INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – On the courts at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, there were players scrambling for spots in the main draw at the BNP Paribas Open.
But in the boardrooms at a nearby luxury resort, there has been scrambling of a different sort going on.
And after what ATP Tour Player Council representative John Isner termed a “six-hour meeting” Tuesday night, it appears the council members still could not come to a majority decision about the future ATP CEO Chris Kermode.
Kermode was a compromise choice back when he first took the job back in Nov. 2013. It was six months after the tragic death of predecessor, Brad Drewitt, of Lou Gehrig’s disease.
The 54-year-old Brit will see his second three-year term as executive chairman and president end at the end of this season. But there are many on the Player Council – notably president Novak Djokovic – who want to see a change at the top.
The fallout from this has only made the dance between the players and the tournament owners even more delicate. The players want an increased share of revenue from the tournaments that, in broad terms, would not exist without them.
The tournaments, of course, want to rein in those demands. The tournament directors want to continue reaping the benefits of the events they have developed and expanded on the basis of those talents.
But from the outside, there doesn’t seem to be any wide-ranging movement to oust the current president. Nor has he appeared, from the outside, to make any significant missteps.
At the same time, most of the players, who are not involved in the internal politics of the game, would rather not stick their head into that particular oven to keep the distractions to a minimum.
Player Council still deadlocked
Ultimately, we’re told by a very well-informed source that even after many hours of debate, the council still couldn’t muster the majority required to make a unilateral decision not to renew Kermode for a third three-year term. Nor, obviously, could they muster a majority to renew his deal.
That was true after council meetings at the Australian Open in mid-January. And it appears none of the players have changed their stand since then.
And so, Tennis.Life has been told that they have on-passed that decision to their three representatives on the ATP Tour board of directors.
The ATP board meets on Thursday morning here in the desert. And so, three men will be charged with making a very difficult decision. And if two of them vote against Kermode, it is expected that he would be out at the end of the year when his contract expires.
Kermode cannot be the tiebreaker on a six-man council, or even vote, on the matter of his contract renewal. But he must get the majority of the votes from the three player representatives (i.e. two of the three).
Gimelstob, Egdes, Inglot to decide
At the Tuesday night meeting, Tennis Channel executive David Egdes, who was an interim board representative for the players’ side, was voted in permanently.
Edges had already been on the board for a decade. But the Player Council voted to oust longtime Lleyton Hewitt coach Roger Rasheed last November for failing to vote with their wishes during the increasingly contentious revenue-sharing battle. And then, Egdes returned.
Inglot is the brother of doubles player Dominic and a former executive at the sports data firm Sportsradar. He is the third player representative on the ATP Board, and joined the board less than a year ago.
But it is Gimelstob, who has been very much in the news lately as he defends a battery felony charge in court, who is the man on the hot seat.
There has often been talk that Gimelstob was on track to be the eventual successor to Kermode in the top ATP job. Obviously, his recent legal woes added several very large potholes to that road.
But even if the assumption is that the American would vote against Kermode’s remaining out of self-interest, the reality is that he would be following the wishes of a group on the player council he represents.
If Gimelstob voted to keep Kermode, he would be voting against the preference of some of those on the council who back him in his role on the board of directors. That group includes Djokovic. But it also reportedly includes fellow Americans Sam Querrey and John Isner and Canadian Vasek Pospisil. All those players, we’re told, want a change.
Nadal pro-Kermode, Federer neutral
Not surprisingly, during the media availability of the top players at the BNP Paribas Open Wednesday, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer were asked to weigh in.
Federer was president of the council from 2008-2014.
Nadal, a former vice-president during Federer’s term, resigned in 2012 over what was said to be frustration over the lack of progress in changing the ranking system.
He has been consistent in his opinion that Kermode is a nice guy who has done good things for the game. Nadal believes he deserves more time to continue in the job. The Mallorcan even called out current president Djokovic in Australia for not being in better touch with him concerning the situation.
Here he is on that.
For his part, Federer said the lack of communication might have been more due to Nadal being away due to injury, and then the off-season. (Of course, these guys all have each other’s WhatsApps, but hey).
Federer said he intended to talk to Djokovic about this, back in January. It appears this has not yet occurred. If the three want to have a chat, they have until about 8 a.m. Thursday morning.
On Wednesday, Federer absolutely did not want to weigh in. And he said that regardless of how he felt about it, whatever happened would happen.
A failure to communicate?
A number of other players have recently criticized their Player Council for not being in better communication with them. Among them are veterans like Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka and Gaël Monfils.
Grigor Dimitrov has voiced his support for Kermode. So has Wawrinka. But none of them are on the Player Council.
A complex labyrinth of relationships
As it happens, Gimelstob is not only Isner’s former coach. He is also his very good friend. Gimelstob even made a trip to Delray Beach two weeks ago, just to support Isner at the ATP Tour event there.
So it puts Gimelstob in a bit of delicate position, both publicly and privately, with so many different forces in play.
Just to make this entire situation even more of a shining example of the mish-mash of conflicts of interest that define modern professional tennis, Egdes is a senior VP at Tennis Channel. And Gimelstob and Egdes are close.
(In the photo above from the Gimelstob arrest story, he is seen with Egdes, during his first term on the council, discussing matters on the members’ balcony at WImbledon).
Gimelstob has worked at the network the last several years as a commentator. But he is currently on a leave, as he tries to resolve his off-court legal situation.