Djokovic denies ATP players talked potential union, boycotts over prize money
Serbian star says reports surrounding meeting were exaggerated or largely incorrect
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."
Djokovic denies talks about 'radical decisions'
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 US) this year, a 10 per cent 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.
Former players show solidarity
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 per cent 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."
It’s been a good idea for a long time :) Impossible for an entity to represent both sides of a negotiation. I’m amazed it’s not talked about more .... <a href="https://t.co/AqeyxpTjwH">https://t.co/AqeyxpTjwH</a>—@andyroddick
"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."