Tennis stars out to get ATP boss De Villiers

June 5th, 2008 - 12:12 pm ICT by IANS  

Paris, June 5 (DPA) Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) boss Etienne de Villiers has good reason to be afraid: the three superstars of the circuit - Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic - are out to get him. The South African - who signs his letters with the initials E.T., the name of the alien of the Steven Spielberg blockbuster - has led men’s tennis for over two years.

As tennis players from around the world were fighting for glory on the courts at the French Open, a decisive and discrete battle for power was shaking the insides of the tennis scene: the top three men in the game put themselves forward as candidates to be part of the ATP’s Player Council.

Federer, Nadal and Djokovic are very annoyed with the decisions made by De Villiers since he replaced Mark Miles at the helm of the ATP in 2006.

In this context, they have made a historic decision to set aside the lack of interest in sports politics traditionally displayed by stars and get fully involved.

“There are many things about which we do not like how they have been done, and by getting in (the Council) we are going to try to hear about things before they happen,” Nadal said as he attempted to win his fourth consecutive title at the Bois de Boulogne.

Nadal is becoming an expert in politics around tennis, as he is involved in another, parallel battle alongside Spain’s top players, against Spanish federation president Pedro Munoz.

“We want to be able to stop things before they happen, so that they do not surprise us, as happened this year. Because at the end of the day the council is set to represent players, and not the president, as it sometimes seems to,” Nadal explained.

Federer, Nadal and Djokovic are angry at the reorganisation of the tennis calendar that De Villiers is planning for 2009. That calendar remains uncertain, moreover, since it is pending a US court decision on a suit that the Hamburg Masters Series filed against the ATP.

However, there is more than that. De Villiers was never popular among the players. Far removed from tennis and coming from the Disney factory, the South African is based in London, where he is surrounded by loyal aides, and he does not often show up in tournaments.

His mandate ends later this year, and the three stars are planning to make the most of that situation.

At the top of a list of 20 players, Federer, Nadal and Djokovic signed a letter in which they ask the ATP to evaluate other candidates for the position of executive chairman currently held by De Villiers.

They pulled a few strings and also managed to change the balance of power in the ATP Board, which now holds three spots for representatives of the players.

They got rid of Perry Rogers - an agent and family friend of Andre Agassi who sat in the board as a “player” - and they plan to do the same with former Dutch doubles specialist Jacco Eltingh.

Since the Player Council nominates three of its members to sit on the board, it could well be that Federer, Nadal and Djokovic get to share meetings and decisions with the business “sharks” that have taken over men’s tennis. And that could be the end for De Villiers.

Current Player Council Ivan Ljubicic knows he will not keep the position for long.

“I think it is great that three players like them get involved. Definitely any of them will have more power than me as president,” the Croat told DPA in Paris. “I will help them at the beginning, but then I will leave things in their hands.”

Wimbledon will hold the key, as 10 members of the Player Council are set to be picked from 23 candidates there. Nobody can quite imagine that tennis professionals would leave out Federer, Nadal and Djokovic, who would then have two years to get their hands on the tennis business from the inside.

“E.T. call home,” some might say.

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