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Novak Djokovic has defended a plot to form a breakaway group from the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP), drawing stinging criticism from a former world No. 1 and calls for unity from aces including Rafael Nadal.

The world’s leading male player has been pilloried for a plan to create a new rebel group, the Professional Tennis Players Association (PTPA), that would represent male players, announced in an email to players last week.

Former doubles world number one Todd Woodbridge berated the scheme for ignoring the Women’s Tennis Association and claimed it had “totally missed the mark”, while Djokovic’s main rivals, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, added that they would not be joining him.

“It’s just poor judgment at this time,” insisted Australian doubles great Woodbridge, speaking on Sport Sunday.

After yesterday’s successful meeting, we are excited to announce the beginning of the Professional Tennis Players Association (PTPA). The first player only association in tennis since 1972. #PTPApic.twitter.com/q8H0aOdqDl

The Professional Tennis Players Association (PTPA) did not emerge to be combative, to disrupt, or to cause any issues within or outside the tennis tour. Simply to unify the players, have our voices heard & have an impact on decisions being made that effect our lives & livelihoods

“Everybody’s losing jobs, millions are out of work, tournaments are struggling to stay up and afloat, and the tour’s been trying for the last six months to get back.

“But there’s the biggest downfall of all and that’s … where are the women? If you’re going to do this, tennis is the one sport that’s united in the world with equal prize money. Our majors are played together.

“This is tone deaf by the group that have decided to break away. The ATP is the players’ representation.

“They’ve got their seat at the table; they want more, they want more control of that.

“This is the first week back and they throw this sort of bomb out there? I’m pretty disappointed with the way that they’ve gone with that timing.”

The world is living a difficult and complicated situation. I personally believe these are times to be calm and work all of us together in the same direction. It is time for unity, not for separation.

These are moments where big things can be achieved as long as the world of tennis is united. We all, players, tournaments and governing bodies have to work together. We have a bigger problem and separation and disunion is definitely not the solution.

I agree @RafaelNadal. These are uncertain and challenging times, but I believe it’s critical for us to stand united as players, and as a sport, to pave the best way forward. https://t.co/foAmiLVrdV

Djokovic has resigned as president of the ATP Players’ Council president to pursue his plan, declaring himself and Canadian world No. 94 Vasek Pospisil as the first co-presidents of the group alongside up to nine trustees.

World number two Rafael Nadal tweeted his misgivings at a “difficult and complicated” time for the world.

“I personally believe these are times to be calm and all work together in the same direction,” said the Spaniard.

“It is time for unity, not for separation. These are moments where big things can be achieved as long as the world of tennis is united.

“Players, tournaments and governing bodies have to work together. We have a bigger problem and separation and disunion is definitely not the solution.”

Hell of a tennis player. May go unbeaten in 2020, can’t take that away from him. Unfortunately when he was supposed to show some leadership and humility he went missing. Majority would say he has taken an L regardless. https://t.co/UjZ9LbHTj3

What about women? What is the point of this association? I don’t understand because it seems as an end in itself.

World number four Roger Federer echoed Nadal’s sentiments, adding: “I believe it’s critical for us to stand united as players, and as a sport, to pave the best way forward.”

Speaking after winning the Cincinnati Masters, Djokovic defended himself by explaining that he was not “calling for boycotts” or “forming parallel tours.”

“Of course, I would love to have Roger and Rafa on board,” he acknowledged. “I would love to have all the players on board.

“But I understand. I truly understand that some of them have different opinions and they don’t think the time is right.”

Novak fighting for more money, @naomiosaka fighting for social justice.

Why? So Novak challenges the status quo and he is the bad guy? Federer is a snob who travels by private jet. Novak despite being super rich is using his star power to help lower ranked players. Novak is a good man.

Woodbridge said the absence of any provisions for female players would be Djokovic’s “downfall” – an issue also identified by former Grand Slam champion Andy Murray.

“The fact [is] that the women aren’t part of it,” said Murray, speaking ahead of the start of the US Open on Monday.

“I feel like [restructuring] would send a much more powerful message if the WTA were on board with it, as well. That’s not currently the case.”

With Nadal and Federer withdrawn, Serbian star Djokovic is the overwhelming favourite for the tournament in New York, although Woodbridge warned that his off-court controversies could threaten his continued supremacy at the top of the sport.

Thank you for all your positive energy and support. Thanks to everyone here in New York who made @CincyTennis possible again. It feels really good to be back 🏆 #idemooo#teamdjokovic#nolefam#cincytennispic.twitter.com/tT6OXMjrJK

Idemooooooo 🇷🇸 https://t.co/jpXCYKT2yJ

Djokovic initially suggested that health measures and restrictions drawn up to protect players during the pandemic were “extreme”, then hit the headlines as his Adria Tour event resulted in a string of positive coronavirus tests in June, causing the infected organizer to issue a groveling apology.

“He’s by far and away the best player at the moment and it’s his to lose, really,” suggested Woodbridge.

“He can try and deflect all the pressure that he wants but he really is the best player.

“He’s creating a lot of interest because there’s a lot of off-court stuff going off too that’s going to make it hard for him to keep focused as we get into the US Open.”