Djokovic: 'It's time for us to look into new leadership on the tour'

ATP Player Council president Novak Djokovic spoke on Thursday about the ATP's decision to not renew executive chairman and president Chris Kermode's contract after it expires at the end of 2019. John Cordes/Icon Sportswire

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. -- Thursday morning, the ATP announced its board of directors had voted not to renew executive chairman and president Chris Kermode's contract after it expires at the end of 2019. The decision came two days after the ATP's 10-member player council met for more than six hours and voted to recommend that the governing body of men's tennis not renew Kermode's contract.

Thursday afternoon, ATP Player Council president Novak Djokovic faced the media at the BNP Paribas Open and began to address the question on everyone's mind: Why?

"It was decided that it's time for us to look into new leadership on the tour," Djokovic said during a 15-minute news conference that oscillated between questions regarding the decision on Kermode's future and Djokovic's stunning past nine months. The world No. 1 became visibly agitated when he was pressed to give his personal opinion on the decision and was asked why he hadn't reached out to Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer -- a former player council president -- to gauge their opinions on the topic.

"I will not express my personal views as being for or against," Djokovic said in response to the former. "By sharing that information, I expose myself and become liable to breach of confidentiality. I'm not willing to risk that. I respect the governing structure that is bigger than me."

Instead, Djokovic, who has been player council president since August 2016, spoke about a general need for "major changes" and acknowledged that, as the No. 1-ranked men's player, the interest of players is foremost on his mind. When asked to elaborate on those major changes, Djokovic spoke about the ATP's governing structure, which he called "a bit flawed."

"When you have three votes of the player board and three votes of the tournament board, the president is a tiebreaker in many voting circumstances," Djokovic said. "And in most of the cases, there is a conflict of interest. That is something I feel like, as a group, we need to address."

This has been a weighty concern for the players who believed it was time for a change. They simply didn't believe Kermode was putting their needs above the needs of the tournaments. In January, player council member Vasek Pospisil sent an email to players ranked between Nos. 50 and 100, telling them to "start acting and running like a business not like a bunch of scared kids. ... We need a CEO that first and foremost represents OUR interests."

To that, Swiss player Stan Wawrinka replied, at one point typing in all caps, "YOU NEED TO LOOK AT THE CURRENT DIRECTION LAST 5 YEARS AND ACCEPT IT IS GOOD AND MOVING IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION." Both emails became public and, thus, a player rift was born.

"It's hard to define what all the major changes [we want] are," Djokovic said on Thursday. "We are already experiencing major changes. But there are a lot of things happening internally that need to be addressed."

As for Federer and Nadal, Djokovic said communication is a two-way street. "It goes both ways, right? If they wanted to talk about something, they could also approach me and talk," Djokovic said. "I talked with Rafa last September and November, and I don't see any reason why he would not approach me or any other member of the player council. We've been selected and elected by Federer and Nadal and everyone else to represent the players' best interests."

"There are a lot of things happening internally that need to be addressed."
Novak Djokovic

On Wednesday, Nadal echoed his own comments from earlier this year, saying he believed Kermode should stay. "I believe in long-term projects," Nadal said. "You see my career, my life. I am not a very big fan of changing things very often. When you change, you go through a process where the new president needs time to create a team, to do things. In my opinion, by changing the president, we stop the process of improving our sport."

During Kermode's six-year tenure, prize money increased and the Next Gen ATP Finals and the ATP Cup, which debuts in 2020, were created. "It's been a privilege to serve as ATP Executive Chairman & President since 2014 and I'm very proud of what we have achieved during this time," Kermode said in a media release. "I remain fully dedicated to the role for the remainder of my term and wish the organisation every success in the future."

Federer was less forthcoming than Nadal. In his pre-tournament news conference Wednesday, the 20-time Grand Slam champ said that he had not spoken to Djokovic since arriving at Indian Wells and added, "I don't think it matters what I say, because it won't change the outcome. It's the politics of tennis, and I don't need to get involved."

Although the player council vote was not the final word, it served as a guide for the ATP's three tournament and three player representatives, who voted on Kermode's future on Thursday. In the end, though, the player council's collective voice was heard.

Now the process begins to answer the next question on everyone's mind: Who's next?

"Chris is going to stay in this role until the end of the year, so we have time for the search process," Djokovic said. "It is going to commence very soon, and the player council will be informed of the candidates. There is no indication at the moment of who that might be. It's going to take time, but hopefully we can have plenty of quality candidates to choose from."