MELBOURNE • Novak Djokovic, the first player to pass US$100 million (S$132.2 million) in prize money, sent a shiver through the Australian Open on an overcast day one when it was suggested he is fomenting a players' pay revolt that could split the game wide open.
The Serb, a six-time Melbourne Park winner who lives in the tax haven of Monte Carlo, is said to have made the demand for a significant rise in prize money at a mandated players' meeting last Friday, ahead of a tournament already preparing to double prize money over the next five years to more than A$100 million (S$105 million).
Tennis Australia officials and representatives of the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) were asked politely to leave the room, according to a report in The Daily Mail, and Djokovic introduced a lawyer who outlined the case.
There was allegedly talk of forming a breakaway players' union, separate from the ATP, the body headed by Chris Kermode, who is known to favour reducing the number of players on the Tour.
Neither Kermode, the ATP nor Tennis Australia were prepared to comment yesterday until they had confirmation of the demands from Djokovic himself.
The former world No. 1, seeded 14th after a six-month break to heal an elbow injury, is scheduled to open his Australian Open campaign today against American Donald Young. He was not available for comment yesterday.
Among some 150 male players present at last Friday's meeting were Andy Murray, who is in Melbourne after his hip operation; defending champion Roger Federer, who is said to be sceptical about the move; and world No. 1 Rafael Nadal.
Earlier, the players listened to a Tennis Australia plan to almost double prize money for the season's opening major from A$55 million to A$100 million.
The four Grand Slams - the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open - are official championships of the International Tennis Federation and are not run by the ATP.
Many leading players regard their remuneration to be out of kilter with other sports, particularly golf.
The riches are considerable at the top, but minuscule outside the top 100, and a breakaway would undermine the authority of the ATP.
The governing body of the men's professional tennis circuits, which has existed in its current player-tournament partnership since 1990, represents the combined but sometimes conflicting interests of the players and the tournaments.