WHAT’S HAPPENING HERE? They say tennis is a sport that teaches life lessons. Sportsmanship and ethics are key – character matters; show your mettle.
So it’s hard when we see that money often rules. Beloved tournaments are moved, a big-bucks deal guts the soul of the Davis Cup. Okay, we have broad shoulders – that’s life.
But then we’re more than perplexed when our most beloved active icon, Senor Nadal, cozies up to the Saudis with all their oil bucks and women-can’t-drive rules, their “Don’t you dare shake the boat or be gay” kingdom that can end you up in jail or cot you your life.
Well, these days that’s the way she rolls. There’s plenty of blame to go around.
But what’s happening with all our wonderful tennis players who are now running afoul of the law?
It’s not only little-known players like Thiago Seyboth Wild, who’s been dealing with a nasty domestic violence case.
We were stunned when the once glorious Boris Becker was imprisoned in Britain for ten months for financial fraud. We were taken aback when the often charming, sometimes irascible Nick Kyrgios pled guilty to a domestic violence charge.
Now tennis is dealing with a massive gorilla in the room. Former No. 2 Alexander Zverev survived a 15-month ATP investigation on domestic violence charges. The ATP said there wasn’t enough evidence to do anything.
Then, just as we were processing that, another Zverev girlfriend (the mother of his daughter) brought forward additional charges of abuse. Sascha again said, “No way, for sure I didn’t do anything wrong.” But a German court fined him almost half a million bucks. Now there will be an eight-day court trial at the end of May.
In the meantime, Netflix began streaming a deep-dive profile on the German which omitted any reference to his abuse case.
His fellow pros elected him to the ATP Players Council, no problemo. And, as he’s advancing through the Aussie Open draw, broadcasters rarely mention his case, and in press conferences the German abruptly deflects questions without telling us what really happened in both of the instances.
Then again, the 6’ 6” Olympic champ is hardly the first star (Kobe Bryant, Mike Tyson and the NFL’s Ray Rice are just examples) who’ve tried to avoid personal minefields while they’re elite athletes.
Then, as if this weren’t enough, there was news of Arantxa Sánchez Vicario. The once bubbly, charming four-time Slam winner and her ex-husband who yesterday were found guilty of fraud in Spain. They were charged with hiding assets in an attempt to avoid paying massive debts. Sánchez Vicario was sentenced to two years in prison, but the sentence was waived because she’s a first-time offender and she’s going to pay back the money.
Throughout her career, the spunky and so gifted Arantxa drew adoration for her grit. But she also endured a shockingly brief marriage and a perplexing feud within her family.
MIKE DICKSON, CELEBRATED BRITISH WRITER FALLS: In Britain, newspapers are still huge and highly competitive, and the UK’s tennis journalists are a singular traveling clan who are key movers in tennis journalism. There are fierce rivalries within, but they kind of hunt as a pack, and, when their work is done, wash down plenty of pints at pubs from Shanghai to Manhattan.
A hardworking lad from Wimbledon village, Mike Dickson, was a leader of the pack. If there was a bright-eyed British prospect emerging from Oxford, the veteran journalist would report it. If there was the slightest twist in the Andy Murray narrative, Dickson was quick to reveal it. If an ATP boss needed to be quizzed, he’d do it. If Raducanu decided to get a new assistant trainer, he was all over it.
Mike was always there – but no more. Just days before his 60th birthday, he collapsed and died in Melbourne.
Traveling the world covering our sport or being a tennis publisher is a dream job. But it’s stressful, and there are often health issues. Bud Collins, Gene Scott, Gladys Heldman, John Parsons and Larry Easley all come to mind.
Fittingly, Dickson’s death came while he was doing what he so dearly loved to do: covering a Slam. The Aussie Open press room is in shock. Tennis journalism will just not be the same without the leader of the British pack. RIP, Mike Dickson.
NOVAK HEALTH ALERT: It wouldn’t be a Grand Slam without Novak Djokovic having a health issue: abdomen, wrist, ankle, anything goes.
Inside Tennis hasn’t gotten any doctor’s reports, but we couldn’t help noticing that his last press conference was very brief, his voice was hoarse and he was sipping tea.
NOVAK’S SELFISH? Sometimes brooding Stefanos Tsitsipas seems oh-so-serious. You want to put your arm around his shoulder and say, “Lighten up, dude!” But the Greek actually has an inventive sense of humor.
So when John McEnroe asked him what it was going to take for him to break through to the very top, he paused and then jokingly replied, “Numbers don’t lie. Novak has won here 12 times [actually it’s 10]. He’s a very selfish person. I think he just needs to wake up one day and get less selfish [and have a] more ‘Sharing is caring’ type of vibe…Someone needs to beat Novak that’s not me. Or it has to be me. We’ll find a way.”
A FAN-FRIENDLY RULE STIRS CONTROVERSY: Jordan Thompson isn’t happy with the new Aussie Open procedure that at last puts an end to those interminable delays between changeovers that keep fans waiting until they can get to their seats.
“You’re kidding me, really?” said the Aussie star. “Oh my God, this is the wokest tournament ever!” He suggested that tennis players “don’t storm into an office while someone’s in a meeting.”
Aussie Open chief Craig Tiley explained that the move was meant to enhance the customer’s sporting experience and “get all the fans into the stadium as quickly as possible.” Jim Courier contended, “People should be able to come and go as they please, as if they’re going to a basketball or football game.”
As for Novak Djokovic, the Serb said, “I understand…and I support it to some extent, but…all my life I’ve been used to some kind of atmosphere. When that changes, it kind of messes you up and distracts you a bit.”
MIGHTY MIRRA’S MIRACLE: Russia’s bound-for-glory teen phenom Mirra Andreeva idolized the magical No. 6 seed Ons Jabeur. But Wednesday she thrashed the Tunisian 6-0, 6-2. Mirra was elated about the win, but, like almost all 16-year olds, was fretting about school, complaining, “I still don’t like chemistry.”
But she sure has good chemistry on court. She’s already made the third round of all the majors.
Another Russian, 20-year old qualifier Maria Timofeeva, came from behind, won eight of nine games, and shocked former Aussie Open champ Caroline Wozniacki, 1-6, 6-4, 6-1.
AMERICA MARCHES ON: Four of the five American seeded men are still in the draw, including No. 12 Taylor Fritz, No. 16 Ben Shelton, No. 29 Seb Korda and No. 14 Tommy Paul, who reached last year’s semis. But No. 17 Frances Tiafoe fell in his second-round match to Czechia’s Tomas Machac in straight sets. The appealing Yankee hasn’t gotten beyond the third round in four of the last five Slams. Unseeded Californian Alex Michelsen faces No. 32 seed Jiri Lehecka today.
Americans Coco Gauff, Jessica Pegula, Emma Navarro, Alycia Parks, Sloane Stephens, Amanda Anisimova, little-known McCartney Kessler and Danielle Collins (who faces top-seeded Iga Swiatek next) are also alive in Melbourne. Gauff and Parks will face each other in the third round.
“NOT UNTURNING ANY STONE:” Brad Gilbert has guided so many top stars: Andre Agassi, Andy Murray, Andy Roddick and Coco Gauff. And he says the 19-year-old Floridian is the hardest working player of any he’s worked with. The often adept wordsmith then offered a delightful verbal twist, saying that “There’s not any stone she’s unturning.”
JUST WONDERING: Why have there been so many five-set matches at this year’s Aussie Open?
GO FIGURE: After downing Alexander Bublik, India’s Sumit Nagal became the first Indian in 35 years to beat a seed at the AO.
THAT EXPLAINS EVERYTHING: After Spain’s Paula Badosa was asked, “Do you have any explanations as to why you’re playing so well so quickly if you didn’t expect it?” she replied with a twinkle in her eye, “Maybe my talent?”
DREAM KILLER: Novak, who downed Aussie Alexei Popyrin to reach the third round, is now 31-1 against homestanding locals in Grand Slams. BTW: while playing against Popyrin, Nole had to deal with an unhinged heckler – not good.
“I’d love to get it done easier but I’ve got the mental focus of a three-year-old.” – Thanasi Kokkinakis
“Emma has grown up sort of normalish.” – Candy Reid on Emma Raducanu
“I’m just here for the journey.” – Amanda Anisimova after her first-round win
— Also Reporting: Steve Pratt, Vinay Venkatesh