New ATP head sympathizes with player complaints
The new head of men's tennis says he has heard the concerns of players ''loud and clear'' and plans to ensure they are addressed.
A players meeting ahead of the first major of the year reignited talk of a strike over conditions on tour. The main issues apparently revolve around an overcrowded schedule and prize money at Grand Slams.
Brad Drewett, the new chairman and president of the ATP and a former tour player, said the meeting - the first since he took over his new position on Jan. 1 - was no more heated than any other, but acknowledged there were issues that needed addressing.
''Certainly the other day, just like we've had any number of times, the players are very vocal about what's on their mind,'' he said Wednesday at a Melbourne Park news conference on the third day of the Australian Open. ''There is some frustration on certain points within the game.
''I heard the players loud and clear the other night about their issues. My plan is to represent their opinions wherever it needs to be represented and make sure they're heard.''
Talk of a strike first cropped up after the U.S. Open last year. Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and Andy Roddick all voiced concerns over the length of the season and the number of events the players were required to compete in.
The subject re-emerged on the eve of the Australian Open when Alex Bogomolov Jr. tweeted following Saturday's meeting: ''A players strike here at the Australian Open?? YES SIR!!''
Drewett sidestepped the strike topic Wednesday and instead focused on his plans to resolve the players' problems.
''A lot of the issues that are around now have been around for a while. They're not new issues,'' he said. ''You hear discussion about scheduling, about prize money. I heard the players very clearly the other night about that topic.''
Part of Drewett's task may be to negotiate with the Grand Slam committees over prize money, which the players argue hasn't increased proportionately in line with profits.
Speaking after his first-round win, Roddick agreed that the issues were not new, but he said the players were now more united than ever before in the drive to force change.
''There was the exact same conversations in '02. Then there was a divide,'' Roddick said. ''Unity is a hard thing to attain. While I think we have probably the majority, it's easy to talk about it, but it's another thing to go through the process and the work and the hours to try to get an angle.''
A division has emerged, though, between Nadal and 16-time Grand Slam winner Roger Federer, who does not want the players' grievances aired in public because he thinks it damages the image of the game.
Nadal criticized his Swiss rival for keeping quiet and letting other players ''burn themselves'' by openly advocating for change. The Spaniard later apologized for making their difference of opinion public. Federer said there were ''no hard feelings'' and supported players expressing an opinion, but he confirmed that not everyone agreed on a way to move forward.
Former No. 3-ranked Nikolay Davydenko said he thought Federer was trying to avoid trouble and maintain his ''perfect'' image.
However, doubles partners Bob and Mike Bryan welcomed the efforts of all the top players, including Federer, in making sure all their fellow professionals ''have a voice.''
''They might not be on the exact same page at the moment, but that's going to happen,'' they wrote in The Age newspaper. ''We're less divided than we used to be, and that will hopefully make it easier for things to get done.''
Drewett, a former top-40 player who retired in 1990 before moving into administration, also said he had never known the top players to be so engaged with the state of the sport.
''I can't remember ever in the history of the game - maybe right back at the beginning of pro tennis it was different - but certainly in the last 20 or 30 years, when you've had a player like Roger Federer as the president (of the player committee), Rafa as the vice president,'' he said.
''Their level of understanding about the detail of any issue, whether it be the Grand Slams, scheduling, calendar, prize money, is like it's never been before. I see that as a positive.
''I think that's a great starting point for me dealing with these issues.''