As a former president of the players’ council, Ivan Ljubicic is perhaps uniquely placed to understand what’s happening inside the men’s game. TheTennisSpace listened as the Croat explained what’s really going on.
What exactly are the main issues?
There is a general feeling that maybe there are too many mandatory tournaments, the commitments are too hard, the season is too long. Those things you will always hear – it doesn’t matter how long the schedule is, you will always get the top guys who feel it can be shorter. But the general feeling is that the money we are getting from the slams, 11 per cent [of the tournament revenue], it’s definitely not what we would like it to be. Now we’re looking into ways to get that from the grand slams. At the moment we don’t have a structure in place, [no] official player representative who can walk in the room and discuss with [the slams]. So I think the players are looking at the moment to see if something like that can happen.
Is a strike a real possibility?
I think it’s too early to talk about that. I think the players, especially the top ones because they are the ones who have power, need to sit down and say first, what their request is and then how do you structure it.
Are things more serious now than in the past?
It’s cooking. It’s been cooking for a long time. Things are building up and I am sure that, I cannot say in what period of time, could be six months, two years, three years, that something will have to change in that regard, otherwise the players will really start being unhappy.
So what exactly do the players want in terms of prize money?
You cannot say to Wimbledon, ‘listen guys next year you have to triple your prize money’. In the best scenario for the players, [it could be] what about a raise of 10 percent next year and then in five years or seven years, whatever, you get to here [another level]. You also have to give them some time to organise. They understand. I don’t think the grand slams are surprised about this.
We heard that Rafael Nadal was very passionate in the meeting?
He was saying the players are united and they are ready, they want to get what they deserve. That’s more or less what everybody felt like, not only Rafa. He had a microphone in that moment but there were many players talking. That is nothing different than last year or two years ago. Maybe the players are more passionate about it.
Sergiy Stakhovsky said there was even talk of striking here in Australia, briefly?
In my opinion, that was complete nonsense. Guys got hot, got excited, but fortunately there were some cool heads in there. It was never, in my opinion, [a possibility] that the players wouldn’t play here, or anywhere else. That’s not the way you get things done. I went through one war. I would rather talk than fight. I always think that’s the best way to get things done.
Tough to get the public on side when you’re talking about money in this economic climate?
I don’t think we should go to the public. It’s something between players and the grand slams and that’s the way it should be. We should sit down, close the doors and talk about. We can be greedy as much as they want or not greedy but the facts are what they are. In my opinion, after soccer we are the most global sport in the world. Fact is the grand slams are making an unbelievable amount of money, the fact we are getting whatever, 11 percent, we feel is just not fair. That’s it.
Is prize-money too top-heavy on the regular ATP World Tour?
I like it the way it is. It shouldn’t be a losers’ tour. It has to be the winners’ tour. Whoever wins makes money. You cannot raise the prize money for first round, say, get 30,000. That’s not the way it should be. You have to win in order to get something. If you’re good, you’re good. Some players did complain but OK, go out there, get better, practice and win that money. It’s not like it’s written on the cheque “Roger Federer”, it’s written “winner”. If he’s so good, what can you do? Try harder.
Interesting that the women have been quiet?
They’re smart enough to wait for us and once we get a raise they can just ask for the same and that’s it. That’s the way I would do it.