Novak Djokovic: The Future of Tennis?

After the silence that followed his win in the French Open final last year, Novak Djokovic emerged as a new, highly visible face of the new ATP player association in March. Djokovic was quick to debunk reports that he was running for president of the union, which the 13th ranked Serb called a “true independent body”. But as if to prove that he really was in the race, he recruited three of the other nine players from Russia, Japan and the United States to co-found the Association of Tennis Professionals player association with his chief rival, Andy Murray, and Roger Federer.

After his performance in the French Open, Murray told ESPN: “A group of eight players, myself included, felt the ATP has not done a very good job of trying to communicate the issues players face.” The year ahead promises to be the most turbulent in recent memory for men’s tennis because the sport’s governing body the ATP is facing a challenge in being accepted on the world’s top court: the International Tennis Federation.

The ATP is an association that governs the rules of engagement for men’s tennis outside the tour. Along with the Grand Slam tournaments in men’s tennis, such as the US Open, the ATP, the smaller tour that the four biggest players play, governs all the other tournaments. When it comes to the governing body’s lack of accountability or transparency with players in the off-season, the challenge can feel insurmountable.

Thus, when Djokovic, Federer, Murray and their new supporters signed a letter last year calling for more funding to the ATP, their positions seemed plausible. Their call to create a union that would present its demands to a new governing body seemed logical in thinking that athletes, who are paid only when they are on tour, deserve the most up-to-date and best health and safety equipment, sleeping and meal arrangements and security all along the way as well as the ability to organize the best matches by seeking fair prize money and compensation at tournaments. And again, with Djokovic leading the company and inviting the biggest names in tennis to join the new entity, a credible plan emerged that could change a sport that is highly dominated by wealthy, top athletes.

Once the email announcing the new ATP player association was published, the opposition has emerged. A prominent Swiss player has expressed his disagreement with the union on national television: “No one should negotiate in the press: There are rules of contracts and you have to wait for the final to finish before settling.” He added that he believed that tennis players did not have to put up with “jokes and social criticism” from the media. In the same conversation, the other Swiss player added that, “some of the ideas for the players association floated around by the players in this letter [the organizers of the new union] are not practical.”

On paper, the new ATP union is a powerful entity. Many players, the top four of whom own a majority of the tournaments on the ATP Tour, have become so fed up with the seemingly low-rent and ineffective ATP that many in the player fraternity see a union as the logical solution. Djokovic himself has questioned the absence of more ATP tournaments outside of the four big grand slams. “For example, we need a 500 tennis tournament,” he said. “Why not? These tournaments should do it themselves. They have the capital, they have the infrastructure. The players are receptive to it.”

According to many players, the Spanish president of the ATP, Chris Kermode, once boasted that he would take over a leading golf club and turn it into an ATP event: “[Kermode] is joking to us,” Djokovic said.

Kermode did not return a request for comment.

But what is not at issue here is who the unions leadership will be; there has been no doubt about who will be considered to lead the union after the elections. As reported by the BBC, the new ATP union would elect a two-person executive board, which would then elect the chairman of the union. It’s not the most politic approach to running a union, but in this case a union that is representing players within the tennis world at the very top of the hierarchy.

This article was written by Jarrod Volk and originally published on

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