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  • In his latest Mailbag, Jon Wertheim weighs in on Justin Gimelstob's no contest plea to a felony battery charge.
By Jon Wertheim
April 24, 2019

Hey everyone…

HOUSEKEEPING

• Our most recent podcast guest was the delightful Petra Kvitova:

• Next up, Mark Ein swings by the studio to talk about his acquisition of the Citi Open in Washington D.C.

• I fear Fed Cup got lost in the shuffle last weekend. Play around on this site.

• Good soldiering: Next month I’ll be joining former NBA Commissioner (and hard core tennis fan) David Stern and Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen at the 2019 Sports PR Summit in NYC. Here are details

• Check the bottom for a tennis job opportunity

Onward...

MAILBAG

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

As a lawyer, you know that a no contest plea is looked upon by the courts as a conviction.  I’m not sure anyone is doing Justin Gimelstob any favors by welcoming him back to the Tennis Channel team or keeping him on the ATP council. One of the arguments made in favor bringing someone like this back centers around not ‘taking someone’s livelihood away’, but in his case, he’s an accomplished coach and can make a decent living doing that.

I also know it is difficult to make decisions about a colleague, but please give us some of your thoughts.
Emilio Bandiero, Shedd, Ore.

• A lot of questions, not surprisingly, about Justin Gimelstob, who on Monday pleaded no contest on Monday to a felony battery charge for his part in a physical altercation on Halloween. In turn, the judge reduced the charge to a misdemeanor. He then sentenced Gimelstob to three years’ probation and 60 days of community labor. (And according to the London Telegraph’s reporting, the judge, strangely, added that if Gimelstob denied guilt in the media, the misdemeanor charge could be revoked.)

As I’ve disclosed from the start, I am deeply conflicted here, both personally and professionally. Justin is a colleague at Tennis Channel and someone I’ve known for more than 20 years. As I wrote a few months ago, it was resonant to me that the attack came days after the passing of his father. I know both first-hand and second-hand that there is more to this story than has been reported—and will likely come out during the inevitable civil litigation that will now follow. That the judge used his discretion to reduce the offense to a misdemeanor is worth bearing in mind as well.

Yet yesterday’s news is hardly occasion for a victory lap or high fives. The judge called the assault a “violent, unprovoked attack in public in front of children.” We knew two of those clauses already, but “unprovoked” was a new and quietly damning characterization. The victim impact statement was just brutal, absolutely devastating to read. And while, yes, it was not subject to cross-examination—and may be picked apart in the civil trial—it could be tough to challenge, especially when there’s video evidence. 

Given Monday’s legal outcome, a lot of you have asked—some more angrily than others—a version of the same question: “How can Gimelstob still work in tennis both as a Tennis Channel commentator and an ATP Board member?” I find nothing in the bylaws that preclude him from serving. Gimelstob comes up for re-election at the Rome event. Players willing to overlook this week’s legal decision will vote for him. Those unwilling won’t. While I work for Tennis Channel, I don’t make hiring decisions. 

But I thought about how I would react if Justin worked for me at Sports Illustrated or at CBS and I were presented with this fact pattern. I’m thinking my response would go something like this.

“I’m relieved this is behind us and I’m relieved that there was no felony conviction. You no doubt know the amount of public pressure you’ve put us under. And you’re probably wondering about your fate now. 

I’m not going to put you on leave. No, instead, YOU are going to put yourself on leave. This has clearly been a difficult time for you. You lost your father. You are a single father to a great kid. You are in the throes of what is clearly an extraordinarily difficult divorce. You avoided a felony conviction, but this was hardly an exoneration. You’re facing a lot of restitution, both literally and figuratively. Take some time and take a deep breath and figure stuff out. Work on you, as they say.

A lot of people have been burdened by your decisions and taken a reputational hit for their support and, even, their mere calls for patience; this time YOU relieve them and YOU shoulder the responsibility.  YOU need to recognize that you need a break from tennis.

And honestly, tennis probably needs a break from you, too. This has not been a pleasant episode for the sport. This has not made tennis look particularly functional or healthy in the way it’s structured—a refrain I’ve heard far too often from people I know you respect, who operate outside this ecosystem. You’ve put a lot of people in difficult, even untenable, positions, and they need a moment to process this all as well. Wimbledon has already announced that you are not invited back to the Royal Box. Spare others from making similar unpleasant statements, and spare yourself from this kind of humiliation.

Throughout this ugly ordeal, this was a word in heavy rotation: polarizing. You even described yourself that way in the TMZ video. You have your critics and you will never win them over. That, you already know. You have your loyal supporters as well, who have benefitted from your coaching, your advocacy in the boardroom and your company. But, to borrow from Animal House, “polarizing” is no way to go through life. Not every interaction needs to yield a win or a loss, a fan or a detractor. Not every relationship reduces to “for me” or “against me.”

So make this easier for all of us, not least yourself. Do the right thing and take some time and step away. I’m not comfortable drumming people out of a community; I’m also not comfortable taking you back tomorrow, as if nothing happened. And what really makes me uncomfortable is seeing you go back to the same rhythms and roles, seeing this cleave a sport that is already dangerously divided. Lay low. Go work off your community service. Go fight the civil, and if it vindicates you as you hope and bring other facts to light, that will help. Then let’s reconnect and figure out if the tennis ecosystem is ready and willing to have you back; and whether you even want to rejoin it.

What is going on with Alexander Zverev?  He just lost his first match in Barcelona.  I can't imagine him staying No. 3 much longer.  Hopefully not until he finds his game.  He's just ruining draws right now.
—Michelle

• He won’t be at No. 3 much longer. And no doubt the first 120 days of 2019 have been disappointing. And for a young man who leads such a good life, he sure wears a mask of joylessness.

But I don’t quite endorse the extreme concern here. Zverev just turned 22 last weekend. He finished 2018 on the highest of highs by beating Djokovic to win London. We’re not even one-third through 2019. This is a slump, sure. But the idea that Zverev has peaked (as one of you suggested on Twitter) or we should unload our shares….to keep going with the market metaphor, that’s an overcorrection. I’m still buying long on this kid, who still has a decade-plus to make good.

Hot take: GOAT debates are super boring, right up there with who's on your fantasy team or how busted your NCAA bracket is. 

Follow-up take: Goat debates are amazing. Do you like lustrous fiber, or healthy milk? Angora vs. Saanen? Or if you're into surface play, how about Anglo-Nubian vs. Alpine? You like small ball? How about Pygmy vs. Nigerian Dwarf? I'll go Toggenburg, but I’m happy to debate.

Bonus take: on-court coaching debates are hot. Why do you think it's "a real corruption of the sport"? I can't think of any other sport where an athlete can't talk to their coach in the middle of a match/ game, but you know more about these things than I do. (Though I totally agree with you on the bad optics of a man/Daddy figure rescuing a damsel in [mental] distress.) 

Unrelated: Is Fabio Fognini also a horrible person off the court? Or does the intensity of a match just bring it out in him? 
Paul R.

• 1. Love it. Here’s the goat debate: Mountain goat versus Siberian Ibex. I’ve been saying Siberian ibex for years and I stick with it. Given recent results, I’m tempted to rank the friggin’ chamois over the mountain goat. But it also depends on surface.

My serious, lukewarm take: The GOAT debate in men’s tennis is more than a little silly, so long as the competition is ongoing. Why not wait until all relevant careers are finished before making a pronouncement? Yet, I kinda love this discussion. And I love that the terms and criteria are so ill-defined. It’s been really revealing in terms of what people value, what they don’t and how far partisans will go to support their man. It’s clear that total Slams won isn’t the only criterion. Nor is head-to-head and surface and longevity and concentration of majors and doubles and ….

2. “I can't think of any other sport where an athlete can't talk to their coach in the middle of a match/ game.” I can’t either. Chess, I suppose. But since when is a unique quality a liability?

3. As many of you know, I’m inclined to give athletes wide berth for breaches of decorum and civility during (cliché police APB) “heat of the battle.” Calling officials “whores” exceeds that wide berth. Same for calling your opponent a “shitty gypsy.” I don’t have much basis for judging whether Fognini is a good guy or bad guy off the court. (He gets points for his choice of spouse, who was always a delight to cover.) But if given Fognini’s midmatch outbursts, you’re ambivalent about celebrating his recent last-career achievements, you won’t get much argument here.

There certainly does seem to be a double standard for penalties as suggested by Serena earlier this year (and Tsitsipas earlier this month). Djokovic seems to have gotten away with bad behavior today that would not have been overlooked if done by most other players.   What is up with that?    
Lilas Pratt, Marietta, Ga.

• Context, context, context. I don’t necessarily mind that the officials use some discretion. There is nuance in situations and a difference between self-directed frustration and confrontational anger. But this is what bothered me about the U.S. Open women’s final: if calling an official a “thief” is worthy of sanction, we have just set quite a precedent.

I'm sure there's a good chance this topic has been addressed, but I've always wondered why there are no ATP Masters 1000 events on grass.  You'd think with the most well-known tennis event in the world using this surface, there should be a little more build up.  You can also take into consideration how this would have affected the record books and the GOAT debate.  A lot of people look at the amount of ATP Masters 1000 titles Nadal has, as well as the fact that he leads the head-to-head against Federer.  However, suppose those three ATP Masters 1000 events on clay were on grass instead.  Nadal and Federer have played 10 times at these three events, Nadal has only lost twice, and all but one match was a final.  Just something to think about.
Aaron, Illinois 

• Yes there is something a little counterintuitive about the fact that the most prominent tennis event is played on grass, yet no Masters 1000s events are. Why? The answer is mostly about venue. There are requirements for hosting a 1000 event that include everything from a stadium to broadcast facilities to a certain number of practice courts. As much we are all fond of grass-court tennis, the number of facilities capable of hosting a large-scale grass event basically comprise a subset of one. The All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club.

Pro tennis tournaments might be disappearing in the United States, but you know what we still have that most countries don't? College tennis. And it's everywhere. I spent Easter weekend watching my neighborhood college, University of Indianapolis, win both men's and women's conference championships in some truly thrilling and entertaining tennis. The atmosphere is different than a pro match—the players are extremely intense and vocal, yelling to their teammates across the courts whenever they get a break of serve or when they want to hear the fans cheer. And they play lets on serves. The format is short and fast-paced, so you can watch a bunch of doubles and singles, an entire match start-to-finish, in two hours, with front-row seats every time. Here's my recommendation for American fans: Find your local DI, DII, or DIII school and check out a match. (Shout out to the women's University of Indianapolis team, undefeated going into the NCAA Division 2 championships.)
Megan Fernandez

• Sold!

Any chance this might be the next former player to head the ATP?
Helen, Washington, D.C.

• Sold!

As Novak Djokovic has been the latest to publicize, the structure of the ATP is deeply problematic. And, by extension, the CEO position is really a definitional courtesy. It’s less a conventional CEO than an envoy between management (tournaments) and labor (the players). And the conflicts of interests only add as another impediment to growth. But if Mario wanted the job, he’d get my vote.

Some of the audio files on the site do not work, including this one. He is a Spaniard so the pronunciation would be “how-OO-may”.
@ksr10sfan

• This gives me an opportunity to plug this great feature on the ATP website. Click the audio icon and listen to the player pronounce their own name.

SHOTS, MISCELLANY

• As expected, Turin gets the ATP finals.

• A few of you asked about the Jerrod Mustaf longform piece. Here it is again.

• The USTA today announced the 2019 U.S Open Qualifying Tournament will begin on Monday, Aug. 19 and run through Friday, Aug. 23.  This will mark the first time that the tournament will begin on Monday, as opposed to Tuesday, extending the event to five days, from four days in previous years.

• This week, IMG Academy announced that Jimmy Arias has been promoted to Director of Tennis. Arias joined the Academy as Director of Player Development in 2018, and will now oversee all aspects of the Academy program, including boarding school, camps, professional player training and events.

• Passing along this job opening...

SEEKING EDITOR FOR TWO SHORT SKETCH COMEDY SEGMENTS

We are looking for an editor to edit one or both of two short videos for a revival of our early-aughts sketch comedy show Holding Court.

Holding Court loosely centers on the professional tennis comeback of IrinaTrinaKarina Zalutskaya-Koukinova and Françoise de Quincampoix, a “legendary” 1970s women’s doubles team, played by Holding Court’s tennis-mad creators, Sam Zalutsky and David Thorpe. 

We believe Holding Court’s mix of queer sass, obsessive sports knowledge, and social satire will feed a hunger for funny, savvy content in the staid—but global—world of tennis and tennis media, as well as reach a wider, non-tennis online audience. Our early aughts shows (on public access) earned us glowing media coverage from the Village Voice, New York Observer, Time Out, and many others. We’re testing the contemporary waters with these two “pilot” segments.

We’re looking for a smart, talented editor with a sharp sense of humor/satire/gaiety to dive in for a brief collaboration with a fantastic team (see below). Segments will debut on social media during the 2019 French Open.

Basic info

Project: Edit one or both of two, short comedy videos, 2 to 3 minutes each.

Dates/edit schedule: Shooting finishes May 12, and final edits must be completed by May 25 (the day before the 2019 French Open). Editing can be spread out at editor’s convenience. Aiming to keep footage reasonable (under 3 hours per segment, max; should be less). Editor should have own system/space.

Compensation: This is a no-budget labor of love, for now, but there will be love. 

Contact/more info: David Thorpe, doisoundgay@gmail.com

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