Dubai: Trouble had been brewing for some time now. And at last, it is now official – men’s tennis has a breakaway group led by current world number one Novak Djokovic and opposed by two former world number ones – Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
The head-on collision couldn’t have taken place at a more opportune moment – just after Djokovic had won yet another title with the Cincinnati Masters to maintain a perfect run to a truncated 2020 season.
Djokovic resigned as President of the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) Players Council and announced the formation of a new players’ association that eventually led to criticism from some high-profile players and tennis bodies.
Nadal and Federer, the other two members of men’s tennis’ so-called ‘Big Three’ were quick to oppose the move while remaining members of the ATP Players Council.
Djokovic’s new Professional Tennis Players’ Association (PTPA) members met at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Centre in New York, where the first players signed up for the organisation ahead of the start of the US Open.
The Serbian has created the new players’ body alongside Canada’s 92nd-ranked Vasek Pospisil, who announced his resignation from the ATP Players Council on Twitter while hailing “the first player only tennis association since 1972”. Between 60 and 70 players posed for a photo of the newly-formed body posted on social media by Pospisil.
However, very little is clear at present about how the body will be run, but indications are that it will focus on the top-500 men’s singles players and top-200 doubles players.
But the basic question is: Does men’s tennis need a bifurcation and division of this sort if it is to survive and surpass the current situation that has been ushered in due to the pandemic? A joint statement was released by the ATP, the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), the International Tennis Federation (ITF) and Grand Slam organisers in response to the new organisation.
“Now more than ever we need collaboration and strong relationships, and we fully support the ATP in its role in representing the best interests of players throughout this process. It is our responsibility to ensure that our sport emerges from this crisis with strong foundations on which we can build. It is a time for even greater collaboration, not division; a time to consider and act in the best interests of the sport, now and for the future. When we work together, we are a stronger sport,” the statement read.
The ATP has governed men’s tennis for 30 years, representing its players and tournaments since 1990 in its current form - having previously been formed in 1972 to protect the interests of professional tennis players.
Both Nadal and Federer were quick to call for unity among players.
“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,” was Federer’s message.
Nadal struck a similar note. “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,” the Spaniard said.
Britain’s three-time Grand Slam champion Andy Murray have been more guarded citing that a players’ union should involve women too. “I’m not totally against a player union, but I feel like the current management that are in place should be given some time to implement their vision and I feel like that would send a much more powerful message if the WTA were on board with it as well,” Murray said.
The US Open is currently on and the next two weeks perhaps will be crucial as all protogonists of the new movement will have enough time to debate and mull a future course of action for the new body.
Time will only tell if such a move can eventually pay off.
Change, definitely. Disunity, never!