Novak Djokovic, one of the co-founders of the new Professional Tennis Players Association, said Friday that the organizations seeks to integrate into the tennis ecosystem, not disrupt it.
Ahead of the year-end finals in which he’s the No. 1 seed, Djokovic spoke via Zoom conference about the PTPA’s ongoing discussions with the ATP, and about how the lower-ranked players are really struggling to find opportunities.
Concern for the sport across all stakeholders
Djokovic said he shares the concerns of everyone involved in the tennis ecosystem about the unpredictability of the 2021 season.
It’s mid-November, and the ATP and WTA have not yet released their schedules.
The primary reason for that is that how the Australian summer – the first chunk of the season – will play out.
“I think the downside for us in this sport – any other sport probably, and for most of the fields of life I would say – is that it’s really not in your hands,” Djokovis said. “The governments of certain countries where the tournaments are played can decide whether or not the tournament is played at all. And it’s a constant negotiation, and a lot of financial implications and downsides.
“You can’t really satisfy everybody,” he added.
Top level survives, Futures struggle
Djokovic said that it was great for tennis that the higher-ranked players have had an opportunity to compete in the bigger tournaments in 2020 – most of them, anyway.
But he does understand that those ranked lower are watching that. And they’re ruing the fact that they are scrambling for playing opportunities at the ITF level.
“The biggest group of professional players in the rankings is there. Everybody who is ranked below 500 in the world that can’t compete directly in the Challenger-level tournaments are struggling, big time,” Djokovic said. “I’ve spoken to a lot of players that are ranked 500 and lower. They’re asking for any help to provide tournaments to them.”
Djokovic said the problem – as ever – is that the ATP regulates Tour and Challenger events. But the ITF runs the Futures tour.
“I’m not pointing fingers at everybody. It’s just a very complex situation. We should all, I think, try to communicate more with each other. I feel like that’s something we can improve – players, tournaments, tournament owners, federations, everybody who is involved,” Djokovic said.
‘There should be more communication with players at all the different levels. Then you can understand what they go through and what they need. And then you can come up with some ideas to let tennis as a whole prosper – as much as we possibly can in these circumstances.”
Discussion with WTA to come
Djokovic said that the PTPA is “talking with a lot of female players on different levels, not just the top level.”
He said he spoke to Serena Williams and Sloane Stephens and a few other players. But even though there are ongoing talks with the ATP Tour, the new PTPA has not yet reached over to the other side of the aisle – so to speak – to the WTA Tour.
“At the moment, we within the PTPA have to figure out what is the strategy. What is the structure? What is the system? Because it’s quite difficult for all of us – not just the PTPA but all of us involved in the tennis ecosystem – to understand what the future brings,” he said.
“It’s so unstable in terms of the calendar, and what tournaments are going to be played or not. And we’re just trying to establish ourselves, in a way, in the system,” he added.
“The PTPA is founded, and is formed already as a 100 per cent player organization, both men and women. It deserves its place in the tennis ecosystem,” Djokovic added. “It is a process that is going to take some time. It’s not simple.”
Addressing the issues of the lower-ranked
Djokovic said that the organization doesn’t want to push forward the “aggressive approaches” that “people were speculating we were going to have.”
“We just want the voices of players across all levels, rankings to be heard. We have issues – particularly on the first level of professional tennis – that are not addressed. There are hundreds of players that are showing their discontent with the current system, as it works,” he said.
“PTPA’s goal will be trying to work with all governing bodies and sides involved with men’s and women’s tennis. We want to understand how players can be benefiting more from this system, having more opportunities and more jobs, and extending that list of people who are actually living from tennis. Because right now we have only about 200 players making a living from tennis. Everybody else is losing money.”
Unite, not divide, is the PTPA goal
Djokovic said that people questioning whether the formation of the PTPA is the right move, and debating whether it is dividing tennis and not uniting it during a critical time, are off-base.
“I understand there are differences in opinions. But our intention is never to divide tennis – absolutely not,” he said. “Because of the current system and how it works, players really don’t have their own 100 per cent representation. And what’s why PTPA was formed. This is the core value, the core essence of the organization.”