PTPA: Not divisive, want what’s best for players

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The Professional Tennis Players Association addressed claims it “generates division” in an open letter sent to ATP and WTA players Wednesday that was signed by the eight players who make up the organization’s executive committee, including co-founders Novak Djokovic and Vasek Pospisil.

“Some have questioned the necessity of the PTPA, claiming that the tours are already working to address concerns related to player welfare, economic opportunities, and the structure of the sport,” the letter, a copy of which was obtained by ESPN, said in part. “These efforts are necessary and appreciated. However, it is important to acknowledge that the tennis ecosystem has had decades to address these issues without a players’ association, and unfortunately, players and fans have been left behind when compared to their counterparts in other sports.”

In a recent interview, Bernabe Zapata Miralles, the world No. 42 and a member of the ATP player council, claimed the PTPA “generates division” and said he believes it’s “not positive.” However, PTPA executive director Ahmad Nassar told ESPN the letter sent to players Wednesday was not prompted by anything specific.

“We thought it was important at this juncture for the board to make it clear that the PTPA is not another entity in the already-fragmented tennis environment,” Nassar said Wednesday. “With the four Grand Slams, the two tours and the ITF, we want to remind players that we are something different. We overlay all of those entities because at the heart of tennis are the players. In tennis, the players have never had one entity that even attempts to speak on their behalf. … And so what we’re trying to do is to provide another avenue for players to make their voices be heard.”

Pospisil, the 2014 Wimbledon doubles champion who co-founded the organization with Djokovic in 2020, told ESPN in a separate interview Wednesday he personally has spoken with “300 to 400 players” over the past few years in an effort to educate them on the group’s mission, as well as garner their support and hear their concerns.

The PTPA is not a union — tennis players are independent contractors and not employees of the ATP and WTA — but Pospisil, Djokovic and Nassar have repeatedly said its goal is to represent and protect the interest of the players in a way similar to how unions operate for professional leagues like the NBA or NFL, including trying to secure a higher percentage of revenue for players at tournaments and group licensing deals. The PTPA announced its first such deal in March with a trading card line through Fanatics.

With much of their focus this season on outreach and increasing interest and support, the PTPA has held meetings so far this year at the Australian Open and Indian Wells. While uncertain on specific numbers, Pospisil said attendance has increased at every tournament since they began holding them in 2022. As there is currently no formal membership to the organization, nor mandatory dues, it is unclear how many players consider themselves members. (Those involved in the group licensing deal signed a separate agreement with the organization’s for-profit affiliate.)

Pospisil, who has been sidelined from competition since February because of injury, said he has not experienced any sense of a divide among peers.

“As a player you really can’t argue against one body that represents the players, and that’s why we have so much support,” Pospisil said. “When we started on this journey and started going forward [with it], there was this overwhelming unity in the mindset that a player association is critical for the sport. So now here we are, and I think the idea is obvious to them, but there’s still this narrative being pushed that doesn’t make any sense to me.

“There are pieces of the tennis ecosystem, certain groups or individuals, that are benefiting from a divided player group and, and from ineffective player representation. So, you know, there is a benefit to certain people in the tennis industry with that narrative.”

Pospisil and Nassar both discussed the misconceptions that have plagued the organization, notably the idea that it is planning to form a breakaway rival tour, like LIV Golf did in 2022. Pospisil said hearing about the idea “drives me crazy.”

Nassar confirmed the PTPA has met with the ATP and WTA player councils in hopes of fostering collaboration and communication. He is hopeful they can work together in the future as he believes many of their goals are aligned.

For Pospisil, the main goal of the organization is to improve the sport for its players.

“The life of a tennis player is very difficult; it’s a huge struggle,” he said. “It’s like climbing a mountain to be successful. And then, and then once you get to that point, it doesn’t last long and there’s no support system on your way there, during, or after your career. There are very few players that can make a living out of this sport even though it generates billions of dollars. We’re here to try to change that.”

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