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|An irate Andy Roddick complained to officials at the U.S. Open about wet spots on the playing surface.|
SHANGHAI -- There are no political parties in professional tennis, but at certain times in the game there surely is enough politicking and grievances to keep things interesting.
It just so happens that the sport is right now going through one of those times.
Recent player dissatisfaction surfaced at last month's rain-beleaguered U.S. Open. Top players were angered by being asked to play on courts which were still wet or when dry spells were too brief. They were also initially told that in an effort to finish the tournament on time, the players who made it to the finals would have to play every day after the rain -- caused by the passing of Hurricane Irene -- stopped.
The players were incensed and pushed back. Rafael Nadal and Andy Roddick, two of the game's marquee names, marched themselves into tournament referee Brian Earley's office to air their complaints. And they were loud and clear when in news conferences they blasted USTA organizers for not handling the situation in an optimal fashion.
In the end, the players won out and the semifinals took place on Saturday with the finals on Monday, allowing for a day off on Sunday.
That successful mini-revolt in New York also set the stage for the players to again argue that the current tour schedule doesn't allow for a long enough offseason. Some players also took the opportunity to lobby for a bigger share of the financial pie, offering as evidence that the U.S. Open brings in millions of dollars but only distributes about 12 to 13 percent of that pot in player prize money.
It was also at the U.S. Open that the players started hinting at the possibility of unionizing to become a more formidable force to take on the ATP and ITF. Old-timers around the game thought this was kind of humorous as the ATP started as a player's union in the '70s before it took over control of the tour in the '90s.
When they left New York, the players appeared energized. They had settled on plans to meet weeks later at the Shanghai Rolex Masters.
So, halfway through the Shanghai tournament this week, where does the latest player revolt stand?
Not any further along than they were at the U.S. Open.
Original plans for a formal player huddle to discuss issues and a course of action has been shelved due to the absence of world No. 1 Novak Djokovic and No. 3 Roger Federer.
Roddick, who clearly has set himself up as the ringleader, is happy to talk about the situation. He's hoping his colleagues have remained "passionate" about the cause.
"I think it would be dumb of us to rush anything," Roddick says. "If something like this does happen, we need to be smart about it and take our time and make sure that it's well thought out and not be kind of reactionary."
Nadal, the vice president of the Player Council, subscribes to the theory that there's no point in talking about it at all when no solid decisions have been made.
"Maybe some things are happening but if I am not 100 percent sure about what's going on, I don't want to say something," Nadal said. "The important thing is I'm sure we are, most of us, almost everyone, in the same way. So like this, we have power."
And Andy Murray believes his recent comment that a strike could be a possibility was taken out of context, so he now prefers that discussions remain private among the players.
"The players haven't met," Murray said. "When we do, then I think it's really between the ATP and the ITF to try and come to an agreement. And until something is kind of done in writing or there has been any discussion, there is not really any point in saying anything because it just starts speculation."
It should be noted that it's not only the top 10 players who are lobbying for change. Juan Carlos Ferrero, a former French Open champion currently ranked No. 68, would have reason to support both sides of the argument. But he's picked a side to support.
"I say we should play a little bit less, for sure, after the long career I've been through," said the 31-year-old Spaniard. "It's very difficult to be ready every week and we start the first of January and finish the second week of November. The calendar is very long and we have to travel, so it's difficult.
"But I know the owners of the tournaments want to play every week. I am a co-owner of the Valencia tournament and I don't want to have it off [the schedule]. I am on both sides, but I am more with the players for the moment."
From what did come through this week, Murray isn't as hot on the topic of more prize money as Roddick seems to be. On Wednesday, Murray said he's thankful for the sizable paychecks he receives. He is also worrying that all of the talk -- sometimes inaccurate -- will end up with the players getting a bad rap.
"There's no truth behind a lot of the things that are being said," Murray said. "The players, I think are, maybe, coming across as being spoiled when I don't think that is the case."
Concessions are already in the cards for 2012.
Complaints about the length of the season have been ongoing the past few years and the ATP will end next season two weeks earlier than this year. No tournaments were axed from the schedule, but a number of events had their dates shifted to allow for the earlier finish. And there will no longer be a week off in between Paris-Bercy and the year-end tournament.
Roddick, however, says that isn't sufficient. He also says that since he joined the tour full-time in 2001, the men's calendar's actually gotten longer.
"When I started in '01, I remember Bercy being the last event of the year and I would celebrate Halloween there," Roddick said. "Now it's [Bercy] mid-November. It's November 14th that Bercy finishes."
Brad Drewett, the ATP CEO, International Group, wasn't around the U.S. Open for this latest player uprising. But he said the tour considers player concerns a priority.
"We are constantly talking with the players about tournaments and the best balance for the calendar," he said. "I just know that we, the ATP, have a great relationship with the Player's Council and we're constantly working with them on whatever the issues might be, week in and week out. It's an ongoing process."
One thing is for certain. It's going to take a lot of patience, dedication and desire from the players to turn themselves from disgruntled independent contractors into a cohesive group with common-interest goals.
Roddick believes that tennis authorities are banking on the players being unable to come to a consensus.
"At this point, I think the main thing is a voice," Roddick said. "At a certain point, it needs to be more than conversation and more than talk. We'll see if the time is now. It does take unity. When you're dealing with a hundred separate entities as opposed to a certain amount of teams, I think that's harder and that's probably been why it's been divided. The powers that be in tennis have successfully bet on us being divided so far, and they're smart for it."
For his part, Roddick is banking on the players being able to eventually prove the authorities wrong.