July 18, 2024

Open Court

MORE TENNIS THAN YOU'LL EVER NEED

ATP internal conflict turning into a “Fedal vs. Djoko” choice

Federer

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In this corner, world No. 1 Djokovic and his proposed players’ association co-president, Canadian Vasek Pospisil.

In the other corner … Fedal.

The simmering internecine drama between the ATP Tour and (so far) a breakaway faction headed by Djokovic and Nadal now has some hefty counterweight on the other side.

A letter was sent out to the top-100 players, signed off on, we’re told by Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and others representing (whomever is still on) the Player Council.

The message dovetailed with the statements put out by the sport’s governing bodies – as leaked by Sports Illustrated and Tennis Channel’s Jon Wertheim.

(What Wertheim doesn’t mention, as a disclaimer, is that he is employed by Tennis Channel. David Egdes, a senior VP at Tennis Channel, is on the ATP Board of directors – as a representative for the PLAYERS. All of the players. Just to give you an idea of how fully-conflicted this entire affair is).

The letter was signed by six (remaining) Player Council members: Nadal, Federer, Bruno Soares, Kevin Anderson, Jurgen Melzer and Sam Querrey (surprisingly breaking from his previously-believed alliance with the other three).

So now, the fight to have the players unite to battle for better working conditions now has two very distinct sides. It has, in effect, turned all this into a battle of personalities.

Do you side with Djokovic? In doing that, you ignore two of the greatest players and ambassadors the sport has ever had.

Do you side with Fedal? In doing that, you turn your back on an effort to democratize the sport for the men, to get them to the table to fight for what they think is fair.

It’s not an easy call.

Nadal makes it public

Federer, who had not Tweeted in three weeks, co-signed a little later on.

Brit Dan Evans weighed in, calling it “horrible timing”.

To an outsider, it sounds like a rewind of previous divisions within the Player Council: “Gimelstob can stay” vs. “Gimelstob must go”. And then “Kermode should stay” vs. “Kermode should go”.

Federer and Nadal, who rejoined the Player Council after a group resignation following one of the earlier internal battles, have always preached the conservative road.

Governing bodies stick together

This morning, the ATP Tour sent a release that briefly summarized the more extensive letter they sent to the players.

The ATP is urging unity in the wake of the player uprising in the US Open bubble.

Right on cue, the loose conglomeration that is the Grand Slam tournaments rushed to support the ATP.

Some of the player agents, we’re told, are also hard at work trying to convince their players there’s a risk in going rogue. And, with that, a lot of players are being strongly discouraged from showing up at Saturday’s meeting.

So a lot of moving parts.

No “presidential-style” debate

Of course, it is in the best interests of all of the governing bodies to stave off any activism from the players, who are perhaps only now realizing the value of what they bring to the table and are mobilizing to try to maximize it.

But having Federer and Nadal in your corner is a powerful tool – especially given Djokovic has had a rough time of it – optics-wise – while tennis was shut down.

Even in ideal circumstances, he’s up against it in the public sphere when pitted against the behemoth that is “Fedal”.

Friday night, Pospisil announced his resignation from the Player Council.

The New York Times reported that Djokovic, as well as American John Isner, also had handed in their resignations.

In this race, there can be no “Trump vs. Biden” style debate to sway the players one way or the other.

Federer

As the players reportedly gather Saturday night in the US Open bubble to “sign up” for the proposed new association – the meeting is scheduled for 5 p.m., although Djokovic just finished winning his final against Milos Raonic shortly before 3:30 p.m. – Federer and Nadal will not be on hand.

Neither is taking part in this year’s US Open.

It will be up to Djokovic and Pospisil, with the force of their personalities and with the luxury of being able to look the players in the eye, to plead their case.

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