The highest-profile figure so far in the list of potential candidates to replace Justin Gimelstob on the ATP board of directors emerged Saturday.
Tennis.Life has learned, from the most reliable of sources, that Brad Gilbert will throw one of his many sartorially splendid chapeaus into the ring.
The former top player, longtime coach and current ESPN tennis pundit, 58, joins several other candidates who are believed to, or have definitely expressed interest in, the post.
The 10-man Player Council is slated to vote May 14, during the Masters 1000 tournament in Rome.
The three-year term would begin Jan. 1, 2020.
That seat is as one of the three player representatives on the six-man (and we do mean man) board. More specifically, to represent the Americas region. It has been held by Gimelstob for more than a decade.
Update: Gilbert confirmed his candidacy via Twitter Sunday morning:
Absolutely committed to running for the position on the @ATP_Tour Board as the Americas representative.Been involved with the ATP since 1981.Time to step up for better prize money, jobs, schedules and leadership.Looking forward to speaking with all the player representatives 💪👊
— Brad Gilbert (@bgtennisnation) April 28, 2019
A thorny question for the Player Council
As impressive an advocate as the 42-year-old has been on the players’ behalf, his plea of no contest in a Los Angeles courtroom Monday in the case of the Halloween night assault on venture capitalist Randall Kaplan leaves the members of the Player Council in an awkward position, optics-wise.
Gimelstob has forged many strong, loyal friendships in the game. And the situation has forced many of them into the position of not wanting to denounce him publicly – if indeed that would be their stand.
Many would prefer he step away from the tennis spotlight voluntarily for a period – for his own good. He could then return refreshed, renewed and with his personal-life challenges behind him.
Gimelstob is involved in a contentious child custody process that has going on nearly four years now. It’s so nasty, that several of the issues involving the American’s anger that have come to light in recent months are directly related to the case.
But there is no excusing physical violence. And as directed by the judge in his case, Gimelstob must also commit to anger management therapy. And self-emination can be a very draining process.
Gimelstob also must serve 60 full days of community service, as part of the plea agreement handed down Monday.
Public perception problem affects the game
While the vast majority of casual tennis fans might recognize Gimelstob from his television work on Tennis Channel, most are barely aware, if at all, of his “off-air” legal issues.
There is a vocal (if social media can be “vocal”), relentless campaign on Twitter (and even in some quarters in the mainstream media) to pressure the movers and shakers in tennis to publicly denounce Gimelstob and for his various employers, including the ATP Tour and Tennis Channel, to fire him.
If the 42-year-old were at the beginning of his three-year mandate on the ATP board, it would be an even trickier issue to deal with. The Player Council would have to measure whether Gimelstob’s negatives outweigh his positives from a public perception point of view. And then, they would proactively have to take steps. Or not take them – which would put them in the crosshairs again.
Indeed last fall, when the accusation of felony battery was first made, the Player Council did vote on whether to keep him. And the “stay” side prevailed.
The ATP Board also voted on the issue. But ousting a board member requires more than a simple majority. They would need the unanimous vote of the five board members who aren’t Gimelstob or CEO Chris Kermode. It didn’t happen.
But as it happens, Gimelstob’s three-year term is up this year. And if a suitable candidate emerges who can take up their cause as effectively, that would simplify the Player Council’s task.
Five candidates, so far
Gilbert’s candidacy would put him at the top of the list, in terms of profile.
The former world No. 4 on the ATP Tour has also had a long career as a coach. He has worked with, among others, Andre Agassi, Andy Roddick and Andy Murray.
In recent years, Gilbert has emerged as a highly visible courtside presence on ESPN’s tennis coverage. And he has felt strongly, especially in private, that the players deserve a bigger piece of the pie.
That would stand him in good stead with the Player Council.
And his absolute love for the game is unquestioned.
Gilbert joins another former top American player, Tim Mayotte, who confirmed his interest to Tennis.Life Saturday.
Update: He officially announced on Twitter Sunday.
I am excited to announce I am running for the ATP Board of Directors. Help the players and grow the game in a healthy way. They go together!
— Tim Mayotte (@TimMayotte) April 28, 2019
None of the other candidates have made any official announcements.
As well, the Daily Mail (click above for a link to that story) reports that Venezuela’s Dani Vallverdu, currently the coach of Grigor Dimitrov and the coaches’ representative on the Player Council (a non-voting position) plans to run.
Vallverdu might lack experience on the business side of the game. But the Player Council members have had an opportunity to know what he’s about, because of his role.
(We should add here that the ATP Board spot comes with a annual stipend of about $100,000 US. Which is hardly a negligeable perk).
Tennis.Life also wrote Friday that longtime tennis figure Austin Nunn is planning to announce as a candidate.
Nunn, 33, doesn’t have a player or coaching profile at the top levels. But he has worked for many years in the game behind the scenes and is an effective advocate. While Nunn would definitely be the underdog on this candidates’ list, it’s not how you start – but how you finish.
Quick decisions required
More candidates may emerge before Monday’s deadline. And we haven’t even mentioned Gimelstob himself. You would expect the incumbent to run again for the seat he currently holds – and holds dear.
And you would expect him to “work the room” diligently before the vote, as he always does.
Gimelstob’s current situation will no doubt severely test the strong bonds he has forged with key members of the Player Council.
Generally speaking, the procedure for this type of election has been to narrow the field down – if necessary – to three or four candidates and go from there. This is no Democratic presidential candidate list, to be sure.
The final list is expected on Thursday. The first interesting thing to look out for will whether Gimelstob is on it.
While the members of the council have said little publicly, they will meet this coming week in Madrid to lay out a common stand on the Gimelstob issue, and how they feel is best to proceed in the wake of it.
Not much time to campaign
The candidates don’t have much time to make their cases to the members of the player council, most of whom will be in Madrid the week of May 5 and in Rome after that. The vote is scheduled for the Tuesday in Rome.
Ultimately, the job is not a well-remunerated but essentially ceremonial gig where a former player “represents” the players at board meetings.
Perhaps it was, back in the day. But in 2019, with so much money at stake and the divide between the tournament side and the players’ side becoming quite wide, it needs to be more than that.
As well, because of the Gimelstob’s case, the board no longer toils in the same kind of comfortable anonymity it used to.
But part of the reason the players are now standing more firmly in terms of getting a bigger piece of the revenue pie is that they are significantly more aware now of just how big that pie is, and what leverage they have.
A lot of credit for that has to go to Gimelstob. And he has been a thorn on the tournament side because of it. That’s one reason why, behind the scenes, there has been an active effort to portray him in the worst possible light.
Of course, in the end, Gimelstob has been his own worst enemy in that regard.