Federer and Nadal lead player protest
A pair of camouflaged combat trousers is not a common sight on the French Riviera. But Rafael Nadal's outfit was entirely appropriate yesterday as he and Roger Federer fronted an angry players' protest about the president of the ATP, arguing that Etienne de Villiers has failed to properly consult them over proposed changes to the calendar.
Forget the perfect spring sunshine here and the huge yachts moving idly across a beautifully still Mediterranean behind the red clay courts. The tennis world was not at peace with itself, and it was both extraordinary and unprecedented that the world's top two players felt compelled to be so critical in public about the head of the governing body of men's tennis, but Federer and Nadal were voicing widespread locker-room concerns about De Villiers.
On a day of verbal volleys, Tim Henman's actual volleys went a little astray at the crucial moments, and he was defeated 7-5, 6-2 by Spaniard Juan Carlos Ferrero. But Henman, who has not progressed at a tournament since October last year, was not fully primed for his contest as his long-term back condition had flared up again.
Henman was not the only Briton with a back problem. Spasms in his back forced Andy Murray to quit after the first set of his doubles match with his older brother, Jamie, last night. Murray junior is today supposed to play his second-round singles match with Frenchman Marc Gicquel, which will be the Scot's first appearance as a top-10 player. "I will see how the back feels," he said.
De Villiers, a South African, is expected to soon publish the schedule for the 2009 season onwards, the so-called 'brave new world' of men's tennis, and there have been concerns that this week's Monte Carlo Masters and the Hamburg Masters, both of which have long histories, are in danger of being downgraded.
The two tournaments have filed antitrust lawsuits against the ATP in an American court, and around 70 players, including Andy Murray, had previously signed a petition to complain that De Villiers has been moving so quickly.
Yesterday Federer and Nadal raised the stakes. "It's just a little scream for help," said Federer, who, as the world No 1, feels that he ought to do his utmost to protect the heritage and integrity of the sport. And the comments from the thoughtful Swiss must have been deeply unsettling for De Villiers, a former Disney executive who arrived at the ATP in 2005, as it raised some doubt over his long-term future at the governing body.
"These decisions need to be taken more slowly, and we want a say. We're the ones out there in the tennis shorts, they're not. We need to speak with the bosses, things are going too fast. I've had many meetings with De Villiers. He listens but then goes and does things his way - I wish he would listen more. The players are just not happy with the last few months," Federer said.
It is understood that De Villiers is hoping to talk to some of the players today. Federer also attacked the International Tennis Federation for also ignoring the players' thoughts about where the Davis Cup weeks should be placed in the calendar. Nikolay Davydenko, the world No 4, also had a public pop at De Villiers, with the Russian suggesting that the ATP president "doesn't know anything about tennis". Davydenko implied that the players can no longer trust De Villiers because of the controversy surrounding this season's experiment to use round-robin matches at smaller tournaments. Federer criticised De Villiers earlier in the year and the round-robin format has since been ditched but yesterday Davydenko waded in.
"He's terrible. He doesn't know anything about tennis. That's not good enough for the ATP president," Davydenko said, also referring to De Villiers as "Walt Disney", and it will be interesting to see whether the ATP decide to fine him for his outburst.