I HAVE A SADZ

It has been sometime since I wrote about tennis.  I have tried writing a few times but there seems to be a bit of a writer’s block  that is happening to me.  I think this has to do with the fact that I am disgusted by the sport and the efforts that seem to be at play  in making women’s tennis seem like a second class citizen to the men’s game.
The Australian Open women’s final gained its highest viewership in quite some time with the final featuring Venus and Serena Williams.  While I was giddy at Venus making the final, I did become a bit disappointed that she was not able to cross the finish line ahead of her sister, but as some of my tennis buddies have said, a Williams won, so that is all that matters.
The WTA should have been riding that euphoric high all throughout the season, but then we recalled the news that the online streaming platform TennisTV would no longer be broadcasting women’s tennis.  There began a fight amongst tennis watchers to figure out how to watch the women’s game.  Some of us have figured it out but it has been like seeking for gold in them there mountains.
As I am writing this we are in the midst of the BNP Paribas Open (Indian Wells) and while I have barely watched any of the women’s matches, from my social media timeline I can see that folks both in the US and outside the US are experiencing problems in watching the women’s portion of this event.  I live outside the US and I have ESPN Play.  While that platform does have Indian Wells on, there are no women’s matches being shown.  As part of my Dish Network package, I do have Tennis Channel, but as the only women’s matches they are showing are American women, I have decided to not tune in (except for Venus from time to time).
When someone is unable to view your sport, it decreases interest.  I was out of the office on Monday and Tuesday of this week and rather than sit at a computer screen watching tennis, I chose to sit in front of my 55” Samsung Smart TV and binge watch Bones on Netflix.  I am a diehard supporter of the women’s game, if I prefer to watch Netflix rather than find a livestream which may be dodgy at best to watch women’s tennis, then I can’t imagine  how those fans who only have a passing interest in the women’s game are faring. Why are we still struggling to watch the women’s game in 2017?
The other issue that has left me repeatedly angry and depressed is the return of Maria Sharapova to professional tennis.  For those who have been living under a rock, Ms. Sharapova will be coming off a 15 month ban for a doping offence.  As a result of this doping ban she will not have a ranking when she returns next month.  The issue that has stirred up quite a bit of controversy is Stuttgart granting Sharapova a wild card while she is banned for a doping offence. In order to facilitate the wildcard, the event has scheduled her first match at the tournament a day after her doping ban ends.   As we say in the legal field, the Stuttgart organisers have endured the letter of the law, if not the spirit.

Angelique Kerber, the current No. 1 has taken the view that awarding Sharapova a wild card has taken away the opportunity from a German who could perhaps use that wild card to advance her career.  I agree.  Following Stuttgart’s lead, both Madrid and Rome announced that they have awarded Ms. Sharapova a wild card into their events.  In addition, the French Tennis Federation has announced that Ms. Sharapova has reached out to them and has met with that organisation to secure a wildcard into the French Open this year.  Both the FFT and the AELTC have adopted a wait and see approach regarding requests for a wild card from the Sharapova camp.

Many may have forgotten that at the ITF hearing, Ms. Sharapova’s team stated that:

“It is argued that any period of ineligibility would disproportionately affect Ms Sharapova in causing her a very substantial loss of earnings and sponsorships, exclusion from the 2016 Olympics, and irreparable damage to her reputation. There is nothing unfair in the rules being fairly and equitably applied to this player as to any other athlete subject to the WADA Code, whether professional or amateur. The rules are clear in stating:  “ … the fact that a Player would lose the opportunity to earn large sums of money during a period of Ineligibility, or the fact that the Player only has a short time left in his or her career, or the timing of the sporting calendar, would not be relevant factors to be considered in reducing the period of Ineligibility under Article 10.5.1 or 10.5.2.” The rules cannot be circumvented by invoking the principle of proportionality. It would be contrary to the principles underlying the code, in particular respect for the rules which must apply equally to all, to allow an unprincipled exception to or waiver from the rules on the grounds of proportionality of sanction as it affects the particular circumstances of this player.”

I know that many people have taken exception to the ITF’s ruling and it would seem as if Ms. Sharapova and her team are more determined to pick up where they left off in terms of the money that can be made by Ms. Sharapova.

For years we have heard about Ms. Sharapova’s fighting spirit.  We have heard about her capacity for hard work and her mental toughness.  We have also heard about her ability to come back from adversity and how important it is for her to play tennis.  I therefore have a few thoughts on a comeback that would be so much better for her image (which seems to be everything) and would be a guaranteed path to Hall of Fame glory.

·         Play the ITF Challenger/Futures circuit – how fitting would it be for an icon of the sport to highlight the plight of players who play the Challenger/Futures circuit? I recall watching Challenger tennis when Nicole Vaidisova was staging her comeback to tennis.

·         Play qualifying events.  It would show Ms. Sharapova’s capacity for hard work.  If she fails to make it through qualifying, try and go in as a lucky loser.  With her skill set she would be able to vanquish her opponents.  Recall 2007 when Serena Williams who was ranked 81 when won the Australian Open

·         Recently, Francesca Schiavone, a decorated athlete who has made her mark on the sport in more ways than one played qualifying at the Australian Open.  Schiavone has represented herself and her country and has been at the forefront of one of the most dynamic Fed Cup teams in history.  She will probably need a wild card to play in her home tournament in Rome later this year.  Why not take a page from that book?

I, like many tennis fans, love to hear and see a comeback story.  One of the reasons why  most people hate on court coaching is that it seems to give an unfair advantage to the player who calls their coach down mid match.  This is how I and I know many others view this wild card situation with Ms. Sharapova.  We view it as her being given an unfair advantage, in much the same way that her use of meldonium gave her an unfair advantage.

It is a smack in the face of other players who have played fairly for all their careers, to now be tasked with competing against a player who is being given a leg up because of who she is or who she used to be.  How Sharapova returns to the sport she claims to love can either elevate or damage its reputation. It would do the tennis a world of good if they helped Sharapova do the former rather than the latter. However, I suspect that like Sharapova, they will let money rather than integrity guide their decisions.

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