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Big Three’ lead the way with tennis aid

The “Big Three” of tennis are banding together to organise financial aid for lower-ranked players struggling with the paralysis of the game due to the coronavirus pandemic.

World No. 1 Novak Djokovic revealed on an Instagram Live video chat with three-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka on Saturday that he had roped in second-ranked Rafael Nadal and record 20-time Major winner Roger Federer to help those most in need.

“I spoke to Roger and Rafa a few days ago,” he said. “We had a long conversation about the near future of tennis, what is going to happen, how we can contribute and how we can help, especially lower-ranked players, who are obviously struggling the most.

“The majority of the players who are ranked between 200nd, 250th in the world, and the 700th or 1,000th do not have federation support, do not have sponsors.

“They are completely independent and left alone. Guys who are ranked between 200 to 250, especially to 700… are thinking of leaving tennis right now.”

The 17-time Slam champion said his top-tier peers, the ATP Tour and the four Grand Slams “would all get together and will contribute to a player relief fund that ATP will distribute”.

“It looks, hopefully, that there will something between US$3 million and US$4.5 million (S$6.4 million) that is going to be distributed,” he said.

The Serb added the money could come from the prize money for the season-ending ATP Finals or the final bonus pools for top players, and the “Big Three” were also willing to explore additional avenues to top up the fund.

“Maybe if we don’t have any (more) tournaments this season, we can take a certain percentage from our prize money from the Australian Open in January,” he said. “These guys are the grassroots of tennis. The future of tennis. We need to show them they still can rely on support of the top guys.”

According to reports, Djokovic, as president of the ATP Players’ Council, which also includes Federer and Nadal, has also put forth a proposal to members who are in the top 100 in singles and the top 20 in doubles.

They are to contribute based on rankings, with the proposed scale running from US$30,000 for a top-five player to US$5,000 for those between 51 and 100.

That would raise approximately US$1 million and the ATP will make a similar contribution.

Last Friday, ATP chief Andrea Gaudenzi said: “Our guys are at home, obviously unable to play, unable to earn money, so we will try to help. I’ve been quite touched by the top players who reached out… It would be a great message for the sport.”

Tennis, like other major sports, has been at a standstill since last month. With both the ATP and WTA Tours not resuming until mid-July at the earliest, Nadal and Patrick Mouratoglou, who is the coach of 23-time Major winner and former world No. 1 Serena Williams, plan to stage matches at their respective academies.

While the Rafael Nadal Academy, which is based on the Spanish island of Mallorca, said on its website that it is in talks with the ATP on how to proceed, Mouratoglou has unveiled an independent “league” of 50 matches at his academy near Nice, France, with “millions of US dollars in prize money”.

The Frenchman said the “Ultimate Tennis Showdown” would be held behind closed doors, with 10 matches broadcast live, and is set to start on May 16 with a matchup between world No. 10 David Goffin and rising talent Alexei Popyrin.

Mouratoglou added it will “reinvent the way tennis is usually experienced and consumed” as on-court coaching and video coaching would be allowed – something that is banned by the ATP.

Fans watching remotely can also interact in real time with the players and listen to conversations between the players and coaches.

Popyrin is currently based at Mouratoglou’s academy and if the French lockdown, which ends on May 11, is not extended, then players could conceivably travel to play in the tournament.