Serena Williams, Entitlement, and Tennis Hooligans

APTOPIX US Open Tennis

Feeling under the weather today. Had trouble sleeping Saturday night. Just too keyed up. I thought I’d seen it all in sports. Olympic medalists raising clenched fists. Taunting and touchdown celebrations. Steroid use. Temper tantrums.

But Saturday night was a new low. Why? Because this time, deplorable behavior wasn’t restricted to just the athlete. This time, it was boorishness by committee: player, fans, announcers, and association president.

I’m referring to the 2018 women’s tennis final of the U.S. Open in New York City.

As often occurs in professional sports these days, the Big Top was overshadowed by a sideshow. Although 20-year-old Naomi Osaka of Japan won the champions’ trophy by obliterating American Serena Williams in straight sets, 6-2, 6-4, the vast majority of news stories are now focusing on Williams’ massive meltdown. Warned of being coached from the stands, she was then penalized a point for smashing her racket on the court, then penalized a game for verbally abusing the chair umpire for doing what he’s paid to do. The tantrum went on for, oh, maybe ten solid minutes, and continued in slightly milder fashion on the podium and in her news conference.

bitch 2

Queen Serena lectures Ramos

Here are some quotes from Queen Serena:

“I don’t cheat to win, I’d rather lose!” after being warned of coaching from the stands. (Though, after a history of angry outbursts at the U.S. Open, she seems to have difficulty losing.)

(And though cameras distinctly showed her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, gesturing her to move forward, and Mouratoglou himself later admitted he was, indeed, coaching.)

“You stole a point from me and you are a thief!” after chair umpire Carlos Ramos penalized Williams for destroying her racket by slamming it on the court.

“You owe me an apology!” screamed over and over and over.

If this wasn’t bad enough, the raucous, one-sided crowd was behind Williams the whole way, consistently booing Ramos, as well as poor Osaka, whose heroine is (inconceivably) Williams, and who played her heart out.

Then on the podium after the match, USTA President Katrina Adams actually said “Perhaps it is not the finish we were looking for today.” She followed this biased remark with the even more remarkable “This mama (Williams) is a role model and respected by all.” Loud cheers follow, as Osaka—again, the victor and champion—continued to weep, undoubtedly due to the ugly dramatics around her as to her unlikely victory.

Williams refused to praise Osaka for her tennis playing, and instead played to the crowd by pretending to console Osaka…for Osaka’s victory.

sore loser

A sore loser consoles a shaken victor

The jellyfish announcers, Mary Carillo and Lindsay Davenport, seemed stunned by all of it, offering merely token praise to Osaka, and not once criticizing Williams for her antics. I’m just guessing here, but perhaps these two are aware that Williams does commercials for Chase, one of the tournament’s major sponsors? Quid pro quo, anyone?

Today, the majority of U.S. tennis fans are, in a disturbing shadowing of our petulant president’s behavior, tweeting all over cyberspace that it was the umpire’s fault their Queen lost, and that she deserves congratulations for speaking out against sexism. The Queen’s supporters include official women’s rights spokesperson and former tennis champion Billie Jean King.

The Katrina and Serena show continues as well. They’re joining King in shifting the focus from Williams’ disgusting tirade to the nebulous yet safe and fashionable issue of sexism. (A nice little club here.)

Am I the only one who feels like he’s living in an inverse universe, where values and priorities are turned upside down?

With seemingly everyone congratulating Williams for speaking out against sexism in tennis—by behaving like a spoiled brat because she lost—the tennis court has evidently now joined the football field as a place to air social grievances. (Despite significant differences between the motivations of sore losers like Williams and idealists like Colin Kapaernick.)

If wagon circling of big-money, entitled, immature superstars is where women’s tennis wants to be in the 21st century, count me out.

Osaka

By the way…Naomi Osaka, 2018 U.S Open champion

Tennis, Anyone? Why U.S. Men Can’t Win the French Open

agassi

The 2013 French Open began this past weekend in Paris.  The tournament is one of pro tennis’s four Grand Slam events, the others being Wimbledon, the U.S. Open, and the Australian Open.

The French Open is the biggest clay court tournament in the world.  When tennis fans think of this tournament, the first image that comes to mind is the red clay surface at Roland-Garros Stadium.  This surface can be unforgiving for even the best tennis players.  The clay is actually crushed brick that has an outer layer of loose particles, which causes a lot of slipping and sliding.  Because of this, and because of the tennis ball bouncing abnormally high, the tournament is not suited for serve-and-volley players.  To win the French, you have to be exceptionally fit and be able to persevere through long rallies.

Since the Open era began in 1968, American male tennis players have had a very difficult time winning the French.  While U.S. women have taken the title 13 times (seven times by Chris Evert), only three American men have won it: Michael Chang, Jim Courier (twice), and Andre Agassi.  Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, and Pete Sampras never won it.  And of these three, only McEnroe reached the finals.  Since 1999, when Agassi defeated Andrei Medvedev in five sets, no American male has won it.

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Why is the French Open so troublesome to American male tennis pros?

Well, to be honest, America has only had a few top-tier male tennis players since Sampras and Agassi, whose heyday was the ‘80s and ‘90s.  Since then, America’s highest ranked player has been Andy Roddick.  But Roddick held the No. 1 spot for only a few months, and won only one Grand Slam event his entire career: the 2003 U.S. Open.  What helped him there was his powerful first serve.  But on the clay courts of Stade Roland-Garros, forget it.

Another reason is that clay court surfaces are far less common in the states than “hard court” surfaces.  Most of the clay courts are green or maroon “Har-Tru” clay, made of crushed basalt, but which are harder and faster than red clay.  Only one men’s ATP tournament in the U.S. is held on any type of clay: the U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championships in Houston.

And although it sounds silly, Americans really struggle with the French language.  Because of our proximity to Mexico, Central and South America, Spanish is the most popular foreign language in the states.  Americans can “Excusé moi” and “Merci beaucoup,” but beyond that, most have a difficult time.  The language barrier at the annual French Open can’t be downplayed.

It would be nice if tennis could be as popular in the U.S. as during its Golden Age in the 1970s.  For baby boomer Yanks like me, who can forget those exciting Battle-of-the-Sexes matches between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs?  Or the coolness and grace of Chris Evert and Arthur Ashe?  Or the explosive play (and cocky behavior) of Jimmy “The Brat” Connors?  How about the launching of World Team Tennis, assisted by Elton John’s tribute song to his favorite team, “Philadelphia Freedom”?  Does anyone remember the late, great Vitas Gerulaitas??

There are probably a dozen reasons why the U.S. lags behind Europe in tennis.  But I started talking only about the French Open, so I won’t digress.  I just have a few suggestions for improving our prospects at Stade Roland-Garros:

First, go back to wooden rackets and deemphasize the serve-and-volley style of play.  Second, destroy all the hard courts and replace them with bright red clay (they’re prettier, anyway).  Third, mandate that students learn conversational French.  And last: find out what Rafael Nadal eats for breakfast and make it required fare at all our junior tennis camps.

Vive l’Amérique!!