The ATP Council’s firing of their president, Chris Kermode, was the least surprising political surprise in years. Many tea-leaf watchers had seen this coming. One observer advised jokingly, “Don’t invite ATP Player Council President Novak Djokovic and Kermode to the same party.”
Despite all the rumors, it was nonetheless stunning to learn today that the ATP will not renew the Brit’s contract at the end of this year. Top tennis officials often retire, are paid to retire or make horizontal moves. But, since the 2008 departure of USTA marketing guru Arlen Kantarian, there hasn’t been a firing as impactful as this.
Even Djokovic noted that Kermode has “contributed to the growth of the game” and that there have been lots of changes, including the creation of the ATP World Cup and the Next Gen tourney, as well as the ITF’s changing of the Davis Cup and the Challenger circuit. Kermode’s backers noted that in a world where many sports federations, from the IOC and FIFA, and even to the cricket federation, have faced severe problems, the ATP has done well and Kermode himself was said to have done wonders upgrading London’s ATP Championships.
In a telling move in November, the Player Council ousted one of its six members, Aussie Roger Rasheed. Supposedly, he had not properly backed the players’ interests. And, since then, there have been whispers about Kermode’s fate.
At this year’s Aussie Open many players, including Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal, seemed to back Kermode, who’s headed the ATP for six years, who’s significantly increased revenues for the ATP, and, according to some, has good relationships with most players – except for the powerful Djokovic.
Novak admitted that while he’d spoken to many players, he had not reached out to talk with either Roger or Rafa. He said the Council was elected to make decisions. But his failure to solicit the views of the two great icons of the men’s game drew criticism. Some wondered what the role of Counsel member Justin Gimelstob might have been.
For his part, Nadal contended that continuity was a key factor, and firing Kermode would “stop the process of improving the sport.” Federer told the media Wednesday, “I have not yet met [with] Novak. But I intend to do it…I do not want to talk about it in front of you…My opinion will not upset the result of the vote, anyway. All this is political and I do not want to be involved.” Roger did not attend the Player Counsel meeting.
“Why not just tell us why the guy was fired?” many seemed to wonder in a stunned Indian Wells interview room. Djokovic said, “It was decided…that it is time for us to look into new leadership on the tour. That’s all there is.” Then Nole repeatedly sidestepped press questions and refused to detail the reasons for the decision, as he contended that confidentially prevented him from explaining the basics reasons for the move. Inside Tennis is not aware of any confidentiality law that would stop the Player Counsel from explaining its reasons for the move.
Then we asked Novak what the Players Council would be looking for in its next president. He responded, “The structure is…a bit flawed. We always put the president as a tiebreak in many voting circumstances.” He explained the complex nature of the ATP and said the President of the Council often has to choose between the players and the tournaments. “That’s something …we have to address, the governing structure. It’s time to really make some changes…and protect the president as well, release him from pressure, to hopefully have some independent input on things.”
The politically adept Djokovic, who some have said could become the President of Serbia if he wished, noted the growth potential of tennis and the complexity of tennis politics, with all its governing bodies. “Being part of ATP politics,” said Djokovic, who volunteers his time, “is very challenging at times, [and] very time-consuming…My only personal agenda is the growth of the sport.” He added that tennis needs to address many issues and, “Sometimes we get caught up in the politics. It can carry us to places we don’t want to go.” Djokovic noted that the ATP has plenty of time to pick a new leader, who’ll presumably come on board in January 2020, just as it launches its innovative, much-touted ATP World Cup in Australia.
A while back, the late Hamilton Jordan, who had been President Jimmy Carter’s chief aide, went on to become president of the ATP. When Inside Tennis asked him which is rougher, politics in DC or ATP politics, he laughed and answered, “Are you kidding? Tennis politics is much tougher!”
Maybe that’s why some suggest that if you’re a politician or a tennis official and you want a friend…it’s best to get a dog.
INDIAN WELLS BUZZ
BRUTAL DRAW: The last American woman to win Indian Wells, Serena Williams, could have a bumpy desert path ahead of her. The No. 10 seed first faces two-time Slam winner Vika Azarenka Thursday night. After that, she could face Garbine Muguruza and then Kiki Bertens, Sloane Stephens, Simona Halep and Naomi Osaka in the final.
OSAKA CAN YOU SEE: Will Naomi Osaka carry the Japanese flag in next year’s Tokyo Olympics? In any case, she said, she really wants to see the opening ceremony, and she knows she’ll have a lot of pressure on her. She also told IT that she’s very happy about turning things around after her summer slump last year. She confided that the US Open seems a long, long time ago. She added that perhaps the best decision in her career was deciding not to show her emotions on court. When it comes to decision making, Sloane Stephens said the worst decision of her career was playing the Olympics with a broken foot.
SAY IT ISN’T SO: When US Open winner Sloane Stephens was asked what changed the most after she won a Slam, she said you get “more free shit.”
ATTACK VICTIMS KVITOVA AND SELES MEET: As far as we know, Czech Petra Kvitova doesn’t go to royal weddings or the Academy Awards. But the two-time Slam champ has a sweet side. How sad that she was the victim of a home invasion. She spoke to Inside Tennis about how she met with another victim of a knife attack – the legendary Monica Seles. At Wimbledon last year Monica surprised Petra when she approached her and the two exchanged thoughts about “going through a difficult situation.”
ROGER PASSES THE SMELL TEST: When asked what she likes the best about Roger Federer, Sloane Stephens said it’s the way he smells before and after matches.
TOUGH LOVE: Naomi Osaka sang the praises of her new coach Jermaine Jenkins. She said he’s “kind of difficult, but not afraid to make jokes. I ask for water and he says, ‘No we have to do this [practice] quick.’ He’s like a brother, but at the same time he cares about you.”
DARE WE ASK THIS QUESTION? It turns out that last year’s female semifinalist, the beloved Venus Williams, is pretty darn good at playing tennis in the desert. Today, she toughed out a 6-4, 0-6, 6-3 win over German veteran Andrea Petkovic despite having to get medical attention midway through. Then she said it was “good to be back home and get the win.” Not to reopen healed wounds, but her recent Indian Wells performance prompted some in the press room to wonder what would have happened if she’d chosen not to boycott the event long ago in 2001 after the hurtful booing of her and her then 19-year-old sister. She next plays Aussie Open finalist Petra Kvitova.
WHY WE LOVE OSAKA: No one in tennis history has talked out loud to herself quite like Naomi Osaka. Today’s example: “Maybe I’m wrong.”