ATP players try to raise their weak voices
No match for powerful tournament directors
By Matthew Cronin,
Yesterday, while reworking my lead for my weekly foxsports.com column on the value of a clay-court upbringing (the last thing I wanted to do was write another tome on why the American men stink on clay - that's for next week), a question popped into my head: Why are the clay-courters taking huge cuts at ATP CEO Etienne de Villiers when it's really the tournament directors who are pushing him to get rid of two Masters Series and move another?
For some odd reason, there's a misconception out there it's the players who have the most say on major tour issues. They don't and haven't had a significant impact in quite some time. When, for example, they are opposing ITF scheduling on Davis Cup, which is in concert with ATP tournament directors' wishes, the ATP brass gets solidly beyond them and broadcasts their comments. But, when the ATP CEO gets together with the major tournaments chiefs and starts reworking the calendar, they are barely consulted, or their opinions hold little weight.
There are a number of analysts who seem to have forgotten that it was just a few years ago that Wayne Ferreira, Jeff Tarango and the Tielman brothers tried to form a separate player organization called the International Men's Tennis Association. They failed, but they certainly rallied some folks to their cause because many players felt that the tour was ignoring their concerns. They went hard at Mark Miles, but also barked at the tournaments for not giving them their fair share.
Recall, too, that it was only a year-and-a-half ago that the ATP tried to legislate doubles specialists out of existence precisely because the tournaments were tired of what they considered to be a welfare state. Things were so-heated that a prominent doubles player called one prominent director the Anti-Christ.
de Villiers came in and saved the day for the doubles players, who did, by the way, still have to make some serious concessions to the tournaments.
But let's be really serious here about who hired de Villiers in the first place: the tournament directors, who received, in my not some humble opinion, a rubber stamp for the players. You didn't think that Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Ivan Ljubicic had time to conduct extensive job interviews, did you?
That doesn't mean that de Villiers is completely beholden to the TDs, but when he takes a look at the other six members of the ATP Board of Directors, he knows who is cutting his paychecks and where the power lies. Currently, it lies with the TDs and the major sports agencies.
de Villiers has one vote, as do tournament reps Charlie Pasarell (the Indian Wells owner who is certainly one of the most powerful men in the sport), Auckland Tennis CEO Graham Pearce and Monte Carlo TD Zeljko Franulovic (back to him later). The players selected super agent Perry Rogers (Andre Agassi's agent), Jacco Eltingh and Iggy Jovanovic. I'll give the players two strong votes in former doubles standout Eltingh and Iggy, who used to be a communications official. But that's it. Rogers understand the players concerns, but he's a business guy first and is likely looking at profit as the primary motive. Plus, he's American and sees more potential in keeping four strong Masters Series in North America (Indian Wells, Miami, Cincy and Canada), than he does in saving Hamburg's or Monte Carlo's TMS status (although maybe Steffi Graf is trying to convince him otherwise.)
I'm not sure how the vote broke down when the board voted on de Villiers recommendation for the 2009 calendar – which was to downgraded Monte Carlo and Hamburg, add Shanghai and move Madrid to the spring – but my guess is that Franulovic balked in a big way and stormed out, de Villiers and the two other tournament directors said fine, and so did Rogers. That's' enough votes, folks, regardless of what Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and ATP Player Council president Ivan Ljubicic asked their player reps to do.
Look, if the players want to make it the ATP a "player organization," then they have to get the tiebreaking vote on board of directors. I don't believe that they've ever had that on a consistent basis from their CEO, so they are sitting clay pigeons when it comes to major issues like the calendar, unless they force their CEO to the wall, which they have done this week.
Now, when they have embarrassed De Villers publicly with players like Ljubicic saying "ET doesn't understand tennis," they bring out a big stick by essentially saying that we are not buying into your calendar and you can take your mandated tournaments and shove them into your racket bag.
That's the power that they do have … which is not show up where they don't want to play. Just imagine how happy Shanghai is going to be if most of the top competitors don't go. Guess who's going to get an earful and a request for a major refund - de Villiers.
According to the Daily Telegraph's excellent Mark Hodgkinson, de Villiers told Federer, Ljubicic et al that's he's willing to be flexible and maybe, just maybe, they will reconsider letting Monte Carlo keeps its status. But Hamburg still appears to be in real trouble.
Here's what I really don't understand: Why attempt to re-mandate Masters Series tournaments when the star players have historically shown that they don't care about the zero-pointers or the massive fines anyway? The more reasonable request would be to ask them to compete in seven of nine Masters Series and set those schedules at the beginning of the year. Then the Americans can skip two clay courts, and the Europeans and South Americans can skip two hard courts. The tournaments will have to deal with that because reality dictates that if the tour attempts to hard-designate too many events, the players will pull out anyway. It's not worth keeping up the illusion.
NADAL ROLLS IN MONTE CARLO
Titleholder Rafael Nadal continued his excellent play and Federer picked up steam on Thursday. Nadal extended his record winning streak on clay to 65 matches by beating up German Philipp Kohlschreiber 6-2, 6-3, who defeated Guillermo Garcia Lopez 5-7, 7-6(4), 7-6(4). Federer took down Spaniard David Ferrer 6-4, 6-0 in 64 minutes and will go up against David Ferrer, who knocked out sixth-seeded Serb Novak Djokovic 7-5, 6-4. Guess we'll have to wait a while until The Djoker gets a crack at Fed again. Juan Carlos Ferrero overcame Richard Gasquet, who upended Ljubicic 6-3, 6-7, 7-5 in a marathon. Tomas Berdych scored an impressive clay court win with a 5-7, 6-3, 6-0 score over red hot Swede Robin Soderling, who had grabbed a 7-6(5), 6-2 victory over Max Mirnyi.
Our major Fed Cup preview will arrive late Friday, but do you mind if we lament what could have been a great tie between the US and Belgium and now will be a slaughter, as there's no way in creation that Kirsten Flipkens and Caroline Maes have any chance against the Williams sisters? This is not the first time that we've complained about many of the top players lack of commitment to Fed Cup, but with the Williamses, Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters, that's four of the best women's players over the past seven years. With Clijsters retiring at year's end, they will have never faced each other wearing their counties colors during their primes. This is the fourth occasion in the past five years they've had a chance to raise the profile of women's tennis and it never came to pass. On those four occasions, Clijsters has played once (but the Williamses didn't show) and Venus has played once (but Henin and Clijsters didn't show). Venus will clock in her second 2007 occasion this coming weekend. Serena will play her first tie against Belgium. Henin hasn't faced the US since 2000, when Lindsay Davenport and Monica Seles gave her and Clijsters a lesson in Las Vegas. I can't think of a bigger missed opportunity in women's tennis over the past decade. It's really sad.