Federer and Nadal split over talk of strike

Tensions over schedule and prize-money levels resurface on eve of the Australian Open

Melbourne

Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer have long been regarded as the friendliest and most respectful of rivals, but on the eve of the Australian Open here there were signs of a significant divide between the two men.

Nadal is unhappy that Federer has not added his voice to those critical of conditions on the tour and instead has leaving other players to "burn themselves" by making their feelings known.

The Spaniard made his comments yesterday after a heated meeting of players on Saturday evening, when there was vociferous criticism of the level of prize-money at Grand Slam tournaments. All but a handful of players voted in favour of retaining the option to go on strike, although there are no specific plans yet for such a course of action.

Nadal, who is vice-president of the player council, was seen as one of the most outspoken critics of the authorities when a number of grievances were aired at last year's US Open. However, Federer, the president of the player council, later dismissed talk of a players' strike as "nonsense".

When Nadal was asked about the issues at a pre-tournament press conference here yesterday he was reluctant to go into any details and said he did not want to be seen as a frontman for the players' complaints.

However, in response to a later suggestion from Spanish journalists that Federer did not like players making complaints because it tarnished the image of tennis, Nadal said: "No, I totally disagree. For him it's good to say nothing. Everything positive. 'It's all well and good for me, I look like a gentleman.' And the rest can burn themselves. Everyone is entitled to have their own opinions.

"He [Federer] likes the circuit. I like the circuit. It's much better than many other sports, but that doesn't mean that it couldn't be better. It doesn't mean there are some things about the tour that could change. The tour is fine, but there are some things that are bad. That's all we're saying.

"And the vast majority of players have this same opinion. He's got a different opinion... if the vast majority have one opinion and a small minority think differently, maybe it's them who are wrong."

While there are differences of opinion among the players over some of their grievances – including the ranking system, the length of the season, the number of mandatory tournaments and the position of the Davis Cup in the calendar – the vast majority are agreed that the Grand Slam tournaments do not offer enough prize-money.

The US Open, for example, generates revenues in excess of $200m (about £131m), but only 13 per cent of that is paid back to the players in prize-money. In American basketball, ice hockey and American football, about 50 per cent of revenue is paid to the players.

Given the current economic climate, the players are aware they may not have much sympathy from the public when the singles champions here will each win A$2.3m (£1.5m). However, the players' dissatisfaction centres on the rewards for those lower down the pecking order and those unable to play because of illness or injury.

Five of the six Britons in the main draw – Andy Murray, who starts tomorrow, is the only exception – were due to play on today's opening day. Laura Robson and James Ward won their final qualifying matches on Saturday to join Murray, Elena Baltacha, Anne Keothavong and Heather Watson in the field. The last time Britain had as many singles players competing in a Grand Slam tournament other than Wimbledon – where several home players usually receive wild cards – was here, 20 years ago.

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