Wednesday, June 25, 2003
Updated: June 29, 9:47 AM ET
Drysdale led ATP in 1973 walkout
By Cliff Drysdale
Special to ESPN.com
Editor's note: In 1973, the ATP led by then president Cliff Drysdale boycotted Wimbledon, pulling out the morning play was to begin. Almost 80 players, including 13 of 16 seeds, withdrew. Today, the ATP is considering another walkout if an agreement cannot be reached with the four major tournaments.
I don't think there's a lot of difference between the situation in 1973 and today's confrontation between the ATP and the four major tournaments. It wasn't about money 30 years ago; it was about control of the game. It was making decisions in a professional way and not being under control of amateur officials.
Today, it sounds and looks like it is about money, and if that's all it's about, I'm against it. But I don't think that's what it's all about. The ATP is saying that the Slams contribute a much lower percentage of their total budget to player compensation than other tournaments. So they want the compensation to be greater. Again, that makes it sound like a purely prize money issue. What I'd like to see is the upgrading of tennis tournaments and the game generally in the rest of the world, especially in countries that do not host a Slam.
What it's about is the Slams' obligation and understanding that the health of the ATP tour, and tennis generally, directly affects the majors. They need to understand their obligation to help the rest of the game because they make a lot of money. To me, this means piggybacking the Slams with more viable annual yearlong television schedule, and making sure that the profits from the Slams get distributed worldwide and not just in four countries.
The boycott in 1973 was about national associations being able to control their players, which was crazy. The week after the Wimbledon walkout, it was changed. If it had been done two weeks earlier, then there never would have been any Wimbledon walkout.
The question then was very cut and dried, and virtually every player agreed with the ATP position. And my sense is that the solidarity between players is about the same now. So the threat is real as it was then.
However the ATP is talking to the USTA as the U.S. Open is the next slam. My feeling is there will be a compromise because the USTA is the most pragmatic and forward-looking Slam.
The public reacted to the players very negatively then, and there's no way they could win the PR battle then and they won't win it now. But it's worth the risk.