• Some thoughts on banning Russia and Russian athletes from global sports.
Let me see. Novak is, for whatever reason, barred from playing or unable to play. Meddy is threatened with a ban unless he denounces Putin, which of course will imperil his and his family’s lives in Russia if he obliges. Nadal took advantage in Australia but is sidelined for a few weeks. Zverev is still playing but many wonder why he is not being given a lengthier ban. Roger is retired for all practical purposes. Tsitsi hasn’t stepped up and is tainted by bathroom break allegations. The new-new generation is taking forever to step up to slams and Masters wins. Barty, the one player universally liked, retired ala Borg at 25, Serena, like Roger, is more or less retired, Osaka is still way down in the ranks and Emma, the newly minted slam wonder, can’t even win a first round match these days. Can’t a time in the last two decades that tennis was this terrible.
• Let’s see….Rafael Nadal—shortlist among the world’s most revered sportsmen— is 35 and favored to win his 22nd Major at the same tournament where he broke in 2005. Djokovic is back and ready to defend his title, which would mean tying Nadal and moving past Federer. That’s right, three active players with 20 or more Majors. (And there’s one on the women’s side, too!) Naomi Osaka—the world’s highest paid female athlete—has become a crusader for mental health, for decades a taboo in sports. The WTA showed immense courage in taking a stand against authoritarian China, and now has a title sponsor. There are nine countries represented in the WTA’s top 10, including Tunisia. The new No. 1 is a worthy, cool, all-surface star who even—get this—reads books. The Madrid event sold for somewhere between $400-500 million. Cincinnati is next. If the Williams sisters haven’t played in months, Lord knows they’re not only still public figures, but their “daughters and sons,” the players they inspired, are making their mark on tennis. A teenaged Spaniard is an ascending star and a contender at every Major he enters The U.S.—often a bellwether for the sport—is, as usual, a font for women’s talent and, lately, home to ascending male players including the winner of the last big event. In a carapace of conflicted interest, I will mention a network devoted entirely to tennis….
You get the point. VK is not alone in his sentiments. I had a high-ranking official make a similar point last week, noting that a TMS without any of the Big Three or Serena feels hollow. And some of the reader’s points—and he didn’t mention the abuse of officials and equipment—are real concerns. But overall the sport will survive and thrive. It always does.
I’ve quite enjoyed watching Ash Barty and I’ll miss her game. I also think her career will be remembered as much for its statistical strangeness as anything else. She entered the top 10 after winning Miami in March 2019, and was #1 by the end of June—a record-quick ascent. Her three years in the top 10 were her three years finishing #1. Her time at the top coincided with the Covid pandemic and therefore never had the momentum and title-gobbling associated with being the world’s top player. In NONE of her three slam wins did she beat a top-10 player. Her longest win streak also featured no wins over top-10 players. In sum, a rather odd career.
• Assuming we are in the past tense…I would agree Barty’s career has its own rhythms. Some of this owed to Covid. Some owed to the extreme agency over her career that she exhibited. But this career was no joke. Citing three Majors sells short the versatility, the sporting approach, the popularity among peers and the Republic of Tennis. Two other side points:
1) Yes, fans will be disappointed that she has stepped away at age 25. Tennis will feel depleted in her absence for a variety of reasons. The flip side? Here’s a player in the mid-20s who has made generational wealth—$25 million in prize money alone. Here’s a player with the agency to quit when she feels like it. Just as she has the right to re-enter if she feels like it. In some ways this is like sponsored content for women’s tennis. What a testament to a healthy sport that gives its players control over their decisions.
2) I noticed that of the $25 million Barty made, $4.4 came from one event. And it was not a Major but it was the 2019 WTA year-end finals in Shenzhen. And still, the WTA had the conviction to walk away from this problematic arrangement.
2b) Someone (Rennae Stubbs?) mentioned that Barty had won more in prize money than Steffi Graf, who, of course, exceeded her count of Majors, 22-3. I went down the Graf rabbit hole and realized that she won 107 titles….in 138 finals. That is, 78 percent of the time she was in a final, she won the trophy. Wow.
Does Ashleigh Barty have a very poor publicist or agent? She has been number one more than two years consecutively and has won major titles. But she is not well known at all outside of the tennis world. Why is she not more popular? Is it her own doing due to lack of interest in commercials, multiple sponsorships etc or is she not as attractive as say Raducanu who is a one hit wonder and will be out of top 25 by the end of the year.
• I would argue the precise opposite. Ash Barty has/had an excellent agent. She clearly let the player call the shots. Lord only knows what kind of deals and appearance fees and “commissionable opportunities” availed themselves. If Barty preferred staying home to playing, or didn’t feel right endorsing a product, or wasn’t prepared to say she used a pharmaceutical product when she didn’t….the agent clearly abided by that.
Regarding the letter sent to the woman on the tennis team, a macro view:
I’ve long held that coaches of amateur teams, especially for kids but not exclusively, should establish at the beginning of a season one of two primary goals for the team: either we look to get everyone to play, or we play the best team we can at any one meet/match. Both routes have their challenges, rewards, sacrifices, and pain, but at least everyone would know what they were in for at the outset. Maybe it’s a coach’s decision (for kids?), maybe it’s a team vote, but regardless I think it’d make for less drama down the road. (And yeah, the letter from one teammate was bush league in extremis.)
—Skip S. Philly
• Yes, the letter last week—go to the end— about league play drew a number of interesting responses.
Did you hear the James Blake story about league tennis? He was visiting relatives in Florida and went out to watch [a family member] play a USTA match, possibly at 2.5. He went up to talk to her on a changeover and the opposing team came up and accused him of coaching.
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• Two points:
1) For all the ills of social media and technology it does occur to me that—not unlike a spike in security cameras—there is this check on bad and antisocial behavior. Small example but with a few keystrokes that bad behavior is called out (and shared) more easily than ever.
2) Quick aside about James. He is precisely the kind of person who represents the best of tennis and ought to play a bigger role in the sport going forward. For as often as the tennis commentariat shares negative opinions, often justly—Zverev should be suspended! The USTA doesn’t know how to run its business! The ATP should get out of China!—we often gloss over people, acts and institutions worthy of praise.
Jon, now that Ashy Barty is retired, doesn’t she deserve her own name court at the Australian Open??
• Envision Tennis Australia and this call coming soon…
“Yeah, good! And you?”
“Great. Why am I calling? Right. About that. Surely, you heard the news about Ash.”
“Yeah. Crazy, I know. Yes, 25! Wild. So, anyway, er, you know that court the bears your name?….”
Hey Jon – Kyrie can play now in New York. So – Nole can too, right?
—Deepak, New York
• Free to watch. Free to play.
Not a question. I love the column and your writing, and you have been kind enough to publish some of my questions over the years. Now my pet peeve 😉
I know it’s become common over the years to treat “ironically” and coincidentally” as interchangeable, but they’re not really. It’s not ironic that Medvedev and Kafelnikov are both Russian, it’s coincidental. If “irony” were to lose its true meaning, what word might we use when something is actually ironic? Scold me mercilessly if I’m wrong.
• Isn’t it coincidence, dontya think? (You are right.)
Long as we are here….a digression: any of you guys see the Alanis Morissette documentary? Quite strong as music docs go. But it struck me as a classic lose-lose. In advance of the release, she disparaged the film and slammed the filmmakers. (“Our visions diverged…this was not the story I agreed to tell.) Fans weren’t going to commit or were predisposed not to like it. She took the film out of prize consideration. (You’re not going to get nominated for many prizes when the film’s subject is distancing herself and questioning your ethics.)
Then, when you actually watch the film and see that a) it’s awfully good and b) the subject comes out great…you question the subject’s level of narcissism; what her alternative vision could possibly have been; even, her grasp of how art is made. So the film gets tainted. And the subject, portrayed with such affection in the film reveals herself a prima donna with her criticism. Somewhere there’s a lesson there.
There’s a player named JJ Wolf and you didn’t tell me?!? He looks like if Kurt Russell made a tennis movie in the ‘80s and he had to beat some Russian player, and Goldie Hawn was maybe a line judge who got hit with a ball and lost her memory and…well…it writes itself, really.
• He’s for real. He’s from Ohio. He hit this shot.
The United States Tennis Association (USTA) today announced the winners of its Annual Awards presented at the USTA Annual Meeting’s “Celebration of Community Champions” Luncheon at the Disney Beach and Yacht Club in Orlando, Florida. The honorees were recognized for their dedication to growing the game at the grassroots level.
“We are thrilled that more and more people are picking up a racquet with participation up twenty-seven percent over the past two years with almost five million new players grabbing a racquet and heading to a court,” said Craig Morris, USTA Chief Executive, Community Tennis. “We want to applaud and thank all of the awardees as they continue to work hard at the grassroots level to make our sport more accessible, fun and enjoyable for everyone.”
Below are the awards, descriptions and honorees:
Brad Parks Award
The Brad Parks Award was established in 2002 to honor an individual or organization that has been instrumental in the development of wheelchair tennis around the world through playing, coaching, sponsoring or promoting the game. The award was named after Brad Parks, a pioneer of wheelchair tennis and the first wheelchair tournament champion.
- Nick Taylor of Wichita, Kansas
Click here for Brad Parks Award photos and video.
Eve F. Kraft Community Service Award
The USTA bestows the Eve F. Kraft Community Service Award upon individuals who perpetuate Kraft’s selfless mission to bring the sport of tennis to everyone who wants to play. Eve F. Kraft was a tennis pioneer whose ability to touch people’s lives exceeded the boundaries of the tennis court. As a teacher, coach, author, USTA staff member and volunteer, Kraft was a lifelong champion of recreational tennis in the United States until her death in 1999. She introduced thousands of young people to tennis, particularly in disadvantaged communities.
- Lisa Pugliese-LaCroix of Delray Beach, Florida
Click here for Eve F. Kraft Community Service Award photos and video.
Community Tennis Association of the Year
The Community Tennis Association of the Year Award honors a CTA for outstanding service in growing and developing the sport of tennis in its community. The award recipient is selected from 17 nominees, one from each of the USTA sections, by a panel of USTA Community Tennis Association Committee members.
- Capital Area Tennis Association (CATA) in Austin, Texas
Click here for CTA of the Year Award photos and video.
Janet Louer USTA Junior Team Tennis Organizer of the Year
The USTA bestows the Janet Louer USTA Junior Team Tennis Organizer of the Year Award upon an individual who positively influences children’s lives and substantially impacts their
community. The award is named after Janet Louer, who was instrumental in the development of junior tennis during her lifetime.
- Matt Boughton of Eau Claire, Wisconsin
Click here for Janet Louer USTA Junior Team Tennis Organizer of the Year Award photos and video.
NJTL Founders’ Service Award
The USTA NJTL Founders’ Service Award was created by USTA Diversity in 2011 and recognizes an individual NJTL chapter founder who is committed to positive youth development through tennis and education and provides free or low-cost tennis, education and life-skills programming to thousands of underserved children each year. The award is given to the recipient reflecting the values of NJTL founders Charles Pasarell, Sheridan Snyder and Arthur Ashe.
- Richard Ader, of Bennington, Vermont
Click here for NJTL Founders’ Service Award photos and video.
Ralph W. Westcott USTA Family of the Year Award
The Ralph W. Westcott USTA Family of the Year Award was created in 1965 by the USTA in honor of the late Ralph W. Westcott to emphasize the theme that “Tennis is a Family Game.” The award is given annually to the family that has done the most to promote amateur tennis, primarily on a volunteer basis. All members of the family should participate in tennis in some way, either as players or by offering their services in running programs or tournaments or in junior development activities.
- The Burke Family of Raleigh, North Carolina
Click here for Ralph W. Westcott USTA Family of the Year Award photos and video.
Volunteer Exceptional Service Award
The Volunteer Exceptional Service Award (VESA) recognizes the most outstanding USTA Volunteers. Nominees in this category must currently be serving on a USTA National Committee.
- Jennifer Edmonson of Baton Rouge, Louisiana – 25 years of service
Click here for Volunteer Exceptional Service Award photos.
The USTA Annual Meeting and Conference brings together USTA Leadership, national staff, national committee members and section volunteers and staff in pursuit of the USTA mission: To promote and develop the growth of tennis.
Tennis saw significant growth in both participation and equipment sales in 2021, which marks the second consecutive year of this trend. According to the Physical Activity Council’s (PAC) Participation report produced by Sports Marketing Surveys, which monitors more than 120 different sports and activities, more than 22.6 million people took to the courts in 2021, up approximately one million players and 4.5% from 2020. In addition, data from the Tennis Industry Association shows that racquet sales have increased in numerous areas, with an uptick of 22.7% in total units (3.4 million units) and 46.2% in total dollars ($122.9 million) last year.
Over the past two years, tennis has seen a 27.9% increase in participation, growing by approximately 4.9 million players over that time period (2019 v 2021). In 2020, participation in the sport increased by 22%, with 4 million more players than in 2019. Sales of entry-level racquets also saw an increase of nearly 40% that year.
More Tennis Coverage:
- Tennis Players Praise Ash Barty After Her Retirement Announcement
- Ash Barty Won the Australian Open. Where Does Her Career Go From Here?
- Alex Dolgopolov, From ATP to Defending Ukraine: ‘Maybe I’ll Be Killed, Maybe I Have to Kill’
- The ATP’s Failure to Discipline Alexander Zverev is a Disgrace