Picking out embarrassing moments in tennis is like shooting fish in a barrel. A very small barrel, stocked with marlin. Really, Bob Saget could be commissioner. In the past decade alone we've seen players wear catsuits on the court, chest-bump each other at changeovers and throw crockery at one another in the locker room. Stars have vomited on the court, sprinted off of it to make emergency restroom runs, and virtually every player has dissolved into tears at one time or another. Teenagers have thrown fits in Grand Slam finals and needed their mother to escort them back on the court. Then there are the trophy presentations, those excruciating rites that, unfailingly, breed humiliation.
Herewith are 10 embarrassing moments from the past 20 years. And we issue this list without even mentioning the name Anna Kournikova.
1. Zvereva's collapse: June 4, 1988
The seeds of the Russian Revolution were sown in the late 1980s when Natasha Zvereva burst onto the scene, playing attacking tennis and demanding to keep all of her prize money. (Under the Soviet system, most of her cha-ching reverted to the Federation.) In the 1988 French Open final, Zvereva faced Steffi Graf, and more than a few tennis flaneurs figured this could be the start of a real rivalry. Zvereva, though, played as if she'd never had a lesson. Graf won the match 6-0, 6-0 in 32 minutes, the worst drubbing in a Grand Slam final in the Open Era. Graf went on to win the Grand Slam (and an Olympic gold medal) that year. At least in singles, Zvereva never came close to replicating that success.
2. Mamiit's missed call: May 6, 1999
Hardly a tennis match goes by these days with an unwelcome interruption from a fan's cell phone. No matter how often crowds are advised, "As a courtesy to the players, please turn off your cell phones," the Nokia chirp is as much a part of tennis' soundtrack as the pock of the ball. At the Delray Tournament a few years ago, a phone beeped close to the court. On further review, it was discovered that the offending phone belonged to one of the players, Cecil Mamiit, who had left his Motorola in his racket bag. The tournament P.A. announcer couldn't resist. "As a courtesy to the fans," he intoned, "would the players please keep their cell phones off during the match."
3. Richard Williams' press conference: March 27, 1999
With Venus and Serena Williams making history by blitzing through the draw and reaching the final of the 1999 Lipton Championships, the WTA administrators thought it would be a swell idea to let the proud paterfamilias, Richard, hold a press conference and bask in the achievement. They learned the hard way that Richard Williams + open forum = public-relations disaster.
As the tour executives stood red-faced, Richard offered some gems that included: "I think I could really capitalize off of Venus and Serena if I had more time. But I really do not, because I really do a lot of work for the Chinese peoples and the Japanese peoples and so on, and represent them. As a matter of fact, we thinking now about buying Rockefeller Center for $3,900,000,000, so I don't have time to even think about tennis no more." Here's the full text.