AFP PHOTO / NICOLAS ASFOURI via Daylife.com
Discord at the top! Players’ Council Coup! Tennis strike!
In a rare show of public disagreement, Player Council Vice President Rafael Nadal has vented his frustrations with President and Gentleman-in-Chief, Roger Federer to the press Down Under. The evergreen complaint about the schedule, uproar over Slam prize money, debate over a more injury-tolerant two-year ranking system vs. the current one-year dealio and perhaps some recent resentments over bypassing the Nadal-supported Richard Krajicek for new ATP Chairman Brad Drewett have caused emotions to boil over in the pressroom. Rafa’s long been the spokeman for player discontent over these issues (that’s part of his frustration), and he decided to go one step further when complaining to the Spanish media on Sunday about the non-militant Federer. For context: Rafa’s comments followed the “emotional,” four hours plus annual players’ meeting on Saturday night that had Russian player Alex Bogolmolov ecstatically Tweeting: “A players strike here at the Australian Open?? YES SIR!! Finally all the players united! Waited for 10 yeArs for this! Witnessing history in Tennis! Players Union!!!!”
Well, thank God that strike didn’t happen. Sorry, I digress – back to Rafa’s beef with Rog. (This comes via a Spanish translation on NadalNews.com):
“I disagree with him (Roger Federer). It is very easy to say ‘I am not saying anything, everything is positive and I remain a gentleman and everyone else gets burned.’ But it’s also not like that. Everyone of us has our own opinion and maybe he likes the tour. I also like it and believe that it is better than the majority of sports, but that doesn’t take away that it could be better and that the bad things should be changed” he explained.
“I speak very positively about tennis, because thanks to this sport I have lived experiences that I could never have dreamed of in my life, but to end your career with pain everywhere in your body is not positive. Maybe he will end his career “like a rose” because he has a privileged physique, but neither Murray, nor Djokovic nor I will finish like roses” he added. (Roses = daisies in Spanish)
Nadal finished his speech saying “At what age are we going to finish (playing) tennis?” “At 28, 29 or 30? After that there is a lot of life ahead and it is also important how you are physically and now I fear that maybe I won’t be able to play football with my friends or (go) skiing.”
Nikolay Davydenko has Rafa’s back, telling reporters on Monday (via Tennis.com):
“I don’t know why Roger is not supporting the players,” Davydenko said. “Because he don’t want … any problems. He’s nice guy. He’s winning Grand Slams. He’s from Switzerland. He’s perfect.
“He don’t want to do anything, he just try to be an outsider from this one.”
Roger “the Swiss Daisy” Federer was asked about Rafa’s comments after winning his first round match on Monday. No surprise, he played “Gentleman” (so is Rafa rolling his eyes?”). Via the transcript:
Q. I’m sure you would have been made aware of some of the things that Rafael Nadal said in here yesterday. You could call it criticism of you, perhaps. Certainly the comments were quite outspoken. In those circumstances, do you have any response to what I’m sure you’ve been told he said?
ROGER FEDERER: Yeah, I mean, I kind of heard it, you know. I saw him after he said the comments Sunday was it, I guess? I saw him Sunday afternoon. I asked him how the press went. I didn’t know he spoke to the press.
He said, Yeah, it was fine. Mentioned a few things here and there. I was, Okay, whatever. Then I read the comments. So things are fine between us, you know. I have no hard feelings towards him.
It’s been a difficult last few months in terms of politics within the ATP, I guess, trying to find a new CEO and chairman. That can get frustrating sometimes.
He’s mentioned many times how he gets a bit tired and frustrated through the whole process, and I shared that with him. It’s normal. But for me, obviously nothing changes in terms of our relationship. I’m completely cool and relaxed about it. He seemed the same way or at least I hope so.
Q. He said you’ve got one view and the others have got something else.
ROGER FEDERER: Yeah, I think that’s normal. We can’t always agree on everything. So far it’s always been no problem really. Back in the day he used to say, Whatever Roger decides, I’m fine with.
Today he’s much more grown up. He has a strong opinion himself, which I think is great. It’s what we need, especially on the council. It’s been nice working with him.
That he has a strong opinion also creates sometimes good arguments about where you want to move the sport forward to.
You know, we talked about that in London after we played at midnight before, I don’t know, my semifinal match. We called each other after Davis Cup, and then we met again here.
So we’re always constantly trying to get on the same page, or at least talking about it, so we can do the best for the sport. That’s at the end of the day both our goals.
Q. Specifically are you willing to talk about the point that possibly you sometimes stand outside the process, maybe not getting behind some of the top 100 players, or does that come back to the differences in points of view, for example, pushing for changes to prize money, things like that?
ROGER FEDERER: I was in the meeting, you know. I completely understand and support the players’ opinions. I just have a different way of going at it. I’m not discussing it with you guys in the press room. It creates unfortunately sometimes negative stories.
I think we’ve done really well over the years now since me and Rafa in particular have joined the council, and also Novak in the past. And when Adam led the ATP, I think we had a really calm relationship about politics and about, you know, dealing with you guys.
So I choose not to talk about those issues with you guys. That doesn’t mean I don’t support the players. I think of the players first. Usually when I take decisions, I think of the lower ranked players first. I hope they know that.
Otherwise I wouldn’t be sitting on the council, just trying to do what’s best for the top guys. I mean, I’ve been around for too long to just say, Okay, we need more stuff for the top guys. I’m very happy if the lower ranked players are doing better, too.
Q. Do you disagree with the concept of a strike in principle, or do you just think it wouldn’t work?
ROGER FEDERER: You know, it’s such a dangerous word to use. That’s why I always say, Let’s try to avoid it as much as we can, right? I think that would be the best for all of us: you guys, fans, tournaments, players. It’s not good for anyone really. We’ve seen it in other sports happening in the States. That’s why I’m always very careful about it.
If there’s no avoiding it, I’ll support the rest of the players. But I just think we have to think it through how we do it, if we do it, can we do it, whatever it is, instead of just going out and screaming about it. That’s not how I think you’re going to get results.
There’s been too many tries and too many things done in the past that haven’t worked. That’s where I just think we’re on the right track and things are under control, I think. I’m confident we’ll get to a good solution in the near future.
Nadal, who also won his first round match on Monday, seemed a bit shaken by the media storm that he started and warned the press not to make up any “crazy histories” about what he said about Federer. Notice he didn’t go back on anything he’d actually said (via transcript):
Q. Have you had a chance to speak to Roger, following your comments yesterday, regarding the problems on the tour?
RAFAEL NADAL: No. But, anyway, probably yesterday what I said I said. Probably I am wrong telling that to you, especially because these things can stay, must stay in the locker room.
I always had fantastic relationship with Roger. I still have fantastic relationship with Roger. That’s what should be, in my opinion. Don’t create crazy histories about what I said yesterday, please.
Just I said, because, you know, we can have different views about how the tour need to work. That’s all.
Q. Did the top four players get together on Sunday after the players’ meeting on Saturday?
RAFAEL NADAL: No.
Q. Do you plan to speak to Roger soon to try to explain what you meant yesterday, maybe to apologize?
RAFAEL NADAL: No. You know, what I said I said. I feel sorry for say that, especially to you. Because when I say that, I have to say him personally. But that’s it. Forget.
I do not talk anymore. During the two weeks, you can try very hard to asking me a lot of things. Yesterday, you know, I started, and I say I don’t want to talk anymore about this. Finally I talked to much as usual. That’s not gonna happen again.
I advise all of you. You can try hard, but I gonna talk about tennis. If I am here two weeks, if I am here two days, I gonna have less work.
THE MODERATOR: Any more questions?
RAFAEL NADAL: After that… You are only interested in that, not the tennis (smiling).
It seems unfair to tell the press something, then blame them for writing about it, but obviously Rafa knows what he’s doing – and saying. By bringing up President Federer’s supposed aloofness and disregard for the majority opinion to the media, Rafa’s put Roger on the defensive (sound familiar?) Roger, for now, is attempting finesse over offense.
So what’s going on here? It’s somewhat a case of same old, same old, in terms of complaints, but with more solidarity at the top of the players’ ranks than perhaps ever before in the era of Big Money Tennis. As Bogomolov told reporters on Tuesday: “I was very excited as far as how the players were united. I’ve never been to a meeting like that (on Saturday) before in my life. I know all these guys for 12 years already. The way everybody is sticking by each other, the way everybody is on the same page, is inspiring.”
Except for Roger? It’s an interesting thing indeed when the top players break ranks, especially when it seems to be Roger vs. The Rest. As a Fed Fan, I must selfishly worry about the emotional toll this fight may take on my guy, considering his Swiss desire for peace and quiet. Stress can cause emotional and physical strain – just look at Rafa, who complained on Monday about a mysterious “crack’ coming from his knee. No doubt we’ll be hearing much more about the Fedal rift if/when they face off in a blockbuster semifinal Down Under.
The New York Times has an excellent round up of the issues surrounding the players’ complaints and the Nadal-Federer “rift.”
A bit more background:
I look to last September, the traditional month of tennis discontent (and, not coincidentally,the start of the Asian swing) as the time the rift went public. Andy Murray told BBC Sport that frustrated players were not ruling out a future strike and hoped to make a list of demands when they gathered together in Shanghai:
“It’s a possibility. I know from speaking to some players they’re not afraid of doing that [striking].
“Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that but I’m sure the players will consider it.”
Asked whether the subject of a strike or boycott will be mentioned during the meeting in China, he continued: “Yes I think so.
“If we come up with a list of things we want changed – and everyone is in agreement but they don’t happen – then we need to have some say in what goes on in our sport. At the moment we don’t.”
But Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic both skipped the Asian swing (yes, it was their perogative), which pushed these issues to the season-ending World Tour Finals. But if his fellow top players were hoping that President Roger Federer would emerge as the camera ready champion of the cause, they were sorely disappointed. Here’s Roger in London via ESPN:
“It’s not been an option really, in my opinion,” Federer said of a potential strike. “Next year’s season is going to be shortened by two weeks.
“That’s I think as much as we can squeeze it really because otherwise a lot of tournaments would have to go or we would have four tournaments the same week, which I don’t think is a very smart idea, to be honest, for the game.
“It was brought up a few months ago, the whole boycott thing. It’s nonsense. It’s not going to happen any time soon. Things are good right now, so I don’t see a reason why we should just boycott. There’s absolutely no reason for it.”
Well, some players think there is plenty of reason for striking. Ukranian Sergiy Stakhovsky, who was at Saturday’s meeting in Melbourne, offered this report (via Yahoo)
“Some of the players were suggesting we’re not going to play here,” said world number 65 Stakhovsky, referring to Saturday’s meeting.
“There were enough (votes not to play) but it was just not right because we’re here and the Australian Open would have no chance to change anything.”
Stakhovsky regarding the issues of Grand Slam prize money:
“More than 80 percent of the top players are on the same page as the rest of the players, saying that grand slams are not paying enough and that some mandatory events are not having proper prize money distribution,” Stakhovsky added.
“We all have issues. My issue is Indian Wells and Miami are mandatory events and if I lose in the first round I am minus (earnings). I am not making money off these tournaments.
“It’s four weeks spent in the United States, it’s airfares and hotels … if you’re out in the first round you’re unable to pay your coach,” said the Ukrainian.
Reportedly, it’s actually this prize money issue that’s at the forefront in Melbourne. 10sBalls.com puts those six and seven figure tournament payouts some perspective:
While the overcrowded ATP calendar still requires attention, the true main contentious area is the prize money on offer at the four majors. And while the champions at the Australian Open are set to be rewarded with a record $2.441,673, the actual percentage of the tournament’s revenue dedicated to prize money at the majors is perceived to be too low. This fortnight at the Melbourne Park it is $26.7 million.
Figures quoted from the United States, declared 13% of the revenue at Flushing Meadows went back to the players which compares distinctly unfavorably to rivals sports such as basketball (57% in the NBA) and American football (close to 50% in the NFL).
Indian Wells is reportedly the site of the next players’ meeting and the next potential battleground for these issues. As far a a Major boycott, the New York Times quotes an anonymous tour official as saying: “If I were the French Open, I’d be very concerned.”
See, it all busts open during Olympics years! The ultimate cynic might call a French Open boycott the ultimate act of pro-active scheduling around the Games. . .at the very least, we have the Storyline of the Season already.