The tennis world descended into chaos only days before the US Open after it was confirmed Novak Djokovic helped lead a breakaway players association, which both Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer publicly opposed.
On Sunday morning, The New York Times claimed that world No.1 Djokovic was expected to announce his resignation from the presidency of the ATP players' council and help form the PTPA (Professional Tennis Players Association).
'SICK TO MY STOMACH’: Osaka's emotional call amid athlete strike
Both Nadal and Federer caught wind and fervently opposed the move and called for unity.
But in a stunning move, just hours later, the players confirmed the emergence of the PTPA.
Canadian Vasek Pospisil, who announced he was leaving the players’ council due to a lack of ‘any significant impact’, posted a photo of the players on board with the new breakaway group.
Djokovic could be seen at the front of the photo.
“After today’s successful meeting, we are excited to announce the beginning of the Professional Tennis Players Association (PTPA),” he wrote on Twitter.
“The first player only association in tennis since 1972. #PTPA”
After today’s successful meeting, we are excited to announce the beginning of the Professional Tennis Players Association (PTPA). The first player only association in tennis since 1972. #PTPA pic.twitter.com/070TRKZ4xG
— Vasek Pospisil (@VasekPospisil) August 29, 2020
Djokovic discusses new breakaway players council
After winning the Southern and Western Open final on Saturday, which meant Djokovic became the first player even to win all Masters titles twice, the World No.1 addressed the elephant in the room.
“I have to say that this is not a new idea,” he told reporters.
“This hasn’t been something that came out of the blue.
“This has been a project for many players and many different generations over the last 20-plus years.”
Djokovic went on to claim tennis was one of the few global sports that doesn’t have a seperate body representing the players.
“We are one of the few global sports that doesn’t have any player organisation, player-only, I must say, organisation or association,” he added.
“That has been the subject of discussion for, you know, also I think a wish for many players for many decades now.”
Djokovic also tried to allay fears and said the ATP could co-exist with the PTPA.
“I have read in the letter from ATP, that they think that ATP cannot co-exist with the association,” he said.
“I have to respectfully disagree. Legally we are 100% safe and we are allowed to form the player association. This is not a union.
“This is player association. So we are not calling for boycotts. We are not forming parallel tours.”
Nadal and Federer lead push back against Djokovic
World No.2 Nadal was the first high-profile player to publicly oppose Djokovic’s move and call for unity during the coronavirus pandemic.
“The world is living a difficult and complicated situation,” said the 19-time major winner.
“I personally believe these are times to be calm and work all of us together in the same direction. It is time for unity, not for separation.
“These are moments where big things can be achieved as long as the world of tennis is united.
"We all, players, tournaments and governing bodies have to work together. We have a bigger problem and separation and disunion is definitely not the solution.”
— Roger Federer (@rogerfederer) August 29, 2020
Federer quickly retweeted Nadal and called for unity.
"I agree @RafaelNadal," tweeted Federer. "These are uncertain and challenging times, but I believe it's critical for us to stand united as players, and as a sport, to pave the best way forward."
Tennis world divided over breakaway council
But players are divided and unsure of how much power the new players council will hold.
Canadian Milos Raonic and American John Isner both suggested they were in favour of the new move.
However, British players Andy Murray and Dan Evans both opposed the move.
Evans claimed it was ‘horrible timing’ to be making such a big call and Murray said the lack of women representation was a concern for him.
“I received the emails on the player union,” Evans told reporters.
“I do know the reasoning, I think now is horrible timing to be talking about that sort of thing. For what it’s worth I think the ATP do a great job for us and I won’t be signing.”
“It’s very rushed I think. It’s very tough to make a decision like that in some chat over a group chat, a few emails flying around. We have to be careful what we wish for.”
Evans expressed concern for lower ranked players and the potential that they would have less tournaments to play if the new player council didn’t have power.
Murray, always an advocate for the women’s game, said the WTA needed to be involved in such a huge decision.
“I’m not against a player union or player association but right now…I feel like current ATP management should be given time to implement their vision,” he said.
Look! We had have gone through in the past(last i remember in 2002),and it didn’t work. This new development will make so much complication for everyone,including players themselves. Better stay together my opinion #ATP
— Kafelnikov Yevgeny (@KYevgeni) August 29, 2020
“Whether that works out potentially could influence me in the future. And also the fact that the women aren’t part of it. I feel like that would send a significantly…well, just a much more powerful message, personally, if the WTA were onboard with it, as well.”
Former World No.1 Kafelnikov Yevgeny said this wasn’t a new attempt for a players’ council, but said the move will only result in complication.
Either way, the tennis world is officially divided only days out from the US Open.