ANYONE for tennis? Novak Djokovic might have assumed he was here to answer questions about his defence of his Wimbledon singles title, which begins on Centre Court today against Philipp Kolschreiber of Germany.

Instead, the Serb quickly found himself sidetracked into attempting to untangle the toxic and complex political situation which currently pervades at the top of the men’s tour. In particular, he was asked to explain his role in a seven-hour meeting of the ATP council on Friday night, which led to four representatives – including our very own Jamie Murray – offering their resignation.

A Gordian knot of such proportions that it makes recent machinations in the SFA boardroom or the Conservative Party seem like small beer, there now follows a brief precis of the issues at stake. Please pay attention at the back.


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Essentially, the seven-man ATP board (three player reps, three tournament reps and an executive chairman) has been paralysed due to a split between former Queen’s Club tournament director Chris Kermode and disgraced former player Justin Gimelstob.

The former was ousted as exec chairman in March – the victim of a coup thought to have been backed by Djokovic, who wants the top players to have more voting power – while the latter stepped down as a board member in May, his position having become untenable following a conviction for assault.

While a suitable replacement is sought for Kermode – no easy task – this most recent meeting was aimed at finding an interim board rep to stand in for Gimelstob, with the two candidates put forward being former world No.6 Nicolas Lapentti of Ecuador and former ATP exec Weller Evans.

With the ranks of the player council evenly split on both candidates, it fell to the other two player reps on the board – David Egdes and Alex Inglot – to cast their vote in favour of Evans. However it all went down at the end of seven long hours, it was a decision which Jamie, Andy Murray’s former coach Dani Vallverdu, Dutchman Robin Haase and Ukraine’s Sergiy Stakhovsky couldn’t live with.


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A story which seems set to rumble on through this year’s Wimbledon, it clearly is something Djokovic feels strongly about. Otherwise, why subject yourself to punishing seven-hour meetings and lengthy interrogations in the interview room about it on the eve of a Grand Slam?

But then, if you can play a five-hour 2012 Australian Open semi-final against Andy Murray which finished beyond midnight then come out the next day and win a six-hour final against Rafa Nadal, you know that no-one is better at lasting through these gruelling affairs than the Serb.

“First of all, I understand the resignation from Robin, Jamie, Dani, especially after the last couple of meetings, and the one that happened on Saturday night, which went on post-midnight and started at 5pm,” said Djokovic. “For all of us taking part in this tournament, staying for seven hours and not going through the whole agenda yet is quite tiring.

“I did consider also stepping down,” he added. “I think my team wants me to step down, honestly. It’s obvious, but I feel something is telling me from inside that I’m supposed to still stay there because I feel that we are part of the big transitional phase in tennis at the moment.

“Having a top player I feel means a lot to the group because under the current structure and system, player council, group of 10 players, is representing 100-plus players around the world.”


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Always more respected than loved at this venue, the whole affair only adds to the perception of the Serb being some sort of pantomime villain, an evil genius working towards some malign masterplan while stroking a cat and laughing.

It certainly is a feat of some mastery to have become so proficient on grass courts when there isn’t a single one in his homeland.

“I think I was 17 when I played on grass for the first time,” he said. “It was here, obviously, in England.”

Having sampled the grass in his time-honoured fashion four times at this venue, Djokovic has the taste for further success.

And one of the key ingredients is making it through the early stages by expending a minimum of effort. As much of a boon as it is to be in a different half to both Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal, the impressive Felix-Auger Aliassime is a potential fourth round opponent and Stefanos Tsitsipas a potential quarter final opponent.

But all in all, the bad news for everyone else is Djokovic is in far better shape than he was 12 months ago, political intrigues notwithstanding. “Obviously I’m approaching this year’s Wimbledon as defending champion, No.1 in the world,” he said. “Last year I was in the top 20, but I did drop out of the top 20 after the French Open. The win at Wimbledon last year gave me that push and was also a huge relief.”