DJOKOVIC‘S TESTY CLAIM: “EVERYONE HOLDS ME ACCOUNTABLE”

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Bill Simons and Douglas Hochmuth

The Gimelstob effect lingers. The fierce, contentious approach to tennis politics that, for better or worse, Justin Gimelstob energetically took to new levels, continues.

In just six months, the ATP has done the following.

  • Ousted ATP Player Council member Roger Rasheed because he was viewed as not pro-player enough.
  • In December, after Gimelstob was arrested and charged with a felony battery, the ATP voted to keep Justin on the Player Council.
  • In March, they voted to not renew the contract of ATP president, Chris Kermode. Even though many would point to positive ATP numbers and it was said he did a good job, others asserted he too was not pro-player enough.
  • The group voted to move the ATP World finals from its longstanding London location, where it seemed to thrive, to Turin, Italy in 2021. Prize money there would increase  from $8.5 million to $11.5 million.
  • In early May, when Gimelstob resigned, the ATP only offered a modest announcement on his departure and never addressed the violent act he committed, let alone the powerful statements that three-time Slam winner Stan Wawrinka made that contended, “Players need to speak out. Gimelstob has been convicted of a violent assault. It simply cannot be possible for anyone to condone this…and worse, support it…Many within the game think this episode is now over and are simply relieved at having avoided any negative press themselves. This is not good enough. We are ALL accountable…The lack of responses from people involved in the game…was alarming. This is a situation where silence amounts to complicity…It is the duty of the board to lead by example and protect the players…Instead they shamefully voted…for Justin to continue… I do not want to be associated with anyone who played a part in this…I want to be represented by people with clear, strong ethical values…The fault lies not in the structure, but in the caliber of people within it…This political chaos is caused by a handful of people with personal agendas and, more disturbingly, with no alternative plan to follow up on their concerted plot to remove [ATP chief] Chris Kermode…It is more important than ever that anyone with a public platform leads by example and demonstrates real values – honesty, kindness, trust, friendship.”

In Indian Wells, just after Kermode was fired, Djokovic said the Player Council was elected to make decisions. Still, he was criticized for not seeking out the opinions of the two most important figures in the men’s game – Federer and Nadal. Rafa said the dismissal of Kermode would “stop the process of improving the sport.” Djokovic sidestepped many questions and never really explain why Kermode was fired, saying confidentiality prevented him from clarifying. Others asked, “Why not be open and just tell us why?” Novak added that the ATP’s structure is “a bit flawed…[and], that’s something…we have to address…It’s time to really make some changes.”

In Rome today, in a tense, dramatic nine-minute exchange with New York Times writer Ben Rothenberg, Djokovic, who just won the Madrid title, was emphatic, tense and defensive as he claimed that everyone was blaming him for everything. He asserted that if people understood the ATP’s structure, this wouldn’t be happening.

Here is a slightly condensed version of the Novak-Rothenberg exchange:

You’re going from here to the player-council meeting, what do qualities do you look for in a candidate.

First of all, the way it was presented in the media I didn’t really like it and I don’t think it’s fair you guys point out myself as the decision maker.

I am the president of the Council but it consists of ten players, so majority decides. I’m one of ten…I’m very privileged to be leading the group but I cannot make decisions on behalf of the group…

If you don’t think you should be accountable as president, who should be?

It’s not about accountability, it’s about the way you guys are portraying the whole process. Kind of putting all the weight on one guy…We have representatives on the board so I am not the one…voting yes or no…It’s three board representatives, so they have the right and historically they have been doing something against the council because they feel responsibility and they feel that’s the right way to…represent players in the sport. We have been selected…to be representatives…but we cannot always influence…voting the way they think they should. Why should I always be the one accountable for that if I’m not the one voting?

If the board members that vote against your wishes then get ousted like Roger Rasheed, it seems like you have an influence.

It’s happened in the past where they have stayed.

And it does seem, from what I’ve heard, you are voting in the majority consistently, it’s not like you’re getting overshadowed. You are the leader by title in this group, and the No. 1.

And your sources are reliable?

Sure, if you ever want to say anything on what happened, you can shed more transparency on it

You have first-hand information from the Council?

Sure.

Sure?

Sure.

Okay.

If you wanted to refute something – great. But if you just want to say, “You’re not saying the right thing” and give no counter story, that’s not as useful.

I know you guys are looking for a story and when you have a certain agenda behind certain stories and articles that are written, you cannot always react and act from the position of defense because then you would expose…your weakness. What does that mean? That we have to react to every article that you or anybody writes, because you’re exposing [the] Council, exposing me as an individual that I am against certain individuals…I just don’t understand your comment that we have to react with the opposing story on every single article. It doesn’t make sense.

I’m not asking for that.

But that’s what you said, you said if there is a certain story in the media you want a counter story.

I want accuracy, transparency.

You get information from your allegedly reliable source then you write about it, tweet about it, and it creates the buzz, it creates the friction and it creates a story and it creates the whole wave of tsunami against us. Then what are we supposed to do? React to every single tweet? It’s not fair really. Before understanding the proportions, the ramifications, what you’re doing with every single tweet to our sport, our players…[I’m] not saying every tweet is wrong, absolutely not. I respect, you’re looking for a story I understand it, I respect you.

For me, it’s not fair. If you want to write the whole story and understand both sides you would get a little bit more information rather than calling out [the] Council or myself…

When I try to get information from you, you don’t give it so I don’t know what you want me to do.

I am not the president of ATP…I understand you want to get information from me. Some information I can give you, some I cannot, I am not in the privileged [position] to give you. Or, I can, but then it’s not fair towards the president of the ATP or board members who are also supposed to communicate…I’ve been exposed way too much…Everyone holds me accountable for every single thing that happens in tennis at the moment, which I think is unfair, because I am not the only one there…I just feel [in] the way we go about things there is a lack of respect. Just pointing out one guy and putting all the pressure on him, nothing against you personally, but I think the process could be handled differently.

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