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Djokovic Ready For Anything As He Regroups Post-Gimelstob & More From Madrid Tennis

Serbian Novak Djokovic in action during a training session for thee Mutua Madrid Open 2019 tennis tournament at Caja Magica in Madrid, Spain, 03 May 2019. EPA-EFE/Kiko Huesca



By Alix Ramsay


Preparation is everything in professional sport – and, on boy, was Novak Djokovic prepared when he faced the media on Monday at the Mutua Madrid Open.


He will open his account on Tuesday against Taylor Fritz, the 7-6, 7-6 winner over Grigor Dimitrov in the first round but that should be the easy bit of his week (no disrespect to Mr Fritz intended). Extricating himself from the wreckage following Justin Gimelstob’s resignation from the ATP board was going to be far more taxing than any tennis match, no matter who was on the other side of the net. So preparation was key.


Having friends in high places always helps and Gimelstob had been a player representative on ATP the board of directors since 2008. To Djokovic, the president of the current layer council, he was a mate and he had power. And then, on May 1, Gimelstob resigned in the wake of being found guilty of a battery charge. On April 22, he pleaded ‘no contest’ to the charge in a Los Angeles court and was duly found guilty.


For the next eight days, the silence within the corridors of power at the ATP was deafening. The player council – all 10 members – were, reportedly, increasingly uneasy. It was not so much that the image of the sport was suffering, it was more that their individual reputations were taking a battering. After all, those same council members had voted to keep Gimelstob on the board when he was first charged last December. As the great tennis watching public expressed its views on social media, it was not looking good for anyone associated with this unholy mess.


And then Gimelstob turned up in Madrid at the start of May. He wanted to see Djokovic as he handed in his letter of resignation. And the sigh of relief could be heard all the way back to Ponta Vedra.


“I think just at this point it was better for him to step down,” Djokovic said on Monday, “because the whole case was just posing so much pressure and obstacles for the tour in general, but specifically for players. So I think it was a good decision.


“And it’s unfortunate because I think he has been probably the biggest asset that players had in the last ten-plus years that he’s been on the tour representing players.


“But at the same time, these are kind of unfortunate circumstances and he needs to go back and deal with that, deal with that case and try to find the right balance and the right state of mind before he eventually tries to come back.”


That was all well and good. What else could Djokovic say? But that was just the opening salvo. What about Roger Federer and his call on Sunday for Chris Kermode to be reconsidered for the role of ATP president?


The mighty Fed, who has never been shy of showing his support for Kermode, seemed very keen on the argument presented to him by the media: if Gimelstob’s position was now untenable in light of being found guilty, perhaps it was just as untenable five months ago when he was first charged. And if that is the case then does that make his vote in the business of removing Kermode from office invalid? Could Kermode come back? And Fed thought he could.


So what did Djokovic, the man who had worked so hard to swing opinion on the council against Kermode, think? What Djokovic really thought, we will never know (although we might venture an educated guess if we were asked nicely), but what he said was carefully thought through and oh, so calmly delivered.


“I actually think that technically he has the right to be in a ballot again,” he said. “He has the right to be a candidate officially for another mandate. And I don’t know whether he wants to do that or not. I haven’t spoken to him about it. But if this happens, yeah, why not.”


And then Djokovic had the gentlest of gentle swipes at Fed. Or, rather, it looked that way if you had a reasonably good memory and a slightly cynical view of the world.


Back in March, just before the vote was taken to oust Kermode, Federer had tried to speak to the head of the player council but the boss man was busy. Djokovic did not have time to speak. Fed did not sound too impressed and, instead, he and Rafa Nadal had a long chat over morning coffee at Fed’s house in Indian Wells and compared notes on the future of the ATP. Unsurprisingly, they were singing from the same hymn sheet.


This week in Madrid, Fed has spoken to other player council members but, as yet, has not spoken to Djokovic. He has, though, expressed his own opinions about the events of the past few months.


By the sounds of it, Djokovic is less than with happy. But, with the sort of footwork for which he is famed both on and off the court, he kept it polite and controlled.


“There are a lot of flaws in this system and communication-wise for sure we can improve,” Djokovic said. “When I say ‘we’ I mean the whole system. I don’t think at times it is as productive and it is as efficient as it should be.


“But at the same time, it goes both ways, so it’s important for the players to reach out as well if they want to be engaged in any form of information gathering.


“I’m not pointing fingers at anybody. I feel like we need to be on this boat together, as we are.


“I don’t think it’s the right approach to just go out in public and talk about it when you don’t have enough information and of course it goes both ways. As I said, communication from the council and board reps and the whole structure, political structure if you want to call it, side can be improved.


“But also vice versa. There are a lot of times where players don’t give you much space to approach them because during the tournament everyone is in their zone and they don’t want to be disturbed.


“So, everyone respects that and I, out of all these guys, I know that the most and I understand that. But at the same time, as I said, it goes both ways.”


He was pointing no fingers, he was naming no names but the president of the player council was clearly not planning on taking any prisoners as he tries to rebuild his political plans in the post-Gimelstob era.

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