Stephens' comments on Serena, Tomic's father stir up light weekend
It was shaping up to be a fairly calm weekend in the Land of Tennis. And then it wasn't ...
• We've all known for months that Sloane Stephens' relationship with Serena Williams had been dishonestly conveyed. The former is an African-American female tennis player and the latter is as well. So, lazy and cynical storytellers assumed that it was naturally a mentor-protégé relationship. It wasn't.
Still, who knew it was this bad?
Stephens unloaded on Williams in an ESPN The Magazine story that came out last week. On Saturday night, I got a text asking about Stephens' "trashing" of the WTA queen, with the 20-year-old calling Williams a fraud. Wow, I thought to myself, this could be revealing. There are an awful lot of dimensions to this. Stephens certainly isn't the first player to feel the back of Williams' hand. Good for Stephens for having the courage to call her out.
On the other hand, it's competition, not a quilting bee. Good for Williams for realizing that, especially in an individual sport, intimidation matters. There is a media element to this. There are elements of American tennis dysfunction. There is an old guard/new guard angle. (Remember how the Washington Wizards trashed Michael Jordan?) Of course, there is a race component to this, too. Lots of potential substance here.
I read Stephens' money quote: "[Serena has] not said one word to me, not spoken to me, not said hi, not looked my way, not been in the same room with me since I played her in Australia. ... They think she's so friendly and she's so this and she's so that -- no, that's not reality."
Interesting. Then I read Stephens' rationale: "You don't unfollow someone on Twitter, delete them off of BlackBerry Messenger. I mean, what for? Why?"
This all provoked the obvious question: People still use BlackBerry messenger? Then it provoked another question. To use Stephens' line, "What for? Why?" You're trashing one of the champions in sports and basically calling her phony. And then you're basing it ... on social media slights? Really? (Apply palm to forehead.)
No one looks good here. It would be nice if Williams cut more of a mentor figure, especially to younger Americans. (I'll go ahead and say this and deal with the fallout: It seems especially disappointing that two of the few African-American women on tour would swipe like this.) It would be nice if the USTA had done more to cultivate this relationship. Consider the esprit de corps on the Davis Cup team, and it's hard to imagine one player on Jim Courier's squad getting away with giving the silent treatment to another.
It would be nice if Stephens had grounded her assertions in more substance. She is to be commended for her candor or unwillingness to bow to a superstar she doesn't like. But does she really want to empty the chamber because of "unfollows," cryptic tweets and breaches of social media etiquette? Come at The Queen, you best not miss.
In a voyeuristic kind of way, it will be interesting to watch this play out in the next few months. But, while it would be bad for ratings, it's probably best if they get together soon, air their differences and, at a minimum, agree to address future disputes in private.
• Sadly, Brad Drewett, the former player and ATP CEO, died last week at age 54. He had been afflicted by the scourge that is ALS and was forced to vacate his position in January. He leaves us entirely too soon. Drewett wasn't just a gentleman; he was impossible not to like. He also did a tremendous amount to benefit the sport, not least helping catalyze the tennis boom in Asia.
• Bernard Tomic has emerged as -- how to put this? -- a polarizing figure in the tennis firmament, a talented young player who can't seem to get out of his own way. It's becoming clear that he really deserves our pity, though, as his father is redefining the paradigm of "execrable tennis parent."
Though his catalogue of awful acts was already quite long, John Tomic apparently hit a new low last weekend in Madrid. According to multiple reports, he was arrested after headbutting his son's hitting partner, Thomas Drouet, breaking Drouet's nose (The Herald Sun has pictures of Drouet with a neck brace). Tomic is likely to be formally charged in Madrid on Monday. Perhaps most disturbing are reports that John Tomic struck Bernard during a practice session last month in Monte Carlo, the provocation for an argument between Drouet and John.
They actually did play some tennis last week. Some results of note:
• American teenager Madison Keys defeated Li Na 6-3, 6-2 in first-round play in Madrid. That's a huge result -- on clay, no less. Too bad this was largely obscured by the Stephens-Serena dustup.
• Stan Wawrinka upset top seed David Ferrer 6-1, 6-4 to win the Portugal Open. Still, Ferrer is poised to be a top four seed at the French Open. Tournament organizers have chosen to follow the rankings, meaning Rafael Nadal -- who is 52-1 at Roland Garros -- will likely be No. 5.
• Tommy Haas continued his winning ways, taking the BMW Open in his native Germany. The 35-year-old has climbed one spot, to No. 13, in this week's rankings after defeating Philipp Kohlschreiber in an all-German final.
• Shelby Rogers, 20, earned a wild card into the French Open by winning the Har-Tru USTA Pro Circuit Wild Card Challenge. The USTA and the French Tennis Federation have a reciprocal agreement in which wild cards into the French and U.S. Opens are exchanged.