March 31, 2008
Pressure increases to get de Villiers out of the ATP
Posted by Charles Bricker at 6:04:21 PM
KEY BISCAYNE -- With fewer than nine months to go on his three-year contract, ATP CEO Etienne de Villiers is facing intensified heat from some of the tour's top players, who want him terminated.
According to one of my best sources, and someone very well connected to ATP politics, several top-20 players have organized a petition that demands that the six-man board of directors not begin negotiations to extend de Villiers' contract past December until they've examined other candidates for the CEO's job.
Obviously, you don't examine other candidates if you're happy with the man who's doing the job and, while the board of directors appears to be solidly behind de Villiers, there are players who are not.
I'm not ready to take this petition at face value because it very likely is a negotiations ploy to get some concessions from the CEO by threatening to raise a united front against his continued employment.
What concessions? For starters, they want someone on the board who is an active player. In short, someone whom they claim will represent the players rather than the corporate heads.
That demand in itself suggests very strongly that there is a major disconnect between the ATP executives and the players and, if that's true, a lot of it is because de Villiers has forced through a number of issues that have not satisfied everyone.
Like moving the Hamburg tournament to a different spot on the calendar and stripping it of its Masters Series status, which has led to a lawsuit that has now cost the ATP an estimated $5-6 million.
There is also the threat of a lawsuit by Nikolay Davydenko, whose name was revealed by the wagering company Betfair and plastered all over every sports section in the world last year because of a suspicious betting pattern in one of his matches. That cloud has been hanging over his head for six months while his attorneys have resisted handing over phone records that they say would invade his privacy. No one has found a smoking gun, but neither has the ATP cleared his name. I'm not saying Davydenko is innocent or guilty, but this is far too long to leave this guy twirling in the wind.,
de Villiers hasn't endeared hmself to some tournament officials, either, including Sony Ericsson tournament chairman Butch Buchholz, who Monday expressed clear unhappiness with de Villiers' decision last year to reduce Masters Series finals from best-of-5 to best-of-3 sets.
de Villiers deserves a defense here. He was hired to replace Mark Miles two and a half years ago and jump-start a tour that was having serious but not lethal problems. He wasn't hired to maintain the status quo. He was hired to make changes and he's moved aggressively ahead with those changes, making enemies in the process. That's too bad but that's what classically happens when you give someone the charge of making changes.
More than once de Villiers has told me, "If the time comes when they don't want me here, I'll resign. But I believe in what I'm doing and the board of directors has backed me unanimously on every major issue."
Some of his decisions have been clear mistakes, like the screwy round robin system that ended up in a terrrible controversy at the Tennis Channel Open in Las Vegas last year. de Villiers initially ignored the ATP's own clear rules to allow James Blake and not Evgeny Korolev moved to the quarterfinals of that tournament. He later admitted his mistake, but it wasn't easily forgotten by some players.
He has had major successes. There is about 30 percent more prize money in the game today than when he took over. He's worked to simplify the calendar. He's gotten more publicity for doubles players than they've ever had.
But the Hamburg controversy, coupled with an attempt to demote the status of Monte Carlo, was a turning point in his relationship with a number of European and South American players who depend on clay court events for points and money.
He found a creative compromise for Monte Carlo, but it hasn't closed all the wounds.
I spoke with Nikolay Davydenko this afternoon and he kept hammering home the lack of communication between the ATP and the players. I said, "Wait a minute. The ATP is the players." His response was that, yes, that's the way it's supposed to be, but that's not the way he perceives it.
The board of directors has three player representatives -- former doubles player Jacco Eltingh, Iggy Jovanovic, who was not a touring pro, and Perry Rogers, who is Andre Agassi's agent.
The top 20 players leading this drive to oust de Villiers say none of those three represents the players but are more interested in representing the tour's financial interests and backing de Villiers' decisions.
But the fact is in an election last June, Rogers was elected over Justin Gimelstob, who would have been an active voice for the players.
No one in his right mind wants de Villiers out right now. There's no one to step in on an interim basis and if he quit it would leave the tour in chaos.
My best guess is he's going to weather this storm, but he's going to have to find some way to make peace with the top-20 players.
The first comment after this article is pretty interesting:
You guess wrong, DeVilliers should resign now. He knows nothing about the game, nor cares about the players. When the top 20 of the sport ask for his departure, he should tender his resignation immediately.
Besides, he says things that aren't true to players, tournament directors, agents and the press.
Who wants a guy whose best interests are not tennis.
Posted by: Norman Canter | March 31, 2008 at 10:29 PM
(Norman Canter works with a number of players through his management company, http://www.renaissancetennis.com/clients.htm