Category: Column

What does the increasing number of uneven three set matches indicate?

Unlike boxing or gymnastics, tennis scores are not subjective. Still, I have noticed a marked change in score lines. For men, women, slam and non-slam tournaments straight set wins are decreasing. Without looking at the sport’s statistical database, it is clear to any observer, the changes in tennis scores tell a troubling story.

For some, the score line is unimportant. A win is a win. But when a win begins to change the game, if only statistically, one has to wonder. Why is the score line changing so significantly?

A 6-0, 6-0 match was once an anomaly, rare. The lopsided victory tells of a hot, in the zone player, an uneven match-up or worse an injured athlete. We all remember the Serena/Sharapova London 2012 routing 6-1, 6-0. Serena was in rare form, serving whole games of aces and simply outplaying the Russian. She elevated her game for the Olympic Gold. Today, nearly ten years later, she’s playing an awful lot of three set matches. But so are a lot of players. And the score lines are headscratchers. Today Samsonova defeated Bencic 1-6, 6-1, 6-3 to snatch the Berlin Grass Court Championship.

In her prime, Serena used the first two or three games to sus-out her opponent. That was enough for her to test their game plan, skills/weaknesses, and her plan of attack. This is no longer. Players are using entire sets to do this. What else explains the uneven sea-saw scores now prominent on both the women’s and men’s tour?

The tight, competitive match, even the long tie-break match is a thing of the past. The 6-4, 6-4 score is disappearing. But why? An improved field, Fitness. Equipment. Training. Statistics. Nutrition, Focus, Television… No one answer explains this phenomenon.

The next time you see an uneven three set match win, you will wonder a little more about the sport’s decision to partner with betting organization, Bally’s/Bet Works. Tennis Channel (Sinclair RSN) has given said organization a platform to revolutionize the US sports betting, gaming and media industries. This is very different than a sports drink, shoe or clothing sponsorship. We have grown accustomed to seeing these products in press conferences and as backdrops on the court and in the commentator studio. But seeing a betting company logo splashed across a sport blurs the line to the point of erasure.

This may be an unjustified leap, but it does not bode well for the sport nor the overlords (tournament organizers) who sanction this atrocity of ethics.

Will Osaka’s Second Slam Withdrawal This Year Push The Sport To Change or Die?

The highest paid woman in sports has defiantly put down her racket for the second time this year!

The initial narrative imposed by the sport (commentators, pundits, players) had Osaka in the role of bad actor. And like Stockholm Syndrome victims, players parroted the party line and some even ridiculed her. Then the French Open posted a scurrilous tweet, labeling her privileged, ungrateful, difficult. The now deleted tweet, showed a photo of prominent players at post match press conferences with the caption, “they understood the assignment.” Social media erupted. The global press followed suit. The sport had closed ranks, intending to simultaneously strong-arm and ostracize Osaka. They failed! What began as a statement of self-care has magnified to the point of no return.

Osaka vs. Tennis: Disagreement, Protest. Kerfuffle. War.

Every media outlet is reporting on the Naomi Osaka debacle. Sport and non-sport. Print and broadcast. Professional and amateur journalist. They all found an angle to weigh in on tennis’ biggest story of the year. The problem, too many are unfamiliar with the niche sport. Stories are coached in misleading, if not untrue, narratives. Worst, the media at large fail to hold the sport accountable for its many short-comings.

There is a difference between the press and tennis media.

Tennis operates off the radar of most sports journalists. Even ESPN and The NY Times do not have writers and broadcasters dedicated to tennis. So, though tennis is a global sport with an eleven month schedule, the press group is relatively small. It is composed of approximately thirty people, mostly freelancers. The players know them. The tournaments sanction them. The relationship is more symbiotic than adversarial. Tennis media are largely glorified note takers. They are active on social media, and their relationship with serious tennis fans is more combative than raillery, good-humored teasing.

Of course, tennis is pro-press, they own them!

Tennis is much like a traveling circus, at least pre-covid. The post match press conferences is not the only time the media interacts with the players. Each tournament organizes a litany of media opportunities, pre and post match. Yet, the cadre do not produce in-depth, analytical or investigative stories. Their fluff supports prevailing, sanctioned, tennis narratives. Their silence on domestic violence, sexual abuse and the sport’s notorious nepotism and conflicts of interests is deafening.

In Osaka vs. Tennis, the tennis press is not exploring the mental health, misogynoir, the role of the press or bullying angles. For this one needs to look beyond tennis’ sycophant ‘journalists’ to Louisa Thomas at the New Yorker, Michel Martin at NPR, Jonathan Liew at the Guardian, Jemele Hill at The Atlantic… Whether incompetent, compromised or silenced by tournaments, sponsors or sport agencies (IMG, Edge, Octagon…), tennis’ press system is seriously flawed, if not broken.

Tennis media silence on domestic violence, sexual abuse, player owned tournaments is deafening.

Without an independent press to hold it accountable, the sport is floundering. It is disorganized; television scheduling is erratic and ineffective; match-fixing is as rampant as its misogynoir; labor organizing is patriarchial; injuries are increasing exponentially; retiring stars will leave an unfillable vacuum… Under the weight of these issues, the sport may have finally come to a fork in the road. But it will fall due to its unwillingness to see a black woman’s pain, to hear her protests when it has sprouted angelic wings of protection for the short-comings, criminal or immoral, of players who lack melanin!

Naomi Osaka’s withdrawal from Wimbledon highlights the shifting dynamics in what was once the most exclusive sport. Black players are unwilling to just shut-up and play. They are are doing what the Legislative, Judicial and Executive branches of our government are unable or unwilling to do, push beyond rhetoric and federal holiday tokens to real change. Will tennis recognize its original sin or die a shameful, unrepentant death?