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By Chris Oddo | Wednesday May 15, 2019

The President of the ATP Player Council Novak Djokovic aired his views, and a few complaints, with media members on Tuesday in Rome. It has been a most difficult and tumultuous period for the ATP governance, beginning with Justin Gimelstob’s assault case and eventual no contest plea leading to his resignation, and continuing of course with the ouster of longtime ATP CEO Chris Kermode, which was voted on by the board when Gimelstob was still a controversial member.

Gimelstob’s power plays and the ouster of Kermode have taken much criticism and many now regard the ATP governance--including Djokovic, who was elected as the President of the Player Council in 2016 and then given another two-year term in 2018--with skepticism.

Today Djokovic sought to address some of that criticism and he was quick to inform reporters that he is just one man advising the council, not the only player with a vote and not running the ATP ship unanimously. He feels he has been painted unfairly by the media and shared his feelings on the matter with New York Times’ reporter Ben Rothenberg.

“I don't think it's fair that you guys point out myself as the decision maker,” he said. “I'm president of the council, but it consists of 10 players. The majority decides. I am one of the 10."

On Tuesday, after the press conference, the ATP Player Council held a vote to narrow down the candidates in the running to fill Gimelstob’s vacated Board position from six to two. As the leader of the Council Djokovic says that he is not the only one with enough sway to influence these important decisions.

“I do have respect of players, of course,” he said. “I'm very privileged to be leading the group. But I cannot make decisions on behalf of the group, nor can any of my stands make a difference in majority votes for someone else or something else. That's going to be the same kind of process now. We'll talk as a group and then make a decision what is a priority for us, what do we want to get out of them. I think we collectively have to understand the, so to say, profile of a person that we're looking for, whether it's experience in sport, in business, both, that's to be discussed.”

Rothenberg questioned Djokovic about his perception of a lack of transparency from Djokovic and the Council to the media; Djokovic replied that he’s not at liberty to discuss many sensitive matters.

“I'm not the president of ATP,” he said. “I understand you want to get information from me. I can give you some information. Some information I'm just not in that privileged position to give you, or I can, but then it's not fair towards president of ATP or board members that are supposed to also communicate.”

The lack of transparency that Rothenberg alludes to was painfully apparent in the wake of Gimelstob’s no contest plea. As he remained on the board, frustration mounted in tennis circles and little was said to pacify the public or address the elephant in the room. The ATP’s attempt at appeasing PR was viewed as disingenuous and as the clamor grew many wondered why nobody was saying anything. It could have been that the ATP’s bylaws left the organization powerless to speak out against Gimelstob or else be hit with a lawsuit for defamation by the American. That possibility doesn’t seem out of the question.

Whatever the case, Djokovic says he feels that too much of the blame and criticism has gone to him.

“I feel that I've been exposed way too much for being president of the council, having that role,” he said. “You know what I mean? Everyone holds me accountable for everything that happens in tennis at the moment, which I think it's unfair. I'm not the only one there. If someone wants to understand the way the structure works, then he wouldn't be having that kind of approach.”

The players seemed to favor Gimelstob, despite the horrible optics surrounding him, because he was well-known as a tactical negotiator who had the players’ interests against the tournaments in mind. It should be said that the ATP Player Council and its President are working to represent the players against the tournaments all under the umbrella of ATP politics.

It's a divisive state of affairs, with a CEO often holding the power to break stalemates between the battling factions. The players have done well in recent years, hitting record prize money and squeezing a larger portion of tournament revenues.

But recent chaos has left the organization in a state of choppy turbulence.

Kermode is now a lame-duck CEO who hopes to find a way back in. Some believe he’ll be given a chance to regain his position, but at the moment the ATP is in a difficult position as they search for a new CEO and try to iron out their Board of Directors.

The search for Gimelstob’s replacement on the board has been narrowed down to Weller Evans or Nicolas Lapentti. At Wimbledon the final vote will be held.

In the meantime, Djokovic has to navigate these tremulous waters as he simultaneously makes a push for history on the tennis court. At Roland Garros he’ll bid to become the first person in Open Era history to hold all four Grand Slams at the same time—twice.

He’s had a difficult run in a position of leadership that he has embraced since 2016. Gimelstob’s transgressions and the controversies that followed have not made his life any easier. He wanted to address the fact that not all the information out there in the media is correct.

Even if some of it is, he asked for more respect.

“That's what I'm trying to talk to you about here, not about information that are going out there,” he said. “Some of them are correct, some of them are not. I just feel like the way we go about things, there's a lack of respect. Just pointing out one guy, you know, putting all the pressure on him, that's the only thing.”


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