Firstly it wasn't public, but secondly it wasn't about prize money," said Australian player Matthew Ebden, speaking to press following his opening win. "Yeah, Novak said some things and everyone else... probably 10, 20, 30 other guys held the mike and spoke to the players."
"I haven’t been involved in too many discussions, I’m not on the player board," said Ryan Harrison. "What I can say is, as far as a union goes, it would be good to have in the sense the people that represent us are also representing the tournament, so it would be good to have someone with some form of representation that doesn’t have bias on the other side.
"In tennis we make really good money, but at the same time from a professional athlete standpoint it’s not the way it could be compared to other athletes. You see an NBA player or NFL player, you think seven figures in their bank account.
"I don’t think that’s always the case for guys that even make the main draws of Grand Slams.
"My stance on it is we should have some sort of representation that maybe doesn’t have the other side."
The ATP tour is run as a partnership of players and tournaments, who are represented equally in the association.
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