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Australian Open

‘You portrayed me as greedy’: Novak Djokovic hits back over boycott claims after private players’ meeting

Former world number one denies he proposed ATP Tour players should form a union in a bid to earn more money at grand slams

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 January, 2018, 6:14pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 January, 2018, 6:14pm

Novak Djokovic confirmed after his first-round win that men’s players held a private meeting on the eve of the Australian Open to discuss issues related to the ATP Tour, but denied that any talk of boycotting grand slams over prize money was raised.

Djokovic, who is president of the ATP Player Council, did not specify what issues were raised at the meeting, but said media reports stating he proposed forming a players’ union to push for a greater share of revenue generated by tournaments were largely incorrect.

“I saw that you’ve portrayed me as someone who is very greedy, asks for more money and wants to boycott,” Djokovic told a news conference following his 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 victory against Donald Young on Tuesday.

“What happened is that we, players, just wanted to have us players talk about certain topics. I don’t think there is anything unhealthy about that.”

Most other players have declined to talk about what was discussed at the meeting, though Kevin Anderson, the player council vice-president, told British media on Monday the issue of prize money was raised.

World No 4 Alexander Zverev said Djokovic did most of the talking at the meeting, which was attended by all of the top male players in the Australian Open draw.

“I don’t really have a position [on the subject] because that was the first time it was mentioned,” he said. “Everybody listened to it. That’s about it.”

According to the Daily Mail newspaper, which first reported the meeting on Monday, Djokovic was said to have asked all non-players to leave the room and then gave a lengthy speech from the stage about forming a players’ union, accompanied by an Australian lawyer.

On Tuesday, however, Djokovic denied that any lawyer was present or that he raised the prospect of boycotting future grand slams if player demands were not met.

“I know that you guys are trying to take this forward several steps,” said Djokovic, who was returning from six months on the sidelines with a right elbow injury.

“Obviously you’re talking about union, you’re talking about boycott, you’re talking about radical decisions to make … so we can get financial compensations the way we deserve it. But there was no talks about that.”

Total prize money for the Australian Open reached AU$55 million (US$42 million) this year, a 10 per cent increase over 2017.

The men’s and women’s singles champions will both take home AU$4 million (US$3 million), while first-round losers will make AU$60,000 (US$45,700).

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While players at the top of the sport are making more at the grand slams, those ranked below 100 who play primarily on the lower-tier Challenger Tour and do not automatically qualify for the majors still struggle to get by.

Djokovic acknowledged the sport is moving in the right direction on issues related to prize money, though work remains to be done.

“I’m part of the council, but I don’t sit on these negotiation tables,” he said. “It’s not only me that makes some calls, far from that.

“I’m just glad that I’m part of it, that I can contribute to a better sport today, and the future. Hopefully the next generation will even have a better sport.”