© Ella Ling

Flushing Meadows

Exclusive: the inside track on a possible strike

   

South Africa’s Kevin Anderson is one of the newest members of the ATP Players’ Council, looking at the big issues that are affecting the players and the sport. Amid rumours of a possible boycott of the Australian Open, he told The Tennis Space exactly what is going on behind the scenes, including a potential change to the calendar.

We’ve heard lots of rumours about a potential boycott of the Australian Open over the percentage of revenue they receive as prize money. Is that realistic?
Hopefully, that would never be an ideal situation. The general consensus is that most players maybe do want to see a higher increase in the revenue share. I think that’s been the big discussion and hopefully the grand slams will see that from our side and we’ll be able to come to some sort of agreement that all the players feel comfortable with.

It seems like the players see things the same way?
Definitely. We had a players’ meeting just a few days ago. I guess it’s an easy topic. Nobody’s going to say no to more money but it’s a tricky issue as well as it still is – the grand slams do pay well and most of the revenue is with grand slams but the product is so successful so that’s why the players feel it would be possible to get a little more. But everybody is on the same page.

Do the players need their own union?
That’s pretty tough. We’d have to look into the ins and outs of that. I think this is easier because the grand slams are a separate entity to the ATP. I think there are pros and cons of having players and tournaments within the same entity, people often cite football and basketball and how players and owners are on different sides. I’m just trying to find my feet before I go too deep on issues like that.

What about increased prize money (as a percentage of revenue) at ATP events, too?
Yeah, I think that’s something that can definitely improve. The ATP made a few big changes with the structure of the 250s, 500s and the Masters, which I think was a great system. But I think they’ve realised that there’s a few shortfalls within that system, it doesn’t allow some people the incentive to push up prize money, it’s limited at that level. The contracts have been signed, just like anything, so when those are up I am pretty sure we’ll be looking at that and hopefully coming up with a new system.

As president of the Players’ Council, how is Roger Federer to work with? Is he the big cheese, or a team player?
At the end of the day, we vote on issues and everybody’s vote counts exactly the same. It was my first meeting with Roger and I was just very impressed. We were there for hours, it was a three-hour meeting, we spoke about everything and I think it’s great for all of us and for tennis to have somebody of his stature on the player council. I mean, he doesn’t necessarily need to do it, but for him to volunteer to do it is a really good thing.

Have players been talking about it outside of meetings?
Yeah, definitely. Especially these last few weeks. There’s been a lot of locker room talk. A few more issues that we’re talking about as well. I think generally the players are just on the same page and we’ve got a very strong (council) I think, just judging from my first meeting and I think people are feeling that the tide is changing a little bit.

Did you always want to get involved in tennis politics?
No, I think it was a new thought. I thought it was something that would be great to do. We spend so much time at the courts and if we can try to make a difference, that would be a good thing. It’s a pretty long process, just like anything. For me, apart from actually doing that, the experience itself is something I wanted to do.

Would getting the ATP to raise prize money at their own events help with convincing the grand slams to do the same?
I think the way some of the contracts are signed, our hands are tied for ATP events until 2014. Slams are year to year right now. I believe the revenue share right is at a higher percentage right now (for the ATP events) so that’s one thing. It’s been an issue for a number of years now. I was speaking to Wayne Ferreira in Australia this year and he was on a movement a decade ago trying to do the exact same thing (breakaway Tour). It’s been a topic since the Australian Open and the general focus is….more people looking at that just because of the success of the grand slams. But both need some sort of changes.

Sergiy Stakhovsky has been very outspoken on the issues. Is he a good influence or a loose cannon?
I think it’s great having him on the council because he does a lot of research, he comes up with random stuff, he’s spoken to tournament directors, he’s in people’s faces, he’s asked for documents that other people didn’t even think about asking for. He’s very into that. I guess there are some cons with it, in that he stirs the pot a lot, but from my side, I am happy he’s part of us. We’ve had some good discussions. He’s definitely very opinionated but I think that’s a good thing as well. He’s got a pretty different situation but he believes in it strongly. In players’ meetings, he’s stood up and he’s spoken, so he’s got some good thoughts as well. In Winston-Salem we had the schedule discussion and he was the one who had printed 30 schedules and had his draw. He was getting everybody’s opinion. He’s very active about that.

There is talk of moving the Paris Masters to February and having non-mandatory events after the World Tour Finals?
That’s a big thing. We’re trying to really focus, after Australia, giving Europe as much attention as possible, they’re the strongest market right now, tennis-wise, so that was the biggest push right now. Then South America gets the opportunity to compete without other tournaments at the end of the year. I’ve heard that that’s a very big emerging market. I’ve spoken to some people who played there. Eric Butorac was saying for his doubles final there were 12,000 people which is pretty amazing. I can see the reasons why (the changes might happen). At the same time there are some challenges – it’s a longer schedule, we’re talking about ending the season on December 15 now, so that’s still very much on the table.

Do you think big players might still play in those non-mandatory events?
They’ve tried to make them non-mandatory so if you want to play, you can, or if you don’t, you don’t. In some senses, it does force you to play – tennis players always see it as opportunities and if you have a good run there it can set your years off nicely. I’ve spoken to some players, they said they definitely wouldn’t play; others have entertained the thought. It’s impossible to tell yet.

The Tour would run until December 15?
They’ve talked about moving the South American swing from November 15 to December 15. That’s one of the options. They’ve tried to make it non-committed, so if you want to play, you can play. I guess you might feel if other people are playing you might want to play, but that’s your choice.

Top players are the ones who want the season shortened, but then they play exhibitions anyway?
Yeah, exactly. People lower down (in the rankings) have the opportunity to play more events. But yeah, when there’s a shorter season, the (top players) can play exhibitions.