It’s becoming increasingly clear that the ITF’s radical overhaul of its ranking system is radically unpopular amongst professional tennis players. From the letter of condemnation, nearly 4000 words long and signed by almost 700 players, to the disappointed complaints of recently crowned ITF #1 Peter Heller, it appears that a civil war is on the verge of breaking out in the tennis world. And now world #83 Aljaz Bedene appears to be the latest to add his voice to the chorus of disapproval.
The Slovenian, who briefly represented Great Britain before returning to playing under his native flag (another ITF saga), is not amongst those directly affected by the changes. In fact, Bedene has enjoyed a fine start to the season on the ATP tour and reached his second quarterfinal of the year this week at the Rio Open. But he nonetheless appears to have posted a lengthy message in a private Facebook group for players committed to forcing the ITF to make changes to its newly introduced transition tours.
The post, made last week, described the changes made by the ITF as both “unfair and wrong,” as well as accusing the ITF of denying players the chance to participate in professional tournaments. It also proposed four major changes to the current system in order to prevent further damage. They are as follows:
1. Open up the qualifying draws wherever possible.
2. Abolish the new entry fees
3. Use only ATP rankings.
4. Halt the sale of data to betting companies.
Whilst whether or not Bedene did in fact author this post cannot yet be confirmed (it came from an unverified account that certainly seems to be Bedene’s), it would be no surprise were it to prove authentic. He would hardly be out of line with his colleagues on tour in holding these views. Indeed, a number of other players who compete mainly on the ATP tour have already voiced concerns about the changes made by the ITF, including former-world #31 Sergiy Stahkovsky, who has claimed four titles at ATP tour-level.
Whilst neither Bedene or Stahkovsky can be described as household names, it increasingly feels like it is only a matter of time before those at the very top of the game wade into the fray. Indeed, they may have already done so in private. Novak Djokovic, the world #1 and current president of the ATP Player Council, has used his position to lobby for increased prize money for lower-ranked players in the past. Roger Federer, a former president, and Andy Murray, have also been outspoken on the same issue.
For the ITF, the prospects of facing a serious player revolt are growing. And having lost ground to both the ATP and the WTA tours over the past decades, the supposedly senior governing body in the sport finds itself with few chips left. Indeed, the only notable tournaments the ITF still has under its umbrella are the Grand Slams, the Davis Cup and the Fed Cup. But the majors are far too powerful for the ITF to corral, whilst the Kosmos-led reforms to the Davis Cup have also proved to be broadly unpopular.
But despite their seemingly weak position, the ITF are refusing to consider undoing the changes introduced at the start of this year. Their position, that there were too many players attempting to have professional careers for the amount of prize money available, remains unchanged. But unless a compromise between the ITF authorities and the mass of players protesting the changes is reached soon, this battle for the future of the sport’s lower tiers seems to be in danger of getting ugly fast.
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