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Djokovic: Players held meeting, but boycott not discussed

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Novak Djokovic has rejected reports that leading men could potentially boycott future Grand Slams over prize money, though he did confirm that players held an hour-long private meeting on the eve of the Australian Open to discuss issues pertinent to the ATP Tour.

Djokovic, who is president of the ATP Player Council, didn’t specify what issues were raised at the meeting, but said media reports stating that he proposed forming a tennis players’ union to push for a greater share of revenue generated by tournaments were exaggerated or largely incorrect.

“I saw that you’ve portrayed me as someone who is very greedy, asks for more money and wants to boycott,” Djokovic told a news conference following his first-round win over Donald Young on Tuesday. “What happened is that we, players, just wanted to have us players talk about certain topics. I don’t think there is anything unhealthy about that.”

Most other players have declined to talk about what was discussed at the meeting, though Kevin Anderson, the player council vice president, told British media on Monday that the topic of prize money was raised.

No. 4-ranked Alexander Zverev said Djokovic did most of the talking at the meeting, which was attended by all of the top male players at the season’s first major.

“I don’t really have a position (on the subject) because that was the first time it was mentioned,” he said. “Everybody listened to it. That’s about it.”

According to the Daily Mail newspaper, which first reported the meeting on Monday, Djokovic was said to have asked all non-players to leave the room and then gave a lengthy speech from the stage about forming a players’ union, accompanied by an Australian lawyer.

On Tuesday, however, Djokovic denied that any lawyer was present or that he raised other issues related to equal prize money for men and women or the prospect of boycotting future Grand Slams if player demands weren’t met.

“I know that you guys are trying to take this forward several steps,” said Djokovic, who was returning from six months on the sidelines with a right elbow injury. “Obviously you’re talking about union, you’re talking about boycott, you’re talking about radical decisions to make … so we can get financial compensations the way we deserve it. But there was no talks about that.”

Total prize money for the Australian Open reached 55 million Australian dollars ($42 million) this year, a 10 percent increase over 2017. The men’s and women’s singles champions will both take home AU$4 million ($3 million), while first-round losers will make AU$60,000 ($45,700).

While players at the top of the sport are making more at the Grand Slams, those ranked below 100 who play primarily on the lower-tier Challenger Tour and don’t automatically qualify for the majors still struggle to get by.

Six years ago, when Federer was president of the ATP Player Council, the top male players put pressure on the Grand Slams to dramatically increase prize money – and the tournaments responded. The total purse at the 2013 Australian Open rose significantly, with the biggest jumps going to early-round losers. First-round losers that year earned AU$27,600, a 32 percent increase from the year before.

While players at this year’s Australian Open were staying quiet on talk of starting a players’ union, others connected with the sport weighed in on social media. Former No. 1-ranked Andy Roddick tweeted that “it’s been a good idea for a long time,” while Andy Murray’s mother, Judy, said she “totally agreed.”

“What about an umbrella union that represents men and women? That would give the players a much stronger voice to challenge the Slams and the joint ATP/WTA events. Better together,” she wrote.

Djokovic acknowledged the sport is moving in the right direction on issues related to prize money, though work remains to be done.

“I’m part of the council, but I don’t sit on these negotiation tables,” he said. “I’m just glad that I’m part of it, that I can contribute to a better sport today, and the future.”

Karen Khachanov beats Lucas Pouille to win Open 13 final

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MARSEILLE, France (AP) Big-serving Karen Khachanov secured the second ATP title of his career after beating Lucas Pouille 7-5, 3-6, 7-5 in the Open 13 final on Sunday.

The ninth-seeded Russian had 16 aces in a closely fought contest, winning on his second match point when the third-seeded Frenchman hit a forehand into the net from the back of the court. The pair hugged at the net in a show of sportsmanship.

“I hope there are many more finals between us in the future,” Khachanov said to Pouille. “I felt I was playing good here from the first day. It’s nice to play on a full court in the final, and I hope to come back next year.”

Khachanov, ranked 47th, won his second title in as many finals after clinching the Chengdu Open in China two years ago. Pouille missed out on a second title of the season and a sixth overall. The 16th-ranked Pouille was also runner-up at the indoor event in the southern seaport of Marseille last year.

“I’m from Dunkirk, in the north,” he told the crowd. “But I’m starting to feel at home here.”

As Khachanov held aloft the winners’ cheque for 115,150 euros ($141, 570), Pouille cracked a joke in English.

“You’ve got to pay the plane for Dubai now,” he said, looking ahead to next week’s ATP500 tournament. “Congratulations, I hope there are many more wins for you.”

Khachanov broke Pouille in the third game to take an early control. Pouille broke back with a fine backhand winner down the line to make it 5-5, but then lost his next service game as Khachanov whipped a forehand winner down the right side of the court.

It gave the imposing Russian a second chance to serve for the set and he clinched it with a strong service winner.

After saving two break points at 15-40 in the opening game of the second set, Pouille secured the only break of that set to level the match.

Khachanov hit nine aces in the third set and neither faced a break point until the 12th game on Pouille’s serve.

It gave Khachanov a match point but he missed a fairly routine smash at the net following a rally. Pouille double faulted to give him another chance to win.

Top-seeded defending champion Thiem tumbles out of Rio Open

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) Top-seeded defending champion Dominic Thiem of Austria tumbled out of the Rio Open on Friday, falling 6-4, 6-0 to Spain’s Fernando Verdasco in the quarterfinals of the clay-court event.

Thiem won the Argentina Open on Sunday for his ninth career title.

Verdasco will play fifth-seeded Fabio Fognini of Italy or Alijaz Bedene of Slovenia.

In the other semifinal at Jockey Club Brasileiro, sixth-seeded Diego Schwartzman of Argentina will face Chile’s Nicolas Jarry. Schwartzman beat France’s Gael Monfils 6-3, 6-4, and Jarry topped Uruguay’s Pablo Cuevas 7-5, 6-3.