Andy Roddick was on court here at the BNP Paribas Masters before some people had finished their croissant and café au lait and had left before lunch time — beaten 6-2, 6-2 by Andy Murray in what will be his last match of a largely disappointing year.
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But on his way out, Roddick had some harsh words about the way tennis is organized and his remarks, in the opinion of many, hit the target.
Basically, Roddick thinks the system doesn’t work and he has a strong argument for saying so. Since it re-invented itself in 1990 as a partnership between the players and the tournament directors, the ATP has been run by a CEO who has to chair a six-man board of directors split between two bodies with different interests. For 15 years, Mark Miles did an amazing job of keeping the whole ship on a relatively even keel but since then Etienne de Villiers and Adam Helfant, who arrived from Nike, have found it tough to move the game forward.
Now the ATP is looking for a new CEO and Roddick pinpointed the difficulty of finding the right person.
“Hopefully someone can get in there and win the battle of rhetoric one of these times and get someone to approve some changes,” he said. “But under the present system, he really can’t. Some of the good ol’ boys club have it figured out pretty good. It’s not an easy position. It’s not as if we haven’t had smart people. We have had different types; very abrasive kind of showy personalities in there; we’ve had more of a demure, quiet, smart person in there. We’ve covered our personality bases. I think at a certain point you have to look at the system as being flawed as opposed to continually looking for the scapegoat.”
Roddick is right. The ATP CEO finds himself trying to act for two opposing sides.
“Listen, you don’t go into negotiation and have someone represent both sides,” he continued. “It just doesn’t happen in any business transaction or negotiation. I don’t think it’s the CEO’s fault. It’s an impossible situation. I think the system is suspect.”
The Association of Tennis Professionals was formed as a players union in 1972 with Cliff Drysdale, now an ESPN tennis commentator, as president and Jack Kramer, the 1947 Wimbledon champion who went on to become one of the game’s great promoters, as CEO. The pair of them led the ATP through the turbulence of the 1973 Wimbledon boycott when 90 players refused to play in the world’s premier tournament at the 11th hour. The International Tennis Federation had tried to call the players’ bluff by using Wimbledon as a battle ground over a dispute between Nikki Pilic and the Yugoslav Federation over whether he should play Davis Cup.
An American ITF official at the time thought the players might boycott a lot of tournaments, but certainly not Wimbledon. It was a huge misjudgment and the players’ resolve effectively broke the stranglehold of outdated amateurism with which the ITF were running the game.
When the dust settled, a Pro Council was formed, which included all sections of the game, but the players eventually felt they were being outvoted on major issues and broke away in 1990 to form the ATP Tour in conjunction with the tournament directors. Vijay Amritraj, president at the time, had misgivings but the new body worked, mainly because of Miles’ diplomatic skills.
As was seen at the US Open when Rafael Nadal and others complained of not being properly represented when the rain created scheduling havoc, the players are starting to find the system is breaking down. There has been talk of recreating their own union, but nothing will be decided until a new CEO is appointed to replace Helfant.
An announcement is expected soon after the ATP Finals in London and the name at the top of the list seems to be Richard Krajicek, the former Wimbledon champion who has run the ATP event in Rotterdam for the past eight years. Another contender is Mark Young, who has been the ATP’s lawyer based in Ponte Vedra, Fla. since 1990. But with the men’s game so heavily dominated by Europeans now, many feel the head man should be a European. That would not preclude Young playing a leading role as the CEO’s right-hand man.
Krajicek, who is married to actress Daphne Deckers, runs his own foundation in Holland and in June opened the 75th tennis court that the foundation has built in underprivileged areas of the country.
As Roddick has pointed out so clearly, the job requires someone with stature, imagination and courage, and Krajicek would bring those qualities to the table. A star with administrative experience is the ideal combination, as Lord Coe, the former Olympic middle-distance gold medalist Seb Coe, proved when he led London’s successful bid to stage the 2012 Games. Whether people want to admit it or not, there is no substitute for having been there and done it. If you are as articulate as Krajicek, being Wimbledon champion is a very useful additional asset.