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ATP exhibition in Toronto shows a lack of trust in WTA's product

Photo: John Sommers II/Reuters

Feliciano Lopez was brought in to play an exhibition during the women's event in Montreal last week.

While eagerly awaiting more details about the plan for the roof over Arthur Ashe Stadium, here's this week's mailbag ...

What are your thoughts on Rogers Cup featuring two men's first-round losers (Feliciano Lopez and Bernard Tomic) in the prime spot on Thursday night at this big event (and other men's legends on other nights)? If I were part of the WTA, I would be outraged! This does not look good for women's tennis.
-- Stephen B., Toronto

• Since our neighbors to the north made the decision -- and we can argue its merits -- to hold the men's and women's Rogers Cup event the same week instead of in back-to-back weeks, there's been one weak link: Both genders draw well in Montreal. The men attract a good number of fans in Toronto, but the women in Toronto are a tough sell. The organizers have tried to goose ticket sales and interest by flying in "legends" to play exhibitions. (Pointedly, they were male legends. In 2011, a controversial slogan stated, "Come for the ladies, stay for the legends.")

This year, organizers went a step further, bringing in two of the ATP players who lost early in Montreal for an exhibition played on the main court at night.

This created several issues: Other women were deprived a chance to play a desirable session; the men were paid more than the women for that round, a fee of roughly $30,000 each; no women went to Montreal for a comparable exhibition; and because this sport does unintentional comedy and irony like no other, Billie Jean King learned of the exhibition during a joint news conference with WTA CEO Stacey Allaster in Toronto, where King was inducted into the Rogers Cup Hall of Fame last Wednesday.

What's more mystifying is that it comes at a time when the Masters Series promoters are agitating to roll back equal prize money, contending that the women simply don't bring enough value to merit comparable wages. For the life of me, I can't figure out why the WTA would sign off on this. If you really need to give customers more bang for their buck, bring in a magician or a dancing bear. Add a dunk tank or a Tilt-A-Whirl ride in the parking lot. Hire this woman, who mesmerized my daughter during a recent Knicks game.

But why on earth would you bring in two ATP players fresh from defeat in the next province over? Keeping a straight face and ignoring spin, is there a way to interpret this other than, "We need the cast-off dudes to enhance the experience"? It comes off as blazingly self-defeating and shows a lack of trust in your product. I can say this with certainty: The decision echoed with the ATP types who are opposed to paying women on par.

Why did chair umpire Mohamed Lahyani refuse to overrule himself after seeing the replay of Milos Raonic's foot touching the net on the Jumbotron? And why CAN he still refuse to overrule himself when the technology is there to show that he is flat-out wrong? Of course, none of this would be an issue had Raonic himself manned up and made the call on himself. The fact that he's regretful and apologetic a week after the incident against Juan Martin del Potro doesn't really alleviate gamesmanship.
-- Francesco, Somerville, N.J.

• We've said this again and again: If you have the technology to make the right call, why not use it? Once the replay indicated that Raonic had touched the net, why not empower the officials to reverse the call? Lahyani, to his credit, admitted the error but was essentially powerless to do anything about it. It was not a "replayable" offense. (I love his line, "The ball was dead to me." I know someone who's been watching too many mobster movies.)

Raonic clearly blew this, though. Once the replay indicated that he was in the wrong, a player has to concede the point. A prominent figure in golf texted me that night, "If Milos knowingly did something like that in golf, he'd be a pariah the rest of his career."

Tennis isn't quite as ... rigid? uptight? ... about these breaches, but Raonic definitely crossed an honor code here. And it will take a while to get over this. He has since apologized and chalked it up to cloudy judgment in the heat of battle. One is prone to cut him some slack. But -- I say this only semi-ironically -- let this be a lesson to all you players: These are real inflection points. Do the right thing and do the wrong and it will define you for a long time.

This is coming from someone who is not a Raonic fan -- nothing against the guy, but he's not my cup of tea in terms of tennis. But please, spare me the outrage on touching the net against del Potro. He's a good egg, was honest about what he did, and said he was sorry. This is a lame controversy, even by Canadian standards.
-- Yves, Montreal

• Lame, even by Canadian standards for controversy? What? You're the nation of Rob Ford, for heaven's sake! Don't sell yourself short. But again, is it a "controversy"? No. Not unlike Victoria Azarenka's taking a bogus medical timeout in the Australian Open semifinals, it was an act of regrettable gamesmanship compounded by a clumsy explanation. The players will move on, the fans will move on and, one hopes, when similar situations arise in the future, they'll make a different choice. Carry on, or whatever it is you do in Canada.

We see talk about crapshoots and asterisks as soon as a lady outside the top five wins a major title. Can we have it written down somewhere that the PGA Tour has now had 19 different winners in its last 21 majors, without such comments?
-- Don, London

• Good point, And, tangentially, it enables us to mention our stat of the day. Since February 2005 -- almost nine years ago -- the ATP's Big Four of Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal have divvied up every Grand Slam title, save one. That's 33 of the last 34 majors events. For comparison: in the same period, 24 different PGA golfers have won majors.

In support of the unlimited use of Hawk-Eye to adjudicate line calls on hard courts, a simple comparison to the clay-court approach to disputed calls is helpful. Players can request the chair umpire to climb down, view the mark in the clay, make a decision and return to the chair as often as desired. This time-consuming process is not limited to three incorrect challenges. What's the likelihood that the current, hard-court challenge system will change in the near future?
-- Ken, Souda Bay, Crete

• Opa! Good point. I would add: How often do we see players go a set without exhausting their ration of challenges, sometimes using none at all?

As a wild-eyed worshipper of Roger Federer, it drives me to distraction that we constantly have to hear about how Rafael Nadal has a record number of Masters titles. The whole ATP year is marketed as a race to the year-end championships, which in essence is the Grandest Masters Series of Them All, and arguably, the hardest to win. Yet, we only hear about Federer's record-setting ownership of this ostensible Crown of Crowns once a year when the year-end championships actually roll around. Shouldn't Federer be credited with 27 Masters Series titles (21 regular season and six year-end)?
-- Francoise de Quincampoix, New York

• If I've learned anything through the years, it's to avoid disagreement with Francoise de Quincampoix. Yes, we ought to consider Federer's record at the unfortunately named WTF event (World Tour Finals, of course). I would go a step further even and assert that part of being a champion is durability. For Federer to finish the year so strong so many times goes into his historical "plus" column.

Does John Isner ever have easy matches?
-- Joe Johnson, Easton, Pa.

• Does Will McAvoy avoid controversy?

What the hell is "sitting shiva"? Is that Hindi, Farsi or what? I know that it is not part of our lingua franca.
-- Dean Daggett

• So this isn't your car?

Shots, miscellany

• Helen of Philadelphia with her weekly submission: Roy Emerson on Roger Federer (translated from German): "I met him in Gstaad after he first won Wimbledon and received his first cow here. I said to him: 'I congratulate you for your Wimbledon victory. But even more, I congratulate you for what you did afterward.' He was taken back in surprise, 'What did I do?' I said, 'After the match you stayed down on the court with your opponent. You did not climb into the stands to celebrate with your parents, your girlfriend and your coach. You gave your opponent the respect he deserved. I liked that.' The player who started the nonsense to get to the stands after victories was Pat Cash. Since then, every idiot has imitated it. If you have class, you do not do it. The winner should think in moments like this about his opponent. It's terrible to sit down alone on the court and have to watch the other player as he celebrates. It's not fun. Federer promised me he would never emulate Cash. And he has kept his word."

• Regarding the quest for better tennis data, Wendy M. Grossman of London notes: "You could also send people to www.itftennis.com, which has historical records including the pro tour, ITF events and juniors."

• Collin Altamirano, 17, of Yuba City, Calif., and Sachia Vickery, 18, of Hollywood, Fla., earned U.S. Open wild cards for winning the USTA Boys' and Girls' 18s National Championships. Here's more from Colette Lewis.

• Monica Seles will be inducted into the U.S. Open Court of Champions on Sept. 8.

Here's an update of the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.

Two spots still available on John McEnroe's team for the New York City Marathon.

• Kent of Rye, N.Y.: "A quick note on the recent mailbag bemoaning so little professional tennis to enjoy in the United States. Most tennis fans don't seem to know how close they are to being able to see up close the bottom half (and, admittedly, lower) of the draw in person, with USTA Pro Circuit events taking place all around the country throughout the year. Just like the baseball minor leagues help keep fandom alive, so can the Challengers -- although it will probably require better marketing. Not that you need it, but the Pro Circuit link, and the self-serving link from a few years ago making the same point."

• @RomiCvitkovic has long-lost siblings: Grigor Dimitrov and British actor Ben Barnes.

• Finally, Todd Bird of Louisville is sending the following letter to the WTA. Agree or disagree, it's worth a read:

Dear Ms. Allaster,

In light of the recent laws passed and subsequent atrocities being perpetrated against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) people in Russia, I call upon the WTA and you as their CEO to take a stand and pull the sanctioning for the Kremlin Cup scheduled for October in Moscow.

The WTA bills itself as a global leader in professional sports and this is their chance to put their money where their mouth is, or more importantly, to take the money away and put the spotlight even brighter on the oppression of LGBT people by the Russian government. As an organization that has consistently been the pioneer for equality in sports world-wide, the WTA needs to stand up for the people who are demoralized, tormented, and silenced by fear of retribution. As the Winter Olympics approach, more attention is being focused on this issue, but it is becoming painfully obvious that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is more interested in quashing the noise and buying into the rhetoric of the Russian government that LGBT athletes and fans of the Sochi Olympics will be "safe" so long as they keep quiet and don't cause a stir. But that is not enough. It appears they only want to ensure there will be no disruptions or stains on their signature event. The IOC (and so far the Olympic committees from other countries) does not appear to want to get their hands dirty with this issue. They may be condemning the law with their words, but turning a blind eye with their actions. And even if the words of the Russian government are true and no LGBT athletes or fans are in danger "that is only for two weeks." What about the other 50 weeks of the year? What about the rest of the country?

As the WTA heads to Moscow, what assurances do the players and fans have that they will not face fines, discrimination and persecution? As of today, there may not be an openly LGBT star on tour, but if Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova, or Amelie Mauresmo were still playing, would the WTA feel comfortable sending them to the Kremlin Cup? Would the WTA ask Billie Jean to show up play and just keep her mouth shut? As a gay man and lifelong fan of women's tennis, I would not feel comfortable watching or supporting the event knowing what is happening to LGBT people throughout Russia. Why not move the event to a country that respects everyone's rights? While this may not rectify the problem, it will certainly bring additional media attention and hopefully action by tour sponsors. Most importantly, it shows the LGBT people of Russia and around the world that someone hears their voice and will help champion their cause.

Be the global leader you profess to be. Take the right stance for human rights for human dignity. Show the world that this type of discrimination and oppression is not acceptable and should not be tolerated. Be the pioneer the WTA has always been and set the example for the IOC. Cause a stir!

Regards,

Todd Bird

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