The battle lines for control of men's tennis are likely to be drawn next week when the Men's International Pro Council meets here.
The nine-member council will be asked by Marshall Happer, its executive director, to consider legislation that would prevent agents who represent players from running Grand Prix tournaments.
"I think there is a conflict there," Happer said today. "The issue is fairness, fairness to the players and to the tournaments."
Specifically, Happer is taking on the two dominant player agents in the sport: ProServ Inc. and the International Management Group. Among the players ProServ represents are Jimmy Connors, Ivan Lendl, Andres Gomez, Aaron Krickstein, Yannick Noah and U.S. Davis Cup captain Arthur Ashe.
IMG represents Mats Wilander, Kevin Curren, Anders Jarryd, Joakim Nystrom and Bjorn Borg, who is retired. The group also represents Chris Evert Lloyd and Martina Navratilova.
In addition, both agencies run Grand Prix tournaments. ProServ runs three, IMG runs two. What's more, both are involved in sponsoring many tournaments and in negotiating TV rights for many others. Each group also runs several "special events," non-Grand Prix events that pay guarantees to players for participating.
When Happer proposed guidelines last spring that probably would have forced the two agencies to get out of the tournament business, IMG and ProServ, bitter rivals, joined forces. After an exchange of letters with the pro council, ProServ and then IMG joined a lawsuit filed by Volvo International (a ProServ client) against the council.
That lawsuit came about after Volvo lost its sponsorship of the Grand Prix and the Masters Tournament that climaxes the Grand Prix tour.
The ProServ/IMG portion of the suit alleges that the pro council is attempting to infringe on its rights as businessmen by forcing it out of tournaments.
"We have been involved in running tennis tournaments for 15 years," said Bob Kain, director of IMG's tennis. "Anybody who is successful in any business is going to have conflicts. It's a matter of how you handle it. We think we've helped the sport -- the pro council's sport -- by saving tournaments. We do a good job. You can't stop an agent from being an agent regardless of who he represents."
Donald Dell, president of ProServ, agreed with Kain. "No one is saying there aren't conflicts," he said. "But there are conflicts on the council, there are conflicts everywhere. Marshall Happer wants to be the commissioner of tennis and this is his way to trying to take control of the game."
Happer maintains that he doesn't care who controls the game but that ProServ and IMG have their hands in too many things. "Even if they are the most honest, ethical people in the world, how can they run a tournament and be fair to everyone when some of the players are their clients and others are not?" he said.
Happer would at least like to remove the two agencies from running tournaments. He would not say today exactly what form his recommendation next week would take.
If the council adopts a recommendation that would remove IMG and ProServ either from running tournaments, sponsoring them or both, then the lawsuit goes ahead. A brief attempt to resolve the issues out of court in June went nowhere.
"I think this issue is too important to back down on," Happer said. "As long as player agents are involved in running tournaments there are going to be conflicts that simply aren't good for the game."
"If this had come up 10 years ago, it might have been different," Dell said. "But you can't just take the eggs and unscramble them. We tried from April to June to resolve this without a lawsuit but they were so arrogant we got nowhere."