It all looked like another faux pas from Novak Djokovic.
The idea of setting up an alternative body to the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) seemed ludicrous, given that the organisation had shepherded the development of men’s tennis since 1972. It represented players and most of the tournaments that the professional calendar had to offer.
Prominent names like Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and even Djokovic had been part of the ATP Player Council – now the Player Advisory Council – with a separate Tournament Advisory Council, both under the ATP board of directors.
With such an established organisation, both in remit and personnel, an alternative or additional body was widely perceived as unnecessary at best and, at worst, a bizarre move from Djokovic, which highlighted a penchant for birthing further controversy.
On 29 August 2020, Djokovic, alongside Vasek Pospisil, founded the Professional Tennis Players Association (PTPA).
Their reason for doing so was simple – the ATP couldn’t sufficiently look after player interests because it also looked after tournament interests, which were sometimes furthered at players’ expense.
As shortcomings have also been levelled at the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) and the International Tennis Federation (ITF), the new organisation offers membership to men and women players in the top 350 for singles and 150 for doubles.
Djokovic and Pospisil see a player-only association as necessary to promote player interests because their objectives, focus and direction of finance would not be diluted or outright confounded by the interests of tournaments from within the same group.
The PTPA says it’s not meant to be a direct challenger to the ATP, so much as filling in the gaps where the ATP isn’t supposedly up to scratch when addressing player concerns.
For a while, the PTPA looked like an organisational fad. A kind of representative silo for the “alternative” tennis player; until it wasn’t.
From January 2023, the organisation approved membership for over 250 professional players. Big names like Paula Badosa, Hubert Hurkacz, John Isner and Ons Jabeur are key figures who serve alongside Djokovic and Pospisil in the 2023 executive committee.
In June 2023, the PTPA got a massive boost by developing the so-called strategic partnership with Universal Tennis (UT), which provides an “accurate” and “fair” Universal Tennis Ranking from pros to amateurs, as well as running the UT Pro Tennis Tour which helps aspiring professional players earn money.
Both organisations aim not to let players’ lack of personal finances for tennis get in the way of developing future talent.
To that extent, it’s hard to argue against at least a refresh on how money is distributed in tennis. Djokovic has stated he wants the PTPA to help lobby for change in supporting low-earning players who might struggle to make a living.
He posits that only around 400 players can depend on their tennis earnings alone and that many players ranked 500 – 250 can’t afford a physiotherapist or a coach.
Travel, food, clothing and insurance are added costs that sometimes stack up to make tennis simply unaffordable to many who might have included the next Carlos Alcaraz or Roger Federer but were financially unable to continue or struggled to impact the sport because of money.
Djokovic On Tennis’s Living Wage
There are signs the PTPA has drawn attention to issues that the ATP has sought to fix.
In August, the ATP announced the Baseline Initiative, which sets a tiered minimum annual income for the top 250 singles players, depending on ranking.
The amounts range from $300,000 for the top 100 to $75,000 for the top 176 – 250. The ATP will give them the difference if players don’t earn that amount.
An additional upcoming effort is the Profit Sharing initiative in Masters 1000 events, where players will be granted a share of tournament profits plus the usual prize money.
There are some conclusions to draw from these developments. First, it highlights the PTPA’s legitimacy because it has raised issues that the ATP has viewed as serious enough to try and fix.
Second, it shows the shortcomings of the ATP because the flow of big-name players to the PTPA suggests that a growing group of players were becoming dissatisfied with the ATP.
ATP shortcomings are also suggested by the fact that the ATP must address issues previously left unattended.
I don’t think the ATP is an evil organisation. Running professional men’s tennis is an enormous feat, and I would not want the ATP to be disbanded or dissolved.
To put it plainly, it puts on a great show.
The ATP is to be primarily applauded. But this does underline the third conclusion, that having tournament and player interests in the same organisation creates tension, especially when it comes to money because less money for the players means more money for tournament owners, and vice versa.
If one gains, the other loses.
The PTPA says it’s not a challenger to the ATP but thrives on pointing out where the ATP is going wrong.
It may not want to replace the organisation. Still, it does divide the professional tennis administration into two main camps – those who want to effect change within the ATP (or keep the status quo) and those who see the ATP as weighted too far away from player interests. It perhaps views the PTPA as a counterbalancing act.
With the popularity of the PTPA slowly growing, it may cause fissures in the tennis world, but it appears to ultimately effect positive change. The question now is about the long-term function of the PTPA.
Is it happy to remain essentially a lobbying body, trying to persuade the ATP to enact change, or does the UT move signal other designs – to take on a more significant responsibility for rankings and possibly even tournaments?
It will be up to the executive committee, including Djokovic and Pospisil, to decide where the PTPA is headed.
Do you think the PTPA is suitable for tennis? Is finance in tennis distributed fairly, and are tournament interests too influential? Is Djokovic justified or wrong to set up a new organisation? Leave your comments below.