Novak Djokovic has resigned as head of the Association of Tennis Professional’s Player Council, but his plans for a new representative organisation for athletes have already encountered some stiff resistance.
World number one Djokovic, Canadian Vasek Pospisil and top-ranked American John Isner all resigned from the council after they were formally requested to step down by other members.
Pospisil tweeted out a picture showing a group of male players — wearing masks because of the pandemic — standing on a US Open court and wrote that “we are excited to announce the beginning of the Professional Tennis Players Association (PTPA)”.
The association, Pospisil said: “did not emerge to be combative, to disrupt, or to cause any issues within or outside the tennis tour. Simply to unify the players, have our voices heard and have an impact on decisions being made that [affect] our lives and livelihoods”.
“We are not calling for boycotts. We are not forming parallel tours,” Djokovic said.
But Djokovic’s move to form a separate players association seemed to have brought together the governing bodies, who called for unity at a time when tennis has been ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, the Serb, who beat Canada’s Milos Raonic in the final of the Western & Southern Open 1-6 6-3 6-4 in New York, was still determined to push ahead with the breakaway group.
“I have read in the letter from ATP, that they think that ATP cannot co-exist with the association,” the 17-time Grand Slam winner said.
“I have to respectfully disagree. This is not a union. This is a player association.”
The ATP governs the men’s professional tour and its board, chaired by former Italian professional player Andrea Gaudenzi, is composed of representatives of both players and tournament owners.
“We recognise the challenges that our members face in today’s circumstances, however, we strongly believe that now is a time for unity, rather than internal division,” an ATP statement said.
“We remain unwavering in our commitment to deliver for our players across all areas of our business, ensuring they receive maximum benefit from their years on tour, and their voices are heard.”
Besides the ATP and the Women’s Tennis Association, the sport is also controlled by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) and the boards of the four grand slams.
In a joint statement, the governing bodies said they have worked “tirelessly” to ensure the sport returned safely after a five-month hiatus and help the players who needed financial help during the shutdown.
Federer and Nadal call for united stand
The players are now present in New York’s bio-secure bubble ahead of the US Open, which starts on Monday.
Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal, who make up the ‘Big Three’ of men’s tennis along with Djokovic, are also part of the council but have opted out of playing this year’s US Open.
Nadal echoed the ATP’s thoughts.
“The world is living a difficult and complicated situation. I personally believe these are times to be calm and work all of us together in the same direction,” he said on Twitter.
“It is time for unity, not for separation.”
Federer, the most successful men’s player with 20 grand slam singles titles, agreed with Nadal.
“These are uncertain and challenging times, but I believe it’s critical for us to stand united as players, and as a sport, to pave the best way forward,” said the 39-year-old, who is recovering from double knee surgeries.
Andy Murray said he wanted to give the current ATP leadership more time to work.
Murray also does not like that the PTPA would be for male players only; there was talk earlier this year about the possibility of merging the ATP and WTA.
Having a group representing men and women would send “a much more powerful message,” Murray said.
Djokovic said he “would love to have Roger and Rafa on board” but that he understood their perspective.
“It’s like having a baby. The time is never right or it’s always right,” said Djokovic.
“We are just trying to get a sense of how many players do really want to join this initiative. Then we will take it from there.”