Tennis is in turmoil as the French Open approaches.
As three-time major champion Stan Wawrinka put it: “Politics have overshadowed the action on the courts.”
In a letter published Friday in The Times of London, Wawrinka decried his sport’s “worrying decline in moral standards” and outlined several aspects of the ongoing drama enveloping the men’s tour – and causing more of a racket than the rackets themselves.
“I feel compelled to express my views on this regrettable period in our sport,” said Wawrinka, who once was ranked as high as No. 3 and is currently 33rd after a series of injuries. “This episode has left many players, myself included, concerned about the direction tennis is heading in.”
There certainly has been a lot going on behind the scenes with regard to who runs the men’s professional tour, and lately it’s been spilling into public view. The conversation is sure to continue until a key vote for the ATP board of directors takes place May 14 in Rome – and through the next Grand Slam tournament, which begins at Roland Garros on May 26.
Wawrinka slammed the representatives on the board and the player council, saying the problem is not with the governing structure but the caliber of the people in positions of importance.
Wawrinka’s letter mentions “political chaos” and the “numerous conflicts of interest” that plague tennis. It also prominently discusses a topic about which he already had been outspoken: Justin Gimelstob, the ex-player, coach and TV commentator who resigned from the tour board this week after pleading no contest to misdemeanor assault for attacking a former friend. While Gimelstob’s case still was pending, he was allowed to remain in his powerful ATP post.
The 42-year-old American was sentenced April 22 to three years of probation, 60 days of community service and a year’s worth of anger management classes for what prosecutors said was Gimelstob’s attack of Randall Kaplan as they trick-or-treated with their kids in Los Angeles on Halloween in 2017.
In a statement to the court, Kaplan said Gimelstob struck him multiple times and threatened to kill him.
“There is no place in our sport for those who behave like Justin. The lack of responses from people involved in the game, particularly at the beginning of this saga, when he was charged last December, was alarming,” Wawrinka wrote. “This is a situation where silence amounts to complicity.”
Wawrinka also referred to what he called a “concerted plot” to oust Chris Kermode as executive chairman and president of the ATP. Kermode’s departure was announced in March after a vote by the board of directors.
Rafael Nadal, who has won 11 of his 17 Grand Slam titles at the French Open, was among those who said they were not consulted before the decision was made to push out Kermode when his current term closes at the end of 2019.
“Many players feel that they were not represented properly throughout the last few months, during which so much has happened politically. I agree with them,” Wawrinka wrote. “I do not want to be associated with anyone who played a part in this, let alone be represented by them. I want to be represented by people with clear, strong ethical values.”
Novak Djokovic, who was involved in the Kermode situation through his position as president of the ATP player council, conceded that the business matters might have taken a toll on his performance.
After earlier-than-expected losses at Indian Wells and Miami, the top-ranked Djokovic said: “Way too many things off the court. I guess that affected me a little bit on the court.”