Federer and Nadal return to tennis’s Player Council after turbulent months at the ATP

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal will return to tennis’s Player Council many years after each had handed over the reins to other members of the tour

Marianne Bevis
By Marianne Bevis
Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer
Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer

It may have been the day that world No3 Roger Federer marked his 38th birthday—and he spent it away from the spotlight of Masters action in Montreal—and it may have been the day that No2 Rafael Nadal, age 33, was aiming to reach the quarter-finals and break the all-time record for Masters match-wins, but the duo instead made headlines in an altogether different arena.

The Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP), the governing body of the men’s tennis tour, announced that the two most prolific Major champions in their sport would be returning to the Player Council many years after each had handed over the reins to other members of the tour.

They will be joined on the Council by another veteran, Jurgen Melzer, who retired from the singles tour at the end of 2018, continues to play on the doubles circuit, and will represent fellow players on that front.

The three were elected by the existing members of the Council to fill the roles vacated by the resignations of Robin Haase, Jamie Murray and Sergiy Stakhovsky just before Wimbledon, in what has been a season of political turmoil.

At a meeting of the ATP Board in Indian Wells, the contract of ATP President Chris Kermode was not extended beyond his three-year residency, which expires at the end of 2019, after all three players’ representatives on the Board voted against him.

Those representatives—former player Justin Gimelstob, TV executive David Egdes, and British lawyer Alex Inglot—all voted against an extension. But of particular concern was the status of Gimelstob, who was facing a legal charge of battery causing serious bodily injury in Los Angeles last October.

Gimelstob subsequently pleaded ‘no contest’ in April and was sentenced to three years of probation, as well as 60 days of community service and a year’s worth of anger management classes, and he went on to resign from the Player Council in May.

There were other concerns, voiced by Murray, who had been a Council member for three years, to the Press Association:

“The first two years I really enjoyed, felt like I was able to accomplish quite a lot of things. Obviously the last year it’s kind of got political, people out for their own gains, I think, a few vendettas perhaps out there as well. For me we’re not accomplishing anything.

“I was kind of fed up sitting in these six-, seven-hour meetings… and we’re not talking about the tennis, we’re not talking about the tour. I was like, ‘I’m not going to waste my time with that any more.’”

And back in March, Federer referenced his disquiet, and that of friend and rival Nadal, in an interview for the Tennis Channel during Indian Wells. He said:

“We need to have a clear plan—and I’m not sure what the plan is. That’s the big thing I worry about.”

He had, he said, met with Nadal the week before:

“I spoke to Rafa the other day, for quite some time. He came to the house, we had coffee together… We’re aligned and we agree that we should be talking and coming up with a proper plan.”

He went on to add:

“I would like to take an active role, to some extent as much time as I have… just to be part of the process. Because I do care, and if I care, I should put in a little work as well.”

Their return to the fray could be an important development, not just because these two are regarded as their sport’s ‘elder statesmen’, but because both have ‘been there, done that’ many years ago.

Nadal resigned his place as Vice-President back in 2012, saying he needed to devote more time to his tennis—and he would not play after Wimbledon that year to nurse persistent knee injuries—though he was also frustrated by a lack of support from President Federer in changing the ranking system.

There has still not been change on that front, but under Federer’s leadership between 2008 and 2014, much else was achieved.

One of the toughest negotiations was with the Majors, which are not part of the ATP calendar.

After the US Open was delayed by rain for a fourth straight year, Federer was forthright:

“This is the fourth year in a row I think we’re playing a Monday final. Might as well make it a Monday final, right? Or you have to change up a few things. I think “Super Saturday” is not feasible without the roof any longer.”

The USTA subsequently agreed to change the schedule, and abandoned Super Saturday.

There was also movement on the introduction of bio-passports after Federer criticized how little testing was going on. And perhaps the most important change was one that affected the biggest number of players: increasing the financial rewards from the Majors, with a focus on the early losers. All the Majors began to inject substantial funding into its prize money, with the biggest boosts coming to the lower ranks.

In retiring the presidency following the birth of his second pair of twins, Federer admitted:

“I feel the time is good to go now. Because I feel if I can’t put in 100 percent effort every single time when I go to the meetings, if I start missing meetings, that’s not the way I’ll do it. So I think it’s a good time for someone else to lead, for someone else who is super excited to step in and do it now… Anyway, I’ll be around. If they need my opinions or help in any way, I’m still there.”

Like Nadal, he also anticipated maximising of the autumn of his career, though at the age of 33, perhaps even he did not expect to win so many more Masters titles and another three Majors, and to now be contesting the No2 ranking with the same old rival, Nadal.

But by any measure, it is a bold and unexpected move by the two men, the ATP, and the remaining members of the Player Council. How much can be achieved alongside fellow big gun and world No1, Novak Djokovic—the current President—by the end of their term next Wimbledon, who knows, but it will surprise no-one if the big trio makes a few more headlines by then.

Council membership

· 1-50 Singles: Nadal joins Kevin Anderson (VP), John Isner, Sam Querrey

· 51-100 Singles: Yen-Hsun Lu and Vasek Pospisil

· 1-100 Doubles: Melzer joins Bruno Soares

· At Large: Federer joins Djokovic (P)

· Alumni: Colin Dowdeswell

· Coach: (in place of Dani Valverdu, who also resigned) TBD

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