Can Players Association Exist Without Roger and Rafa?

WASHINGTON, August 30, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

“The Professional Tennis Players Association (PTPA) did not emerge to be combative, to disrupt, or to cause any issues within or outside the tennis tour,” wrote Canadian men’s tennis player Vasek Pospisil on Twitter Saturday night. “Simply to unify the players, have our voices heard & have an impact on decisions being made that effect our lives and livelihoods.”

In the day since The New York Times’ Ben Rothenberg broke the story that World No. 1 Novak Djokovic and Pospisil are forming a breakaway body to represent the interest of male tennis players outside the current structure of the ATP, which has caused some friction among some of the elite of the sport, including Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal – not to mention a pushback from ATP chairman Andrea Gaudenzi – it’s clear that the surprise news on the eve of the US Open, which starts Monday in Flushing Meadows, N.Y., has had its toll.

Known as the Professional Tennis Players Association, it was a major subject during Djokovic’s virtual press conference following his title win Saturday at the Western & Southern Open – talking about the tennis match took a back seat – and it’s prompted many tweets, both from Pospisil, who like Djokovic, resigned his seat on the ATP Player Friday.

“It has become clear that, as a player council member within the current structure of the ATP, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to have any significant impact on any major decisions made by our tour,” wrote Pospisil on Twitter. “I am proud to say I have always fought for what I believed to be right and, in doing so, never compromised my integrity My sole mission on the council was to represent my peers well, and I’m extremely proud to have done that to the best of my abilities. I leave hold my head high.”

Meanwhile, Djokovic said: “I read in the letter from the ATP they think the ATP cannot co-exist with the association. I have to respectfully disagree. Legally, we are 100 percent safe and are allowed to form the player association. This is not a union, we aren’t calling for boycotts. We aren’t forming parallel tours.”

Further, Djokovic was quoted Saturday as saying of the formation of the new player organization: “I’d love to have Roger and Rafa on board. I’d love to have all players on board but I truly understand … they don’t think the time is right. I think the time is right. The time is always right. It’s like having a baby. The time never right or it’s always right.”

As for the legal side, the new PTPA will be supported by the firm Norton Rose Fulbright and its chairman Walied Soliman.

On Saturday, before Djokovic played his Western & Southern Open final, Rafael Nadal wrote on Twitter:

”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. It is time for unity, not for separation. 

“These are moments where big things can be achieved as long as the world of tennis is united. We all, players, tournaments and governing bodies have to work together. We have a bigger problem and separation and disunion is definitely not the solution.”

Roger Federer, out of action for the rest of the year while recovering from knee surgery, responded to Nadal’s plea and added: “I agree with @RafaelNadal. 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.”

Also, Saturday, a letter went out to the players signed by Federer, Nadal and the rest of the ATP Player Council (who didn’t already resign). In it, it began:

”On behalf of the player council we would like to send a message saying that we do not endorse the formation of a new Player Association. We believe this is the wrong time to pursue this course of action as it undermines our new management’s ability to achieve their vision for our sport. A new Player Association cannot co-exist with the ATP. We fully respect that every player is entitled to their own opinion, so our objective is notifying you of our stance and to make sure every player fully understands the implications.”

The letter concludes:

”It is important to say that we are not against the concept of reviewing the structure and the governance of tennis, but that is exactly what new ATP management have proposed since January, and the Player Council agreed on a timeline for them. We are working hard on having better communication and having wider player representation. We are not against the Players. We are not against a united player approach. We are all for the Players but not to risk it all down this path with such little information.

”We are against this proposal as we do not see how this actually benefits the players and puts our lives on Tour and security in doubt.”

The letter was signed by Kevin Anderson, Federer, Jurgen Melzer, Nadal, Sam Querrey and Bruno Soares.

A few moments with Naomi Osaka 

The Western & Southern Open, which took place this week in New York, was filled with daily Zoom virtual press conferences due to restrictions placed on media being on site as a health and safety precaution during the COVID-19 pandemic. Thus, hundreds of press from around the world were given special phone numbers and codes to access these events. A typical Naomi Osaka virtual press conference was well attended by media from the U.S., Europe and Japan, and Osaka – always a stream of consciousness that filled our notebooks with both humor and empathy – was very gracious with her time. On Friday afternoon following her semifinal, she answered numerous questions about her decision to speak out on racial injustice and social inequality that ultimately captured the attention of pro tennis and the world, and caused a one-day pause in the tournament. Also, she returned on Saturday morning to explain her decision to withdraw from the final because of an injury.

The new normal?

It’s not uncommon for tennis players who win big tournaments to lift the trophy and kiss it. In the new era of COVID-19 trophy ceremonies, Novak Djokovic lifted his Western & Southern Open trophy, then lowered his mask, kissed the trophy and promptly put his mask back in place. Will this become the new normal? In two weeks at the US Open, we’ll find out.

The Way Back Machine – US Open 2006

What they’re saying

In a remarkable week of messages bigger than just tennis, both Milos Raonic and Novak Djokovic used the trophy ceremony of the Western & Southern Open held on Louis Armstrong Stadium to talk about subjects near and dear to them that went well beyond the tennis court.

What they’re sharing on social media

Roberto Bautista Agut / Muchas gracias!

Sabine Lisicki / Hello from Prague 

Serena Williams remembers Chadwick Boseman