Ahmad Nassar was named the first executive director of the PTPA.

The Professional Tennis Players Association was introduced in 2020 on a sweltering August day during the US Open. It was the first significant player empowerment action in 35 years, or since the “parking lot press conference” that led to the formation of the ATP Tour.

That earlier revolt was led by Mats Wilander and John McEnroe; the more recent one, and the PTPA itself, was the brainchild of Novak Djokovic and fellow ATP pro Vasek Pospisil. The key difference: the 1988 rebellion was a push to take over the tour (mission accomplished), the PTPA mutiny germinated in a growing sense that the players had created a tour in which their voice is too often ignored.

“I don’t think ATP structure and system is helping players. It has been proven many times in the past that this system is going against players,” Djokovic said in 2020, referring to the ATP’s decision-making Board of Directors. The Board consists of eight members: four player reps (supported by a large player council) and four tournament reps. The tiebreaking vote in the event of a 4-4 vote belongs to the chairman of the tour, former pro Andrea Gaudenzi.

Djokovic added: “Various presidents and management tried to do different things over the years. And of course, some good things were done for our tour, without a doubt. ... [But] this is the first time after many, many years that players will have 100% their own association that will represent them in the tennis ecosystem.”


The PTPA has taken great strides since it was introduced. It now boasts 500-plus members. Yet few people really understand what it aims to do in real-world terms, how it can get those things done, or how it fits into that tennis “ecosystem.” Is the PTPA a threat to the ATP or WTA? Is it a proto-union of some kind? How is it financed?

TENNIS.com sought to get answers to those and more questions in a comprehensive interview with the PTPA’s executive director, and former NFL Players’ Inc. President, Ahmad Nassar. It was so comprehensive, in fact, that we are presenting it in three parts.


In an ideal world, it should be viewed as a critical and necessary partner to the ATP and the WTA. But if you're going to ignore players, don't be surprised if bad things happen.

BODO: Greetings, Ahmad. It has been an exciting year in tennis, with some significant dissension surfacing at the end of the year on both tours and at the WTA Finals. What does this say about governance in tennis, and does it help make your case that tennis needs an organization like the PTPA?

NASSAR: There's always going to be issues that cry out for input from the players, but they often don’t get resolved because the tournaments are independent. And then you have two separate tours and the four Grand Slams, which are also independent. There’s a lot of fragmentation. And the players are just whipsawing across the globe in a way that doesn't really make sense in terms of the schedule, geography and travel.

If you're not the person dealing with that, the way a player and his or her team are, you may not care about that. In reality, it may not be your job to care. And so it is our job to care because as the PTPA, that's the* only* thing we do. We look at every issue from the perspective of the players.

Do you think the current ATP/WTA model is flawed, or outdated?

I don’t think the current model works. This is not unique to tennis. Just look at golf, right? Golf had a similar structure and it didn't do the players any good (hence LIV Golf). Tennis players have been left behind over the last 30 years. It started as a noble concept (in 1988) of, “Okay, this is a player-owned tour.” But over time, the players lost control of the structure.

The tours should be seen like leagues—the NBA and the MLB and the NFL. They make the rules. They make the schedule. They do all the things that event planners and governing bodies do. And then you have the players, represented collectively by one body—a player's association that negotiates on all the things on their behalf: The schedule when it comes to, say, late night matches. Health and benefits. Prize money. The balls tournaments use and all that stuff. That's how it works in other sports. And it's a model that's worked really, really well.

Once the tennis players make their discontent known, people do take notice. The WTA recently announced that, responding to player complaints, it is looking into establishing a standard ball. There's not a player that would disagree with adopting a single ball, at least by surface, but who is pushing to make that happen? That would fall to the PTPA.


The obvious question is, what is the source of the PTPA’s power, and how can it be implemented to drive change and accumulate clout with the major stakeholders?

That's definitely the billion-dollar question. First and foremost, tennis players are in a stronger position than other athletes in that they are not on teams. The strength of the PTPA comes from men and the women banding together and advocating for their organization to be empowered and demanding change within the structure of tennis right now. And we've started to get traction on that.

This entire year has been about explaining our vision, getting a staff in place, building credibility with the players. We’ve been explaining how we can help all of these people who are interacting with players on a regular basis. This is a multi-decade project, so it isn’t necessarily going to lead to immediate change, even though there are things we can do in an immediate time frame, like with the WTA Finals. [Ed. note: see later].

Over time, the way we force change in the system will come in a number of different ways. Some legal issues have already given us leverage, given the flawed governance structure. Realizing commercial opportunities for the PTPA will create leverage. And then there’s the public relations piece. The more people realize how tennis is set up, the more they ask, “Why?”

When the PTPA was formed it appeared that the organization posed an existential threat to the ATP and WTA. Can you characterize your current relations to those organizations?

The PTPA is not necessarily an existential threat to the ATP and WTA. In an ideal world, it should be viewed as a critical and necessary partner to the ATP and the WTA. But if you're going to ignore players, don't be surprised if bad things happen.

We have made significant outreach to both the ATP and the WTA, but we’re not on the same side of the table. They really predominantly represent the tournaments and the tours and their commercial partners. We represent the players. It ebbs and it flows. There's been some moments of collaboration and very friendly dialogue. There are some times where there's a little bit of a batten-down-the-hatches mentality. The WTA Finals was certainly an example of that.


This year's WTA Finals in Cancun came under fire from the players.

This year's WTA Finals in Cancun came under fire from the players.

Q: Yes, let’s drill down into that situation in Cancun.

NASSAR: There was a letter that the vast majority of the Top 20 WTA players signed or supported, outlining a whole bunch of requests. It wasn’t an airing of grievances, but about being more productive and responsive to the players’ need. The players were dissatisfied with the response.

Q: There was no response, right?

NASSAR: There was no formal response, at least initially. And that led to a follow-up letter from us, from the PTPA. I signed it and sent it to Steve [Simon, then-CEO]. That led to a couple of meetings between the WTA and some players and a follow up with me and Steve directly. Given all the problems in Cancun [with infrastructure, the weather, attendance] the players were asking, ‘Why are we here?” Steve didn't exactly give a full-throated defense.

As a player, you're saying, “Well, this is supposed to be the pinnacle of the year. It's supposed to be the best and certainly the biggest final event of the year, and you work all year to make it to this event.” And then the court in Cancun wasn’t finished until the day before the event. It turned out to produce weird bounces. Gusts of wind were blowing the players’ visors off during matches because it was still hurricane season. Attendance was lackluster. It was almost comical but it was so sad, especially because the previous year’s finals in Fort Worth was also problematic.

I get that the WTA was hit with a double whammy by Covid and [the rift with] China going into 2023. But two years on a row? How did we end up, without a WTA Finals venue until deep into, or right after, the US Open? Can you imagine the NBA Finals, or NFL’s Super Bowl, or any pinnacle end-of-the-season event, having these issues not one but two years in a row?

This dovetails with what we were just talking about before, because I think what the players are frustrated by more than anything is the lack of accountability across the tennis ecosystem, and the lack of a voice just for the players. Accountability and voice are really the two cornerstones of what the PTPA exists for.

In Part 2, we’ll look at the voice the players currently have in tennis, the tricky question of unionization and boycott, and how the PTPA could create additional income opportunities for its members.