By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) – Preparing to try and retain a Wimbledon title is arduous enough but men’s top seed Novak Djokovic says he has spent as much time in the past few days playing politics as hitting tennis balls.
As president of the ATP Player Council, Djokovic has had his hands full of late dealing with the fall-out from the resignation of ATP Board member Justin Gimelstob, who in April was sentenced to three years probation and 60 hours community service on an assault charge.
Following a Player Council meeting on Friday to vote on a replacement for Gimelstob, as well as discuss Grand Slam prize money and the distribution of prize money at lower levels, Dutch player Robin Haase quit from the Board, saying it had been an “unproductive” year and that the Council had “not moved the game forward”. Andy Murray’s brother Jamie followed suit.
At his pre-tournament news conference Djokovic revealed the previous night’s meeting had gone on until midnight as splits within the game, widened by ATP chairman Chris Kermode being denied a contract extension in March, were thrashed out.
“For all of us taking part in this tournament, staying for seven hours and not going through the whole agenda yet, is quite tiring,” Djokovic told reporters.
“But there’s a larger picture and larger issues that Robin was addressing. I think it’s a system and a structure that keeps on failing us. I’ve been saying this before.”
Djokovic said he respected Haase’s decision to step down, saying the “leaking” of information from Player Council meetings over the past 10 months had been a contributory factor.
“That was a trigger because of which Robin decided to step down, and many others,” the Serb, who is bidding to a fifth Wimbledon title, said.
Djokovic, who in May complained that “everyone holds me accountable for everything that happens in tennis at the moment”, says his team would prefer it if he stepped away and just focussed on winning more Grand Slams.
“I mean, I’ve obviously considered various options. I did consider also stepping down,” Djokovic, 32, said.
“I think my team wants me to step down, honestly. It’s obvious. But I feel something is telling me from inside that I’m supposed to still stay there because I feel that we are part of the big transitional phase in tennis at the moment.
“Having a top player, I feel it means a lot to the group.
“So I still feel I can make my contribution, even though it goes against probably my schedule, certainly tennis at times, but I feel there is a greater good, I guess. That’s why I’m there.”
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Ian Chadband)