WASHINGTON, August 31, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)
In a week in which social justice messages have been bigger than sport – and let’s not forget there’s still a global pandemic going on that has created unfathomed challenges to the worldwide tennis community – say what you will, but Novak Djokovic’s new players rebellion is dividing tennis at a difficult time. All of this is happening in the lead up to the US Open, the first major since the relaunch of the ATP and WTA tours, which were halted by the coronavirus in March.
When Djokovic and Canadian player Vasek Pospisil joined together to launch a breakaway group – the Professional Tennis Players Association – that would be a separate entity from the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) that was founded in 1972, their intentions seemed to be good. It was designed to represent the interests of men’s pro tennis players – specifically those of a certain ranking (top 500 ranked men’s singles players and top 200 ranked men’s doubles players). After all, unlike much of pro sports, tennis players operate as independent contractors – they aren’t represented by a union.
However, as The New York Times’ Ben Rothenberg reported over the weekend, it wasn’t entirely clear “if the group would attempt to bargain collectively like players’ unions in other professional sports.” Instead, it seemed, the new players association would provide men’s players with a self-governance structure and focus on issues such as tournament rules and regulations, revenue sharing, pensions and medical care.
Djokovic and Pospisil detailed their goals in a letter distributed to players – many of them already in New York for the US Open. They even had a photo op Saturday evening on the Grandstand.
After yesterday’s successful meeting, we are excited to announce the beginning of the Professional Tennis Players Association (PTPA). The first player only association in tennis since 1972. #PTPA pic.twitter.com/q8H0aOdqDl
— Novak Djokovic (@DjokerNole) August 30, 2020
”The goal of the PTPA is not to replace the ATP, but to provide players with a self-governance structure that is independent from the ATP and is directly responsive to player-members’ needs and concerns,” according to Djokovic and Pospisil. They solicited signups and received many responses immediately.
Clearly, the ATP sees the upstart group as a threat and its chairman, Andreas Gaudenzi, even went so far as to issue a letter to players urging them not to support it.
On Saturday, the ATP and WTA tours, the four Grand Slam tournaments and the ITF released a joint statement that backed the ATP and supporting “its role in representing the best interests of players throughout this progress.”
Through it all, Djokovic does not have the support of either Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal – and that’s a problem. Each took to social media to express their displeasure and urge caution. Along with four other members of the ATP Player Council – Kevin Anderson, Jurgen Melzer, Sam Querrey and Bruno Soares — they wrote a letter that urged other players to not sign up with the new association.
“It undermines our new management’s ability to achieve their vision for the sport,” read a portion of their letter. “A new Player Association cannot co-exist with the ATP.”
Among the questions that Federer and Nadal raised, which have gone unanswered by Djokovic and Pospisil, include: “What happens if tournaments go against us?”; What is the contingency plan to protect us if this goes ahead and badly?” and “Who is taking responsibility for any fallout both with our careers, income and negativity?”
On Sunday, much of the focus centered on the WTA and why the Players Association did not reach out to include women’s players. Shouldn’t they be given a chance to unite with their male counterparts? Excluding women, it turns out, is one of the primary reasons Andy Murray said he wouldn’t support Djokovic and Pospisil. In the past, Murray has been quick call out inequalities in how players are treated, both men and women, and for now, he’s backing Gaudenzi in giving the ATP an opportunity to fix long-standing concerns he and others have raised.
“Whether that works out or not would potentially influence me in the future as to which way I would go,” said Murray during Saturday’s round of media interviews. “Also, the fact that the women aren’t part of it, I feel like that would sent a significantly – well, just a more powerful message personally if the WTA were on board with it. That’s not currently the case. If those things changed in the future, it’s something that I would certainly, certainly consider.”
Pospisil wrote on Twitter: “Regarding the involvement of women in the PTPA, there is active dialogue with the women’s side. We recognize the importance of women’s tennis and their involvement. This should be evident by the separate movement that started last year when we had support from over 70 of the top 100 ranked from both the men’s AND women’s side. … The PTPA is at its infancy stage… it will only grow form here.”
100 ranked from both the men’s AND women’s side. Also led by Novak and myself with Norton Rose Fulbright.
The PTPA is at its infancy stage.. it will only grow from here.
— Vasek Pospisil (@VasekPospisil) August 30, 2020
Following Saturday’s Western & Southern Open men’s doubles final, Murray’s older brother, Jamie Murray, was asked during a virtual press conference what he thought of the new association. He said:
“I think there’s no secret that the structure with the ATP is challenging I think. I think a lot of players have grievances about that, their representation on the tour in comparison to the tournaments.
“Yeah, I don’t know what it’s going to mean if it does go ahead. I think there’s so many unknowns. It’s a big step to take, a big risk in my mind. Potentially lose any leverage you have, you potentially lose your seat at the table.
“I don’t think there’s really a sort of clear path of direction of where this might end up.”
As the US Open begins Monday, one has to question the timing of the roll out of the Players Association and its tone-deafness toward women, too. At a time the pro tours are trying to get properly restarted in hopes of successfully completing their diminished 2020 tennis calendars, collaboration is what’s need – not division. Also, it’s necessary to ask whether this in the best interests of the sport, both current and future. Granted, players should have an opportunity to explore all of their options, but is this the best time for this to be happening?
One thing seems certain: This year’s US Open is going to be quite the spectacle – and not just for the tennis.
What they’re writing
Simon Cambers, from TennisMajors.com, wonders if the US Open missed an opportunity this year by not trying a shorter format. He speaks with Amazon Prime‘s Greg Rusedski and ESPN‘s Pam Shriver and Brad Gilbert, as well getting feedback from Coco Gauff, Serena Williams and Stefanos Tsitsipas.
Did the @usopen miss a trick by not trying a shorter format this year? Thanks to @PHShriver, @bgtennisnation, @GregRusedski1 and with words from @CocoGauff, @serenawilliams and @StefTsitsipas https://t.co/iwBmxsCUSF
— Simon Cambers (@scambers73) August 30, 2020
Naomi Osaka visits ‘Highsnobiety’
Lately, Naomi Osaka is in high demand when she’s not on the tennis court, both for her views on Black Lives Matter and other issues related to racial inequality and social injustice – and she keeps in tune with the pulse of pop culture, too. Plus, Osaka is more than willing to pose for fashion shoots, too. It’s Naomi being Naomi.
Thank you @highsnobiety for this fun cover 🥰❤️ was so cool to shoot and if anyone wants to check out the story we actually talked about some pretty serious tennis stuff lol. pic.twitter.com/mO2jwLmWgx
— NaomiOsaka大坂なおみ (@naomiosaka) August 30, 2020
The Way Back Machine – US Open August 30, 1978
On August, 30, 1978, the USTA National Tennis Center hosted its first full day of US Open tennis. Arthur Ashe saved three match points to defeat Ross Case 46 76 61 in a best-of-three-set first round match and called the new facility “the greatest thing since sliced bread.” pic.twitter.com/4CJ3Z2l6As
— Randy Walker (@TennisPublisher) August 30, 2020
What’s life like inside the US Open player bubble?
Tennis.com spoke with Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovic to find out what life inside the US Open player bubble is really like.
“It’s kind of like our own little village.”
— Tennis Channel (@TennisChannel) August 30, 2020
It’s practice time at the US Open
Catching up with Karen Khachanov on the practice courts at the US Open.
— Karen Khachanov (@karenkhachanov) August 30, 2020
Youth is served on the Challenger circuit
New Trieste champion Carlos Alcaraz has joined select company that includes Felix Auger-Aliassime and Alexander Zverev as one of the youngest ATP Challenger Tour’s champions since 2010.
The youngest #ATPChallenger champions since 2010…
Felix Auger-Aliassime 🏆 Lyon 2017
Felix Auger-Aliassime 🏆 Sevilla 2017
Alexander Zverev 🏆 Braunschweig 2014
Carlos Alcaraz 🏆 Trieste 2020
— ATP Challenger Tour (@ATPChallenger) August 30, 2020
Happy 38th Birthday, Andy Roddick
— Davis Cup (@DavisCup) August 30, 2020