Discussion on the Donald Young-Ryan Harrison incident, Goran Ivanisevic and the Hall of Fame, tanking, transparency with injuries and more.
Hey, guys. Quick housekeeping:
• Our most recent podcast guest was Michael Stich, on his life today, his pending Hall of Fame induction and how to play Federer.
• Our next guest: tennis player Jake Elliott, who also happens to be the placekicker for the Super Bowl Champions Philadelphia Eagles.
• Once again tennis is well-represented in the SI Swimsuit issue.
Have a question or comment for Jon? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet him @jon_wertheim.
Donald Young’s accusation that Ryan Harrison made racist remarks toward him are serious and deserve to be treated as such. Harrison says that what Young claims was said simply didn’t happen and if anyone doubted him, then they should listen to the audio and watch the video. I agree…If Harrison did make racist remarks, he’d be fined, lose sponsorships, maybe suspended and certainly ostracized and deservedly so if true. But if not true, why not fine Young, embarrass him, force him to lose sponsorships, possibly suspend him and certainly ostracize him? After all, he would in such a circumstance have just used race as the basis to slur his opponent and disparage his character publicly, something none of us should tolerate, correct?
—Bob in Miami
• Let’s, regrettably, start with Ryan Harrison and Donald Young, whose match Monday night at the New York Open turned ugly. Young made an accusation. Harrison categorically denied the accusation. This is ugly stuff. I am told that the ATP has already started an inquiry and has reached out to the tournament director, the chair umpire etc.
At some level, this is quite simple. In theory, either courtside audio and/or eyewitness will confirm Young’s allegations, in which case Harrison should be disciplined and face the full force of retribution, both from the ATP and fans. Or, the courtside audio and/or observers will reveal an absence of offensive speech, shifting the burden to Young for making such a serious charge.
But context is important here, too and, as usual, reputation matters, as does prior history. And Harrison has a lot of to answer for here. His track record of confrontation with opponents is as long as it is regrettable. Workplace disputes happen, especially in competition. But when you’ve had beef with four or five colleagues in the past half-year alone, maybe it’s time to look in the mirror. As one former top player texted me on Tuesday, “He is the common denominator.”
And when you run to the defense of Tennys Sandren and send aggressive, racially-tinged texts to other players….word gets around. We’ll reserve judgment on what happened between Harrison and Young. But let’s be clear: this did not occur in a vacuum.
Love the Mailbag, and you are entitled to your feelings and to curating your content, but I often think about a publicity/visibility bias at work on your readers. The following are examples of things that—while they're very true for you—make me wonder how much feedback you actually get that disagrees with certain "Wertheim truisms":
- The tennis Hall of Fame is an idea/a real brick-and-mortar institution worth attention and discussion.
- [NAME REDACTED] is a worthwhile commentator.
- The injury situation in tennis needs to be considered/remedied at a higher level than that of the individual player simply modulating his or her schedule (à la Roger).
- Men and women should make equal prize money at a given tournament, as they are complementary products.
They're all Wertheim truisms I strongly disagree with. (In fairness, there are many others I wholeheartedly DO agree with). Do you find that you have some awareness of creating something akin to "Tennis-according-to-Wertheim"? And do you find that there are certain issues where this Tennis-according-to-Wertheim is out-of-sync with what you're hearing from your readers?
As always, thanks for the thought-provoking material!
• Totally fair question.
“Public trust” is too self-aggrandizing and overdramatic. But at some level, I try to make this column reflect the interests of the fans. If several emails I get pertain to Hall of Fame credentials and injustices, I feel somewhat obligated to address. (Even if, personally, I’m not commensurately interested.) If there’s a ton of chatter about the GOAT, I’m inclined to try and provide a forum for that discussion. I am unbothered by grunting. I recognize many of you are, as well by the WTA’s unwillingness/inability to address your concerns. If Ryan Harrison’s behavior draws great interest, I will start with that, even if there are more deserving candidates.
At the same time, it’s a column, which—immodestly perhaps—entitles the writer to some latitude and independent (and, I hope informed) analysis. I hate the conflicts of interest that stifle tennis’ growth, distort markets and are simply morally wrong in many cases. I hate the blithe indifference to the rash of player injuries. I believe that challenging equal prize money might be a winning argument economically, but a losing one pragmatically; the public relations hit vastly outstripping any potential clawback gains. I think on-court coaching is a cynical gimmick foisted upon by executives who have zero data supporting their claim that fans or players actually want this. And I write accordingly, even though there is no consensus and, in some cases, I am in the minority.
All of which is to say…I strive to make this a mix of vox populi and vox me.
With no tennis off-season, how long are we going to wait to hear your Dick Enberg story? We have been waiting (since April) for your Oscar Robertson story. Can we get one of them soon?
• So it’s the early 1980s. I’m a kid growing up in Indiana. Dick Enberg and Al McGuire are in my town to broadcast an Indiana/Iowa basketball game on NBC, certifying this as a real event, the 1980s equivalent of College Football GameDay coming to your campus. I am probably 10 years old. Dick Enberg is a national celebrity, but also an Indiana grad so he has this extra coating of exalted status.
Before the game, I make my way down from my nosebleed seat to their broadcast spot—which is probably ten rows above the court—to ask, nervously, for an autograph. Enberg signs my program and then says, “You know what? I just thought of something: We could really use some help today. Would you like to be our scorer?”
Naturally, I do. Chairs are rearranged so I can sit next to Enberg. I am handed a scoresheet and told to circle points accordingly. This, of course, is completely superfluous and not necessary. Enberg is a wearing a headset and a producer is there to ply him with any piece of information. There is also an official scorer, whose stats circulate throughout the game and are going to be more reliable than the jottings of a fifth-grader. But this is just a saintly man, this Dick Enberg, realizing that he can make a kid’s day/week/year by giving him an artificial job… so why not?
The game starts and I am not only seated next to the great and famous Dick Enberg but I am, ostensibly, working for him, an integral part of this national broadcast. To humor me, Enberg will periodically look at my notations and as if they are sacred texts demanding studied interpretation. He will pat me on the back. At halftime and after the game, will thank me profusely.
The best part: at some point during the game, the local newspaper takes a photo of Enberg and McGuire in their perch, their NBC peacock banner draped behind them. A few people look closely enough at the photo the next day and spot me alongside them. Again, this all owes to a spontaneous gesture—the kind Enberg, one suspects, is inclined to make daily. He likely forgets this by the time he leaves the arena. Here I am, 35 years later, recounting it. With specificity, and with a smile.
I loved your book on Federer and Nadal and I bought a copy. My question is about Goran Ivanisevic. Why isn't he in the Hall of Fame as he was just as good if not better than Michael Stich? He won Wimbledon and got to three other finals and I thought he was a great player.
• That sound you hear: floodgates* opening. Now that Stich has been voted in, there are cases to be made for so many players, from Yevgeny Kafelnikov to Mary Pierce. Ivanisevic** makes the list as well. So it goes.
The New York Times, as I understand it, does not permit its writers to vote in Hall of Fame elections, concerned about the appearance and the potential for conflict. Sports Illustrated does permit this voting but I think those casting ballots need to be accountable and public. For the sake of transparency: I voted for no candidates on this recent slate and cannot see myself ever voting for a player with only one major singles title.
*Has anyone actually seen an actual floodgate? Another one of these words— carousel, fulcrum, albatross—that seems to exist mostly for the sake of its metaphor.
**Quick story: during the Australian Open, I took a night off and went to the movies to see I, Tonya. Good movie; terrible rendering of history. (Watch Mary Carillo’s NBC documentary, Fire and Ice, for accuracy.) Movie ends. Someone behind me is humming the closing tune, the very excellent “Passenger” by Siouxsie and the Banchees. I turn and….decorum prevents us from naming names, but suffice to say either the movie, the song or both found considerable favor among the cohort that includes Croatian Wimbledon winners.
Thank you for your thorough and insightful coverage—really digging the podcasts. However, I think your journalist access to players and information clouds your perception of a couple of troubling tour trends.
Tanking. This was a fascinating exchange between you and Carillo on your podcast. Carillo taking a hardline stance on Kyrgios, you being more forgiving. Perhaps if you had to pay for tickets to a show court, make a Sophie’s choice on which court to see/miss, and drive/train/fly to a stadium you could relate. Tanking punishes fans. That’s all there is to it. If a player doesn’t want to play, he or she shouldn’t show up at all. Let paying fans and TV fans see something that showcases the best of the sport. Indulging Kyrgios (much improved in this department), Tomic, et al is a big miss IMHO.
Transparency. It’s hard for fans to follow, much less root for a player like Djokovic when he conceals the status of injury. When the cost of entry to a Grand Slam nosebleed seat exceeds $100, fans deserve to know who is going to show up, and in what condition. It’s annoying for Djokovic to go on a social media bender while he’s feeling good (late Dec. to Jan. 22) then disappear. Fans remember stuff like that. And what about the extended Djoker 2016 malaise that journalists allude to like an open-secret, but that fans are still scratching heads over? Why not share a weekly injury status report like NFL and MLB? Thanks for looking out for the fans.
• My point on tanking: I don’t condone tanking. It undermines fans. It undermines the sport. It’s shabby. But w/r/t Kyrgios, if this is the worst thing we can say about him—he doesn’t always show up; he shortchanges his talent—we’re doing okay. He’s been positioned as tennis’ bad boy, its wrestling-style heel, its polarizing figure. In other sports this equates to antisocial behavior. (While we’re here: is it my imagination or is this the most underreported story in sports?) In tennis, we’ve had stars behave execrably and dabble with drugs and be Ilie Nastase. If the worst thing you can say about Kyrgios is that sometimes he stints on effort, we’ll take that bad boy.
Your other point is one we’ve discussed recently but it is well-taken. Again, in an individual sport, I can understand why athletes are reluctant to reveal every injury. But when fans buy tickets only to learn later that their favorite had no intention of entering (see: Serena Williams at Indian Wells last year) no one wins.
Dennis Szalkai had an interesting Mailbag contribution on the Tiger-Fed comparisons. My piece from about a year ago doesn't at all address whether SI "missed the boat" but it is relevant to their two divergent career paths especially this coming week as Roger may return to No. 1.
P.S. I know I'm far from the guy or gal that asks you to share their work but if your discretion says so, I always am grateful :)
—Rohit Sudarshan, Apia, Samoa
• Considered it shared. You know the rules: reader from Somoa finds you, you are duty-bound to share.
In what Universe is Michael Stich a more deserving Hall of Famer than Yevgeny Kafelnikov? Considering that the tennis Hall of Fame has become notorious for it's loose standards—did you win one Slam? Were you friendly and well-liked? Come on down!—how does a player with the unquestioned credentials of Kafelnikov keep getting passed over for less-accomplished players?
—Rocky Lucas, Charleston, West Virginia
• We can explore this further in future weeks. I can share why he did not get my vote. For now, wish him and his daughter well.
Why on earth was Caroline playing a tournament right after she won the AO? Has Serena taught her nothing?
—Bob Romero, Monee, Ill.
• The other way to look at it: she made a playing commitment and stuck by it.
• Through a donation starting at just $10 benefiting St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and ACEing Autism, five lucky tennis fans will receive the ultimate tennis fantasy: the chance to kick-off the Miami Open and play against the biggest stars in the game, including Stan Wawrinka and Grigor Dimitrov. With additional pros to be announced in the coming weeks, guests will also enjoy a private cocktail reception and tennis exhibition with the greatest women’s tennis player of all time, Serena Williams, on March 20, 2018. Via Fanthropic.
• From Qatar: [Q] M. Niculescu (ROU) d [WC] M. Sharapova (RUS) 4-6 6-4 6-3
• Tennis Channel will continue to carry top-level men's tennis under an extension of its rights agreement with the ATP World Tour ...along with the season-ending Nitto ATP Finals, will appear on the network and via authenticated digital streams under the multiyear deal.
• From Ben Rothenberg for Slate: How a 20-year-old from the land of fake news tricked Martina Navratilova, Serena Williams, and the BBC.
• “Tie Break Tens, the new fast-paced, short-form tennis competition, is excited to reveal that American star CoCo Vandeweghe will compete at its inaugural tournament in the United States at the iconic Madison Square Garden in New York City on Monday, March 5, 2018. CoCo, coming fresh off a win at this weekend’s Fed Cup, joins a line-up of elite athletes that includes Serena and Venus Williams, Elina Svitolina and Marion Bartoli. The final three stars set to compete will be announced soon.”
• This week’s LLS, Goran Ivanisevic and Nikola Mirotic