MUMBAI (Reuters) - Novak Djokovic has called on the tennis world to contribute to a relief fund for players struggling financially during the coronavirus shutdown and to show lower-ranked professionals that they have not been forgotten.
The men’s ATP Tour, the WTA, which runs the women’s circuit, along with the International Tennis Federation and organisers of the four Grand Slams, are creating a fund to help players affected by the shutdown.
The tennis season was suspended in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the shutdown will continue at least until mid-July, depriving lower-level players, who depend solely on tournament winnings, of the chance to earn a living.
ATP Player Council chief Djokovic had previously proposed a model for higher-ranked players to donate funds after holding discussions with fellow council members Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal.
“I am really privileged to be able to use my status of being a top player that can, in this times, raise the awareness of players that are struggling,” the world number one said during an Instagram chat with Italy’s Fabio Fognini on Tuesday.
“I personally have earned enough money to live for many more years without playing tennis.”
Djokovic did not want to disclose the size of the fund before an official announcement was made but said several million dollars would be raised.
“Players individually can help as much as they want,” said Djokovic. “It’s difficult to pressure players into giving money, whatever their ranking is.
“I understand that there are differences in opinions. So I invite anybody who likes tennis, who wants tennis to survive as a sport (to donate).”
While tennis is a lucrative sport for those at the top, those in the lower echelons often struggle to make ends meet.
Djokovic, a 17-times Grand Slam champion who has earned some $144 million in career prize money, said he had heard many players were contemplating giving up the sport.
“This is a significant issue for our sport,” the 32-year-old Serb said.
“The sport has to think how we will expand the base. We have to expand this number as much as we can.
“I feel that the players should show the solidarity and show the unity in this moment, show these lower-ranked players that we do not forget about them.”
Djokovic did not expect to see regular tournaments starting again soon as players would be unable to travel freely due to restrictions imposed to contain the spread of the new coronavirus.
“I think there will be more regional prize money tournaments. I think this is what’s going to happen very soon,” he said, adding that those events were unlikely to award ranking points.
Editing by Peter Rutherford