WHAT COMES FIRST: SUPPORT OR ACTION?


Upon the announcement of the Wimbledon ban on Russian and Belarusian players, the Professional Tennis Players Association (PTPA), like many organisations, provided a statement in support of the banned cohort.   

Unlike many other meaningful statements put out at the time, the PTPA simply stated it denounced the invasion of Ukraine; is committed to learning; and, does not discriminate against any tennis player based on nationality.  

The words ‘Wimbledon’ or ‘All England Tennis Club’ were not mentioned.  Nor were any words of substance or vigour.

Online, the statement was described as “an empty soap bubble” that “isn’t worth amplifying”.

When Novak Djokovic and Canadian Vasek Pospisil strategized about the formation and formative years of their association, they surely envisaged something more than this.

Born on the outside courts at the 2020 US Open at Flushing Meadows, the PTPA has barely fired a shot since its inception.

Essentially a union, formed by the players and for the players, the PTPA is the newest member of tennis’ extraordinarily large number of governing bodies all chartered with some form of growth or enhancement of the game of tennis.

In particular, the PTPA seeks to “create transparency and fairness throughout decision-making in professional tennis”. 

To translate, the PTPA was born from the idea that while tennis is an immensely popular global sport worth billions of dollars per annum; its inequalities are rife as barely 300 players at any one time can make a comfortable living from playing this sport professionally. And that needs to change.

Ironically, it was Djokovic, the man who had perhaps benefited the most from tennis’ current structures, with USD $154.9 million in career prize money to date, who sought to create change for his peers. 

However, despite the PTPA fighting for a noble cause, it does not appear to have achieved anything of any substance to date when it comes to structural change or reform throughout the sport.

There was, of course, the #DelaytheVote social media campaign wherein the PTPA sought to delay the vote for the ATP’s strategic 30-year plan.  The details of the plan need not be expanded upon as while the campaign to delay the vote was successful, a large portion of the ATP’s plan was eventually voted upon and enacted.

Similarly, although the PTPA claims to have up to 500 members, it still faces reputational resistance.  Influential players such as Murray, Federer, Nadal, Tsitsipas, and Zverev have all expressed their disinterest or disapproval at the thought of another corporate body going head to head with the ATP.  

Equally, on the women’s side, there has been little to no public support from any players of note other than outspoken Brit, Tara Moore – who sits on the periphery of relevance in professional tennis (at least when measured by way of ranking).

To illustrate the PTPA’s perception problem, when asked last year about his thoughts on the PTPA, Alexander Bublik opined “basically it’s all about talking at the moment. I haven’t seen anything that happens really.”

So, welcome to the crux of the issue.

For all its showboating and posturing, the PTPA has not yet achieved anything to re-define the current structures of the sport that is in desperate need of change. 

Granted, there are bound to be growing pains for any organisation still too young to attend Kindergarten.  Being perceived as a legitimate institution is seldom an overnight achievement. 

However, this appears to be a chicken and egg situation. 

If players such as Bublik will not join the PTPA until they see real action they will likely be waiting until the organisation is perceived as legitimate by the governing bodies (being the ATP, WTA, ITF, and four grand slams).  Yet, such legitimacy is unlikely to be earned without comprehensive player support.  So what will come first?

Perhaps recognising this conundrum, the PTPA has started to offer services to its members capable of enticing others into joining their association.

The PTPA now has the means – via its partner organisations –  to help players promote and develop their own brand and image, as well as provide counsel on issues such as insurance, retirement benefits, and player’s rights.

Suddenly, it’s starting to look like an actual players association. 

The only issue is that it’s just not acting like one.  At least not yet.