Melbourne | Men’s Tour in Turmoil
It seems not all is well within the ATP.
The future of incumbent Executive Chairman and President, Chris Kermode, is apparently under discussion and factions in support and against are fast forming battle-lines.
Rafael Nadal is understood to be unhappy not to have been consulted about Kermode’s future, whose position is under threat from the Players’ Council led by Novak Djokovic.
The Spaniard also waded into the fierce political debate, criticising the ATP for not offering financial support to flood-hit Majorca.
The disaster in October happened in the neighbouring village to Nadal’s home town of Manacor, with 13 people losing their lives, including the cousin of one of his best friends and her son.
Nadal was pictured the following day helping with the clean-up efforts and also opened his tennis academy to victims of the floods before donating one million euros (approximately £900,000) to the cause.
Speaking after his first round win at the Australian Open on Monday, Nadal expressed his disappointment that the player organisation had not offered any help.
“If something happens to the country of one of the players that did, in my opinion, important things for this sport, and give a lot of things to the sport, I would love to see the organisation that is running the sport supporting that person.
“It didn’t happen in my case. I can’t be happy with that.”
The turmoil facing the men’s tour began as a disagreement over pay and power, and could well lurch into a player mutiny.
Lower-ranked players in particular are not happy with the prize money distribution.
At its annual meeting in Melbourne on Saturday, Djokovic, the current Players’ Council President, reportedly voted against extending Kermode’s tenure, a move that could set off dramatic changes in the tour’s direction.
Djokovic, however, would not confirm his vote, citing the meeting’s confidentiality.
“The decision hasn’t been made on the president,” Djokovic said. “Whether there’s a renewal or not, it’s going to be decided in the next period.”
Roger Federer suggested on Sunday that he too had not been consulted and said he wanted to speak with senior players such as Djokovic, Nadal and Andy Murray about what was going on.
The following day, Federer conceded ‘a lot is happening’ behind the scenes: “It’s definitely interesting times, I’d like to call it, not bad times in our sport. It’s maybe also a bit of a transition time. So it will be interesting to see what’s going to happen,” he said.
The ATP board will vote on the organisation’s leadership after the Open, either to extend or replace.
If Kermode is replaced, one man who has been touted as a possible candidate is Tennis Australia and Australian Open boss, Craig Tiley.
Australian super-coach Darren Cahill railed against a change on Twitter, saying Kermode had brought ‘big increases in prize money, pension plan, new events, doubles initiative supporter, new progressive rules for injured players … facility upgrades’.
“I’d be stunned if Chris Kermode is removed. ATP needs stability right now,” he wrote.
Player council member Vasek Pospisil is a further agent for change, arguing for increases in prize money at the four majors.
“Grand slams which report hundreds of millions of dollars in profit … yet we get less in prize money than 10 per cent of their revenue,” he reportedly wrote in an email sent to players ranked between 50-100.
“Our system is broken … it’s time for a change.”
Stan Wawrinka and Nick Kyrgios have both expressed support for Kermode, showing the divided nature of the men’s game.
According to Simon Briggs, reporting in The Telegraph, Stan Wawrinka has written a disgruntled letter offering his support for Chris Kermode staying on as ATP Tour President.
Hitting the caps lock on his keyboard, Wawrinka writes: “YOU NEED TO LOOK AT THE CURRENT DIRECTION LAST 5 YEARS AND ACCEPT IT IS GOOD AND MOVING IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION. YOU CANNOT BE SURE IT WILL BE BETTER [under a new ATP president].”
Briggs reports that Wawrinka’s letter was sent on Sunday to Pospisil, the Canadian No 3, who is the most outspoken of the anti-Kermode faction.
A couple of days earlier, a letter from Pospisil to the players ranked between No 50 and 100 had leaked into the public domain, in which Pospisil suggested that they should “start acting and running like a business not like a bunch of scared kids … we need a CEO that first and foremost represents OUR interests”.
Wawrinka’s letter is understood to have become a talking point in the locker-room, and players have been passing it around.
It starts: “I did not want to spend time writing this the day before a grand slam here in Australia but I am reading crazy things online about player council voting against the CEO yesterday.
“In the player meeting yesterday Andy Murray stand up and said that no player knows that any vote is happening and no players have been asked their opinion. You emailed us Friday telling us your opinion because of grand-slam money and the players’ voice of the ATP and that we need to change CEO.
“I completely disagree and know so many players and so many top players that COMPLETELY disagree with this. The sport and ATP are trying and I repeat moving good forward. In player meeting yesterday, it said the players vote for the ATP is at highest marks ever in history. What is the problem?”
The mechanics of this process are complex, with Kermode’s three-year term ending in just under 12 months, and it is normal for an ATP President’s contract to be up for a renewal at this point of the cycle.
In the end, it is not the 10-man Players Council who must vote but it is up to the three players’ representatives on the ATP board: Alex Inglot, David Egdes and Justin Gimelstob, who is awaiting trial in Los Angeles on a charge of aggravated assault.
The three tournament representatives on the ATP board must also vote, but none are calling for change.
The three players’ representatives on the ATP board usually follow the instructions of the Players Council but the preliminary vote on Saturday ended in a 5-5 deadlock.
Had it gone against Kermode, the pro-change faction might have pressed ahead with plans for a board vote before the end of January, but now it seems that this will be delayed until March at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells.
A broader concern – and one that is certainly held on the tournaments’ side of the ATP – is that the five ‘no’ voters on the player council (who are believed to be Djokovic, Pospisil, John Isner, Sam Querrey and “Rendy” Lu) might not be representative of the wider views of the player body.
Nadal also raised this concern on Monday, when he said: “No-one of my representatives [on the player council] came to me and asked me if I am happy with the president or not … I believe that Chris probably did some good work out there, and I don’t see him doing negative things or enough negative things to not continue in the position.”
If a final vote does take place in Indian Wells, it is possible that Gimelstob, who is due in court in Los Angeles on 31 January, may no longer be on the ATP board by then.
Gimelstob has insisted on remaining an active member of the organisation despite the accusations against him, which include not just the upcoming trial but earlier allegations revealed by the Telegraph last month.
Both the ATP board, which held a vote on the issue, and the player council have agreed to retain his services for the moment, but on Monday, Players Council Vice-Chairman Kevin Anderson made it clear that a not guilty verdict would be necessary for Gimelstob to remain on the board.
“It’s innocent until proven guilty,” said Anderson. “If any of the allegations come back and it’s not the way we want it, that’s a completely different decision. We can’t afford to have some of those actions representing the players.”
Gimelstob’s extensive political influence within the game could well be curtailed if the Los Angeles district attorney’s office makes the charges stick, and it is likely that this could be a drawn-out courtroom drama with any verdict a long way off.
Nadal says he doesn’t believe it is healthy to chop and change the ATP leadership and, like Federer and Murray a former member of the council, backs Kermode, unhappy that his views have not been sought.
He said of Djokovic: “I don’t have to go [and find him]. He’s in the council, they have to come to me. I believe in the projects as long term, not short term. And because of that, I believe that is not good to have changes all the time.”
Grigor Dimitrov was even more vociferous in his support for Kermode, saying: “I think changing Chris Kermode would be one of the biggest mistakes. Tennis is in such a good place. Everything has gone through so many good and positive changes. I wouldn’t do that, absolutely.”