Novak Djokovic and ATP at odds as he launches players’ association

Novak Djokovic is halfway to winning the grand slam and potentially two weeks from becoming the joint-major record holder should he win his 20th major title at Wimbledon this year.

For most tennis players in such a position, this would be a moment for a single-minded focus on their on-court goals, yet on the eve of Wimbledon the world No 1 sat for a 50-minute press conference as he and his colleagues formally discussed the formation of their Professional Tennis Players Association, the trade association founded by Djokovic and the 66th-ranked Vasek Pospisil.

Ten months after the PTPA was first announced on the grounds of the US Open, the association has finally revealed a formal structure. It now has a new website, an advisory board and a communications team. The PTPA has also received support from the National Hockey League Players’ Association and the Major League Soccer Players’ Association.

Based in Canada, it will be led day-to-day by the executive director Adam Larry, who formerly worked with the NHLPA and its advisory board included the prominent investor Bill Ackman.

During the press conference on Fridaynight with Djokovic, Pospisil and Larry, the players continued to criticise conflicts of interest within the ATP and its governance structure at large. They also continued to advocate for lower-ranked players to receive more money from the tennis ecosystem, although they do not yet have an alternative plan.

Despite their criticisms, they were keen to strike a conciliatory tone and view their organisation as complementary to the ATP.

Their move has been severely criticised by the ATP, which accused the PTPA of dividing players and views the organisation as injurious to the tour: “The creation of a separate player entity provides a clear overlap, divides the players, and further fragments the sport.

“Fragmentation has been consistently identified as the single biggest threat to tennis’s growth potential by leading experts from within and beyond sports,” said the ATP in a statement released earlier in the week.

Asked how he expects the PTPA to be able to work with the ATP despite their hostility, Pospisil said that he is confident that the ATP will eventually sit down with them because they have support from a “super majority” of players: “We feel that we’re gonna give them a chance because obviously we need to collaborate together,” said Pospisil. “At some point, I think they’ll realise that when we have this many players it’s important to collaborate with us.”

One of the new subjects during this week’s launch is their focus on the imminent vote on the ATP’s strategic plan, a 30 year-plan conceptualised by the ATP chief executive Andrea Gaudenzi that intends to boost revenue by aggregating digital rights. The ATP says that its proposed plan, which would come into effect in 2023 if voted in this week, would benefit the players through increased prize money, 50-50 profit sharing and full transparency of audited tournament financials.

The PTPA has criticised the plan for its lack of transparency and is demanding that the vote be delayed. According to Larry, hundreds of players are questioning the plan and have yet to receive appropriate written explanations. “We think there’s a lot in that plan that makes a lot of sense but there’s a lot in that plan that we just don’t know,” he said. “We’ve said a lot of times, it’s pretty clear to us that if we don’t have answers, how can a plan like this be voted on?”

Both Pospisil and Djokovic spoke of the negative effects that their efforts to create a player movement has had on their tennis. Djokovic said that at times in recent years his off-court efforts have “backfired” against him on the court, but he does not regret them. With Pospisil, the emotional impact of this endeavour has already been made clear. At the Miami Open in March, Pospisil publicly criticised Gaudenzi during an on-court rant one day after the pair spoke at a contentious meeting between the pair.

In August, the proposed association was criticised in August due to the perceived vagueness of their aims and the absence of female players during their initial meetings. The PTPA now says that the association is currently open to top 350 singles players and 150-ranked doubles players and that both male and female.

Reaction to the PTPA among players has been split. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal previously exchanged comments on Twitter calling for unity, however Djokovic said earlier in June that support for the PTPA was up to 70% among its target male players.

“We want to be accepted, respected and acknowledged,” said Djokovic. “That’s what we want. That’s what we deserve as players. When I say ‘we’, I don’t just think and say that it’s about Vasek and myself or PTPA management. It’s about players and hundreds of players that are part of PTPA movement and part of PTPA initiatives.

“This is what our aim is – we will never find out how PTPA will be incorporated or not incorporated within the current ecosystem of tennis, the structure, until certain things are done and certain steps are made.”