NEW YORK – The Australian Open is under threat. The ATP has sent a mandatory meeting invitation to all the players present in New York for Saturday. During this meeting the players could decide to put the weakest of the four Slams under pressure for more money. Along with the Australian Open, all of the tournaments that precede it are under threat as well. The boycott could have disastrous consequences for Brisbane, Auckland and Sydney. A rumour suggests that the ATP is planning a super-tournament in Dubai with similar prize money as an alternative to the Australian Open. Along with the Dubai event, a number of other tournaments would be organised in the Middle and Far East before and after the super-tournament.
The players want a bigger slice of the cake. At the moment the prize money of the four Majors is 15% to 20% of what the tournaments earn and all of the top 100, particularly those between the tenth and hundredth position, believe that they deserve more. “Without us these tournaments wouldn't make as much money as they do at the moment, so we deserve more.”
This problem has been brewing for some time, but now many players are ready to break this long peaceful period and declare war. It is rumoured that Roger Federer, Player Council president, wasn't partial to declaring an all-out war on the four Grand Slams. Rafael Nadal instead is one of the biggest supporters of the fight, but he resigned from the Players Council earlier this year suggesting that Federer wasn't taking a clear stance on the issue. Is it because he is too polite? Is it because he is following the Swiss tradition of neutrality? Is it because he earns a lot anyway? There has been a lot of speculation as to why, but not much evidence.
I talked to a few players and others involved in tennis, and it appears that Federer is now ready to support the less famous and rich player's fight against the Slams (he is still not in favour of all-out war, though), as he has now conquered all the Grand Slam records he wanted.
The organisers of the four Slams have always considered Federer to be a more important presence in a tournament than any other player, so it was fundamental for the players to gain the Swiss' support. Federer was reluctant until now, but his apparent change of heart could be the key twist of this dispute.
Roger would have never skipped Wimbledon, considering all the records he made at the All England Club, but he could make an exception for the Australian Open, with the blessing of the ATP and his colleagues. Should the players succeed, it could become a dangerous precedent for the other Slams forcing them to yield to the players demands.
Ironically it could be an Australian, ATP President Bob Drewett, that declares war on the Australian Open, but in the end every CEO has to report to his share-holders.
On Saturday evening or Sunday morning at the latest, we will know more.
The Australian Open is the weakest of the four Slams because of a combination of date and distance and is therefore the most assailable. It does not have Wimbledon's tradition and reputation, for example. The Championships would never give in and they have already survived a boycott in 1973 when about seventy of the top players decided to forfeit the Championships. That year only players from Eastern Europe couldn't adhere to the boycott that was called in support of Nikki Pilic, suspended by the Yugoslav Federation because he refused to play a Davis Cup match, and the Czechoslovakian Jan Kodes won the title defeating Alex Metreveli from the USSR.