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ATP Tennis News • Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Rafa Nadal • All Weigh In On Chris Kermode Presidency

Novak Djokovic of Serbia speaks during a press conference at the Indian Well Tennis Garden in Indian Wells, California, USA, 07 March 2019. The men's and women's final will be played on 17 March 2019. EPA-EFE/LARRY W. SMITH
Novak Djokovic of Serbia speaks during a press conference at the Indian Well Tennis Garden in Indian Wells, California, USA, 07 March 2019. The men’s and women’s final will be played on 17 March 2019. EPA-EFE/LARRY W. SMITH

 

 

By Alix Ramsay

 

When Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal speak, people listen; when Novak Djokovic speaks, people question.

 

So it was that when the news broke on Thursday morning that Chris Kermode’s six-year tenure as president of the ATP was coming to an end (his contract would not be renewed at the end of the year), Djokovic was grilled about his views on the matter. And whatever he said – or didn’t say – was met with a demand for further clarification.

 

It was a little over a year ago that – according to leaked insider information which may or may not be accurate – Djokovic took charge of the player meeting before the Australian Open and laid out his vision for the future, a future that involved more player power and, in effect, a player union.

 

As the months went by, so it became clear that there was a groundswell of opinion that Kermode should be ousted. A more player friendly president would be a better bet. And the general opinion was that it was Djokovic who was driving this movement.

 

If that is the case, then Djokovic got his wish on Thursday morning. And yet, on Thursday afternoon, he was not celebrating. Instead, he was evasive. Evasive to the point of being shifty. As the world’s No.1 player and president of the Player Council, he simply refused to be drawn on anything that had gone on behind closed doors. That, perhaps, was understandable, but he also refused to offer any sort of opinion on what had happened. No a cheep.

 

“I don’t want to express myself as for or against,” Djokovic said of Kermode’s imminent departure. “I’m part of the council and as a president of the council, I have a responsibility and confidentiality that I have to be responsible to.”

 

That was a clear as mud, then. So it fell to the man from the BBC, the perfectly polite but razor sharp Russell Fuller, to try and get some information from the most powerful player in tennis. And the conversation went something like this:

 

“RF: Our perception is that you are one of the players who has been agitating for change at the top of the ATP….?

 

ND: Good to see you guys, too [laughs]. Lovely welcome!

 

RF: So can you tell us whether this is a decision you support and, if so, why you feel there is a need for change?

 

ND: I already answered. I cannot answer. I will not answer to your question, I mean, you know, directly. I just answered it: I will not express my personal views on that because of what I just answered.

 

RF: Even as president of the Player Council?

 

ND: As president of the Player Council, as part of the Player Council, it is decided that Chris Kermode will not get renewed his contract after the end of this year. I don’t know what else you want to hear from me.

 

RF: Well, if this is a misconception on our part that you are somebody who wants change…?

 

ND: So you want to hear what every Player Council member voted for during the process?

 

RF: I think as president of the Player Council and somebody who is the world No.1…?

 

ND: OK

 

RF:… it’s a reasonable question to ask you whether you think this is the right decision for Chris Kermode’s contract not to be renewed?

 

ND: Yes, and by sharing that information, I expose myself and I become liable to breach of confidentiality within the structure. So I’m not willing to risk that because I respect that governing structure that is much bigger and larger than me or any other president of the council that there was, whether talking on this subject or any other subject previously or any other future subject. I mean, yes, it’s a big one because it’s re-election of our president but it cannot be bigger than confidentiality that we all have to respect.”

 

Djokovic was not playing ball. He did admit that he had not spoken to Nadal or Federer in the past couple of months, a spell of time that took in the last player meeting at this year’s Australian Open – and that was something that Nadal had complained about in January.

 

“OK. OK,” Djokovic said rather tetchily. “I mean, it goes both ways, right? If they wanted to talk about something, they could also approach and talk about something. I talked with Rafa last September and I talked with him in November as well and I don’t see why he wouldn’t approach me or any other member of the Player Council. We’ve been selected and elected by Federer and Nadal and everyone to be representing players’ best interests so that’s how the governing structure works so I don’t see anything wrong with that.”

 

But Nadal, a former member of the Player Council, had been far more forthcoming on the matter of Kermode and his position. He is in Kermode’s corner, as is Federer. And, as we said when we started this, when they speak, everyone sits up and takes notice.

 

“If you ask me my personal opinion from the outside,” Nadal said, “I believe in long-term projects. You see my career, you see my life; I am not a very big fan of changing things very often. I really think that there are a lot of things to do: the World Tour Finals – we need to sign a contract for the World Tour Finals within the next period of time. There is a new ATP Cup… there are things to do.

 

“In my opinion, I have been around this world for a lot of years and I saw different presidents. There have been some that have been good, some that have been less good – in my opinion. But when you change, always we go through a process that the new president needs time to know all the things, needs time to create the team. So, in my opinion, we change the president and we stop the process of improving our sport.

 

“And I personally believe Chris did a good job. He can do it better maybe, but everyone can do it better. I can play better a lot of days. But I believe he’s a good guy and I believe he tries hard and he did good things for our sport.

 

“In my personal opinion, it would be good if he stays for a while for two things: probably he deserves it and the second thing, as I said before, there are things that are moving today and probably nobody more than him knows more about this stuff.”

 

And with that, the world believed the ATP had shot itself in the foot by sacking Kermode and no amount of verbal gymnastics from Djokovic was going to disabuse the world of that theory.

 

Nadal and Federer speak, we listen; Djokovic speaks and we all wonder what he is up to.

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