The chairman of the Association of Tennis Professionals said he wants to work together with the Novak Djokovic-led players’ group that is seeking a stronger voice in the sport.
“They definitely have the objective to improve life for the players on the tour, and we have nothing against that,” Andrea Gaudenzi said Thursday during a conference call to lay out his vision for the ATP’s future. “Actually, we want to help, and we are listening.”
World No. 1 Djokovic and Vasek Pospisil are co-presidents of the recently formed Professional Tennis Players Association, a players-only organization that most resembles a players’ union. Both recently resigned from leadership roles in the ATP to steer the PTPA, which says it speaks solely for the players while denying it is antagonistic to the ATP.
The ATP Tour is a partnership between players and tournaments, but the PTPA believes that the voice of the players isn’t strong enough or heard often enough.
“This is the first time after many, many years that players will have 100% their own association that will represent them in the tennis ecosystem,” Djokovic said earlier this month at the US Open.
The PTPA is still in the recruiting stage and has yet to issue a clear mission statement or release details about its agenda. Djokovic said at the US Open that the group has signed up some 150-plus members, including 70% of the top 100 pros.
Gaudenzi said it is too early to say what effect the PTPA might have on the ATP.
“It’s at a very early stage, so it is difficult at the moment to have a clear understanding of the scope and whether there is an overlap [with the ATP] or not,” Gaudenzi said. “We definitely had a conversation and continue to have it. We cannot ignore that some of the players feel certain areas need to be improved.”
The problem for the PTPA is that tennis players are considered independent contractors and as such they are forbidden by U.S. labor law from forming a union because that would constitute a de facto monopoly.
Some top players, including Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, have not supported the PTPA, due to factors including impressive growth in prize money and fan attendance figures in the past five years. The ATP Tour has said that at this difficult time, tennis — already known for its fragmented leadership — needs unity instead of further division.
“I have to say I’m unpleasantly surprised with some players thinking this is not good for our sport,” Djokovic said earlier this month. “The ATP, WTA still stay the same, still stay as governing bodies of our tours. They are supposed to be there. That’s fine. We can live together. We can coexist. I don’t understand why there is so much resistance toward this association, especially from players.”
Gaudenzi said he knows from experience how frustrated tennis players can feel, but he also believes most players don’t have an adequate understanding of the challenges of running tournaments.
“First and foremost, I have to say I sympathize a lot with the players, and it helps me a lot having been a player,” Gaudenzi said. “I’ve been in those shoes. I know how it feels. You are an individual, traveling on your own, not part of a team. You see the world from your perspective, with a lack of appreciation of what is behind a tennis tournament. While playing, you work hard, go on court and think it’s just me, me, me. So I completely sympathize.”
“I welcome constructive criticism,” he added. “There are definite areas where we need to and must improve. I think [in the long term] somehow we will address the issues of the players.”