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ATP, PTPA exchange barbs but most players staying on sidelines
Players involved with the PTPA are calling for the ATP to delay voting on its "Strategic Plan" until questions are answered about its future impact.
Published Jun 29, 2021
TC Live: Discussing the ATP vs. PTPA situation
A long-running internal conflict within the ATP Tour is becoming an increasingly public split as the fledgling PTPA takes further steps towards forming a player association, but most players are staying on the sidelines for now.
The Professional Tennis Players Association, led by Vasek Pospisil and Novak Djokovic and formed just before the 2020 US Open, announced that it had now appointed an executive director, communications specialist and an advisory board. It came not just days before the start of Wimbledon, but also just days before the ATP Board votes on its "Strategic Plan" to reorganize the tour, which was also announced to players around the 2020 US Open.
As a start, the PTPA is calling on the ATP to delay the vote to answer its questions and allow players to understand the effects. The plan includes significant changes to the tour, including converting most of the Masters 1000 events into 12-day competition, and more centralization of broadcast, streaming and data rights. It also provides prize money increases based on a profit-split between players and events, on top of a two percent standard increase.
There has also been reaction from the ATP side, including a statement emphasizing players and tournaments are equally represented on the ATP Board, which has three player representatives, three event representatives and the ATP Chairman. These player representatives are chosen by the 10-member ATP Player Council, who are voted on by players.
But few have revealed their position as they start play at SW19, much like previous occasions.
"From a player perspective it’s great that someone like Novak Djokovic, who is the world No 1 and has 19 Slam titles and all that, you can see that he cares about the sport and you can see that he’s trying to do everything he can, from his point of view, that is going to improve this sport," said Alexander Zverev.
"So I do give him a lot of credit. I cannot go into details because simply I don’t know the details and I don’t know what the bigger picture is, the bigger plan is."
While the association has the broader aim of giving players greater say in the running of the sport, the battle lines appear to be an extension of an ongoing tussle about the share of tournament earnings given as prize money. The current concern appears to be largely at the Masters level, though it is also a frequent issue with the independently-run Grand Slams.
The PTPA has not released membership numbers, citing concerns about "retribution" from the ATP, which has been warning players against getting involved.
Still, in a press conference organized by the PTPA before Wimbledon, its executive director, Adam Larry, said more than "70 percent" of the ATP Tour had signed up, though not specifying whether this referred to membership or a show of interest. There are also some WTA players, according to the PTPA.
Those who have shared or shown online approval of PTPA statements in recent days include around 20 players, such as John Isner, Ryan Harrison, Reilly Opelka, Ivo Karlovic, Juan Sebastian Cabal, Rohan Bopanna and Taro Daniel.
Djokovic, Pospisil, Isner and Sam Querrey were on the 2020 ATP Player Council prior to joining the PTPA but, at the insistence of the ATP, resigned their positions. According to Djokovic and Pospisil, they have also been stopped from seeking re-election since.
But in 2019, three other players—Jamie Murray, Robin Haase and Sergiy Stakhovsky, along with coach rep Dani Vallverdu—had resigned citing disagreement within the Player Council about selections for the Board. Prior to that was the ouster of ATP CEO Chris Kermode, a move widely viewed as being backed by Djokovic that prompted the return of Federer and Nadal to the Player Council.
Some of the contention appears to have involved a 2018 decision to reduce prize money increases for the Masters events to less than five and a half percent —a significant reduction from previous years. In 2011, the Masters events agreed to provide a nine percent annual increase. Then in 2014, this increased to 14 percent, though still not the 25 percent the players wanted based on increases in tournament earnings. In 2019, just days before the start of the new season, a return to an almost 14 percent increase was announced for the tour as a whole.
While prize money has since been sharply reduced due to crowd limits and tournament cancellations, the PTPA appears to have shifted its attention to the ATP's plan and questioned its gains for players.
The current Player Council members are Federer, Nadal, Andy Murray, Kevin Anderson, Gilles Simon, Pablo Andujar, John Millman and Felix Auger-Aliassime as singles representatives, and Bruno Soares and Marcus Daniell for doubles players.
Vallverdu, who has returned as the coaching rep, issued a statement calling the PTPA's moves "disruptive" and "undermining" and said "players had "spent hours, days, weeks and months discussing the plan."
Harrison responded to these comments, calling the ATP a "broken system" and saying the players needed their own representation.
Anderson said players with concerns should be speaking to those on the Player Council.
"I think it's a little unfair to say there's a lack of transparency," he was quoted as saying by Ubitennis. "Communication is important -- I'm the first to acknowledge that but I feel it goes both ways.
"All of us [on the council] are putting in the time to represent the players to the best of our abilities."
Though pros often express frustration with tournaments not sharing more about their earnings, Anderson noted that there were also concerns about providing access.
"If you look at every organization around the world, representatives try to make the best informed decision for a wider group of people," he said. "Some information is just sensitive. You can't necessarily share that with a wider group of players."
But Djokovic said the players had to have more involvement. "We want to be accepted, respected, and acknowledged," he said.
An attempt by Pospisil to speak to ATP Chairman Andrea Gaudenzi in Miami led to an angry confrontation, according to Pospisil's expletive-heavy description of the incident on court during his first-round defeat. Subsequently, Pospisil said in the press conference he had taken two months off to further launch the PTPA prior to his tour return.
The ATP does not appear to have so far answered its communications.
Anderson plays Djokovic in the second round of Wimbledon. Pospisil has also reached the second round.