Who would have thought the biggest talking point from the opening week of the Miami Open would be surrounding Vasek Pospisil’s first-round defeat to Mackenzie McDonald?
Yet here we are.
It wasn't the result of Pospisil’s match that got people talking, rather his outburst towards umpire Arnaud Gabas at the end of the first set and the context around it.
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Pospisil is the co-founder of the Professional Tennis Players Association (PTPA), along with Novak Djokovic, and, after a quiet few months, it finds itself high on the agenda again.
The formation of the PTPA was announced before the US Open last year and sparked a raft of interest and questions about what it would mean for the tour, for players, and who would be supporting it/against it. But it has been on the back-burner this year, mainly due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on tournaments and the apparent lack of support for the PTPA.
But things have picked up over the last week in Miami.
First there was Pospisil’s outburst, when he blew up at Gabas and threatened to “sue the whole organisation”, having reportedly been left worse for wear after a heated meeting with ATP chairman Andrea Gaudenzi the previous night. Pospisil was reportedly in tears after the discussion with Gaudenzi and other ATP executives, and while he apologised for his on-court meltdown, he received support on social media from Djokovic and others.
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Djokovic said he "empathises wholeheartedly" with his "good friend" while Milos Raonic also backed his fellow Canadian and John Isner said he thinks there are "better days ahead for Vasek and the players".
Another Canadian, Denis Shapovalov, has also offered his support.
"I’m definitely on the side of the PTPA," he said after his victory over Ilya Ivashka.
I think we are not under-represented, but I think there are ways that we could be represented better…They just tell us to go play tennis. In my opinion, it’s not right. They shouldn’t talk to us like that if we’re partners.
Clearly all is not well – and prize money remains a very hot topic.
There have been questions for a while about whether players lower down the rankings should receive a greater share of prize money at tournaments to help support their careers and keep them going. That appears even more pressing now due to the Covid-19 pandemic and tournaments cutting prize money due to loss of revenue. Isner laid plain his frustrations with the system ahead of the Miami Open, which saw a 60 per cent drop in prize money and 80 per cent reduction for the winners.
"Tennis is plagued by conflict and lack of transparency," he wrote on Twitter. "So players should take a 60% cut and 80% champions cut while ATP executives keep full salaries, benefits and expense accounts? Make that make sense. Seems just a little bit hypocritical, don’t ya think?"
While the distribution of prize money seems to be an issue that players would get behind, a glaring problem remains the ambiguity around the PTPA. As pointed out by
, it’s been seven months since the PTPA was formed and they are yet to release a mission statement or clear idea of their values and what they are supporting. The big idea so far seems to be providing more of a voice for players and giving more support for lower-ranked players, who might be finding it tough to survive on the tour due to not getting enough prize money.
The lack of clear planning from the PTPA has perhaps prevented it from gaining more support, while there have also been several high-profile opponents. Dominic Thiem said in November that he thought the ATP were doing a "great job" and he didn’t "see a reason" to join another association, while Andy Murray thought women should have been included in the PTPA and that the ATP management "should be given some time to implement their vision". Murray is part of the current ATP Council along with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, and president of the ATP Council, Kevin Anderson, has said that he believes the current structure and the PTPA “can’t coexist”.
"In terms of logistics and the actual flow of information and decision-making, I don’t see how we can possibly work together, just purely from the way our structures are set up. I don’t know what the PTPA’s sort of vision is and how they see them progressing forward."
Perhaps more will be learnt about the PTPA’s future plans when Djokovic next appears in front of the media in April and is pressed on it. Clearly there are lingering frustrations among some players and there are likely plenty of silent supporters of the PTPA. But where things go next seen still remains to be seen.
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