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The case centred on whether a representation agreement signed when he was 15 years old for 11 years (with commissions paid for 16 years), between Zverev and Ace, amounted to an unenforceable restraint of trade. Ace capitulated on the second day of the hearing, giving up c. $1.4 Million to prevent the matter going to a conclusion.
In 2012, at the age of 15, Alexander Zverev entered into a contract with professional sports agency Ace. When Zverev made the decision to leave Ace in 2019, the agency maintained that the contract granted them the right to act as Alexander’s agent, on an exclusive basis, until December 2023, when Alexander would be 26. On top of this, Ace argued that after the contract would have terminated in 2023, Zverev would remain liable to make commission payments to the agency potentially until 2028, at which point Zverev would be 31. This would result in a 16 year financial commitment for Zverev to ACE, encompassing almost the whole of Zverev's professional career. This would clearly have substantial commercial ramifications for Zverev.
Howard Kennedy, acting for Alexander Zverev, advised that the contract that purported to shackle the tennis star was unfair and oppressive, amounting to an unenforceable restraint of trade. As such, Alexander Zverev was entitled to leave the agency at any time.
A claim to the UK High Court was brought by Zverev on the basis that the restraints that the contract imposed upon him were not justified as reasonable as they went well beyond the reasonable protection of Ace's legitimate interests.
Ace defended the claim, retaining the opinion that the contract was enforceable. Ace also issued a counterclaim on the grounds of breach of contract by Alexander Zverev and made a claim against the tennis player's parents, who had guaranteed the contract in 2012.
On the morning of the second day of trial, almost two years after Alexander Zverev first looked to end the professional relationship between himself and Ace, the agency capitulated.
The result of the settlement is that Alexander Zverev is free from any obligations under the representation agreement and relieved from making substantial payments to ACE for work done by it and for which, as a matter of law, he would otherwise be liable for. Furthermore, ACE's substantial counterclaim stands dismissed.
After winning the case Alexander Zverev commented:
"I hope by fighting this battle successfully we will raise awareness among up-and-coming players, and their families, that some professional sports agents do not always act in the best interest of them. I also hope that in the future we will be able to help young sportswomen and men should they face similar challenges that we have just overcome."
Alexander Zverev's legal team at Howard Kennedy comprised partners Mark Stephens, Tim Bignell and Elizabeth Morley together with legal director Ayesha Salim, associate Hannah Hooper and trainee Jack Richards. Counsel, instructed by Howard Kennedy, were Anya Proops QC and Zac Sammour both of 11KBW. Pete Hackleton and James Taylor of Saffery Champness accountants were retained in respect of the expert evidence that would have been led at trial.
This case stands as a salutary warning to all young sports people everywhere to obtain wise professional advice before signing onerous contracts which may be expensive to extract themselves from.
Alex Zverev, World no.7 Tennis player
I hope by fighting this battle successfully we will raise awareness among up-and-coming players, and their families, that some professional sports agents do not always act in the best interest of them.