The culmination of the ATP World Tour Finals was a while ago, was it not? I apologise for the slumber around here. While I have been busy with other projects, I have also been trying to get the below news story out into leading British media outlets. But as all roads seem to have closed, I thought I’d better pass comment before the world moves on from the incident. Well, until the next time this sort of thing happens, and reignites old flames…
Mats Wilander said something pretty stupid.
When first I heard of it, my immediate reaction was shock. Then it was disappointment. With more than a few average, robotic, cloned commentators on the current tennis scene – rarely giving any real insight, and more often than not betraying their favourites – I felt let-down by tennis legend Mats Wilander. It was a major shame that someone like the seven-time Grand Slam champion – who has a nice presence, and sounds like Roger Federer might another 15 years down the line – would come out with something like this.
Something that Mats Wilander did – or rather, said – while commentating for Sky Sports last Sunday sparked widespread twitter outrage (the most important kind of outrage, of course.) Thanks to a friend in Ireland, I was able to transcribe the whole episode – context and all – for your benefit. And just in case it is not plainly obvious, I will highlight the (deeply) controversial parts of it.
When questioned upon the ATP World Tour Finals ultimate clash between current world no. 1 Andy Murray and his predecessor Novak Djokovic, this is what the former pro came out with:
“Yeah. I mean, it’s really hard to say. I would think both players are both really excited about being in the final, having the chance to play for it against the other best player in the world. I am slightly nervous though for Andy Murray’s sake, because he’s had some tough matches. Is he going to come out and dare to risk it a little bit, go for his shots? I hope his legs are there, I hope his forehand is there. He’s sort of played not to lose in the first four matches, here today he’s going to play to win, and he’s going to have to do a lot of running. But I think he has to be aggressive.”
“I think that’s what he’s done though, since the Olympics. Obviously, the US Open, lost to Kei Nishikori, which to me was a weird match, but at the same time they had to close the roof. So after that I think it’s fighting spirit that got him to world no. 1. Can it push him over the edge? I’m not sure. But it must feel like he’s the best player in the world, without maybe necessarily not being ranked no. 1 in the world should he lose today.
“So I think Novak has less to lose in this match somehow, because he’s been there for a couple of years, he’s won this thing five times. No one really wants Novak to win apart from a few hundred Serbians, maybe, because we want to see Andy do well, win it, be no. 1. I think it’s going to be easier for Novak to play this match.”
Cue the gasps of: “Is he even allowed to say that?”
Wilander’s facial expression altered ever-so-slightly when he came to the part about Djokovic and his patriotic fanbase. There is a possibility that the pundit was only trying to make a joke when he came out with the above statement. A very bad joke. A ridiculous joke. But a joke, all the same.
Nevertheless, that is not the point. In the week since Wilander made this comment – has been interpreted as simply flippant by some, suggestive by others, and even racist by a handful – I have seen just one news outlet report on this story. A story that, mind you, sparked a twitterstorm that went beyond Novak Djokovic’s supporters – ‘Nole Fam’ – and spanned the best part of three days. The aforementioned article on the incident came out late, clumsily written and badly punctuated, and it was posted on a website that I, for one, had never heard of. But at least they tried to get it in the public eye.
Here’s the thing: How many times have we bemoaned tennis commentators – whether for their bland words of nothingness, or their over-involvement with the players on court? Unfortunately, I think my take on recent events have painted me to be a hater of Andy Murray and a lover of Novak Djokovic (which is just crazy), but the following example is necessary to stress the point. Some will have witnessed my very occasional online rants over the group of commentators – mainly British – who have a blatant obsession with one tennis star in particular. The majority of the time, their gaze is obviously trained on his side of the net alone (and occasionally not on the court at all), and the continual, shameless worship of the referenced player is practically unbearable. When he wins, he was either physically brilliant, or mentally brilliant. He never scrapes through because his opponent faltered, and when he loses there always seems to be an excuse – even if that happens to be a feather floating down onto the court. But this is hardly the worst of it.
Countless times last week in London, ringleader Andrew Castle and Tim Henman told us that ‘everyone’ wanted an Andy Murray versus Novak Djokovic final at the O2 Arena. Of course, while incredibly irksome, this is a tiny, insignificant thing to occur – like the way people would have us believe Agnieszka Radwanska has hit a hot shot by simply stepping foot on court. But it is these tiny things going unchecked or simply getting laughed off that pave the way for slightly bigger things – such as the ‘ball-bashing’ stereotype regarding Serena Williams – that raise a few more eyebrows. And ultimately, these unhindered comments made on television and radio give way to major incidents like Wilander’s comments on Sunday.
It is killing areas of this sport.
Three years ago at Wimbledon, John Inverdale caused public outrage by saying on Radio 5 Live that champion Marion Bartoli was ‘never going to be a looker’. Angry listeners made an impact, with over 700 complaints made their way into the BBC’s inbox. Consequently, the news was all over the media – and the event is brought up in news pieces to the present day. Perhaps we need to stop ranting to each other, and start ranting to the people who can make a difference.
Or maybe nationality did have something to do with it. Maybe because it was Andy Murray that Novak Djokovic was playing, many of those in the country where the event was based laughed along with Mats Wilander. And maybe because areas of the British press seem to have a problem with Novak Djokovic, nobody considered it as newsworthy as world no. 76 Heather Watson play-fighting with her boyfriend.
I leave you with the article written below. Roughly 500 words in length, it is all it would have taken – impartially – to give Sunday’s stir a presence in the media. And it is all it would have taken to remind commentators – who have an influential role in our sport that a faithful number take seriously – that when the cameras start rolling, that is when they must be the most conscious, careful, selfless, and alert.
_ _ _
Former Grand Slam champion causes social media storm with ‘nobody wants Novak Djokovic to win’ comments
Tennis great Mats Wilander caused a social media meltdown after stating that ‘nobody wanted Novak Djokovic to win’ the ATP World Tour Finals on air last Sunday.
Great Britain’s Andy Murray won his maiden title at the O2 Arena’s year-ending championships this weekend, also securing the year-end world No 1 ranking as he dismissed second seed Novak Djokovic 6-3 6-4.
Swept under the radar by Murray’s accomplishments, however, were the comments made by former tennis pro Mats Wilander prior to the final.
Wilander, 52, was commentating for Sky Sports, and was questioned as to what it would take for top seed Murray to defeat the four-time defending champion. The Swedish pundit said that he was ‘slightly nervous for Andy Murray’s sake’ following the Brit’s three hours 38 minute semifinal defeat of world No 4 Milos Raonic, and continued: ‘I hope his legs are there, I hope his forehand is there.’
The seven time Grand Slam champion later transferred his attention to Novak Djokovic, saying: “[Novak]’s been there for a couple of years, he’s won this thing five times. No one really wants Novak to win tonight, except maybe a few hundred Serbians.”
Wilander added: “We want to see Andy do well, win it, be No 1. I think it’s going to be easier for Novak to play this match.”
Twitter went wild after a tennis fan from Ireland posted the comments on the social networking site. Sarah, 17, was watching Sky Sports with her family when Wilander spoke about Djokovic, and reports that even her parents – who have little interest in tennis – were shocked.
“My father would usually find all the Murray-praising funny, but even he said that [Wilander’s comments] were so unprofessional,” Sarah says. “Murray fans have already used the excuse of ‘he was talking about the O2 crowd’, but I don’t get how people think even that’s okay. Imagine if it was about Serena or someone, like: “Nobody really wants Serena to win, except a few hundred African-Americans.” I mean, come on! He shouldn’t have said that, it’s ridiculous.”
Djokovic supporters and general tennis fans took to social media to complain following Wilander’s comments. A user named Sara Gryffindor tweeted: “As an English Novak fan who was at the O2 that night, I can assure you that Mats Wilander’s comments are both disgusting and untrue.” Tennis writer Ana Mitric added: “If it’s true that Wilander said ‘No one wants Novak to win except a few hundred Serbians’ on air, I hope @SkySportsTennis will take action.”
Boris Becker, tennis legend and coach to Novak Djokovic, was among those to retweet a clip of the comments. Since then, someone has even used change.org to begin a petition for Eurosport to axe Wilanders’ tennis show: ‘Game, Set, Mats.’
This is not the first time a tennis commentator’s flippant comment has caused an outcry. Back in 2013, the BBC’s John Inverdale came under fire for stating that Marion Bartoli was “never going to be a looker” on Radio 5 Live, shortly after the Frenchwoman had beaten Sabine Lisicki to claim her maiden Wimbledon title.
Thanks for reading! It was rather a long one this time, but it seemed necessary. What did you think of Mats Wilanders’ comments, and the above piece? Let me know in the comments section!