Australian Open
Association of Tennis Professionals chairman Chris Kermode and world no.1 Novak Djokovic.

What’s going on at the Association of Tennis Professionals? AAP has reported that “a war is brewing” over player pay, a war that could result in the ousting of ATP chief executive Chris Kermode. If the labyrinthine world of professional tennis bodies confuses you, here’s a quick primer.

What is the ATP?

The ATP is the main men’s tennis governing body, founded in 1972 to protect the interests of male players (women had to wait until the next year for the Women’s Tennis Association to be formed). Kermode took over as ATP chief executive on January 1, 2014. Apart from the chief executive, the ATP board consists of three players’ representatives and three tournament representatives.

Beneath the board is the ATP players council, which has 12 members. The current president of the players council is Serbian world No. 1 Novak Djokovic. The council advises the board, which is in turn free to accept or reject the council’s suggestions. The ATP board is due to vote on whether to renew Kermode’s contract after the Australian Open. Kermode needs two of the three board members from each side of the ATP to support him if his contract is to be renewed.

The case for ousting Kermode

Though he refused to confirm it, Djokovic reportedly voted against extending Kermode’s tenure at the annual players’ meeting in Melbourne on Saturday. This would have been the deciding vote if, as reported, the council voted five to four against keeping Kermode on. Djokovic has previously argued that there should be a players’ union separate from the ATP.

The most outspoken critic of Kermode is Canadian player and council member Vasek Pospisil, who similarly calls for players to more effectively organise. The UK’s Telegraph reports that Pospisil sent a “strongly worded email” out to players ranked between 50 and 100, which called for them to

… start acting and running like a business not like a bunch of scared kids … we need a CEO that first and foremost represents OUR interests. The governance structure of the ATP favours the interests of the tournaments and [their] owners … Our system is broken. It’s time for a change and it can be achieved by staying unified and demanding what we deserve for our hard work. Grand slams which report hundreds of millions of dollars in profit … yet we get less in prize money than 10 per cent of their revenue.

The case against

Australia’s favourite malcontent Nick Kyrgios supports Kermode: “I think the changes that tennis is having with the ATP Cup and stuff, I think it is going in the right direction. He’s trying to do the right thing,” Kyrgios said.

Former Australian Open champion Stan Wawrinka also said he couldn’t understand why Kermode needs to be removed.

If you look what’s happened the last few years with our president, I think he only helped the tennis to be in a better place … What’s the reason for changing? Is the prize money not high enough? Is the calendar not good enough? I don’t know. But there should be a reason to move someone at that spot …

Roger Federer, ever the diplomat, admitted only that “a lot is happening” behind the scenes. “It’s definitely interesting times, I’d like to call it, not bad times in our sport,” he said. “It’s maybe also a bit of a transition time.”

Meanwhile, Australian coach Darren Cahill tweeted that Kermode had brought positive changes to tennis, including “big increases in prize money, pension plan … [and] new progressive rules for injured players”. He added that he’d “be stunned” if Kermode were removed.

Peter Fray

Inoculate yourself against the spin

Get Crikey for just $1 a week and support our journalists’ important work of uncovering the hypocrisies that infest our corridors of power.

If you haven’t joined us yet, subscribe today to get your first 12 weeks for $12 and get the journalism you need to navigate the spin.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW