Disgruntled men issue strike threats

MELBOURNE Mon Jan 16, 2012 6:10pm IST

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Male players at the Australian Open on Monday warned of future strikes over prize money and said a proposal to boycott the year's first grand slam had been strongly endorsed but ultimately knocked down.

ATP members held a behind-closed-doors meeting on Saturday and backed a proposal not to play at Melbourne Park, Ukraine's Sergiy Stakhovsky told Reuters in an interview.

Former world number three Nikolay Davydenko later hinted that players might strike at Indian Wells in California in March, a mandatory ATP event they must attend.

"Some of the players were suggesting we're not going to play here," said world number 65 Stakhovsky, referring to Saturday's meeting.

"There were enough (votes not to play) but it was just not right because we're here and the Australian Open would have no chance to change anything."

Players have complained about prize money for years, saying purses for the four grand slams were too small in relation to the revenue they brought in and too lop-sided in favour of the top competitors who regularly advance to the later stages.

The matter came to a head at Saturday's meeting and 32nd seed Alex Bogomolov Jr of Russia tweeted over the weekend of a possible strike at Melbourne Park.

Davydenko said the players would have another meeting in Indian Wells and told the ATP to act.

"The ATP should try to do something between now and Indian Wells," the Russian said.

The top players must compete in all the grand slams, eight Masters 1000 events, the season-ending World Tour Finals and a handful of lower-tier tournaments.

Stakhovsky said a majority of the leading players were sympathetic to the demands of the lower-ranked competitors.

"More than 80 percent of the top players are on the same page as the rest of the players, saying that grand slams are not paying enough and that some mandatory events are not having proper prize money distribution," Stakhovsky added.

"We all have issues. My issue is Indian Wells and Miami are mandatory events and if I lose in the first round I am minus (earnings). I am not making money off these tournaments.

"It's four weeks spent in the United States, it's airfares and hotels ... if you're out in the first round you're unable to pay your coach," said the Ukrainian.

STRIKE STRATEGY

Some players, including world number four Andy Murray of Britain, raised the possibility of a strike over the crammed tennis calendar after the rain-disrupted 2011 U.S. Open.

"You can't just stand up and say we don't play," said Stakhovsky. "You have to have a certain strategy.

"We have to say what we want, what we feel is fair for ... the ATP and the grand slams. We have to do some serious paperwork first, legal work.

"You never know but I'm confident we are going to change things."

The ATP declined to comment on the players' meeting but last year announced total prize money would increase 20 percent from 2012-14.

That would include rises of 30 percent for the ATP World Tour Finals which are restricted to the top eight players.

While Stakhovsky spoke of consensus among players, ATP Council vice-president Rafa Nadal suggested there was a rift at the top of the game between himself and president Roger Federer.

Nadal took a verbal swipe at Federer when talking to Spanish media on Sunday, saying the Swiss did not want to rock the boat while letting others take criticism for demanding change.

Davydenko said second-ranked Nadal and world number one Novak Djokovic were behind a push for change but also questioned third-ranked Federer's commitment.

Federer, who last year dismissed talk of strikes as "nonsense", brushed off the criticism and said he completely understood and supported the opinions of the players.

"I just have a different way of going at it. I'm not discussing it with you guys in the press room," he told reporters.

"(Strike) is such a dangerous word to use. That's why I always say, 'let's try to avoid it as much as we can'."

(Editing by Tony Jimenez. To query or comment on this story email sportsfeedback@thomsonreuters.com)

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