The ATP has spoken. They have told the Master Series Madrid tournament that they “are not in a position to unilaterally make such changes”, referring to the tournament’s decision to cancel the doubles competition until the suit between the top doubles specialists and the ATP has been settled or dropped. The players sued the ATP in response to new changes that will eventually phase them out of tournament competition. You can read about the changes here.
In his excellent column, Peter Bodo’s Tennis World, Bodo brings up two very interesting points. The first is that the doubles controversy exposes an intrinsic problem with the structure of the ATP. Until the ATP took control of the tour in 1988, the tour had been run by a group composed of the player’s union (the ATP), the tournament directors, and the International Tennis Federation. When the ATP took over, that made them both the employer and the union for the employees.
Think of it like this. What if Major League Baseball represented both the team owners and the players? Or the auto industry represented both the automakers and the workers? Who is standing up for the ATP players? By suing the ATP – which does stand for the Association of Tennis Professionals by the way, the doubles players are suing themselves. Actually, what they’re doing is demonstrating that there is no union.
What if Major League Baseball represented both the team owners and the players? Or the auto industry represented both the automakers and the workers?
The second point Bodo makes is that Ion Tiriac is the owner of the Madrid tournament. Tiriac has had his hands all over tennis since the early 1970’s. He’s a former tennis player with forty titles in singles and doubles and he was the manager of Ilie Nastase, Guillermo Vilas and Boris Becker, among others. As a player, his game tactics prefigured those of his bad-boy protege Nastase. He has a reputation as a wily and ruthless businessman with interests ranging from tennis tournaments to private banking. Vilas was suspended from Grand Prix tournaments for a year near the end of his career because Tiriac accepted a $60, 000 appearance fee in cash from a tournament in Rotterdam. Other players received appearance fees but Tiriac always pushed as far as he could.
Who better to test the ATP’s duplicity than Tiriac?
What started out as a fight between the poor cousins of tennis, the doubles players who live off the income generated by the singles players, has the potential to blowup a fundamental contradiction in the organization of the ATP.
Unfortunately, there doesn’t appear to be any solidarity amongst the players. The singles players have not had much to say about the plight of their doubles compadres. Why should they? It doesn’t affect them. When was the last time Andy Roddick played doubles?
So expect the doubles players to fade away or accept a much smaller draw and less prize money and expect the ATP to keep rolling along till they manage to piss off enough singles players to force a confrontation between their dueling responsibilities of both promoting the tour and representing its players.