ATP: There Is Power In a Union (Or Is There?)


124089000FLUSHING MEADOWS, N.Y. — As a kid, Rafael Nadal

was convinced his uncle/coach had supernatural abilities. “Toni even convinced me he had the power to make rain,” writes Nadal in his hot-off-the-presses autobiography, “Rafa.”

Too bad Uncle Toni can’t stop the rain. Consecutive days of on-again/off-again, start-and-stop tennis due to rain delays had exasperated U.S. Open quarterfinalist Nadal speaking out on his desire to create a more powerful voice for his fellow players.

“That’s not fair, but that’s what it is,” said Nadal, who, in order to successfully defend his title in New York, would have had to play four best-of-five-set matches over a four-day span. That is until the USTA opted to shuffle its schedule on Thursday afternoon, pushing the men’s final to Monday (for the fourth straight year), perhaps on the urging of players such as Nadal, Andy Roddick and Andy Murray, who in recent days have expressed the concerns of the players. The hot-button topics were the safety of the players, several of whom felt they were forced out onto slippery courts on Wednesday, and the proper amount of rest and recovery time between matches.

“We revised the schedule…in an effort to be fair to the players and our ticketholders,” said USO tournament director Jim Curley in a statement. “This is the result of a collaborative effort with the players, CBS Sports and tournament officials to address the issues that arose from the inclement weather.”

As it stands (and if Mother Nature cooperates), the men’s quarterfinals will be played on Friday, the semifinals on Saturday and the final on Monday. The tweak would certainly meet with Nadal’s approval, but the Spaniard would still have to play three days in a row.

“If you don’t have rest, you have a big chance not be enough fit to play well the next match. But the problem is we need to have the right representation in these tournaments…The players are [an] important part of the show…The tournament is not important without the players…The problem is not the organization of the U.S. Open. The problem is we don’t have enough power in these kinds of tournaments. That’s what has to change very soon.”

Nadal is the VP of the ATP Player Council, so if anyone has his finger on the pulse of the group’s reach, it’s him.

“I think the players have a good union,” he said. “We don’t want to fight with nobody. [But] we don’t like the problems from yesterday. We like to be here. We like to be in good relationships with everybody. The problem is to change [the] situation seems…impossible…We have to find another way…I have to talk with the players. We have to talk together at meetings and everything. But we have to fight stronger to have more power.”

Roddick echoed those sentiments, telling reporters, “Until we unite, it doesn’t matter and people can call our bluff…I’ve been trying to tell people that talent normally wins in negotiations. If Bono doesn’t want to go on tour, then it all falls apart. But until we unite as one voice, then we’re not going to get what we want. Therefore, we don’t have the right to complain about it.”

Roddick went beyond the safety and proper rest issues, indicating that the players are also unhappy with their share of the approximately $200 million the U.S. Open reportedly pulls in for the USTA each year.

“What are we at, 13 percent?” he asked.

“I’ve been trying it for a while,” Roddick continued. “At a certain point, you have to be willing to give up something to get something, which is a tougher deal. When you have to get 25 or 30 people on the same page…it’s just tough to come together. I think you have to have the right person involved who might understand the business side of it, might actually understand numbers, the way something works. You’re going to have to have a player of some sort who’s willing to make some sort of sacrifice a little bit. So I think it’s a very obvious problem. I think it’s pretty simple…It is a star-driven sport. It always has been. You have to get the stars on the same page, and then I think you can pretty much get whatever you want.”

“I think after the tournament is done, it’s probably a good time for a lot of the players to kind of sit down and have a big discussion about just the tour in general, because right now we’re looking for a new CEO,” said Murray. “It’s probably now a good time to sit down and discuss how we would like the tour to be run and who we would like to run tennis. The players understand that it’s not just about the players, but there’s many other things that go into it. Having a commissioner that wasn’t biased to one side or the other toward the players or the tournaments or the TV would be a step in the right direction. But the thing is, everyone needs to agree on it.”

“There has been experiences where I felt that I’m hitting a wall, where I think my voice wasn’t heard enough, said Novak Djokovic. “I tried to always understand the tournaments. I tried to understand the people who are participating in the organization of the events. I tried to understand the ATP in the end, because we are all trying to make this sport better. But the fact is that the players feel frustrated. The players feel they’re not protected enough. So this is maybe a turning point for all of us. God knows what’s gonna happen now.”

“With the Grand Slams, it’s a whole different story,” said Roger Federer, who heads the ATP Player Council. “We have much less leverage, and I find sometimes they abuse that situation just a tiny bit. The French Open was something we were not happy about, that they started Sunday. They did. Here they have a Saturday-Sunday final. The players are not happy, but we’re doing it. So we have not much say in Grand Slam play, and that’s without even talking about the revenues and all that stuff. So there is a whole lot of other issues we need to work through with the Grand Slams and the ITF…I was happy to see that the players spoke and said something together and showed that they were not happy. But in some ways, I always hope it doesn’t have to go there, especially during a Grand Slam, that we can resolve issues like this on the side. But, unfortunately, it has to happen at times that we do come together and speak as a big voice, all the players together.”

The irony is the current incarnation of the ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) was founded as a union in 1988 during a breakaway press conference in which the players announced that they wanted more control when it came to their livelihood. That press conference was held in a parking lot – during the U.S. Open.