They Said What? Oct. 2

Tuesday, October 02, 2012 /by

“Our athletes are playing for their country every day. . . Compared to other professional sports, athletes at the caliber of ours in tennis do not have the same eligibility requirements with their national associations or their international federations. We think that is unfair.”—WTA CEO Stacey Allaster

Allaster made that comment to Steve Flink of Tennis Channel in response to the ITF’s altered terms for Olympic eligibility. The governing body of tennis is now asking players to make themselves available for three Fed Cup (or, for men, Davis Cup) ties prior to the next Olympic Games, in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

These remarks are disingenuous baloney. By Allaster’s novel interpretation, I could say I’m writing for my country every day, right? And you may think you’re just another schmo as you peruse this, but you’re actually reading for your country! Be proud, dang it, you’re doing your patriotic duty!

Besides, instead of grousing about how different it is in “other professional sports,” why wouldn’t Allaster celebrate some of the things that make tennis different, and that may distinguish and make it in some way better or more appealing than other sports? Along those lines, which sport does Allaster think tennis should emulate, and what makes players in that enterprise so much less put upon? Last I checked, women’s tennis is far and away the most successful female pro sport in history (with nothing else in second).

Asking a player to represent her nation in the official international team competition of tennis for one week, three times in the span of four years, isn’t an onerous demand. “Playing for your country” is still thought by most to be an honor; is it out of line to accept that a little sacrifice might go along with that honor? Fed Cup is going great guns these days—the upcoming final in Prague, pitting the Czech Republic against Serbia, sold out in six hours. Yet the WTA is making noise about starting a team competition to compete with Fed Cup?

As Victoria Azarenka would say, “Good luck with that.”

***

“It is still open, the No. 1 spot of the world. Obviously I will try to dedicate myself and focus on every tournament that I play. I try not to think about what's going to happen at the end of the season because there is still more than a few tournaments to go here in Asia and then the indoor season in Europe. Everything is possible, but I will try to not think about calculations, not think about any other players' results, and just concentrate on my own game.”—Novak Djokovic

Hallelujah! Finally, someone not only cares about the late season, but actually has the chops to come out and say that he’s going to do his utmost to bag the year-end No. 1 ranking. I don’t know about you, but I sometimes grit my teeth when players declare that all they really care about is the Grand Slams, or downplay the quest for the No. 1 ranking—although they know how much it can mean to them in bonus incentives, as well as the record books.

Of course, Djokovic’s attitude is self-serving (everything in tennis is self-serving, which is why the sport is both glorious and mortifying). He was certainly singing a different tune last year, when he couldn’t wait for the year to be over—owing mainly to how fatigued and beat-up he felt after gorging on success for most of the season.

That’s alright, though. Djokovic’s comment is like a gauntlet flung at the feet of Roger Federer and Andy Murray, and it suddenly injects new meaning and urgency in the final events of another long tennis year. Given how close the men are in the rankings, it would reflect badly on the game if the men didn’t make an effort to battle it out.

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