Andy Murray has questioned why tennis still has no policy for dealing with allegations of domestic violence against active players. This uncomfortable subject returned to the news agenda when Murray was drawn against Nikoloz Basilashvili – the Georgian who is on trial for allegedly assaulting his wife – in Wimbledon’s first round.
Basilashvili’s case has been ongoing since late last year, and hearings are continuing in Tbilisi in his absence. Even as he walks onto Centre Court tomorrow afternoon, witnesses are expected to be giving testimony in a case which – according to the lawyers involved – could drag on for up to two years. Basilashvili denies the charges.
As he came into the interview room, Murray was asked whether tennis should emulate American football – which has a personal-conduct policy allowing it to suspend any player whose off-field behaviour threatens to bring the sport into disrepute – by taking a tougher stance on these issues.
Basilashvili’s case is one of two high-profile recent examples, as world No6 Alexander Zverev was accused of violence by his ex-girlfriend Olya Sharypova last year, although Sharypova declined to bring any charges. Zverev denied the allegations.
“For me there should be protocols and a process in place when allegations like this are made,” said Murray. “I don’t know exactly what those processes are exactly. From what I’ve heard, they’re not great. That’s something that the ATP, the governing bodies, the ITF [International Tennis Federation], the slams should be looking to implement in my opinion.”
The debate around Basilashvili has overshadowed Murray’s return to Wimbledon’s singles draw for the first time since he limped away from the 2017 quarter-final with agonising pain in his hip. On Friday night, he shared a hit and a practice set with his old rival Roger Federer – another former Wimbledon champion who is returning to SW19 this year with a few doubts over the structural integrity of his body.
“We were trying to think when the last time was when we shared a practice court together,” said Federer. “I thought it was the Australian Open in ’05 or something. He thought it was maybe Rome in ’06. We didn’t do it for a long time.
“I thought he looked good. You can see how comfortable he is on the grass. Clearly it’s just practise, we’re trying things. But I hope he can go deep here, have a nice run. Same for me.”
The practice set was hard fought and did not reach a conclusive result, with Murray leading by six games to five when their booked session on Court 14 ended. Speaking about the experience, Murray said it had been a privilege to hit with Wimbledon’s most decorated modern champion.
“Getting to play with Roger was really cool for me,” said Murray. “They’re the sort of things that probably like six, seven years ago I wouldn’t have given any thought to. I would have seen that as just being a practice session pre-major with a top player.
“When I take a step back from that, as a tennis fan, getting to play with Roger Federer two days before Wimbledon, it’s really great.”
So what about Murray’s performance level? “I’m not going out there and getting whacked. I’m competing well with all of the players that I practised with. That’s the really positive thing for me. I’m sure that if my body holds up that I can do well.”
Basilashvili’s power game will present a real challenge, but if Murray can somehow sneak through, he can look forward to a less controversial second-round match against a qualifier on Wednesday: either Oscar Otte of Germany or Arthur Rinderknech of France.
‘Did you hear that Federer, you punk!’ New tennis players’ board includes Novak Djokovic fanatic
One of the five “advisory board” members of the fledgling Professional Tennis Players’ Association – the controversial new body led by Novak Djokovic and Vasek Pospisil – is a passionate Djokovic fan whose social-media output includes savage verdicts on the other members of the so-called “Big Four”.
Dr Katarina Pijetlovic is a reader in sports law at Manchester Law School whose published work includes “EU Sports Law & Breakaway Leagues in Football”. Her Twitter account regularly retweets members of the Djokovic support group known as the NoleFam, and her own posts do little to support the PTPA’s stated intention to be a collaborative body.
When Djokovic beat Federer at last year’s Australian Open, Dr Pijetlovic posted “Did you hear that, Federer, you punk! You are playing a guy that beat the c— out of you 27 times and whom you haven’t beaten at a Grand Slam since 2008 [actually 2012]. Bow to the true legend!”
In August, Dr Pijetlovic added: “If tennis players were politically active, Roger and Rafa [Nadal] would be conservative rich elite bulls—–ting people so they can get even richer and more comfortable. Novak and Pospisil would be revolutionaries that kick ass. [Andy] Murray would say whatever is popular at the time.”
Dr Pijetlovic’s Twitter feed also includes multiple attacks on Federer for accepting sponsorship from Credit Suisse and for creating an independent event in the shape of the Laver Cup, which she called an “illegal conflict of interests. Not your good guy. Everyone else dances like marionettes for him. Especially journos.”
Dr Pijetlovic also changed her Twitter account from public to protected on Saturday afternoon.
The PTPA was founded by Djokovic and Pospisil at last year’s US Open after they became frustrated with their inability to influence the direction of the world game. As Djokovic said on Friday, during a webinar broadcast to the world’s media, “We want to be accepted, respected and acknowledged. That’s what we deserve as players.”
The project went quiet for several months after the PTPA’s original photoshoot in August, which featured around 60 male players congregating on Arthur Ashe Stadium. But it has returned this week with a more formalised structure, based in Pospisil’s home nation of Canada, and led by a new chief executive in Adam Larry – who previously worked for the National Hockey League Players’ Association.
“There’s many deals that are done behind closed doors,” Djokovic said on Friday. “Players at the end of the day are not in power and are not in a position to make any changes, or participate in a significant way in decision-making.”
The PTPA has been repeatedly denounced by the Association of Tennis Professionals – which has run the men’s tour since 1990 – as a threat to the health of the world game. Larry offered some conciliatory words yesterday, saying “We want to work collaboratively with the ATP, the WTA and the grand slams”, yet there is no sign that these established bodies have any interest in acknowledging the newcomers at this stage.
As to the membership, Larry told reporters that “We have hundreds of players representing all the tours, including over 70 per cent of the players on the ATP Tour.” Asked whether there are any similarly high-profile female players backing the organisation, Djokovic said that he had spoken to Serena Williams during the French Open and was planning to continue the conversation in London. He also described Williams’s husband Alex Ohanian, the co-founder of Reddit, as “a disruptor and very successful entrepreneur who has some ideas that he would like to share with us.”
Nine people are listed on the “Our Team” page on the new PTPA website, including Djokovic, Pospisil, Larry, Dr Pijetlovic and American hedge-fund owner Bill Ackman, who is understood to be a financial backer of the organisation.
The PTPA’s immediate focus is expressed in its slogan “Delay The Vote”. This refers to the ATP’s intention to push a new “30-Year Plan” through its board, aggregating media rights in a way that ATP president Andrea Gaudenzi promises will lead to greater prize money and a 50-50 profit-share between tournaments and players. However, ATP sources suggest that this vote will not be held this week in any case, and is more likely to be delayed until August’s US Open.
According to Larry, the ATP has not explained the 30-Year Plan adequately to its players. “We think there’s a lot in that plan that makes a lot of sense but there’s a lot in that plan that we just don’t know,” he said on Friday. “We’ve said a lot of times, it’s pretty clear to us that if we don’t have answers, how can a plan like this be voted on?