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Mailbag: What Is the Future of Mid-Match Coaching in Tennis?

A little Q&A before the U.S. Open. Check back later in the week for men’s and women’s seed reports.

• Good soldiering: The Tennis Channel pregame show begins at 10 a.m. ET before matches each day. Lindsay, Steve and I will be there for your viewing pleasure.

• “As previously announced, the U.S. Open Qualifying Tournament, which begins on Tuesday, will not be open for fans to attend. This was a particularly tough decision for the USTA to make, but after consulting with local health authorities and the US Open medical team, it was determined that it was the right decision to ensure the health and safety of all.”

• A tennis film, Final Set, with Kristin Scott Thomas.

• Have we as a Tennis Community done enough to honor Kiki Bertens? Discuss.

Onward …

Mailbag

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

After Tsitsipas left the court in Cincinnati with his equipment bag for a nine-minute bathroom break and his father was seen on camera texting "someone,” I wondered about the future of on-court coaching. It has not been missed and I personally hope it never rears its ugly head again, but haven't heard anything about its future. Has the WTA made any decisions?

Also, as our Ambassador to Tennis Channel Land, I'd like to say how very much I'm enjoying watching women's tennis. Many, MANY* years ago I preferred women's tennis and it's great to be able to enjoy again.

*Navratilova and Evert reigned supreme and non-millionaires (like me) could see them play up close on the old Grandstand court at the U.S. Open. I was even able to see Billy [sic] Jean King playing doubles on Court 17

Take care.
Lucy M.

• Stefanos Tsitsipas reached the semis in Cincy … and still managed to have a rotten week. First, his comments about COVID-19 were so extravagantly ill-informed and aggressively stupid that—apart from enraging his own government—it made you question his entire MO. We all love the guy’s creative pursuits and “artist’s soul” and introspection and his self-admitted vulnerability. But when you say things like, “I just see no reason that someone in my age group needs to be vaccinated,” you reveal yourself to be, at a minimum, too out of touch and narcissistic to be taken seriously.

Then, there was yet another allegation of gamesmanship via coaching. Midway through the match, Tsitsipas seemingly ventured to outer Dayton for a bathroom break while his father—who leads the league in coaching ­violations—was on the phone. Hmm ... quite apart from the lack of honor here, this strikes me as bad career management. You’re 23 years old. You’re a top-five player. And, time and again, you require the assistance of your dad. If I am the opponent, this is emboldening me. If for no other reason than the appearance of vulnerability, Tsitsipas ought to reconsider. And get a coach with whom he does not share a bloodline.

I get Lucy’s point, but I would amend it a bit. Instead of seeing men’s and women’s tennis and viewing it as an either/or, look at it as a value proposition. Sometimes the men deliver five hours of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, while the women serve up a shorter and less dramatic final. Sometimes the men kick cameras and behave like anti-vax jacka---- while the women offer Ash Barty. Embrace tennis as a whole and you are hedged.

Professional tennis player Stefanos Tsitsipas

Dear Ms. Haas and Mr. Richmond,

It is absolutely appalling and frankly unbelievable that we are still dealing with the issue of pay disparity between women and men in 2021. How does the Western and Southern Open justify this sexist and archaic stance? How does W&S justify paying the men's champion $910,000 and the women's champion only $350,000? How does W&S justify increasing pay to the men’s players by 127% while reducing pay to women players by 6%?

Silence is complicity so how does the WTA justify its complicity in this matter?

Further, does W&S' senior management and governance structure reflect the gender and racial diversity of Cincinnati, a city that is almost 50% people of color?

In conclusion, as a long-time supporter of tennis and equality at large, let me add my voice to the masses declaring emphatically that pay disparity and lack of diversity and equity is totally unacceptable in 2021 and needs to be rectified immediately! Thanks for your prompt attention to this matter and we anxiously await resolve to these very important matters.

SI Recommends

Respectfully Submitted,
Jim Roberson

• Jim cc’ed me on this letter he sent to Cincinnati tournament CEO Katie Haas and to J. Wayne Richmond, the tournament director. There was quite a bit of chatter about the unequal purses, and, understandably, it enrages casual fans. But I feel like we should set the record straight and note this isn’t a discriminatory practice, but, rather a function of tennis craziness and its need for streamlining. Long story short: This is a tour issue, not a tournament issue. The men’s W&S is an ATP mandatory 1000, while for the WTA it’s a nonmandatory 1000, hence the lower prize money. If the WTA wanted to make a case for equal prize money, it could change the designation (and its financial commitment). Admittedly, the optics are lousy. But it’s unfair to blame the event.

When—if ever!—was the last time we had two Swiss women facing off in the quarterfinals of a WTA 1000 event (or equivalent under previous nomenclature)?
Helen of DC

• What was the nomenclature before it was known as “Switzerland”? (That was a joke.) You are referencing, of course, Jil—she doesn’t take many l’s … we’ll be performing all week—Teichmann defeating Belinda Bencic in Cincy. But how quickly we forget the Martina Hingis–Patty Schnyder duopoly of the late 1990s and early aughts. (And a Czech-born prospect, Miroslava Vavrinec, was no slouch, either.) They played five times including the semis of the Grand Slam Cup, which was kind of a rough equivalent to a WTA 1000 quarter. Your larger point is a good one: These are fine times for Swiss women’s tennis.

Speaking of mental health, let's not forget the personal struggles of Mardy Fish. Do you think there would've been much more attention back then on this issue had Mardy been a top 5 player (or if he were as famous as the Big Three)?
Mark, Palawan, Philippines

• Agree. This is quite a read from Mardy.

Jon, what’s the deal with the ATPs new safeguarding review? Is it a review of the rules that the ATP has in place to govern the bad conduct of players? If it is, how do you review the rules without reviewing the alleged conduct itself?

Thanks for the awesome coverage throughout the U.S. swing!
Damian, Melbourne

• You know how the WTA had the “Capriati Rules,” aka the age eligibility rules limiting events for teenage players? This policy could be named after two players. Unmistakably, this was put in place after the domestic violence allegations against Alexander Zverev and Nikoloz Basilashvili, and the ATP suffering great embarrassment with the revelation that it lacked a policy to help govern the issue. This policy is not perfect, but it is, indisputably, the right and responsible move—and the ATP should be commended as such. And, honestly, it benefits the accused player.

Right now, Zverev’s supporters say, “These are unproven allegations and no charges have been filed. Must these allegations be brought up every time he steps up to the line to serve?” The detractors say, “How can you talk about tennis and treat him as just another player while this hideous allegation hounds him?” A policy enables the ATP to conduct its independent investigation in these instances. It may not come with subpoena power. It may not result in criminal charges or criminal dismissal. But it gets us out of this no-man’s-land where no one is comfortable. Most sports have similar policies. Pity it came to this, but the ATP, I suppose, is to be commended for listening to the public outcry and doing the right thing.

I'm sure you get lots of crazy messages from the tennis fandom, so I suspect I'm adding to the chorus. But: Could you please be more judicious in your use of "ain't"? I know you use it colloquially, but it seems that you use it very frequently (almost every column, sometimes it seems multiple times, enough that I've noticed it for a while now). I'm pretty certain that you never use the word in your daily spoken language—I grew up in rural West Virginia and most people I knew don't use it in their daily language, let alone in writing. It's not the use of the word itself that bothers me (I can't say I particularly like the word, but I'm not a grammar purist), but what bothers me most is that "ain't" is your standby word—so much so that the repeated use of the word can detract from the quality of your writing. I write this as a lawyer who once had the unfortunate habit of starting many sentences with "Although." A colleague once pointed it out and I made a conscious effort to vary my writing. I imagine you don't have a copy editor for an online Mailbag, so please consider this comment from an admiring reader. Your too many "ain'ts" are not improving the text (and, honestly, it can seem like you're trying to be "cool" or "edgy").

Please note that I really enjoy the insights in your column. And that ain't changing—regardless of how many times I have to read that word!
Cody Corliss

• It was intended as a populist touch …

It is not me, it is not me.
I am not a senator's son.
It isn't me, it isn't me.
I am not a fortunate one.

Duly noted.

Shots, Miscellany

• The San Diego Open, an ATP 250-level tournament, will be played on the hard courts of Barnes Tennis Center from Monday, Sept. 27 through Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021. The center is located at 4490 West Point Loma Boulevard, San Diego, Calif., 92107.

The men’s professional tennis tournament will feature a 28-player singles draw and a 16-team doubles draw. The event will offer a total of $600,000 in prize money and tournament champions will receive 250 points in the FedEx ATP Rankings.

• Wimbledon mixed doubles champion Neal Skupski along with Americans Caroline Dolehide, Caty McNally and Steve Johnson are set to return to World TeamTennis for the 2021 season.

The leader in professional team tennis competition, World TeamTennis opens the 2021 season on Nov. 13 at 3 p.m. PT, with the '20 runner-up Chicago Smash, led by '17 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens and fellow American Frances Tiafoe, taking on the San Diego Aviators. Tickets are on sale now for all sessions of the 2021 World TeamTennis season, which will feature five teams and will take place Nov. 13–28 at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.

• The USTA today announced that key numbers for tennis industry categories have shown a significant increase in the first six months of 2021 vs. '20, continuing a trend of positive growth for grassroots tennis in the U.S. This news follows the results of a report from earlier this year detailing the sport’s increase in participation across the country.

Included in the Tennis Industry Association’s most recent report is data for the first half of 2021, with comparisons to the same time period in '20. Highlights of this information include:

  • Year-to-date increase of 40.5% for total racket shipments.
  • Year-to-date increase of 143.3% for rackets in the $50+ range, with a 280% increase for the range Q2 '21 vs. Q2 ‘20.
  • Year-to-date increase of 66% for string unit shipments, with a 158% increase for string units Q2 ’21 vs. Q2 ‘20.