After racial taunt, Michael Llodra pays a price beyond money
There's an ugly underbelly sometimes to our fair sport. This is part of it: Despite their globe-trotting ways, professional tennis players are actually not always as cosmopolitan and open-minded as we might hope. Sometimes they are actually rather mean-spirited, closed off, even racist in their tones and words, especially in the heat of the moment. (Which, for the record, is no good excuse.)
That's certainly the case with Frenchman Michael Llodra's "racial taunt" of a fan at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells over the weekend. Canadian tennis scribe Tom Tebbutt confirmed the volatile words that Llodra barked at a fan.
The ATP levied a $2,500 fine against Llodra for what it termed "verbal abuse." The serve-and-volleying 31-year-old reacted that he didn't see how his verbiage was any worse than swearing in general.
"Don't meet your heroes." Ever heard that well-put shard of advice? This is why.
Llodra found the fine to be excessive, as he told France's L'Équipe. What he seemingly does not understand is that the price he pays as a result of this outburst goes far beyond monetary matters. Recall how Lleyton Hewitt once injected race into a disagreement with a chair umpire, noting suggestively the similar shades of melanin shared by James Blake and a line judge in their match. "Rusty" Hewitt regained the good graces of fans after marrying, spawning beautiful offspring, and fighting through injuries to grind out some tough victories—but his image may never fully recover in the minds of many fans.
Llodra would do well to take a page or two out of Hewitt's post-incident playbook. Problem is, as he nears age 32, it's the eleventh hour for his career. This is quite likely how he will be remembered. And it is profoundly sad.
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Here's Llodra in other times, when he struck a bird with a volleyed ball instead of assailing another person with indefensible words. This might have been the strange incident he'd be recalled for in a decade's time, but that's highly doubtful now.
—Jonathan Scott (Find me on Twitter @jonscott9.)