ATP chief plays down talks of a tennis strike

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ATP chief plays down talks of a tennis strike

MELBOURNE, Australia - The new head of men’s tennis attempted to calm the waters yesterday after rumors of a player strike bubbled up again at the start of the Australian Open.

A player meeting ahead of the first major of the year reignited talk of a strike over conditions on the tour. The main issues apparently revolve around an overcrowded schedule and prize money at Grand Slams.

Brad Drewett, the new chairman and president of the ATP and a former tour player, said the meeting - the first since he took over his new position on Jan. 1 - was no more heated than any other, but acknowledged there were issues that needed addressing.

“Certainly the other day, just like we’ve had any number of times, the players are very vocal about what’s on their mind,’’ he said at a news conference at Melbourne Park on day three of the Australian Open. “There is some frustration on certain points within the game.

“I heard the players loud and clear the other night about their issues. My plan is to represent their opinions wherever it needs to be represented and make sure they’re heard.’’

Talk of a strike first cropped up after the U.S. Open last year. Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and Andy Roddick all voiced concerns over the length of the season and the number of events the players were required to compete in.

The subject re-emerged on the eve of the Australian Open when Alex Bogomolov Jr. tweeted following Saturday’s meeting: “A players strike here at the Australian Open?? YES SIR!!’’

Drewett sidestepped the strike topic Wednesday, and instead focused on his plans to resolve the players’ problems.

“A lot of the issues that are around now have been around for a while. They’re not new issues,’’ he said. “You hear discussion about scheduling, about prize money. I heard the players very clearly the other night about that topic.’’

Part of Drewett’s task may be to negotiate with the Grand Slam committees over prize money, which the players argue hasn’t increased proportionately in line with profits.

Speaking after his first-round win, Andy Roddick agreed that the issues were not new, but he said the players were now more united than ever before in the drive to force change.

A division has emerged, though, between Nadal and 16-time Grand Slam winner Roger Federer, who does not want the players’ grievances aired in public as it damages the image of the game.

Nadal criticized his Swiss rival for keeping quiet and letting other players “burn themselves’’ by openly advocating for change. The Spaniard later apologized for making their difference of opinion public. AP

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