Murray leads fight for union to increase player power


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The Independent Online

If the sun had shone all fortnight there would probably have been little talk of change, but the rain that drenched New York for two days this week is still sweeping through the sport's corridors of power.

Gripes about the scheduling of matches here at the US Open have opened up much wider issues, including the share of revenues from Grand Slam tournaments, and momentum is growing for the players to form their own union.

Similarly, if Andy Murray had not been one of those forced to go on court on Wednesday in what the players thought were dangerously wet conditions, the 24-year-old Scot might not have emerged as one of the most respected voices in the debate that has ensued. It was Murray who asked Andy Roddick if he would like to join himself and Rafael Nadal in a meeting with Brian Earley, the tournament referee, and it was Murray who emerged from the discussions to say that he did not expect the players to be asked to play in similar conditions again.

Player power was evident in the decision by tournament organisers late on Thursday to revise this weekend's schedule. The changes mean that whoever emerges as the finalist from the bottom half of the draw will not have to play four best-of-five-set matches in four days.

The winners of yesterday's quarter-finals (Murray against John Isner and Nadal against Roddick) will now meet in today's semi-finals, as will Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, who won their quarter-finals on Thursday evening. The two finalists will then have a day of rest before Monday's final, which will start at 9pm BST. The women's semi-finals will be played tonight and the final tomorrow, starting at 9pm BST. It is the fourth year in succession that the tournament has had to be extended into a third week.

Although the changes are a breakthrough, Murray still believes it is time the players had their own voice. For most of the year the men compete on the circuit operated by the Association of Tennis Professionals, which is run jointly by the players and the tournaments, but the Davis Cup is administered by the International Tennis Federation while the four Grand Slam tournaments are their own bosses.

The players are not happy about a number of issues, including the scheduling of Davis Cup matches. There are Davis Cup ties next weekend and if Federer, for example, plays in Monday's final he will then have to fly to Sydney to play in Switzerland's match against Australia beginning on Friday.

The ATP was formed in 1972 and has since provided players with their voice in the game; Federer and Nadal are currently president and vice-president of the players' council. The seven-man ATP board comprises three player representatives, three tournament representatives and the association's executive chairman and president. Adam Helfant, the current chairman, is leaving at the end of the year and his replacement has yet to be appointed.

However, there has long been a feeling among players that they should have their own separate union, particularly as the ATP has little input into the Grand Slam tournaments or Davis Cup. "I think the players need to have more of a voice, and the only way to do that is by starting a player union and coming to an agreement with tournaments and the ITF," Murray said. "Because if not, the same things will keep happening and nothing will change."

Murray hopes there will be further talk among the players in coming weeks and is happy to get involved. "It's the right thing to do," he said. "A few people might be scared that it looks bad or it looks like the players are being greedy, but we aren't. Look at so many other sports. For example, if a footballer is injured, they still get paid. For us, if we get injured and aren't going to play any tournaments, our ranking drops and we don't get paid.

"The basketball players and the American football players are in dispute with their organisations because they want more like a 50-50 split of the revenues. In the tennis here, the prize money is 13 per cent of the overall revenue of the tournament. The tournament keeps 87 per cent. So, we're not being greedy. They're making so much more money than the players are. I just think that that needs to change a little bit. The only way to do it is by having a players' union."

Federer said that the players had "much less leverage" with the Grand Slam tournaments, who "abuse that situation just a tiny bit". He explained: "The French Open starting on a Sunday was something we were not happy about, but they did it. Here they have a Saturday-Sunday final. The players are not happy, but we're doing it. So we don't have much say in Grand Slam play and that's without even talking about the revenues and all that stuff. There are a whole lot of other issues we need to work through with the Grand Slams and the ITF."

Previous talk of a players' union has led to nothing and there is a widespread feeling that the players must be united if they are to press ahead with the idea this time.

Roddick said: "Until we unite it doesn't matter and people can call our bluff. I've been trying to tell people that talent normally wins in negotiations. If Bono doesn't want to go on tour, then it all falls apart. Until we unite as one voice, then we're not going to get what we want and therefore we don't have the right to complain about it."