The story so far: On August 29, a player group led by World No.1 Novak Djokovic and former top-30 player Vasek Pospisil announced the formation of Professional Tennis Players Association (PTPA) to represent the interests of male players (top-500 in singles and top-200 in doubles). The body is outside the structure of the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP), the principal organisation responsible for the men’s Tour and tasked with protecting player interests. Djokovic resigned as head of the ATP Player Council, along with members Pospisil, John Isner and Sam Querrey.
What triggered the move?
In a document shared with fellow players, Djokovic and Pospisil listed revenue sharing, disciplinary actions, pensions and amenities at tournaments as the issues the players-only body would address. The most significant of these is the long-standing call for tournaments to commit a greater percentage of revenue as prize money. For example, according to a New York Times report, the 2018 US Open payout of $57.24 million was just about 14% of the tournament revenue, a figure the players thought as too low in comparison with other professional sports like basketball and American football.
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Djokovic and Pospisil believe that the ATP is unsuited to raise this issue. For them, the fact that the seven-member ATP board comprises three player representatives and an equal number of tournament representatives (apart from the chairman) is an inherent sign of conflict of interest. In March 2019, the then ATP president and chief executive, Chris Kermode, was voted out, with Djokovic saying that Kermode “had way too many things off the court”. Later in October, a new regime under Andrea Gaudenzi took shape, but Pospisil, while resigning, said it was very difficult under the current structure to represent his peers well. A perceived communication breakdown during the COVID-19 pandemic was another sticking point.
What is the ATP’s stance?
The ATP believes that PTPA is “not in the best interests of the players, tournaments and the Tour”, even as it recognised “dissatisfaction from certain player factions”. Though Djokovic has described PTPA as a complementary association and not a “union, calling for boycotts and parallel tours”, the ATP sees it as antithetical.
Two-time Major finalist Kevin Anderson, the new ATP Player Council president, expressed the fear that tournaments could also go their own way and the rupture would damage the sport. “A lot of players reference the NBA, but that’s a different model,” the South African told Beyond the Baseline podcast. “Unlike in the NBA, we are independent contractors not employees, and have our own player rights when it comes to partnerships.”
“But whatever the structure, you still have to find a middle ground. In tennis we have an inherent middle ground because of the way it’s structured. Players may sometimes feel hard done by, but it’s important to recognise the protections we have, like fixed draw sizes, mandatory doubles etc. A tournament can well say we don’t need 32-member draws but just 16. So, if you break apart the structure, nobody knows how the cards are going to fall,” Anderson added.
What are the views of other big players?
Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, both members of the Player Council, are opposed to PTPA. The duo questioned the timing — in the middle of a global pandemic — and called for “unity, not separation”. The four Grand Slams, the International Tennis Federation and the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) released a joint statement expressing their disapproval. Three-time Major champion Andy Murray didn’t join, flagging the absence of women and asking for the new ATP management to be given more time. Pospisil later claimed that there was an active dialogue with the women’s side and pointed to the “separate movement started last year which had support from over 70 of the top-100 men and women,” also led by himself and Djokovic. Serena Williams was non-committal, calling herself “always Team Djokovic” but that she “can’t really have an opinion without understanding more deeply”.
What next for PTPA?
According to Djokovic, the next step was to “create a structure legally with bylaws”, for which Pospisil has been consulting the law firm Norton Rose Fulbright. “It’s a long-term project,” Djokovic added. “We’re happy that we are here.”