ATP boardroom drama far from over

It is a drama that is being followed closely in tennis circles, the British tennis media and on Twitter, if not too many other places.

But the departure of the embattled Justin Gimelstob from the ATP Tour of board of directors, the election of his successor and the future of CEO Chris Kermode remains an ongoing drama.


Until this weekend, only Rafael Nadal had weighed in among the top players, because of the fact that he played in Barcelona. He preferred to keep his opinion to himself publicly and share it with the relevant parties only.

Stan Wawrinka Tweeted. And he published a well-edited letter in the Times of London. But he has not been through the media gauntlet.

And what about Player Council president Novak Djokovic, whose opinion carries the most weight on the Council?

And … what about Roger Federer?

Federer weighs in

boardroomPrior to Gimelstob’s resignation, we’re told Federer was none too pleased that upon his return to the clay for the first time in three years, the focus might be on boardroom business. 

But on Sunday, he addressed it.

Notably, while these comments made news in the U.K., a story out of the press conference in the Spanish-language newspaper Marca didn’t even reference it.

Diario AS limited the mention to a paragraph.

The French sports daily L’Équipe also doesn’t even mention it.

The return of Kermode? Don’t discount it

As has long been expected within the game, Federer floated the idea of a revisiting of the decision not to renew Kermode’s contract for another three-year term. That call was made by vote during a meeting at Indian Wells in March.

“Yeah, I haven’t thought about it really a whole lot, about Chris’s situation because I saw it in isolation.  … For Justin (Gimelstob) … I don’t know exactly the process, when the votes are happening, when the new CEO, all this stuff gets decided. But he’ll probably … anyway it maybe should be put back into the thing, you know – I don’t know what you call that – in the mix, good word,” Federer said during his pre-tournament presser in Madrid Sunday (quotes here from the Metro UK story).

“But then again I don’t know if (Kermode) would want to be after everything that happened. Sometimes when these things happen, it is like, ‘Okay, I had a good run, and it’s okay to go’. So I don’t know what – I haven’t seen Chris for some time now. I only saw him briefly in Indian Wells and I haven’t spoken to him at all, so I don’t know where he stands.”

The former president knows the drill

Federer, of course, is likely to know exactly how these things are done. He was the president of the ATP Player Council for three terms, from 2008-2014. The current boiling pot might have gotten widespread social media attention because of the Gimelstob situation. But plenty of boardroom machinations have occurred over the last decade – even if they passed unnoticed by most tennis fans.

During Federer’s tenure as president, it was never dull.

Federer holds up his No. 1 trophy at the Tennis Masters Cup in Shanghai 2005, with de Villiers to his right.

First came the departure of the controversial Etienne de Villiers. De Villiers shook things up quite a bit during his time. In March 2008, 20 ATP players signed a letter addressed to the board of directors insisting the South African’s contract should not be renewed until the board interviewed other candidates.

Federer and Rafael Nadal were among those vocal in their objections to the direction in which de Villiers was taking the sport. So much so that both of them, along with Djokovic, ran for the Player Council in 2008 to have more of a say.

One-term CEOs

In the end, de Villiers didn’t return. The next CEO, Adam Helfant, a former Nike executive (!!!!) and a rare American in the role, also served one term.

Helfant left the ATP at the end of 2011. There had been talk that he had asked for a big raise to return for another term, rumours he firmly denied. Helfant said he left for “professional reasons”, even though he had no firm direction already planned.

Aussie Brad Drewitt was named CEO in 2012. And then, after Drewitt’s tragic ALS diagnosis, Federer was there when Kermode was first named interim CEO, then voted in to the position permanently for 2014.

So yes, Federer knows how these things are done.

On Gimelstob, and the “silence”

Federer and Nadal take part in a salute to the retiring David Ferrer in Madrid.

The most unproductive scoreboard over the last two weeks has been the parlor game of “Who commented? Who won’t comment? How come so-and-so hasn’t said anything – or said the ‘right’ thing?”

The early comments of Player Council member Vasek Pospisil, who lauded Gimelstob’s effectiveness on behalf of the players but wouldn’t comment on the court case and the effect of his actions on the Tour’s optics, set the tone. There were quite a few landmines around for anyone who dared not to toe the established, acceptable public line.

Justin Gimelstob pleads “no contest” in battery case, gets probation

Federer said Sunday he was happy Gimelstob made the “right” decision to “go back and figure things out.” He also said that he had spoken to some of the Player Council members to get a sense of their position (although he couldn’t quite pin down the exact weekend).

Knock, knock, knockin’ on Federer’s door

Gimelstob steps down from ATP Board

And he also stated the obvious, that he wasn’t going to get on on Twitter to comment. And also that he wasn’t at a tournament, so the press couldn’t ask him.

“But I was home. Nobody knocked on my door. Then I would have given my comment,” Federer said. (Can you picture that?) 

Christopher Clarey of the New York Times did visit Federer in Switzerland last week to write a feature on his preparation to return to clay. But the subject apparently didn’t come up).

“Sometimes also – when I usually do it is behind closed doors, not through the media. I know you guys will enjoy that a bit more sometimes, but I don’t. So, and when you do ask me (a) question, I always try to really answer it truthfully and as openly as possible,” Federer said. “So, yeah, I could have spoken out, but I was not around, you know.  … We need to learn from what had happened, and really move on in the good direction because it’s an opportunity for sure.”

Nadal and Djokovic still to weigh in

Djokovic on the practice court in Madrid on Friday.

As for Nadal, so far there has only been one Associated Press story  out of Madrid about his “increasing confidence” on the clay.

No word from Djokovic as yet.

And, of course, the Serb is the one whose opinion is most pertinent, as president of the Player Council.

It was Djokovic that Gimelstob flew to visit in Marbella after he decided to step down.

And it is Djokovic who was the biggest catalyst in the vote to not renew Kermode in his job.

Nadal is expected in press on Monday.


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