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Tennis governance requires the ability to think beyond any single person

Matt Zemek

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Susan Mullane - USA TODAY Sports

Our story begins with an explanation of the photo used for this piece.

You might think Roger Federer is a focal point of the dramas surrounding ATP and (on a larger level) tennis governance. You might think Novak Djokovic is a focal point. You might think Rafael Nadal and Stan Wawrinka are focal points. You might think Vasek Pospisil, Kevin Anderson, John Isner, and Sergiy Stakhovsky are focal points.

You wouldn’t be wrong to make any of those assertions. You wouldn’t.

Yet, how important is it that you aren’t — and wouldn’t be — wrong?

By correctly noting that any or all of the above players deserve to be questioned about everything which is currently happening in the world of ATP governance, what “prize” would you receive as a result?

We all like to be right. We all like to have our views validated and confirmed. There’s nothing inherently wrong about that. I would simply offer the reminder that on some occasions, being right about something carries weight and significance. On other occasions, being right doesn’t possess transformative power or change the culture or political reality of a situation.

With ATP governance, you might be right in saying that this player HERE needs to do something about the situation, but if you’re going to focus on this person in this position, what about everyone else?

This is why I didn’t put a player (more precisely, a whole body or a face) in the cover photo for this story. If I put a photo of Roger Federer on the page, people would read a verdict or bias into that photo selection, much as other people would read a verdict or bias into a decision to put up a photo of Djokovic or Nadal. I consciously avoided showing a face or full-body figure of a tennis personality in order to avoid hate mail but also make a specific point about tennis governance.

Let’s now continue that conversation about tennis governance.

This next statement is not hard to understand, and it’s not hard to process in a larger context: Various players have various levels of involvement in the inner workings of tennis. Their views, relationships and preferences are different. So, if one player was to make a public statement without consulting other players or making sure his own views were vetted in terms of their potential political effects on ATP and tennis politics, that would be an irresponsible thing to do.

This does NOT mean players shouldn’t be more active — they should be.

This does NOT mean players should remain silent — they shouldn’t.

This does NOT mean players shouldn’t reconsider how they do business — they SHOULD do precisely that.

This is NOT an excuse made for — or on behalf of — ATP players, who, if they don’t like the current politics of the tour, should get involved instead of complaining from the peanut gallery.

The point I am making is this, and like the other points made above, it is simple: Tennis, lacking a commissioner — unlike North American team sports — doesn’t have a central authority figure it can turn to. Tennis governance is widely scattered and imprecise, with various structures being insufficiently robust or streamlined to forcefully tackle situations. There are too many competing constituencies and interests for one person to step into the fray and calm the seas.

No one is helped — and the sport of tennis is not helped — by any claims that one person could wield a Messiah-like influence on the process. There is no messianic presence in tennis — not now.

We might WANT one, but tennis would need to change its model of governance to create one, and give us a “commissioner of tennis.” That might happen in the future, but it isn’t happening right now, and there are no discussions to that effect, at least none which have been reported.

There is no God of Tennis. There is no Messiah of the sport. We can have many productive discussions and honest disagreements about the right way to approach tennis governance.

Claiming one person can solve everything is not productive, nor is it honest. Everyone should be able to agree on that much.

Matt Zemek is the co-editor of Tennis With An Accent with Saqib Ali. Matt is the lead writer for the site and helps Saqib with the TWAA podcast, produced by Radio Influence at radioinfluence.com. Matt has written professionally about men's and women's tennis since 2014 for multiple outlets: Comeback Media, FanRagSports, and independently at Patreon, where he maintains a tennis site. You can reach Matt by e-mail: mzemek@hotmail.com. You can find him on Twitter at @mzemek.

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