There’s a lot of rubbish drifting around tennis right now. This is the new weekly column where I will comment on it all. Today, it is basically a way of killing two birds with one stone.
MARIA SHARADOPA – When Morals And Dignity Fly Out Of The Arena
Every time I’ve run out of words to say on this ridiculous, sorry saga – something else comes up.
When it was announced at the beginning of March last year that Maria Sharapova had tested positive for illegal drug Meldonium, there was consternation. When it was revealed in June that she would be banned from tennis for two years, there was talk that she would never return to the top of tennis.
From the offset, I disagreed.
As someone so perfectly pointed out only today, tennis is now about the sport only secondarily. First and foremost, it has become about business. This is why WTA chairman Steve Simon wants shorter matches: to widen the tennis audience. Not to please the players themselves – who are largely against his proposals. The sport is becoming about how much money can be made, and how good tournaments can appear, as opposed to integrity and values and morals.
As a result of this, Sharapova – allowed unlimited wild cards upon her return, thanks to being a former world no. 1 and five-time Grand Slam winner (and who knows how much a say Meldonium had in all that?) – was never going to have to slug it out on the lowest tiers of the ITF circuit. Despite the blank space beside her name where a ranking would usually appear, the Russian’s fanbase and image and former victories (and did I mention image?) were always going to bag her special entries into smaller WTA events. Desperate for a big-time poster girl to sell tickets and rope in that all-important cash, the lower tier competitions would – and will – dole out the wild cards shamelessly.
What I did hope, however, was that bigger tournaments – who do not need Sharapova, who have lacked nothing without Sharapova, who have been more exciting without Sharapova – would reject her arrogant requests for entry into their main draws.
On Wednesday, the Mutua Madrid Open announced it has accepted the disgraced Russian’s request for a wild card to their elite Premier-level event. This follows the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix also offering Sharapova a main draw slot that any hard-working rising star would have deserved more.
When her ban was reduced – but not cancelled out – in October last year, Sharapova went on a virtual hate-rant at the International Tennis Federation. The woman who had – in her own words – “let the sport down” was quick to backtrack on all her previous statements, initially made in a PR-reeking press conference where she was desperately trying to save her image. The way the 29-year-old has since sucked up to tennis followers, tried to completely recreate her public appearance, and celebrated herself at every opportunity is simply embarrassing. And repulsive.
The world will never know whether or not Sharapova took a banned substance with the intention of enhancing her performance. All we have is the information that she upped her intake of Meldonium before every big match, that she claims not to have been aware of changes made to the official Banned Substances list, and that she was recommended the stuff as medication by a doctor over ten years ago.
The same doctor whom she did not consult upon her use of the substance beyond the year 2013.
The same substance that she went to great lengths to keep hidden from every person except her agent.
If she needed Meldonium that badly, then Sharapova should not be making her so-called “comeback” at all. If the 6’2″ baseliner gets back to the top of the game, then it is only evidence of more deception from the 29-year-old. How much could she really have needed her medication if she can rise from the dust without it?
Shame on you, Mutua Madrid Open. Rome outdid you last year, anyway.
NICK KYRGIOS – A Bit Of PR Expertise Would Actually Be Good For Him
While he has never been my favourite player, I’ve said some rather nice things about Nick Kyrgios in times gone by. The Aussie is one of the most naturally gifted players the game has ever seen. The almost nonchalant drop-shots and passing shots and shots that currently remain nameless are breathtaking. The 21-year-old has accomplished much in his short career – from a maiden ATP title to Grand Slam victory over Rafael Nadal. His raw and powerful game, when on, is simply a joy to watch.
In terms of his character, Kyrgios brings an individuality and interest that gives the sport colour. But as I’ve said before, character and attitude are two different things.
Sometimes it’s refreshing to see a player simply being themselves, instead of dressing up for the camera and trying tactics to win fans. Other times, you cannot help but think that someone needs to look for a permanent PR adviser more than a coach.
Nick Kyrgios victimises himself. You will be able to find some of the evidence for that. Other incriminating data has since been deleted. If you are lucky, someone will catch a screenshot before this happens – which someone did on Tuesday.
Everyone knows what happened in Sunday’s deciding Davis Cup rubber between Great Britain and Canada. Denis Shapovalov, 17, angrily and accidentally smacked a tennis ball into an umpire’s eye. Of course, this resulted in Shapovalov getting defaulted. And consequently, his whole country got knocked out of the Davis Cup.
On top of that, the kid was fined $7000.
Perhaps Kyrgios was not aware of this when he tweeted: “Haha no suspension? This is too good” (no full stop.) Naturally, he has since removed his comments.
This would not be the first time that the 21-year-old has tweeted along these lines. When Djokovic produced a near miss at the ATP World Tour Finals last season, Kyrgios came out with this:
And there have been more cases. Although, strangely, Kyrgios has never seemed bothered that his beloved Andy Murray is never penalised for his consistent – and audible – swearing throughout every match.
At the end of last season, the world no. 15 was suspended by the ATP World Tour for going one step too far. Tanking through a match against Mischa Zverev – who actually beat Murray at the Australian Open last month – proved costly. Ironically, it was not long beforehand that Kyrgios had told someone in the Rogers Cup crowd that he “didn’t want to be here” during an opening round loss to Shapovalov.
The media often come down too hard on Kyrgios. Every tiny incident, however insignificant, involving the Aussie talent is used as headline click-bait. But there is another side to the story.
The defending Open 13 champion is currently paying for past mistakes. Whether or not he has left his bad boy image behind him, the consequences of former flippancy and immaturity will follow Kyrgios until he has made a complete U-turn.
For now, the youngster still flashes back to the old days of rebellion and out-of-line behaviour. Here, I’m going to take a risk and draw comparisons between this issue and TV show “The Apprentice”. In the reality business show, arrogant candidates are split into teams to complete tasks that generally span two or three days. However, each episode is only one hour long, and therefore only 30 minutes is dedicated to footage from the actual tasks. Candidates who come out of things looking pretty bad are quick to point out that the programme is “highly edited.”
But if something is there, you did it.
The media laps up Kyrgios’ slightest misdemeanours enthusiastically. But if the unforced errors are there for the taking, he made them.
This being the case, the only solution to the 21-year-old’s woes is that – as Lleyton Hewitt, and even Roger Federer, did before him – he turns the corner for good.
And as he travels on that journey, Kyrgios might want to consult an expert about his social media channels. Or else just think before he acts a little more. It would save him a lot of time, and a lot of clicks on that delete button…
Thanks for reading! Maria Sharapova will probably block me on twitter (note: I don’t follow her) and Nick Kyrgios might call me a “hater”, but this is how I see things. How about you? Comment away…