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Tennis parents again rear ugly heads

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Posted: Friday June 30, 2000 09:41 AM


By Jon Wertheim, Sports Illustrated

LONDON -- It was a great day for tennis at Wimbledon. To the delight of hundreds of Tim Henman -iacs who camped out overnight to see their man take on Arnaud Clement, the eighth-seeded Brit advanced in straight sets. Lindsay Davenport was down two breaks in the third set before subduing Elena Likhovtseva. Magui Serna, a bubbly Spaniard with looping strokes, upset third-seeded Mary Pierce.

Yet the matches of the day were rendered into agate type, dwarfed by the actions and allegations of two of the more notorious tennis parents, Damir Dokic and Samantha Stevenson. On the day that the women's players council enacted a rule barring moms from the locker room, Day 4 should be subtitled: in loco parentis. After his daughter, Jelena, advanced to the third round with a win over Gala Leon Garcia, Damir, drunk on something more potent than paternal pride, confused the Wimbledon grounds with Speakers Corner. Swathed in a British flag he decried England as a fascist country, and then proceeded to smash a journalist's cell phone. He was led away by security and left the grounds -- "voluntarily" we were told -- after sobering up. Damir's drunken ruminations on international affairs were reminiscent of his orations last summer at the Birmingham event, where he went on an anti-NATO screed and then plopped himself in the middle of traffic. There, too, he was led away by authorities. His daughter's memorable response to her father's meltdown? "I think the British are a little stuffy that way," said Jelena.

In one of those delicious ironies that tennis is so good at furnishing, it was none other than Stevenson who reported Damir's conduct to the world that day. At the time, she was working as a journalist for the New York Times. A few days later she herself would comprise news fit to print, when she railed against the racism and lesbianism on the WTA Tour and then was revealed to have conceived her daughter with Dr. J. It doesn't contend with last year's circus, but Samantha was back in the news Thursday. After losing to Patricia Wartusch, Alexandra spoke of racism she has encountered on tour, including a clique of French players allegedly calling her "a piece of s--- black girl."

Serious, and not implausible, allegations to be sure. But when Samantha supplemented her daughter's tales with her own anecdotes of getting teased and having the brim her baseball hat slapped by the same culprits -- players Anne-Gaelle Sidot and Amelie Cocheteux -- the situation seemed less like a racist incident than a petty high school feud.

The saga is sure to continue Friday. Sidot plays a singles match, and she will doubtless be grilled about the Stevenson clan in her post-match press conference. Alexandra plays as well -- mixed doubles with Justin Gimelstob, of all people -- and Samantha has already encouraged reporters to continue asking her daughter about the incidents. For that matter, Dokic will also face the press after her next match and will assuredly be asked about her father's histrionics. "Jeez," Lindsay Davenport said with a laugh after being told of the day's events. "It never stops, does it?"

No, it doesn't. It's all standard Week 1 fare, the kind of bizarro tales that make tennis -- women's tennis, especially -- at once so alluring and repulsive. It's the inane gossip we ingest before the serious tennis kicks in next week. We have a chuckle and shake our heads at the stranger-than-fiction episodes and the impossible wackiness that attend Grand Slam events. Yet one has to wonder: Would tennis really be worse off if more fans knew about Magui Serna than Damir Dokic and Samantha Stevenson? When the match results weren't so frequently writ small by the sport's inimitable peripheral characters? Guarantee this: We won't find out the answer Friday.

Half volleys

Quote of the day: Pat Rafter on Australian athletes: "The Australians are very laid back, very approachable people. If any aren't that way, they're generally regarded as d---heads". ... The Pete Sampras update: An MRI on his left foot, taken after his match Wednesday night with Karol Kucera, revealed acute tendinitis. He rested Thursday. ... Alexandra Stevenson's ranking will dip below No. 90 now that her points from Wimbledon 1999 have fallen off her total. ... The reports of German tennis' death were greatly exaggerated. Tommy Haas, David Prinosil, Christian Vinck, Rainer Schuttler and Alexander Popp all remain alive. ... Given a cushy draw to begin with, Serena Williams is the only seed left in her quadrant. ... American Lilia Osterloh advanced with a solid win over No. 12 Amanda Coetzer, leaving no seeds in the third quadrant of the draw.

Sports Illustrated staff writer Jon Wertheim will be filing daily reports from Wimbledon.

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