by Rajagopalan Rohinee
At this point, men’s tennis seems to be a cacophony of chaos. To add to it, the hard-pressing matters are not only being played out both prominently but look to be raging just as intensely within the sport’s inner recesses. The problem is, however, that neither there is a way to pinpoint the origins of this problem nor there is an effective solution in sight.
The ousting of Chris Kermode as Association of Tennis Professionals’ Chief Executive Officer therefore has several connotations as it has various implications. But the one question it raises, first and foremost, is why now when the sport is said to be ostentatiously flourishing? In that respect, the whole “he said-he said-they said” turn of events that is being played out in the aftermath of the ATP Board Meeting in Indian Wells does not enumerate much beyond the offering of reasons as to why things happened the way they did.
So what purpose does the currently ongoing clamouring – of trying to pin the blame on Novak Djokovic and other members of the Player Council and/or on the Player Representatives – serve? For, despite the earnestness of everyone involved – both first-hand and as onlookers into the matter – there are no answers available even as pertinent scepticisms – read, vis-à-vis Justin Gimelstob’s controversial presence in the decision-making – have abounded.
The one aspect that needs to be peered into and pored over deeply, but which has been quieted down, is where does men’s tennis go from here? At the same time, the stakeholders – be it players or those responsible for its managerial side – need to introspect on what can only be considered as a failing of the sport despite its much-bandied-about successes. In isolation, this is bad news. But it worsens when juxtaposed with the mess the International Tennis Federation has inflicted upon itself.
The open rebellion dotting the ITF’s periphery by several national tennis boards, its members and (deprived) players following its Transition Tour muddle should have cautioned the ATP in a timely manner. Yet, even as the ITF finds it difficult to justify its recent actions, which have seen an unequal bartering of the Davis Cup to a soccer player, the returns from which – when filtered to its core – are non-existent to the tournament’s growth and continuity, the ATP did as it felt right.
But in trying to do what was right, the ATP came across as short-sighted, imposing restrictions on the entirety of the men’s game.
Beyond 2019, following the end of Kermode’s term, men’s tennis will have to start over from scratch. The Briton’s business acumen – giving men’s tennis widespread marketability and in turn, leading to enhanced profitability – would be a thing of the past. In the sport’s annals, it would not be a pause but a definite stopping point.
Then, whoever takes over from Kermode, will not only have the onus of living up to the standards set by his predecessor (while attempting to better it) but will also need to live up to the expectations of these stakeholders of the domain who had insisted on making the change, in the first place. Just as along those of whom – including Djokovic – who spoke about administrative changes being necessary will also be at the receiving end of scrutiny, with enquiries flowing about whether the so-called alterations netted positive results.
Djokovic is well-within his rights now to decline commenting on what his personal choice was in the voting to truncate Kermode’s role. But at that unspecified point in the future – if it does come to pass – if the changes were not to work, him and the others who were a part of the present-day decision-making would need to justify themselves as to whether their good intentions came through for the lowest-ranked player as much as for those in the top-tier. It may also be the questions that popped up in the Chris Kermode’s non-continuing-as-the-CEO melee are answered, one way or another.