Top tennis stars, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic are in a cold war and tennis fans across the globe are left wondering what went so wrong between otherwise friendly duo. Federer put the heat on tennis powerbrokers to provide clarity about what the future holds after a turbulentweek that saw ATP President Chris Kermode ousted.
The war that has been playing out in the backroom of men’s tennis and was brought into the spotlight at the Australian Open in January. It all came to a messy ending on Friday when it was announced Kermode would not be extending his six-year term at the helm.
The Players Council, led by Novak Djokovic, voted Kermode out and while Djokovic has refused to confirm publicly whether he spearheaded the charge to get rid of the ATP leader, reports have widely claimed the Serb was the driving force behind the change. Some stars like Players Council member Vasek Pospisil wanted Kermode gone but others such as Stan Wawrinka and Rafael Nadal were firmly against the change in leadership because they believe men’s tennis has been booming in recent years.
In public, Federer has largely stayed out of the debate and distanced himself from any talk about pushing for Kermode’s removal. However, some media reports claimed he was on Nadal’s side and opted not to attend the Players Council meeting to decide Kermode’s fate last week.
But the Swiss maestro went a little deeper into the messy affair after his 6-1 7-5 win over Peter Gojowczyk at Indian Wells on Monday, demanding answers from decision-makers about what the future of tennis looks like.
Federer praised Kermode’s leadership in January but stayed away from mentioning specifics on Monday, although he said he was impressed with what men’s tennis looked like now, before adding the political upheaval was creating complications. He also said he’s worried those leading the sport don’t have a clear idea of where they want to go or how they plan to get there.
“I’m not quite sure to be honest,” Federer told journalists Leif Shiras and Jon Wertheim on The Tennis Channel when asked what the future of tennis looks like.
“We’re in a very interesting time where we need to have a clear plan and I’m not sure what the plan is. That’s the big thing I worry about. I do believe we have unbelievable players, great matches, new guys coming through, stadiums are full, prizemoney has gone up. Everything’s great, it seems like. From that standpoint everything’s actually great and then you talk about politics and you’re like, ‘Oh my God, what’s going on here?’
“We need to really figure it out and I’d like to feel the pulse a little bit about where we’re about to go, because clearly we’re going to need to decide who the new CEO (of the ATP) is going to be, or the political side of the game has got to do that.”
Federer has previously downplayed his political influence, particularly when it came to Kermode’s future, but said after defeating Gojowczyk he would look at taking a more active role in shaping the future of tennis because he cares deeply about the sport.
“I would like to take an active role a little bit to some extent — as much time as I have and am willing to give — just to be part of the process because like you said I do care, and if I do care I should put in a little work as well,” Federer said.
Nadal has been a vocal critic of those demanding a leadership change at the ATP, saying just last week Kermode had done a “good job” and deserved to stay on. He also warned any drastic changes could derail the path tennis is on and risk future prosperity and growth.
Nadal raised those concerns after earlier complaining at the Australian Open nobody from the Players Council had even bothered to reach out to him and ask for his thoughts on Kermode or the state of the sport.
The Spaniard’s pleas clearly fell on deaf ears but he’s found a willing ally in Federer, who said the pair shared coffee at his house soon after Kermode was dumped to digest the political upheaval and discuss what lay ahead.
Federer said he and Nadal were on the same page when it came to wanting more clarity.
“What I am happy about is we’re aligned and we agree that we should be talking and coming up with a proper plan,” Federer said of their meeting.
“I’d like to hear that from the council and some more players and people just to get an idea what’s really going on, to be quite honest.”
And the ATP have now released a statement in an attempt to put the situation to bed - which is unlikely to happen.
“Following recent comments, coverage and speculation, the three Player Board representatives have decided to clarify a few matters related to the roles of the Player Board representatives, the Player Council and the Council’s president in the President / Chairman vote taken last week,” the statement begun.
“While it is somewhat surprising to see the amount of coverage dedicated to this internal governance decision, it has been disappointing to see the decisions and suspicions that have been stoked in that coverage.
“All members of the Player Council. including the 10 current players, as well as the three Player Board representatives, have spent months discussing and debating the merits and concerns with renewing Chris’ contract.
“We should not minimise the commitment and sacrifice of this Player Council to give back to their Tour and the sport they care deeply about - the time and effort that have dedicated to preparing for meetings, talking with the wider player group, debating late into the night just days before big tournaments commence, and discussing all matters consistently via emails and WhatsApp chats.
“This decision was also made while communicating with players, tournament members, ATP staff and management, senior stakeholders in the game, CEOs and chairmen of other sports, as well as our fellow board members."
“It is worth adding at this point that have heard in recent days that some of our greatest icons are interested in re-entering the political conversations and helping us and the council guide the next phase of this sport’s growth. This is fantastic news and all of us welcome them and their unique perspectives."
“The player side and the whole ATP Tour benefit greatly from the commitment of players and the recent engagement of so many top players, which has helped the function and profile of the Player Council."
“In the end however, the Player Council, in consultation with the Player Board representatives, decided that the Play Board representatives were vest placed to make the decision on behalf of the player membership.
“The there Player Board representatives voted not to renew Chris’ contract and so, in accordance with the ATP bylaws, the renewal did not pass.
“To be clear, this was not a decision made or driven by one of two individuals’ personal beliefs or agendas.
“While the Tour has had strong five years, we felt that the time was right to look to a new leader for the future.
“Legends are still gracing our courts, the young guns are disrupting the order and engaging fans in new ways, the tournaments remain a must-experience and must-attend events."
"We are confident a new leader will augment our strengths, develop new value and overcome the challenges we face and will face going forward."
“We now look forward to working closely with the Player Council, our icons, the tournament membership, the management and a carefully-vetted executive search firm to identify, evaluate and secure the services of the individual who will succeed Chris.
“We hope this allows the focus to now solely be on this incredible tournament and the amazingly talented players competing in one of our most important events.
“We all love and believe in our sport and look forward to the next chapter for tennis and the ATP.”
While ATP released a somewhat diplomatic statement, we can only hope that this little 'tiff' between the two greats ends soon and we them together, smiling, playing, again.