Martina Navratilova has been levelling criticism on Novak Djokovic’s decision to leave the ATP Player Council and set up an alternative Professional Tennis Players Association (PTPA) at a time of such uncertainty due to the global coronavirus pandemic, which has decimated the tennis calendar as well as severely impacting life generally, and she is now joined by ATP Chief Andrea Gaudenzi who is calling for unity.
It [PTPA] wouldn’t work and everyone would lose. Tournaments need players and players need tournaments. We cannot make the necessary changes if there are divisions. We must fight together to defend the best interests of tennis above all. Andrea Gaudenzi, ATP Chairman
While many players have joined the PTPA, many more have rejected it, including Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray, who have replaced Djokovic and his allies on the Council, creating a wide political divide in tennis.
“This is not helpful on any level,” Navratilova told the Irish Times recently. “Do that when you stop playing tennis, but it’s controversial and not helpful.
“During Covid, you’re trying to divide us further when we should be trying to bring the game together and trying to figure out how to play tournaments without people getting sick and dying from Covid?
“Let’s stay with that problem rather than creating one we don’t need.”
Despite not agreeing with what Djokovic is trying to do, Navratilova does accept the Serbian is simply trying to help.
“Novak thinks he’s doing the right thing, he doesn’t agree with me but it’s his choice,” she continued.
“It just doesn’t seem like something that helps the tennis world.
“From a logical standpoint, if you are a great tennis champion, when you engage in this sport, you focus only on helping out.
“Creating this association is not useful at any level. Dividing further only creates further damage.”
Her sentiments are echoed by ATP Chief Andrea Gaudenzi, who has welcomed the chance to talk to Djokovic about the PTPA, but says it is time for everyone to come together after a hugely challenging year.
Djokovic has effectively failed to garner widespread support to change tennis right now, but has sufficient members to destabilise the political foundation of the ATP.
“Obviously, the period has been very complicated for the players,” Gaudenzi told Le Figaro.
“We were in the dark until the end of July on the date of resumption of the Tour and the holding of the US Open. There was frustration among many.
“I have been a player myself, and I understand their state of mind. We listened to their complaints.
“We will all meet together at the end of November and December.
“We are of course open to discussions [with Djokovic and the PTPA], but the time has come for unity and not for conflicts.”
Djokovic’s beef seems to be with the tournaments who, he says, exert too much influence on the running of the ATP so that player causes are secondary.
“It wouldn’t work and everyone would lose,” Gaudenzi added. “Tournaments need players and players need tournaments. We cannot make the necessary changes if there are divisions.
“We must fight together to defend the best interests of tennis above all.”
Djokovic suffered only third loss of the year in Vienna last week at the hands of Lorenzo Sonego, after being disqualified for hitting a line judge with a ball at the US Open and losing to Rafael Nadal in the French Open final.
After being stunned 6-2 6-1 by the Italian, the World No 1 said he was deeply affected by news of the death of Amfilohije Radovic, the top cleric of the powerful Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro.
Radovic, 82, a fervent Serb nationalist who also wielded major political influence, was diagnosed with coronavirus on 6 October and had been hospitalised in the Montenegrin, the capital of Podgorica.
“To be honest I didn’t want to play today,” Djokovic said after the match. “This sad news has had an effect on me, but obviously not enough to force me not to play.
“The truth is that I came to Vienna with a goal and I managed to achieve it.”
From last December until August this year, Radovic played a pivotal role in protests over a contested religion law in the tiny Adriatic country that is a member of NATO and a candidate for membership in the European Union.
The dispute over the law, which allowed the state to seize some religious property, helped the opposition win the 30 August parliamentary election and unseat the Democratic Party of Socialists of longtime President Milo Djukanovic.
After the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Radovic still appeared regularly in public without a face mask.
Djokovic opted out of playing the indoor Paris Masters this week but will compete in London at the Nitto ATP Finals, which will be held in London at the O2 from 15-22 November without spectators.
Navratilova believes his plans for the PTPA are distracting Djokovic.
“It certainly didn’t seem to help his tennis. I think you’re better off . . . Not staying in your lane, but right now give your energy to that which helps you,” she said.
“That’s what I don’t understand. Purely from a logical point of view, when you are a champion tennis player, when you commit to the sport, your energy goes into that.
“Maybe to get away, you watch TV, maybe you do some woodworking, maybe you get into stitching shawls. That helps you relax and it gives you energy.”
The Serb started the season with victories at the ATP Cup and at the Australian Open, but then saw the season stop due to the pandemic and decided to organise the controversial Adria Tour exhibition series that led to an outbreak of Covid in the tennis world and a lot of criticism.
After winning the Masters 1000 in Cincinnati, a bad tempered episode led he disqualification at the US Open for having accidentally hit a line judge with a ball carelessly hit away when he dropped serve.
Amidst all this, the 17-time Grand Slam champion set up his rival independent players union, leading to criticism from many quarters of the game who, like Navratilova, accused him of trying to divide tennis at the worst possible time.