Is tennis boring right now?
Some thoughts on banning Russia from global sports .
Let me see. Novak is for whatever reason barred from playing or unable. Meddy is threatened by a ban unless Novak denounces Putin. This will, of course, put his life and that of his family in Russia at risk if he does not. Nadal took advantage of the situation in Australia, but is now out of commission for a few more weeks. Zverev continues to play, but many wonder if he is being given a longer ban. Roger is now retired for all practical purposes. Tsitsi isn’t up to the challenge and is being accused of using the bathroom. It is taking forever for the new generation to get to slams HTML3_ and Masters wins. Barty, the one player universally liked, retired ala Borg at 25, Serena, like Roger, is more or less retired, Osaka is still way down in the ranks and Emma, the newly minted slam wonder, can’t even win a first round match these days. There was never a time in tennis history when it was so bad.
Let’s see….Rafael Nadal–shortlist among the world’s most revered sportsmen– is 35 and favored to win his 22nd Major at the same tournament where he broke in 2005. Djokovic is ready to defend his title and tie Federer. That’s right, three active players with 20 or more Majors. There’s also one for the women’s side! Naomi Osaka, the world’s highest-paid female athlete, has become a crusader to mental health. This topic has been taboo for decades. The WTA has a title sponsor after showing great courage in standing up against authoritarian China. There are nine countries represented in the WTA’s top 10, including Tunisia. The new No. The new No. 1 is a worthy, cool and all-surface star who even-–get this-–reads books. The Madrid event sold for somewhere between $400-500 million. Cincinnati is next. The Williams sisters haven’t played for months. But, Lord knows that they are still prominent figures. Their “daughters” and sons, the tennis players they inspired, are making their mark. A teenager from Spain is an rising star and a contender in every Major he enters. The U.S., which is often a bellwether of the sport, is, as usual, a fountain for women’s talent. It has also been home to rising male players, including the winner at the last major event. In the midst of conflicted interests, I will mention a network dedicated exclusively to tennis
You get the idea. VK is not the only one who feels this way. A high-ranking official made a similar point last Wednesday, noting that a TMS with no of the Big Three or Serena is hollow. Some of the points made by the reader–and he did not mention the abuse of officials or equipment–are very serious. Overall, the sport will thrive. It always does.
I’ve quite enjoyed watching Ash Barty and I’ll miss her game. Her career will be remembered for its statistical oddity as much as any other aspect. She entered the top 10 after winning Miami in March 2019, and was #1 by the end of June–a record-quick ascent. Her three years in the top 10 were her three years finishing #1. Her time at the top coincided during the Covid pandemic. She never had the title-gobbling and momentum associated with being the world’s best player. In NONE of her three slam wins did she beat a top-10 player. Her longest win streak also featured no wins over top-10 players. It’s a strange career.
Assuming we are in the past tense…I would agree Barty’s career has its own rhythms. Covid was a part of some of this. Some of this was due to her extreme agency throughout her career. This was no joke. Three Majors does not adequately reflect the versatility, sporting approach, popularity among peers, and the Republic of Tennis. Two other side points:
1) Yes, fans will be disappointed that she has stepped away at age 25. For a variety reasons, tennis will feel depleted without her. The flip side? Here’s a player in the mid-20s who has made generational wealth–$25 million in prize money alone. Here’s a player who can quit the agency if she feels like it. She can also re-enter the league if she feels like. This is a sponsorship deal for women’s tennis. This is a great example of a healthy sport that allows its players to make their own decisions.
2) I noticed that of the $25 million Barty made, $4.4 came from one event. And it was not a Major but it was the 2019 WTA year-end finals in Shenzhen. The WTA was able to walk away from this difficult arrangement.
2b) Someone (Rennae Stubbs?) mentioned that Barty had won more in prize money than Steffi Graf, who, of course, exceeded her count of Majors, 22-3. I went down the Graf rabbit hole and realized that she won 107 titles….in 138 finals. That is, 78 percent of the time she was in a final, she won the trophy. Wow.
Does Ashleigh Barty have a very poor publicist or agent? She has been ranked number one for more than two consecutive years and has won major titles. She is not well-known outside of tennis. Why is she not more well-known? Is it her own doing due to lack of interest in commercials, multiple sponsorships etc or is she not as attractive as say Raducanu who is a one hit wonder and will be out of top 25 by the end of the year.
I would argue the precise opposite. Ash Barty was/was an excellent agent. She let the player make the decisions. It is unknown what kind of deals, appearance fees, and “commissionable opportunities,” they negotiated. If Barty wanted to stay home and play, or felt uncomfortable recommending a product, or was not prepared to admit she used a pharmaceutical drug, the agent clearly observed that.
Regarding the letter sent to the woman on the tennis team, a macro view:
I’ve long held that coaches of amateur teams, especially for kids but not exclusively, should establish at the beginning of a season one of two primary goals for the team: either we look to get everyone to play, or we play the best team we can at any one meet/match. Both paths have their rewards, challenges, sacrifices, pain, but it would be better if everyone knew what they were getting into at the beginning. Perhaps it’s a coach’s decision for kids? Maybe it’s a coach’s decision (for kids), but I think it would make for less drama down to the road. ( And yes, the letter from a teammate was about bush league in extremeis. )
–Skip S. Philly
Yes, the letter last week–go to the end– about league play drew a number of interesting responses.
Did you hear the James Blake story about league tennis? He was visiting family in Florida and decided to go out to watch [a family member] play a USTA match at 2.5. He tried to talk to her about a changeover, but the opposing team confronted him and accused him.
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1) For all the ills of social media and technology it does occur to me that–not unlike a spike in security cameras–there is this check on bad and antisocial behavior. A small example, but it is possible to call out bad behavior (and share it) with just a few keystrokes.
2 A quick aside about James. He is exactly the type of person who represents the best tennis and should play a greater role in the sport moving forward. For as often as the tennis commentariat shares negative opinions, often justly–Zverev should be suspended! The USTA doesn’t know how to run their business! The ATP should leave China! –we often gloss over people, acts and institutions worthy of praise.
Jon, now that Ashy Barty is retired, doesn’t she deserve her own name court at the Australian Open??
Envision Tennis Australia and this call coming soon…
“Yes, Margaret? “
“Yeah, good! And you?”
“Great. Why are you calling? Right. That’s all. Surely, you heard the news about Ash.”
“Yeah. Crazy, I know. Yes, 25! Wild. Wild. “
Hey Jon – Kyrie can play now in New York. So Nole can, too.
–Deepak, New York
Free to watch. Play for free.
Not a question. I love your column and your writing. You have been kind enough over the years to publish some of mine. Now my pet peeve 😉
I know it’s become common over the years to treat “ironically” and coincidentally” as interchangeable, but they’re not really. It’s not ironic Medvedev and Kafelnikov happen to be Russian. What word would you use to describe something ironic if “irony” had lost its true meaning? Tell me mercilessly if you’re wrong.
Isn’t it coincidence, dontya think? (You are correct. )
As long as we’re here ….a digression. Did you guys see the documentary on Alanis Morissette? As far as music docs go, it’s quite strong. It struck me as a classic loser. In advance of the release, she disparaged the film and slammed the filmmakers. (“Our visions diverged…this wasn’t the story I agreed with. It was not going to be committed to or liked by the fans. She pulled the film from prize consideration. You won’t be nominated for many prizes if the film’s subject is unable to distance herself from you and questions your ethics. )
Then, when you actually watch the film and see that a) it’s awfully good and b) the subject comes out great…you question the subject’s level of narcissism; what her alternative vision could possibly have been; even, her grasp of how art is made. The film is ruined. The film’s subject, who is portrayed with such affection, becomes a prima donna with her criticism. There’s a lesson here.
There’s a player named JJ Wolf and you didn’t tell me?!? He looks like if Kurt Russell made a tennis movie in the ’80s and he had to beat some Russian player, and Goldie Hawn was maybe a line judge who got hit with a ball and lost her memory and…well…it writes itself, really.
He’s for real. He is from Ohio. He hit this shot.
The United States Tennis Association (USTA) today announced the winners of its Annual Awards presented at the USTA Annual Meeting’s “Celebration of Community Champions” Luncheon at the Disney Beach and Yacht Club in Orlando, Florida. The honorees were honored for their dedication to growing the game at grassroots level. We are delighted that more people are picking up a tennis racquets. Participation has increased by 27 percent over the past 2 years, with nearly five million players heading to a court. Craig Morris, Chief Executive of USTA Community Tennis, said, “We want to applaud and thank all of the awardees as they continue to work hard at grassroots level to make our sport more accessible, fun, and enjoyable for everyone.” “We want to applaud and thank all of the awardees as they continue to work hard at the grassroots level to make our sport more accessible, fun and enjoyable for everyone.”
Below are the awards, descriptions and honorees:
Brad Parks Award
The Brad Parks Award was established in 2002 to honor an individual or organization that has been instrumental in the development of wheelchair tennis around the world through playing, coaching, sponsoring or promoting the game. Brad Parks, a pioneer in wheelchair tennis and the first champion of a wheelchair tournament, was the award’s name.
- Nick Taylor of Wichita, Kansas
Click here for Brad Parks Award photos and video.
Eve F. Kraft Community Service Award
The USTA bestows the Eve F. Kraft Community Service Award upon individuals who perpetuate Kraft’s selfless mission to bring the sport of tennis to everyone who wants to play. Eve F. Kraft was a tennis pioneer who touched people’s lives beyond the tennis court. As a teacher, coach, author, USTA staff member and volunteer, Kraft was a lifelong champion of recreational tennis in the United States until her death in 1999. She introduced tennis to thousands of children, especially in disadvantaged communities.
- Lisa Pugliese-LaCroix of Delray Beach, Florida
Click here for Eve F. Kraft Community Service Award photos and video.
Community Tennis Association of the Year
The Community Tennis Association of the Year Award honors a CTA for outstanding service in growing and developing the sport of tennis in its community. The award recipient is selected from 17 nominees, one from each of the USTA sections, by a panel of USTA Community Tennis Association Committee members.
- Capital Area Tennis Association (CATA) in Austin, Texas
Click here for CTA of the Year Award photos and video.
Janet Louer USTA Junior Team Tennis Organizer of the Year
The USTA bestows the Janet Louer USTA Junior Team Tennis Organizer of the Year Award upon an individual who positively influences children’s lives and substantially impacts their
community. Janet Louer was instrumental in the development and growth of junior tennis throughout her life. The award is named for her.
- Matt Boughton of Eau Claire, Wisconsin
Click here for Janet Louer USTA Junior Team Tennis Organizer of the Year Award photos and video.
NJTL Founders’ Service Award
The USTA NJTL Founders’ Service Award was created by USTA Diversity in 2011 and recognizes an individual NJTL chapter founder who is committed to positive youth development through tennis and education and provides free or low-cost tennis, education and life-skills programming to thousands of underserved children each year. The recipient is awarded the award in recognition of the NJTL founders Sheridan Snyder, Charles Pasarell and Arthur Ashe.
- Richard Ader, of Bennington, Vermont
Click here for NJTL Founders’ Service Award photos and video.
Ralph W. Westcott USTA Family of the Year Award
The Ralph W. Westcott USTA Family of the Year Award was created in 1965 by the USTA in honor of the late Ralph W. Westcott to emphasize the theme that “Tennis is a Family Game.” The award is given annually to the family that has done the most to promote amateur tennis, primarily on a volunteer basis. All family members should be involved in tennis in some capacity, whether as players or as volunteers in tournaments or junior development programs.
- The Burke Family of Raleigh, North Carolina
Click here for Ralph W. Westcott USTA Family of the Year Award photos and video.
Volunteer Exceptional Service Award
The Volunteer Exceptional Service Award (VESA) recognizes the most outstanding USTA Volunteers. Nominees must be currently serving on a USTA National Committee.
- Jennifer Edmonson of Baton Rouge, Louisiana – 25 years of service
Click here for Volunteer Exceptional Service Award photos. The USTA Annual Conference brings together the USTA Leadership, national committee members, section volunteers, and staff to further the USTA mission of promoting and developing tennis.
Tennis saw significant growth in both participation and equipment sales in 2021, which marks the second consecutive year of this trend. According to the Physical Activity Council’s (PAC) Participation report produced by Sports Marketing Surveys, which monitors more than 120 different sports and activities, more than 22.6 million people took to the courts in 2021, up approximately one million players and 4.5% from 2020. In addition, data from the Tennis Industry Association shows that racquet sales have increased in numerous areas, with an uptick of 22.7% in total units (3.4 million units) and 46.2% in total dollars ($122.9 million) last year.
Over the past two years, tennis has seen a 27.9% increase in participation, growing by approximately 4.9 million players over that time period (2019 v 2021). In 2020, participation in the sport increased by 22%, with 4 million more players than in 2019. Sales of entry-level racquets also saw an increase of nearly 40% that year.
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The author of 5 books, 3 of which are New York Times bestsellers. I’ve been published in more than 100 newspapers and magazines and am a frequent commentator on NPR.