The 12-time grand slam champion blindsided a number of his fellow tennis stars in Melbourne when he revealed a plot to start a players-only union and hold the ATP to ransom.
Former world number 1 Novak Djokovic hijacked an annual players meeting last Friday to urge his fellow male tour professionals to form a players-only union so they can fight for an increase to prize-money.
According to the Daily Mail, the Serbian 12-time grand slam champion waited until the 150-odd male players had been addressed by Craig Tiley, the Australian Open’s tournament director, Chris Kermode, the executive chairman of the ATP Tour, and Ross Hutchins, chief player officer, before he took to the stage and kindly asked any non-players to leave the Melbourne hotel conference room.
He then addressed his peers, including Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal and Andy Murray, calling for the formation of a separate entity from the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) to leverage greater financial return for competing in ATP tournaments and grand slams. He even brought an Australian lawyer up to join him, who proceeded to explain the technicalities of setting up such a union.
“People were shocked,” one player at the meeting told the Daily Mail. “There may have been a few who knew about this, but most didn’t.”
The move even followed a presentation from the Aus Open which revealed plans to boost the tournament’s overall purse from the A$55 million it is at present (a 10% increase on last year) to $100 million (£57.2m) in the next five or six years.
It is understood Federer does not agree with the Serb’s position, while Alexander Zverev and Gilles Simon have been identified as supporters of the concept.
As a result, Simon — who served on the ATP Player Council — was pressed by the media on the issue after his first round win, but refused to answer any questions relating to the meeting.
The likes of Brit Kyle Edmund and Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov also refused to comment, and Nadal said: “I really believe that there is plenty of time later on the year to speak about things.”
The ATP told news.com.au on Monday that it had no comment.
Only US player Ryan Harrison would indulge reporters, saying a union was a great idea irrespective of a pay debate.
“I haven’t been involved in too many discussions, I’m not on the player board… What I can say is, as far as a union goes it would be good to have in the sense the people that represent us are also representing the tournament so it would be good to have someone with some form of representation that doesn’t have bias on the other side if that makes sense,” he said after his win on Monday.
“Not that we ever go against the tournaments but if we’re arguing for more prize-money or for scheduling, to be able to have a voice for ourselves makes sense.”
Djokovic is likely to have the support of less-accomplished professionals. While he has amassed a fortune of $US110 million, players outside the top 100 can struggle to survive on the circuit.
It’s not the first time Djokovic has been outspoken on this view. After winning the Indian Wells title in March 2016, he told the media that the women’s game deserved its pay rise, however pay parity didn’t make sense based on the stats, and men should fight for increased prize-money too.
“Obviously it’s a very delicate situation. Women deserve respect and admiration for what they are doing. You know, equal prize money was the main subject of the tennis world in the last seven, eight years. I have been through that process as well so I understand how much power and energy WTA and all the advocates for equal prize money have invested in order to reach that,” he said at the time.
“I applaud them for that, I honestly do. They fought for what they deserve and they got it. On the other hand I think that our men’s tennis world, ATP world, should fight for more because the stats are showing that we have much more spectators on the men’s tennis matches. I think that’s one of the reasons why maybe we should get awarded more. Women should fight for what they think they deserve and we should fight for what we think we deserve.”