This is part two of TennisWorld USA's chat with Sánchez-Casal Academy co-founder, Emilio Sánchez Vicario. Part One can be read here. “In these times, you normally tend to reinvent yourself,” Emilio Sánchez Vicario remarked when I spoke with him last week regarding changes in tennis’ system.
The former doubles world no. 1 did not seem to be making the statement in passing but rather with the expectation that the sport’s stakeholders – read, players – would not leave their colleagues economically marginalised.
Since that interaction, tennisdom has sprung into action over the weekend shrugging past its slumbering outlook about the sport’s status quo. First, the world no. 1 Novak Djokovic and ATP Players Council president came up with a fundraising proposal – out of the top-ranked singles and doubles’ players’ personal pockets – to help their lesser-ranked brethren.
Backing for what Djokovic called the “Player Relief Fund” also came from Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, the two other members of the eponymous “Big Three” echelon, with the Serbian stating that the idea was developed after a conversation among the trio.
Apart from the players, Djokovic also mentioned that this fund would have allocations from the Grand Slams and the ATP as well. This pitch was followed by a couple of others as well with other stakeholders coming up with project ideas to invest time and raise money for the aid of those struggling the lower levels of the professional tour.
The circumstances also rekindled the not-so-dormant proposal of having a union to represent the players’ interest. The overtures regarding the creation of the players’ union have never been subtle in recent years.
More importantly, it is obvious that if there ever was a time to have a union, seemingly it is now when the state of the tour is in disarray and earlier noted, up to a few days, not much was set in stone about how help would be forthcoming – if it would be forthcoming, at all.
Simple as this sounds, Sánchez Vicario shared how reality often was far removed from such a simplistic process. “…the players union that was formed many years ago, in the end, they made a partnership with the tournaments and the tournaments and the players, they are now running the ATP,” he said, reminiscing about the unexpected evolution of the present structure of the tournament since its creation.
Adding, he observed, “But it is clear since the big tournaments are run by the big agency companies, and those agency companies also run the players so, the players are always behind so they were never represented properly in a way to be able to fight only for the rights of the players because they have been represented by the same people who have the rights for the tournaments”.
Stating that was par for the course given the complexities of having to work with various parties constituting the sport, Sánchez Vicario explained that led to a mushrooming of the situation and priorities. “When you have to have a negotiation with the same people and the interests of the tournaments is much bigger, much higher than the interests of the players – of the rights of the players – they (players) come behind.
It becomes an issue,” he summarised. Nonetheless, Sánchez Vicario added that this seeming unendingness of the players vs system face-off could be mitigated if the players’ keenness overrode any debilitating scenarios that could possibly emerge and jeopardise to thwart players’ interests.
“I don’t know if the players will be capable of getting together and join themselves to fight for their rights…” he said, specifying the uncertainty that surrounded this eventuality. And yet, he concluded with a finality, “But if this has to happen, it has to happen in a time like this.
So, we will see, hopefully, they do. And they fight for their rights. I think they can still do a lot for their rights”. So now, as before, the onus is on the players to make this much-longed-for prospect a hard-won reality.