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Djokovic leads push for new union in pay fight

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Serbia’s Novak Djokovic, pictured on January 13, 2018, is the president of the ATP Tour player council © AFP/File / PAUL CROCK

MELBOURNE, Australia, Jan 16 – Novak Djokovic hosed down suggestions Tuesday he is pushing to create an independent players union to fight for even more prize money, and denied reports it could lead to tournament boycotts.

British media said the Serbian 12-time Grand Slam winner, president of the ATP Tour player council, had raised the subject at a mandatory player meeting in Melbourne on Friday.

The London Times said he took the stage and suddenly asked that ATP officials and any non-players leave the room, bringing in an Australian professor with specialist knowledge of workplace law.

According to Britain’s Telegraph newspaper, Djokovic, who has earned $110 million in prize money, then outlined his argument that the Grand Slams only pay out about seven percent of their income.

It said he compared this to American basketball, which pays about 50 percent.

Some reports said the dispute could lead to tournament boycotts if players didn’t get more money, but Djokovic said this was not true.

“That wasn’t a subject I raised, no,” he said after powering into the Australian Open second round in his first tournament match since an elbow injury forced him out of Wimbledon six months ago.

“You’re talking about boycott, you’re talking about radical decisions to make and move so we can get financial compensations the way we deserve it. But there was no talks about that,” he insisted.

The Times said any new union would break away from the present set-up under the ATP, the men’s governing body, which jointly represents the interests of both the players and tournaments.

The ATP refused to comment to AFP.

– Bigger slice –

At the players meeting Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley reportedly outlined plans to boost prize money at the opening Grand Slam of the year from $55 million to $100 million over the next five years.

Djokovic said “everybody’s trying to do their best” when asked about players getting a bigger slice of Grand Slam revenues.

“I mean, we are here at the Australian Open, and they always try to compensate the players in a best possible way,” he said.

“Things are going in the right direction.”

He added that while he was ATP player council president, “I don’t sit on these negotiation tables”.

“Obviously before you get anything to be voted on the board, it has to go through council. It’s not only me that makes some calls, far from that.

“I’m just glad that I’m part of it, that I can contribute to a better sport today, and the future. Hopefully the next generation will even have a better sport.”

Kevin Anderson, who is vice-president of the ATP player council, was cited by British media as saying: “I think there’s a big case to be made as far as percentage goes.

“If you see an NBA (basketball) player or an NFL (American football) player you think seven figures in their bank account and I don’t think that’s the case even for some players who make the main draw at Grand Slams.”

Maria Sharapova acknowledged Grand Slam revenues were growing and said after her Australian Open match Tuesday that: “I do believe that the players will ultimately earn more.”

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