On Monday, 23rd April, Justin Gimelstob was sentenced to probation for three years along with community labour for 60 days. The verdict – justifiably – raised a storm in the tennis world with queries popping up immediately about his continuing in his position of power in the upper echelons of men’s tennis’ administration.
Almost a couple of days later, here, at the Barcelona Open, former ATP player council member, and world no. 2, Rafael Nadal played his opening-round match in the tournament winning it in three sets over Argentine Leonardo Mayer.
In the press conference that followed the match, apart from asking Nadal about the match, I asked him about what would he have done in an individual capacity had he been a part of the player council. Thinking back about that moment when I asked the 17-time Slam champion that question, I now realise it caught everyone by aback: most of all, the man himself.
But whether or not, he expected the matter to be raised with him, Nadal did not shy away from answering it in spite of his particular disinclination in not wanting to make his opinion public when – when asked for it – he said, “I don’t want to tell you”.
Unsurprisingly, this has, since then, become the sole talking point of the reply in its aftermath, not only inviting scrutiny but also backlash. But first things first. Or, to be more specific, this was the order in which Nadal responded.
Question: If you were a part of the ATP Player Council what would your decision be as an individual player? Answer: “If I will be a part of the player council, I will ask the rest of the players about what they want,” Nadal declared.
In the same breath, as if trying to explain there was only so much, he could do while not being a part of the organisational body, the former vice-president of the 12-member council said he would not hesitate to give his “personal opinion” if any of his peers from the council were to ask him for it.
“The only thing I can do without being in the player council is if somebody from the player council asks me (for) my opinion, I will give them my personal opinion”. It was when pressed upon his “personal opinion” at the moment as a follow-up question that Nadal’s reaction was the aforementioned polite-yet-firm – said with a wide smile – response.
Many perceived Nadal’s answer – and still do – as evasion on the matter. However, nowhere in his two answers above, did he say he did not have an “opinion” on the subject. Merely that he would not be talking about openly, at least to the press.
It could be the 32-year-old decided to be cautious in his approach in the wake of the recent churning that raged the men’s tour regarding incumbent CEO Chris Kermode’s ouster. The veritable verbal face-off (read clash of egos) that came to pass during the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells among Novak Djokovic (the current ATP President), and others (including Nadal, Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka) regarding the extension of Kermode’s term beyond 2019 brought an eerie disquiet to men’s tennisdom.
And, as the season has segued further, quietness has come to prevail but it is not one that offers any serenely-calming brace. At such juncture, if Nadal were to have talked about where he stood, it would have a similarly-tense situation.
Moreover, considering how interpretations have emerged about his so-called non-answer – to the extent of even extra, non-existent words and meaning being added to his reply, in some corners – it is not hard to imagine that any other answer Nadal would have given would have been altered likewise, not only adding fuel to the raging fire but also making a bigger spectacle of the ATP than what it is presently.
This is, of course, not to say that the Player Council needs to be quiet about its opinion. Rather, the onus is on its current members to step up and be candid about where they stand vis-à-vis Gimelstob’s continuance as an ATP Board member.
For, unlike Nadal who is not part of its inner working, those who serve in it have no reasons to be mum about their “personal opinion”. Instead, them continuing to be working on the down low – with board member Vasek Pospisil telling The Tennis Podcast that they were “discussing the matter internally and will make a decision on how best to move forward” – does seem like real-time sidestepping, putting both the sport and the aptitude of its management, in not only disappointing but also shameful position. Image Credit: Zimbio