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Novak Djokovic, Tunisian world No. 2 Ons Jabeur and six other top players will form the first executive committee of the Professional Tennis Players Association (PTPA) as it fights for a seat at the table with the sport’s governing organizations.

The committee, set to be announced ahead of next week’s Australian Open, also includes its Canadian co-founder Vasek Pospisil, Polish world No. 11 Hubert Hurkacz, Americans John Isner and Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Spaniard Paula Badosa and China’s Zheng Saisai.

It is a critical step forward for the players’ body which has divided the tennis world – putting powerhouse Djokovic opposite the sport’s old guard – as it accelerates plans to create a “true seat” at the negotiating table.

“There’s every indicator out there now that this will be a huge moment for our sport,” Pospisil told Reuters.

“Every player that we have on there is so respected, very well liked, intelligent … They’ll be huge assets and we’re very lucky that they’ve joined.”

It is more than two years since Serbia’s Djokovic and Pospisil sent shock waves through tennis when they stepped down from the ATP player council and announced the breakaway group.

The ATP, which runs the men’s tour, and several players bristled at the move and the sport’s governing bodies have yet to publicly embrace the idea.

Djokovic said the PTPA could co-exist with the ATP, which was set up by players in 1972 but now has a board including equal representation for tournament owners.

“Ultimately, I could see why they would want to keep the status quo,” said Pospisil. “[But] I think it’s only fair and right that players have their association just as, you know, most other sports do.”

INDEPENDENT CONTRACTORS

Player associations are nothing new in professional sports. But unlike the NFL and NBA, where players participate in labour unions, tennis players operate as independent contractors.

Djokovic told reporters last week in Adelaide, Australia, that he hoped more players would recognize the potential of the PTPA, adding “this association needs to live.”

Executive director Ahmad Nassar said one key challenge has been getting across to people what the PTPA is.

“It’s an advocacy group on behalf of tennis players. Okay, cool story. But then what? What does that mean?” he told Reuters. “I think we have to answer that.”

That answer is a set of guiding principles, which are expected to be revealed on Wednesday, that include topics ranging from player welfare to their right to organize.

The simmering tension between the PTPA and the sport’s old guard comes amid a brutal rift in golf, where the Saudi-backed breakaway LIV tour lured top talent from the long-standing PGA Tour, prompting a legal battle and war of words.

Nassar added that while the PTPA had no interest in setting up a “LIV tour of tennis” itself, it would be willing to discuss any proposals that would increase players’ income if approached.

“We’d engage with anybody who was interested in making sure the players were compensated more fairly, and more players are able to make a living playing the sport they love.”

The executive committee comes together at a pivotal time for the PTPA, which in August launched its for-profit arm.

Nassar said an annual budget of US$5-million to US$10-million was needed to do the work for athletes spread around the world, although it has no immediate plans to charge dues.

“It’s important for us, you know, even $50 or $100 [dues] to not have that to start to really demonstrate, ‘Hey, we exist to benefit the group of professional tennis players, men and women’, and to show that, prove it,” he said.

“And then, you know, if it makes sense at some later point to be able to charge dues, maybe we do that.”

Reporting by Amy Tennery in New York and Shrivathsa Sridhar; Editing by Ken Ferris