• Congrats to Caroline Garcia, your 2022 WTA Finals winner….
• We’re just a day removed from Midterm Election Day in the U.S…..note that Chris Kermode is standing for an ATP Board spot. And note how quintessentially tennis it would be if the current leader of the ATP had to see his predecessor on the board. Plastic Sport Water Bottles
• On this Day After Midterm Election Day in the U.S…here’s a video essay that applies to the U.S. but has tennis implications:
• From the naked self-promotion department: The first episode of our doc series “Rivals”—Ohio State versus Michigan—launches this week.
Is Holger a champion or a brat. You can only chose one!
Only one? You know I’m a softie. Rune—winner of Paris; beating Djokovic in the final; beating a slew of top players along the way, including Alcaraz; red hot this fall; now No. 10 in the world—is on the ATP specials board this month. Born within a week of Alcaraz, he is a remarkable player. So solid from the backcourt. A lot of depth to match his accuracy. He came on the scene a year ago (toting that Ikea bag) as an undersized counterpuncher. Now. He is winning match after match, serving bombs, without even giving opponents a sniff of break point.
Yes, there’s some aggro here that the reader is fair to acknowledge. A longtime reader also called him a “brat.” We believe in forgiveness and second chances, but that homophobic slur was awful. In Paris, Casper Ruud publicly scolded Rune for rudeness. (This was like tennis’ version of Who’s On First?” Who? Ruud? Who? Rune. What? Rude. Who, Rune?”) Stan Wawrinka had words with Rune at the net last week, telling him not to act like a baby. (Couldn’t that have waited for the locker room?)
But let’s focus more of our attention on the players age. Nineteen leaves plenty of time to plane the rough edges. And let’s focus on top-rate tennis. When we talk about the next generation of players, he’s squarely on The Squad. I suspect he doesn’t want this to end. (He went through a brutal stretch after the French Open—all the more reason this fall streak is so impressive.) But, if Djokovic will be the favorite in Australia, Rune is right up with the next batch of contenders.
Can you clarify something? I think you've been saying for a while now that the WTA is going back to China next year, and calling for some sort of explanation. (That's the impression I've gotten from you, at least.) But in Christopher Clarey's recent NYT piece, based on his interview with Steve Simon at the WTA Finals, Simon seemed to say pretty definitively that the WTA is not going back to China, at least until China adequately addresses the WTA's concerns about Peng Shuai. So did Simon's comments represent a change in the tour's plans? They weren't framed that way in Clarey's article. I'm just a little confused about where everything stands on this issue. Thanks.
So last week I tweeted: “A year ago today, Peng Shuai took to social media with an account of sexual assault. The @wta demanded a “full and fair investigation.” That never happened. The player’s health/safety remains a source of concern. And….the WTA is returning to China in 2023. What a moral failure.”
The tour pushed back, asserting that its stance has been consistent. This AP story and NYT story suggests my intel is off, and the return to China is far from a done deal. Which would be great—at least given the current stalemate. I’d love to be wrong. But I’ll show my work here.
1) For one, when the WTA announced that it was holding the 2022 event in Fort Worth, the press release noted (cagily) “…Race to the WTA Finals, will be held at the state-of-the-art Dickies Arena, with the event thereafter due to return to Shenzhen, China, in cooperation with long-term partner Gemdale.”
I get it. You need to keep Gemdale happy. But, at a minimum, what a strange choice of words. If I demand that my kids do their homework as a condition for taking them on vacation; and they give no indication they are inclined to listen to me, much less do the homework, I don’t go traipsing around the house saying we are “due to” go on vacation.
2) I spoke with a sports executive in the Middle East interested in bringing an event there. He told me that the WTA informed him they planned to return to China in 2023.
3) I know multiple agents have told their clients that, when pondering their 2023 schedules, they should be prepared for the eventuality that there will be a schedule of China events.
Unlike many issues and disagreements—inside and outside tennis—there will be a resolution here. One of three basic scenarios likely will unfold.
1) China will comply with the WTA’s demands and conduct a satisfactory investigation. The WTA will act accordingly, either justifying a return or making a return morally untenable, depending on the findings. This of course was always laughably unlikely. China isn’t acting on requests from the UN security council; it sure isn’t acting at the request of a Florida-based nonprofit. (All the more so given that Zhang Gaoli, the subject of Peng Shuai’s cri de coeur, is now back in the party.)
2) The WTA will get no investigation or satisfactory answers, but it will capitulate and return, its balance sheets taking precedence over its principles.
3) The WTA will stick to its principles. One of its players alleged an assault—and did so in great detail. The response—from the creepily staged nothing-to-see-here-folks videos, to the continued difficulty in contacting her, to persistent questions about her well-being—has been inadequate. The player’s whereabouts and status remain murky at best. Therefore, sorry Gemdale, we cannot in good faith continue to return to a climate so hostile to our values.
The WTA has yet to release the full schedule for 2023—which is not uncommon. In time, we will see whether or not they are consistent. I would never be happier to be wrong.
Is this as suspicious as it looks?
A lot of twitter chatter about this. Naturally, some trolls have seized on this (crazy, right?) as proof that Djokovic is irredeemable and must be up to something nefarious. And some True Believers took their hostility to Twitter (crazy, right?), seizing on this as proof that the West and the world and the media and Federer and Nadal partisans are all against their man (see below).
This is for everybody else….
Honestly, my first instinct/speculation was that the camp was using a non-sponsored brand (i.e. not Evian water.) As the video went viral and picked up momentum, I talked about this with two former players and a prominent agent, to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. And, independently, we all pretty much landed in the same place.
Let’s be blunt: do I think Djokovic is doping, which is really the question underneath all this chatter? No, I do not. Do I think there’s something “dodgy” about getting a prepared drink midmatch? No. Do I think I think players who are doping would be bring illicit substances to the venue and concoct them inside the arena? No. Is Djokovic the only player to accept mid-match hydration from his team? No. Are there any sports in which officials monitor the contents of athletes’ hydration bottles during competition? Not that I know of. (The assumption: if there is a banned substance it will surface in anti-doping.) And yet….
Is this the height of professionalism for a team to mix drinks inside the stands during a match; and then hastily configure in this rugby scrum formation once they realize someone is taking video? No. Is it unreasonable that countless people coming across this video find this clip odd—“weird” was the adjective of choice from Dr. Mark Kovacs, whom I respect a great deal—and have questions and are interested in more context? No.
This fits into my sweeping observation (truth serum: perhaps “frustration”) about Djokovic. He is, overall, a figure worthy of our admiration. He’s a polyglot and a polymath. (My personal go-to: his work on the PTPA—not merely selfless but at odds with his self-interest—speaks volumes about his character.) He is a magnificent player, who wins with focus and crisp precision and organization. And those same qualities are too often sorely lacking off the court. There are these persistent lapses in—how to put it? — buttoned-up-ness, that cause him unnecessary trouble, unbecoming a leader in any global sector. Unforced errors, the kind he would never tolerate in his tennis.
In this case: Is there no one in his orbit who says, either explicitly or through setting a culture: “Hey guys, perhaps the most serious charge you can level at an athlete is that they undermine fair competition. This is a week in which a former No.1 player was popped for a doping violation, so the topic has particular valence. Remember how much heat we got for the pressurized egg that boosts red blood cells, legal as it was? Whattaya say we mix these drinks in private. And whattaya say if we’re videoed, let’s avoid reacting like kids trying to hide their vape pens from their teachers. And if we’re asked, we’ll be as transparent as possible.”
Amazing the lack of critical thought on this, As if Novak Djokovic is going to take something illegal on front of thousands of spectators with cameras and officials all around him. What kind of low IQ Tennis Journalist are you and the followers lapping it up, I hope he sues you.
Hi annemazza17. There was an incident with Novak that generated much discussion, yes, on Twitter and Barstool but also made its way to the Sydney Morning Herald, L’Equipe, et al. When this was brought to my attention, I wrote: “I would caution against adverse inferences. But this would be totally fair game to ask in a press conference.” ….Pretty down the middle.
When questions persisted, I wrote: “Yes, players can have drinks handed to them, much as they can (and do) freshly strung rackets….the team’s level of secrecy and the formation upon realizing they were being filmed? Unusual. It’s a legit question - and the player may well have a legit explanation.” …Again, hardly tendentious take.
@annemazza17 has responded by calling me a “low IQ Tennis Journalist “and remarking “I hope he sues you.” Obviously you’re free to write what you like. Long live free speech. And, yes, coming to Twitter for civility is like coming to a Maxime Cressy match for long baseline rallies.
But what is the point of a personal attack like that — so mean-spirited and almost cartoonishly disproportionate in response? How does that further any understanding or resolution, much less reasoned discourse, about an issue that, like it not, has resonated with many? How does a comment like that reflect well on the player you purport to represent and support? Again, we all know Twitter is toxic and contaminated – but I remain baffled why people would choose to throw motor oil in the lake. Who on earth wants to be that person?
Through all the years I have been reading the ‘Bag, nobody has ever addressed the most crucial issue in tennis: does a player hit a shot "up" or "down" the line? The commentators seem to be pretty well split between the two. In this as in all things, I follow the late, great Gerry Rafferty: "It's been you, woman, right down the line."
James Stuchell, Savannah, Georgia
That’s so weird. I literally heard the yucky-yet-kind-of-irresistible “Baker Street” yesterday (shoutout: New Haven Dunkin Donuts) and my trusty Shazzam yielded the name Gerry Rafferty. Where were we? Right. Up the line/ down the Line. I turned this over to the great Chanda Rubin who, unlike me, commentates on actual matches. Take it away, friend:
“Hi Jon! This is the first time I've ever given this particular topic any thought lol. I think you can say either.
I usually say down the line but I'm not adverse to switching it 'up' for a little variety.
“Pepperstone ATP Rankings??” Sounds like a line from a Colbert monologue.
Hey, you take sport sponsorship where you can get it. And it could be worse —the Poullan WeedEater rankings…the BadBoy Mowers rankings…Bet-at-Home rankings?
This is apropos of little….But when this deal was announced, I said to myself, “Why do I know Pepperstone?” Then I remembered, I was looking into doing a 60 Minutes story on Equifax. More than once, sources held up Pepperstone as the standard bearer for how to handle a data breach. So, fair play to Pepperstone on that one.
What are your thoughts on Djokovic getting to play the ATP World Tour Final because he won Wimbledon, but Rybakina not getting to play the WTA event when she won Wimbledon?
Yeah, tennis is tennising. Heaven forbid that two tours—nope, still haven’t followed Federer’s pandemic-era suggestion and merged—have consistent policy. First. Let’s note that Djokovic qualified on ranking as well as by dint of his having won a major.
But, I have no problem with a major winner getting an automatic entry. In a few cases they wouldn’t otherwise get in—in addition to Rybakina, Raducanu being an obvious example. But if this event is a showcase, wouldn’t a major champion be a better exemplar than the No. 8 player who happened to have accumulated more points over the season? And if this event is also a sort of marketing tool, wouldn’t you want to include a player with this kind of cultural momentum? (Same for the reigning Wimbledon champ.)
I was asked on a podcast recently whether I was buying/selling/or holding the WTA. It’s been a rough stretch. Serena retired. Naomi Osaka remains an enigma, whose social capital hasn’t really redounded much to her tennis. Raducanu is a wonderful prospect but remains a work in progress (regress if we’re being harsh?). The No.1 player a year ago today retired in her mid-20s. Consider: In Fort Worth, Iga Swiatek was the only player in the field ever to have won a major. Zooming out: the WTA was in Texas in the first place because the original designated site—China, which was paying $4.42 million to the winner the last time the event was held there—is out of play.
Clear Plastic Water Bottles But I still go pong on the WTA. The diversity. The global appeal. The product. The likability of the players. I’m buying this stock. And can’t see a day when I won’t.