Players' union talk, drawing a line for fair media coverage, more mail
Three arguments for, and against, the players forming a union
Readers' emails about Serena Williams shows amazing disparity
Giving the chair ump discretion quells anti-shot clock arguments
The emailer who claims unionization has never increased a company's profits may be correct (I doubt it), but that is irrelevant to the needs of tennis pros anyway. The Tour is not a traditional business. The players themselves are the main assets of the enterprise and it is to the benefit of everyone involved to make sure they can make their maximum contribution to the "business." Creating a player-run organization to make sure this happens, via more intelligent scheduling primarily, can do nothing but improve the product for all participants in tennis, including players, event promoters and fans.
-- Jerry Outlaw, Eagle, Ind.
We have a long and thoughtful disquisition from a labor economist below. We can discuss this more in the weeks to come but here's the dilemma. Tennis is ripe for unionization because the current structure that puts/pits labor (players) and management (tournaments) under the same umbrella is inherently flawed -- or, at a minimum, conflicted. Tennis is unripe for unionization because the interests of the players are often in conflict. What is best for Rafael Nadal is not necessarily best for Michael Russell. And vice versa.
While unionization seems to be a hot topic -- fans flamed by some strong rhetoric by the top players -- let me throw this out there: Observers have long talked about "blowing up the system" and reconfiguring the Tours. Martina Navratilova, to pick one name among many, has been saying this for years. Any slight move in this direction has been met by antitrust lawsuits and threats and a fear that the Grand Slams will intensify their stranglehold on the Tours. It seems to me, though, we're at a unique juncture here. The ATP has a leadership vacuum with a lame-duck CEO. The players are clearly upset and offer the appearance of an uncharacteristically united front. The directors of smaller tournaments feel squeezed out. The WTA is less agitated, but the product is not at a historic high. Both Tours are wary of the Grand Slams expanding their footprint.
Now let's say I'm private equity and am looking to enter the sports space. Given the volatility of the financial markets, I have a lot of cash I've been keeping on the sidelines. I look at tennis and see a fragmented sport with seemingly intractable politics and laughable conflicts of interest. (Aside: One wonders how IMG, which owns tournaments and represents Wimbledon, is advising clients like Roger Federer and Nadal on the wisdom of unionization.) But I also see a huge global audience, geographic hedges, beachheads in China and India, undermonetized assets. There's a rich history, there are colorful and personable stars. I look at the ill-fated ISL deal of a decade ago and see the flaws, but also see that the fundamental concept made sense.
All of which is to say: This talk of unionizing and of players amplifying their voice and using their leverage is both healthy and natural. But while players and the Tour bicker, over board seats and schedule demands, I wonder if tennis isn't ripe for a complete outsider to come in, wave around some real money and really reshape the sport. Whatever, all this makes for good theater during what is otherwise a slow time in the season.
Tennis journalists picking on players are fair game usually. It all comes with the territory. Do you have any comments on writers publicly disparaging players' wives and children? As a journalist yourself, where do you think the line should be drawn?
-- DE, Baltimore
A few weeks ago, a reader noted that I never reference Brooklyn Decker with respect to Andy Roddick, and wondered if I "protected" her because she is featured in Sports Illustrated. Not at all. Inasmuch as I never comment on Brooklyn Decker, it's because she is irrelevant to the tennis coverage. She is not the story. She does not make herself the story. Until then -- and it doesn't matter if she's a supermodel or a troll living under a bridge -- she's off the table.
When a player's spouse slaps an official (see: Jeff Tarango), it merits coverage. When a spouse does something pertinent to tennis (see: Mirka giving Roger Federer a stern pep talk during the 2008 Wimbledon final), I think that's fair game. When's there's a domestic dispute that results in police activity? Yes. (See: Thanksgiving Day, 2009.) When there's a life change (Jarmila Gajdosova divorcing), it probably warrants some coverage. But ad hoc remarks? Physical assessments? That's pretty much no-fly territory.
Kids? Short of them crawling onto the court during the middle of a point, I can't think of an instance in which they would have much relevance. I'd be very careful here. I suspect it's a lot like the Washington press corps. Mention that the president is a father, tell me the names and ages and of kids. But anything beyond that really ought to be off limits.
When are tournament organizers and/or venue managers going to wise up and provide some kind of access for winners to get to their families, friends and coaches after a match? It now seems de rigueur for every winning player to scramble, climb and be hauled up into the stands for hugs, etc. It seems actually kind of dangerous, an injury waiting to happen.
-- Rosemary Shannon, Hooksett, N.H.
Very good. You'd think the liability police would be all over this. After match point, why not have the ballkids roll out a stepladder enabling the winners to avoid risking concussions and broken bones when they clamber up to their box? (Leave it to the U.S. Open to have an official sponsor in the "ladder/stepstool" category.)
Nadal said his only strategy against Federer is play to the backhand. Obviously that did not work well in last year's World Tour Finals in London, for example at the 0:19 mark. Why don't we see these Federer backhands on hardcourts? Missing confidence or because of the court?
-- Esteban, Sao Paulo, Brazil
Short answer: About 90 percent of the time, EVERY player's strategy is to work the opponent's backhand. The U.S. men's final is a recent example -- it sometimes appeared as though Djokovic had two wings and Nadal had only one. As for Federer, hitting over the one-handed backhand is a high-risk, high-reward proposition.
I was a little taken back by your response to Rohan from Pondicherry in last week's mailbag. He raises some valid points about Federer's play against Djokovic this year. Rather than simply disagreeing, you have to call his argument "gibberish"? It seemed like all he was saying is that Federer has shown an ability to challenge and even beat Novak this year. That's perfectly sensible. At least you didn't speculate on his attractiveness on the inside, I guess.
-- Michael Mungin, Harrisonburg, Va.
Sorry. That "gibberish" line was a throwaway Blazing Saddles reference. It wasn't meant to disparage the questioner or the question. As far as matchups go, I do think Federer poses more problems to Djokovic right now than Nadal does. Federer gets more mileage out of his serve, he attacks better and positions himself differently. Federer would never admit this -- and I don't want to overstate it -- but I also sense that he dislikes losing to Djokovic much more than he dislikes losing to Nadal and this might add a dimension as well.
Having said that, I also sense that fans are really contorting themselves to come up with reasons to undercut Djokovic's season. He could fail to win another match the rest of the year, rendering it a moot point. But as of today, his record is a joke, especially given the quality of his contemporaries. We're talking about losing three matches at a time when two of the best, what, five (?) players ever are ranked No. 2 and No. 3. Give the man his due.
I'd add that Rohan's e-mail wasn't just "authentic frontier gibberish." It expressed a courage little seen in this day and age. Magnificent reference, sir. And now I will waste the better part of my day thinking of that movie. :)
-- Joe Hass, Willowbrook, Ill.
I didn't get a harrumph out of you!
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