Dominic Thiem's reluctance towards fundraiser and his words expose tennis' underbelly

In an interview with an Austrian media outlet, Dominic Thiem called out the lack of professionalism in the lower circuit

by Sharada Iyer
Dominic Thiem's reluctance towards fundraiser and his words expose tennis' underbelly

Disquiet about the fundraiser proposed by Novak Djokovic in consultation with Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer for the lower-ranked players was to be expected. However, it was quite unexpected that it would be Dominic Thiem who would have misgivings about the idea and its implementation.

According to Twitter user Ellie – @ohnoimblah – who translated Thiem’s quotes to contextualise it better, the 2020 Australian Open finalist reportedly said, “…I know the Future-Tour very well myself, because I played there for two years as well and there are definitely a lot of players who don’t subordinate everything, their whole life, to the sport who don’t live that professionally and don’t play the sport that professionally like they should…” There cannot be any quibbling that Thiem’s words ought to have been kinder, especially for someone who, going by his admission, had been a part of the lower circuits of the game before having an upward career trajectory.

In his case, he has been fortuitous just as he has worked hard to strike it big even as others have been left as stragglers. The ensuing furore of hurtfulness that Thiem’s statements generated, both among his fellow peers ranked lower in the ATP rankings’ pecking order and tennis followers, however, obscured the one aspect that needed – and still needs – to be emphasised, regarding the sport’s administrators.

The Austrian was forthright in sharing that he was not inclined to contribute to this fund pool. The notable takeaway in this acknowledgement was, their well-intentions aside, Djokovic, Nadal and Federer – regardless of their seniority and collective respect – could not be expected to execute the duties of tennis’ administrators.

They are not responsible for blotting out administrative shortcomings. And, undoubtedly, the ATP did fall short in timely aiding the players. In fact, up to the time when these three players chalked out a financial restitution program for the less-earning members of their professional fraternity, the men’s tennis administration was caught napping.

Even its joining with other tennis administrations – the Slams, the ITF and the WTA – to help the bottom-ranked players came a few days after the Big Three’s pitch. Thus, except to announce the culling – or postponement – of tournaments in order to deal with the menace of the pandemic, the men’s tennis association came across as being indifferent to the same people who not only form its core component but also without whom, it would not exist in the first place.

Moreover, in its lack of action and attentiveness, the ATP set a bad precedent. It unwittingly proved the sceptics – in the players’ ranks – right that irrespective of how emphatically it was reiterated they were part of a system, in the end – in an emergency and when it mattered the most – each player had to work out his next financial move in the real world, in isolation.

However, there are two emerging offshoots out of this fracas that cannot be evaluated in isolation. Firstly, in case of any potential volatility in the future, adversely affecting tennis and the livelihood of players, would the “Big Three” or the top-ranked players of that time be seen as prospective rescuers again? If, indeed, that happens to be the case, who is not to say that some other higher-ranked player would come up with similar statements to that of Thiem’s, if not worse? Lastly, is it not the sport’s collective administration’s – confined not just to the ATP – fault that a tennis pro is able to call out his colleagues’ want of professionalism? Administrators are not keepers of players’ consciences and morals.

But in a sport whose lower hierarchy has seen more than passing evidence of taint of illegalities, the question asks itself: what incentive have tennis’ administrators given to such struggling players for them to display their professionalism or at the least, to demonstrate they are exceptions to such sweepingly stigmatising views. Photo Credit: Australian Open

Dominic Thiem