Why tennis players are forming a new players association

Tennis faces an upheaval that could last for years if changes they’re making lead to players who stand their ground as more than mere money-grabbers.

For years, players have targeted a $5 million salary for players ranked outside the top 40, and the WTA had announced an attempt to add the overall number of ranking points to players.

Their actions have created a new outfit representing players in that battle, the Association of Tennis Professionals Players’ Association (ATPPA), whose name itself is a mouthful.

ATPPA was made up of 18 players, including top five players Novak Djokovic, Stan Wawrinka and Rafael Nadal. It will address player concerns, such as prize money, ranking points and scheduling, and remains an embryonic entity, though one with growing momentum.

Players have suggested their growth is in tandem with the on-court success of rivalries like Roger Federer and Andy Murray, and the Davis Cup breakthroughs of Kyle Edmund and Dan Evans. Last week, the tournament players met at Wimbledon to chart the course for the future.

“Relations between the ATP players and ATP were at a low ebb. It was nothing personal. Players had some very legitimate concerns with the tour,” said Mats Wilander, the former top-10 player. “Now, for the first time, the players are unified in their approach to the tournaments.”

If only. Differences of opinion still exist. One of the proposals for ATPPA comes from Spanish champion Feliciano Lopez, who has said he hopes the group will be able to wrestle equal treatment from the ATP and the WTA. Other proposals seek to increase the men’s prize money pool at the top 12 tournaments to at least $50 million, and the prize-money split at Grand Slams to nearly 50-50.

For now, the ATP will push to keep the current schemes in place. “We want to get back to transparency and parity in the total revenue for tennis,” said an ATP official who didn’t want to be named. “If that happens, that will be great.”

Wilander said although the players have long pushed for equitable pay and prize-money growth, ATPPA has embraced this frustration in a better way than the WTA did in the past.

“Over the last decade, the WTA hasn’t done that,” Wilander said. “The WTA has a different structure: They’re not taking their top players to Shanghai or Beijing or Tokyo as part of the seven weeks of the season. The men are accepted almost completely on their own merit.

“The WTA doesn’t offer any guarantees other than they provide practice facilities and courts and indoor courts and warm-up courts and private residences for their top players. They haven’t listened to the men’s players and the ATPPA is effectively as a result presenting itself as a unity of the players.”

Wilander, who said ATPPA still has a lot of work to do, said it is too early to tell if this will be a lasting development in tennis. “It’s so new,” he said. “If this disintegrates there is a permanent battle.”

One area where ATPPA seems to be making progress is fighting some of the frayed relationships on the circuit. Another issue is the future for the men’s tour calendar, which has seen a renewed emphasis on quick action.

Some of the men’s top 20 are also taking a harder line. When Federer said earlier this year that players should demand an all-or-nothing approach to the grand slams and other major tournaments, he provoked a backlash.

“While our wish is for new and fresh ideas to improve the overall health of the world’s biggest tennis tour, it is our position that no single factor (e.g. format of the US Open, prize pool) will by itself necessarily enable or support a 10-year plan. Too many variables will exist under that scenario,” ATP chairman Chris Kermode said.

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