Novak Djokovic has announced his resignation as head of the ATP’s Player Council and intends to form a new breakaway body to represent athletes — but his plans have immediately met with stiff resistance from within tennis.
World number one Djokovic, Canadian Vasek Pospisil and top-ranked American John Isner all resigned from the council after they were formally requested to step down by other members, a source told Reuters on Saturday.
Pospisil confirmed he had resigned from his position after serving for two years as the player representative for the 51-100 ranking positions.
“It has become clear that, as a player council member within the current structure of the ATP, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to have any significant impact on any major decisions made by our tour,” Pospisil wrote on Twitter.
Djokovic, a 17-times Grand Slam winner, recently organised the Adria Tour, an exhibition tournament in the Balkan region which was played in front of packed stands and lacked social-distancing measures.
The Serb and three other players contracted COVID-19 during the event and Djokovic was heavily criticised, leading him to complain of being subjected to a “witch-hunt”.
His move to form a separate players association seemed to have brought the governing bodies together, who called for unity at a time when tennis has been ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The ATP governs the men’s professional tour and its board, chaired by former Italian professional player Andrea Gaudenzi, is composed of representatives of both players and tournament owners.
“We recognise the challenges that our members face in today’s circumstances, however, we strongly believe that now is a time for unity, rather than internal division,” an ATP statement said.
“We remain unwavering in our commitment to deliver for our players across all areas of our business, ensuring they receive maximum benefit from their years on Tour, and their voices are heard.”
The players are now present in New York’s bio-secure bubble ahead of the U.S. Open, which starts on Monday.
Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal, who make up the ‘Big Three’ of men’s tennis along with Djokovic, are also part of the council but are not in New York as they have opted out of playing in this year’s U.S. Open.
Nadal echoed the ATP’s thoughts.
“The world is living a difficult and complicated situation. I personally believe these are times to be calm and work all of us together in the same direction,” he said on Twitter.
“It is time for unity, not for separation. These are moments where big things can be achieved as long as the world of tennis is united. We all, players, tournaments and governing bodies have to work together. We have a bigger problem and separation and disunion is definitely not the solution.”
Federer, the most successful men’s player with 20 Grand Slam singles titles, agreed with Nadal.
“These are uncertain and challenging times, but I believe it’s critical for us to stand united as players, and as a sport, to pave the best way forward,” said the 39-year-old, who is recovering from double knee surgeries.
Besides the ATP and the WTA, the sport is also controlled by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) and the boards of the four Grand Slams.
In a joint statement, the governing bodies said they have worked “tirelessly” to ensure the sport returned safely after a five-month hiatus and help the players who needed financial help during the shutdown.
“Now more than ever we need collaboration and strong relationships, and we fully support the ATP in its role in representing the best interests of players throughout this process,” it said.
The New York Times said the new body will be called the Professional Tennis Players Association (PTPA) and a document detailing plans and objectives has been distributed to players, seeking their signatures.
“The goal of the PTPA is not to replace the ATP, but to provide players with a self-governance structure that is independent from the ATP and directly responsive to player-members’ needs and concerns,” the newspaper quoted the document as saying.
Representatives of Djokovic did not respond to requests for comment.
Canadian Milos Raonic, who will face Djokovic in the final of the Western & Southern Open, said a “majority” of players were expected to sign in favour of the new association.
“A lot of us were kept in the dark by our leadership for six months. We were disappointed with many things,” he told reporters on Friday.