By Richard Pagliaro | Sunday, August 30, 2020
Novak Djokovic is chasing Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in the all-time Grand Slam race—and has parted from his rivals forming a new players association.
Photo credit: Laver Cup Facebook
The Big 3 dominate the Grand Slam discussion—and disagree on the governing vehicle to drive the sport forward.
The iconic trio of Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer have combined to collect 13 consecutive Grand Slam championships.
Now, they’re divided over tennis’ direction.
World No. 1 Novak Djokovic says he’d “love to have Roger and Rafa” join his new players association, while second-ranked Rafael Nadal and 20-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer publicly call for unity behind the current ATP structure.
Though Djokovic is the lone member of the Big 3 playing next week’s US Open, he’s engaging in a public exchange with ATP Player Council members Federer and Nadal over the most effective way to achieve aims of the players.
Meeting with the media after capturing the Western & Southern Open title to extend his undefeated streak to 26 matches claiming his record-tying 35 Masters 1000 title, Djokovic asserts the players association is not only good for the players—it’s good for the sport.
“I think this is an important step for players and for the sport, as well, because I see that there is a kind of a narrative going around that this is only good for players. I disagree,” Djokovic said. “I think this is very good for sport. And this has proven to be a good step forward for other major sports, global sports around the world, as well, that have similar associations in place.
“Of course I would love to have Roger and Rafa on board. Of course I would love to have all the players on board. But I understand. I truly understand that, you know, some of them have different opinions and they don’t think the time is right.”
Earlier this year, Federer called for the ATP and WTA to try to unite. Both Federer and Nadal took to Twitter calling for player unity behind the ATP.
“I agree, Rafael Nadal,” Federer posted in response to Nadal’s tweet for “unity not for separation.” “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.”
— Roger Federer (@rogerfederer) August 29, 2020
Seventeen-time Grand Slam champion Djokovic points out ATP players have discussed the idea of a players association for decades and asserts the time is now for players to act and gain a greater voice in the game’s direction.
“Again, I think the time is right. The time is always right, you know. It’s like having a baby,” Djokovic said. “The time is never right or it’s always right. I mean, as I said at the beginning, this is a project that is ongoing for more than 20 years.
“Lots of players attempted to do what we’re attempting to do right now and hoping we can make that first step and create memberships and create structure and create leadership and create a system.”
In response to the Djokovic-led players association yesterday, the ATP issued a statement saying “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 that their voices are heard.”
ATP Statement On Player Representation
The success of the ATP Tour, and its growth into one of the world’s leading sports properties over the past 30 years, has been built upon a true equal partnership between players and tournaments, alongside productive collaboration with the Grand Slams, WTA, and ITF.
The governance structure of the ATP Tour provides players with equal seats at the table on every major decision affecting the circuit. 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.
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 that their voices are heard. In parallel, we remain committed to working closely with the other governing bodies of tennis as we look to fulfil the true potential of our sport. Only as a unified sport can we truly focus on the fan experience, engage new audiences, and ensure that tennis continues to thrive.
Djokovic and fellow former ATP Player Council member Vasek Pospisil have pointed out the current structure of the ATP government is flawed in that when there are deadlocks between the tournament representatives and player representatives, the ATP Chairman Andrea Gaudenzi breaks the tie.
The 33-year-old Djokovic and former ATP Council member Justin Gimelstob were among those leading the charge against former ATP Council Chairman Chris Kermode, whose contract was not renewed last year. Gaudenzi, a former player, began his four-year term on January 1st.
In addition to seeking a greater voice for players in the governing structure, Djokovic is battling for players to get a greater share of the Grand Slam pie.
“ATP has been an organization through which players are able to express themselves and fight for their rights,” Djokovic said. “They have their representatives on the board, of course. We do have that, so to say, position of executive decision-making, but at the same time, most of the times, actually, on the board you have three members, representatives of players that are kind of in conflict of interest with representatives of tournaments.
“For a lot of decisions to be made, you need the super majority of votes, and if you don’t attain that, then there is no voting.”
Djokovic says the new players association must gain support of the majority of players to establish a real voice.
“We are definitely going to try to work with ATP and all the governing bodies in sport,” Djokovic said. “I mean, of course we are not going to have any executive power, at the beginning, especially. Whether that’s going to change in the future, I’m not sure, but I’m hoping that, first of all, we can attain the majority of the support of the players, because I think it’s important step forward.”
Former world No. 1 Andy Murray says he’d consider joining the new players association—if it includes women players.
“I’m not totally against a player union, player association, but right now there’s a couple of things: One is I feel like the current management that are in place should be given some time to implement their vision,” Murray said. “Whether that works out or not would potentially influence me in the future as to which way I would go.
“Also the fact that the women aren’t part of it, I feel like that would send a significantly, just a much more powerful message personally if the WTA were onboard with it, as well. That’s not currently the case. If those things changed in the future, it’s something I would certainly consider.”