Mailbag: Will the renaming of Margaret Court Arena actually happen?

Thursday June 1st, 2017

PARIS – Fairly slow day at the tennis—which isn't a bad thing. Andy Murray played far from his best, but advanced, the mark of a champion. Alize Cornet pleased the hometown fans with a (moderate) upset win. After injuring his knee, Nicolas Almagro tearfully left the court against Juan Martin del Potro, who, poignantly, consoled him. But again, generally, a straightforward day. So let’s catch up on some mail.

Have a question or comment for Jon? Email him at jon_wertheim@yahoo.com or tweet him @jon_wertheim.

Hi Jon, If sportsmanship and humanity were ranking points…

I used to dislike del Potro’s blunt power game, but this guy has won me over big-time with his class, his perseverance, his humility. And, at this point, I’d wager he’s won over almost everyone else with any interest in the game.
Christopher Brown, San Francisco, Calif.

• Here’s the video to which Christopher refers:

No disagreement here. Agents and handlers and media trainers can prepare athletes for all sorts of questions and situations. But this is just instinctive decency and empathy.

But I would contend that del Potro’s ranking might not move much. These are good times for sportsmanship and collegiality. Barely 20 years ago, WTA players voted to restore Monica Seles’ ranking when she returned. Compare that to the fanfare that greeted Petra Kvitova when he returned the other day. Multiple times—even with pairing who had never previously faced each other—players slapped during the match after especially captivating points. Conflict and feuds and scenes like this.

But, there’s something to be said for decency, too, even if it doesn’t go viral.

Tennis
Novak Djokovic surprises women’s locker room at French Open with roses

I read Martina Navratilova’s piece about renaming Margret Court Arena and have to say, I agree with her. Do you think this will actually happen?
Reader name misplaced

• Tons of questions about Margaret Court. Pity she and her bigotry has become an issue here, detracting and distracting from this event. Player after player has been asked about it when they arrive at press conferences. Here’s Martina’s piece you reference.           

Here’s how this plays out. Tennis Australia will offer another disappointingly tepid release. Something to the effect that Margaret Court’s comments are regrettable but she was a great sportswoman and it was in that capacity that the facility was named in her honor.  However, if players are uncomfortable playing in Margaret Court Arena, they will be able to register their preference and be accommodated. Player after player will sign up. Suddenly those who didn’t sign up will feel pressure, too, as they don’t want their appearance to be perceived as condoning of homophobia.

Tennis Australia now has their out. “Hey, we were going to stick to the sidelines and cling to tradition. But the players have spoken and let their feelings be known. And they are constituents of this great event, so it’s only right that we honor their sentiments. So it is that this arena will be renamed in honor of either Evonne Goolagong, Pat Rafter or, hell, we don't care, Angus Young. Just as long as it’s not that vile nutbag who compared the LGBT community to Hitler.”

Tennis
Juan Martin del Potro shows true meaning of sportsmanship at French Open

In response to the controversy about Margaret Court’s public statements regarding homosexuality, I can’t help but notice the stark contrast to the relatively little controversy over tournaments in Muslim countries. In Qatar and the UAE, homosexuality is a crime, punishable by long prison sentences. In Turkey, attempts to stage a Gay Pride were quashed by shooting at marchers with rubber bullets. If tennis players honestly cared about gays, then all those tournaments would die overnight.

I don’t agree with Margaret Court at all. But when I hear her express her beliefs in traditional marriage and the “sin” of homosexuality, I just roll my eyes. She’s not advocating the imprisonment of or violence against gays. How telling that Margaret Court Arena might be renamed, yet tournaments in Muslim nations continue to flourish.

Your thoughts?
Rudy (the Novak fan, not that it’s relevant here)

•  There are some apples and oranges in this here fridge. The all-time leading Grand Slam winner going on a bizarre, homophobic rant is something different (and easier to attack/repel) than broader cultural views, laws, and public policies. But your point is taken. And it’s more than issues of sexuality. How does the WTA, reconcile its assorted business dealings in Doha given, well….this?

Tennis
Martina Navratilova: Margaret Court is a 'racist' 'and 'homophobe'

My apologies if you covered this and I missed it, but I saw that earlier this month, Haas requested a wild card to the French Open. I didn't see him in the main draw. Was he denied one? Is there a reason? I know he didn't take no meldonium. 
Rohit Sudarshan, Washington D.C. 

• If any good has come from this Sharapova mess, it’s thrown the problematic nature of wild cards into sharp relief. In so many ways, tennis is such an admirably pure meritocracy. Win and your ranking goes up. In the case of wild cards, more deserving players lose their spot to players there at the event’s discretion. Here, seven of the eight female wild cards lost their first match. Seven of the eight men lost—and one was booted from the event entirely.          

As for Haas, I heard he requested a wild card and was denied. He’s 39. His results in Paris were modest. But his big sin: he ain’t French. Wimbledon is admirably open-minded. At the other majors, if you’re not from the host nation or a beneficiary of the fraudulent “reciprocal wild cards,” you’re not likely to get a golden ticket.

Tennis
Djokovic, Nadal cruise into third round, while Venus continues to impress at French Open

Wow, a lot of hotheads in the NextGen group, huh? Do we think this is normal?
Tim Johnson, New York, N.Y.

• I’m not sure to whom this specifically refers but Ill take hotheads. With the exception of a few lapses—Kyrgios’ Wawrinka episode, which is almost two years old already—most of the hot-headedness I’ve seen is a) during the aroused state of competition and b) directed inwardly. We ought to differentiate between confrontation and displeasure with oneself. The members of the “tween generation”—Raonic, Nishikori, Cilic, maybe throw in Dimitrov—would not be described as hotheads. If the generation in the linage has more color, that would not be a bad thing.

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