Internet, Tennis and Tennis Fans

Tennis has this reputation of being a very genteel sport. There are so many rules attached to this game that sometimes one wonders how the game got a chance to evolve in the way it did because there were so many restrictions placed on players. As a matter of fact there are still restrictions placed on players especially at the majors, and in particular Wimbledon. The all white dress code, the curtsey (think that is no longer required by the women) and the standard of referencing each gender of the draw as Ladies and Gentlemen. I love Wimbledon. It is my favourite tournament of all tournaments and it is my dream to visit there one day and perhaps visit Centre Court, but for now I will just continue to enjoy the tournament from the comfort of my living room.

You may be wondering we are hardly even out of the Spring hard court season, have yet to touch clay, and you are already thinking of Wimbledon, but this post is not about Wimbledon. This post is about the Internet and tennis fans and the rules that govern the behaviour of fans of this sport.
Have you ever heard of a FeDal war? No. Well, a FeDal war is an Internet phenomenon that can be found on many message boards around the Internet. They are discussions that border on the insane between fans of Roger Federer, the current No.1 on the men’s side and Rafael Nadal, the current No. 3 on the men’s side. Roger and Rafa are good friends. They have practiced together, played together and both have said in press conferences how much respect they have for each other and what each has done to grow the sport of tennis. It is clear that in the beginning there was some animosity between both the Federer and Nadal camps as a result of the behaviour or alleged behaviour of the Nadal camp during matches (on court coaching) and comments attributed to Federer after yet another loss to Nadal (one dimensional springs to mind).
However, as the years have progressed and with each player carving their own little niche in tennis and making their own history and have made up, it would seem as if the fans have not yet made up. The viciousness of the posts of many bloggers and those who post comments on them would make you marvel at the fact that both sides describe themselves as fans of Federer or Nadal. Both sides will state how much they respect their player’s humility, his sportsmanship and all the other attributes of their faves, yet they will then go on a message board and threaten, perhaps not in so many words, to decapitate someone that they have never met, will perhaps never meet just because that person may have posted something that they consider to be in bad form against their favourite player.
Recently, the FeDal wars have taken a turn for the worse and we now have the women getting in on the act. There are the fans who are for the pushers (you know those defensive players who frustrate the dickens out of you on a tennis court until you give up in frustration) and the fans of the ball bashers (those who hit the ball hard and when that does not work they hit it even harder). The ball bashers are also known to either shriek or grunt as they hit the ball which has made them a tennis phenom. There are varying sides on message boards these days who take arguing these points to a level that I have never before seen in all my days of following tennis.
I write this blog about tennis because I am a fan. I have to say within the past year I have been visiting many blogs and have been giving my opinions on various topics. I try not to get involved in virtual wars with people, but last night during a match between 2 players (WTA) that I do not particularly care for I had occassion to say that I felt that one player was exhibiting poor sportsmanship in terms of her use of the challenge system. A poster took offence to that and proceeded to state that “I could post things but I wont”. Now I did not know how to take that comment, so I decided that for my peace of mind it may be a good thing to just take my leave of that particular message board for a short while.
It could have been that the poster meant that they could post some examples of unsportsmanlike behaviour that one of my faves has exhibited in the past, but I was genuinely astonished and afraid that the poster was about to go personal on a subject that was being discussed freely on the board.
It just made me realise that while the sport that we support has genteel roots, the fans these days are less so.
It is clear that we have not learnt from the damage that was done to Monica Seles by a rabid Steffi Graf fan all those years ago. Fans are wondering now why they cannot get too close to their favourite player to get autographs or go down and perhaps touch the arm that can do so much damage on a tennis court, but in these times when fans have taken fandom to a level that is downright scary, one has to wonder how long before some idiot decides that he is tired of seeing his favourite player lose to a Serena or Federer or Nadal and decides to harm either one of these players.
Without fans the sport will die. It is essential however that we as fans try and curb our enthusiasm and vitriol.
I am trying to figure out what has made us all become so invested in our favourite players. Is it because all the information on Roger and Rafael and Serena and Caroline is but a click away? Do we believe that we know them because we can go on their websites or join them on twitter or facebook and write little notes to them and they respond we feel like they are our best friends? I think we need to give ourselves a reality check. These people do not know us. Some of them really do not even care to know us. I am a fan of Serena, Venus, Federer, Wozniacki, Radwanska etc., Apart from Serena and Venus I do not think that I have visited a player’s website to get updates or left a message. I believe the only message I have left for either Serena and Venus is to ask them to reconsider the whole Indian Wells situation. I am yet to get a response.
I have no interest in heading to a tournament to see a Roger Federer “Genius at Work” banner, neither am I inclined to sign it. If I was a Rafa fan, I would not scour the Internet and spend hours of quality time discussing the clothes that he wears. Matter of fact I do not even do that with my faves. Does that make me a bad fan? No, it makes me a reasonable thinking person. I wish that all fans were like that. Reasonable, thinking people.
On that note, I will be taking a break from posting for a couple of weeks. Will perhaps be back after Miami.
Take care all and remember, please behave reasonably on message boards.

Indian Wells

Well, well, well. Should I do it? Yes, I think I will. So yesterday we had approximately 48 matches scheduled at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. Of those 48 matches, approximately 40% of them (or roughly 19) were women’s matches. Of those approximately 19 scheduled women’s matches only 2 were thought to be worthy of broadcast to the tennis watching public. That was Kuznetsova who went down to Navarro and Clijsters who beat Barbara Strylocova. The Tennis Channel has been regaling us with the fact that they have almost 90 hours of broadcast from IW. All fine and good but the only match that TC considered worthy to air was that of American Sloane Stephens against Vera Z. Now, it did not help that many people who had the tennistv.com feed were not able to see that particular match as the feed was giving all sorts of trouble.

In addition to not seeing many more women’s matches, we also had to suffer the indignity of having men’s doubles matches being aired. Now these doubles matches were not doubles matches featuring the top teams in doubles, but make up doubles teams of some top players. I have no issue with that as the crowds for that particular match were standing room only. What annoys me is that this match got tv coverage and the women’s matches are not getting any coverage at all.
One of the problems that I have with television coverage of women’s events is that we as fans never get to see the up and coming players and so when they finally hit it big questions are being asked well where did she come from. Last night the defending champion on the women’s side played a young up and coming American called Sloane Stephens. I have never seen Stephens but from what those on the ground were saying on twitter, a few more years and experience and she will be one to watch. Last year’s losing finalist Ana Ivanovic went out in the first round to Semastova, a talented young Latvian who a few weeks ago took out another Serb, Jelena Jankovic in Monterey. I know this because I saw it on a live stream. Yes, a tournament in Monterey Mexico had a live feed of their event.
The week before Monterey there was a little known tournament in Acapulco, Mexico won by Venus Williams. It was a combined event. There was daily coverage of the men’s events. Not one single pixel of the women’s events were shown however. Not even as much as a highlight reel. Pathetic.
I have said it before and will continue to say it. The WTA needs to start addressing the issues that women’s tennis faces in terms of broadcasting of women’s matches. 2 of the stars of the game who are being touted as the next big thing played their matches in virtual obscurity as there was no coverage of IW until this Saturday. In addition Maria Sharapova played her match in which she struggled to even win points on her serve did not get shown. This year’s Australian Open finalist as well as a former No. 1 played her second round match in which she got beat by Gisela Dulko in obscurity as her match was not televised.
Indian Wells is a Masters Series event for the men and mandatory for all the top male players. Indian Wells is a Premier Mandatory event for the women and the women will get fined, suspended (with obvious exception clauses) and lose out on bonus money and points if they do not play. Clearly, this is an important tournament for both tours. Why is it then that the men get full coverage and the women are only given a half hearted attempt at coverage by the media.
I think it is time that the WTA looks long and hard about establishing its own network. I am sure that there are many fans like myself who will be only too willing to pay the money to subscribe to this particular channel. Before the WTA began its journey to what it is now, Billie Jean King and Rosie Casalas realised that there was no way that the women could continue to perform in tournaments and not get paid for their efforts. I think the same thing applies here now. The women are being ignored in their tournaments. I think if the WTA gets a contribution of 10% of each player’s yearly earnings and puts it towards the establishment of a network, I am sure that there would be many investors who would be willing to provide backing for this venture.
You only have to look at the number of message boards and how they light up at nights when a women’s match is being played. People from all over the world searching the Internet trying to find a live feed of an event.
I will continue to write about this issue until someone at least starts to do something.
The next combined event will be the Sony Ericsson Open. I know it will be more of the same and perhaps even worse as it comes on the heels of March Madness in basketball, TC is not advertising that they will be providing coverage and we all know that Fox Sports sucks at providing decent tennis coverage. In addition people like me in the Caribbean do not get Fox as part of our sports package so we are up the proverbial creek without a paddle.