TENNIS – Whether you’re talking about Camila Giorgi, Fabio Fognini, Nadal or Federer, soccer, cycling, betting, journalism or commentary, Rino Tommasi always has the right answer. An interview with one of the greatest Italian journalist; a talk with a great sportsman, a former athlete that all tennis players have come to know as the “custodian” of numbers. By Claudio Giuliani, translated by Lorenzo Dicandia
On the phone, when he invites us over, he is always polite, even when he suddenly changes the meeting time. “My wife invited our children for breakfast – actually our lunch e.d. – and I didn’t know it, could we make it in the afternoon?”. And so, reaching the heart of Parioli in Rome, where parking is precluded unless you own a Burgman or a Smart, which absolutely dominates the streets around Piazza Euclide. We enter Rino’s elegant house. Books, books and more books, ranging up to the incredibly high ceilings in these old houses made of wood on the walls and carpets on the floors, with silverware on display. He is waiting for us at the threshold of his study, while we slowly cross the long corridor, drawn by the pictures on the walls, the story of Rino’s life. He comes towards us. “That is Henry Kissinger,” he tells us proudly, while his gaze remains on the picture that shows him interviewing the former U.S. secretary of State; an interview that granted him also an award. All photos are in black and white and all of them portray him with all the most important sports personalities, but also with some Italian celebrities. A color picture of a young Boris Becker smiling to him during an interview stands out. Below, there’s the picture that shows him together with Clerici, Scanagatta and a cheerful Roberto Lombardi. “We were in Melbourne there”, he tells us, looking tenderly at the departed friend. We sit in front of him in his studio, with the desk invaded by notes and books to divide among us. He has recently published a book on boxing, “Muhammed Alì. The last champion. The greatest?”, but, who knows why, we aren’t that surprised in hearing that he is already working on a new project (“it’s going to be about the disappearance of provincial soccer teams”).
Doping And Liberalization
We immediately start talking about doping, a matter recently raised by the words of Camila Giorgi’s dad, who said that since everybody in sports uses doping we might as well legalize it. Rino is a precursor of this theory, although he is not that convinced. “It’s a complicated issue in the sense that, from a certain point of view I would agree with a more rigorous approach, and so whenever you commit a mistake, even if it’s for small quantities, you should be banned. But I’m also convinced that if we actually check everyone, nobody would play anymore. Therefore, I have never actually taken a position on the subject and it’s not because I don’t care about it. I have never smoked a cigarette in my life, even when I was young, and anyways when I used to compete I would have never thought of enhancing my performances in strange ways. The problem, from my point of view, is economic: testing everyone is impossible. If we did it, rigorously, we wouldn’t get out of there.” Assuming that doping would be legalized, wouldn’t there be a kind of race among athletes in order to get the best doctors? “Yes, paradoxically we could have some tournaments’ finals played directly by doctors, “ he answered, smiling. “It is pretty obvious that from a certain point of view I would like to be ruthless in tests and so also in consequences, in the bans, but I also realize that maybe we would paralyze the sport by acting this way. I don’t have an exact idea of the importance of the phenomenon, but I’m noticing that it is getting increasingly bigger.”
Some time ago a book came out, “Champions without virtue”, edited by Sandro Donati, a former athlete and responsible for mid-distance races for Fidal, the Italian athletics federation. In the book he tells the history of Fidal and of Primo Nebiolo’s time at Coni (the Italian Olympic Committee), when they used to sponsor doping thanks to the auto-transfusions by Professor Conconi, because medals had to be won at any cost. What do you think? “The athlete often agrees, and he finds himself forced to accept these method because he wants to win, and because he also has the suspect that the others are acting in the same way. Actually even federations, when they find out about some doping cases, prefer to turn a blind eye. Some executives have built their careers on the false achievement of doped athletes.” Rino himself is a former athlete, a tennis player, champion of various junior tournaments, following his father’s footsteps. “My father held the long jump record for many years; he competed in the Paris Olympics of 1924 and in the Amsterdam ones of 1928.” Was it Evangelisti and his magical 8.38 meters in Rome, measure that was later found out to be rigged, to break Tommasi’s dad record? Rino laughs as he looks for the best posture on his black leather armchair with brown armrests: “No no, the eight meters benchmark had been already achieved by Evangelisti but earlier than that, and legitimately it seems.”
Doping And Results
In Italy, until the 90’s, there was a kind of resistance in facing the doping issue. Why? “The press was reluctant, because every person that does this job hopes that the sport is clean. If you take away the legitimacy of the results, the sport dies.” Sport dies, therefore, but didn’t it already die with the various cases of Di Centa, Bugno, Moser (with Conconi that flew all the way to Mexico City just to give him blood transfusion, with the excuse of anemia, in the race that earned him the track record), Cipollini, Chiappucci, Pantani and so on? Haven’t we already lost the legitimacy of the results? “I repeat myself: it is a difficult problem because the issue is complex. Maybe, I am almost convinced, that after all it is a lot better to ignore things, even though this would compromise the health of athletes.” Let’s get to how the outcomes are affected. How do you handle things when, starting from Ben Johnson and Armstrong, and getting to Juventus, titles are revoked? Should they be reassigned to the runner-ups? “This is an unmanageable situation. This is why I would instinctively go for a rigorous approach. But, in doing so, with strict rules and absolute rigor, it could really be the end of sports activity, given the spread of the phenomenon. Today even young guys take doping substances, even boys that participate in school events. In tennis there is the matter of time because you don’t know how long the match is going to last, while you know that 1500 meters are going to be 1500 meters. At the end of this thing I am afraid, I deeply fear, that we will have to give up. It looks to me like a battle that legality cannot win.”
Donati however, tells also of athletes that refuse to take drugs. The problem, then, is cultural. “Definitely”, so, how can we improve? “Given that all the educational and teaching attempts are reduced to a mere recommendation to the athletes to do nothing, to be able to compete only eating bread and drinking water, then the reality is another. And when the levees break, setting a limit on what is doping and what it’s not, then it is, frankly, impossible.” Some claim that doping in tennis does not exist. “No, that’s not true. Some people resort to little helps, and then the players speak to each other in the locker room, they get advices from one another. Then there is always the fear of losing to one that makes use of doping. Nobody ever admits to have lost against a better player.” Yet players and associations, with the controls done at dawn and the introduction of the biological passport, feel fine. “They adopt these strategies to give the impression that they are defending themselves from this plague, but in reality they are not doing so. The tools necessary to make use of doping are available to everyone. For years, we have been witnessing the medicalization of the sport, even at an amateur level.” Jim Courier late in his career was going around saying that they were all doped. And if you were asking him why, he replied, “Because they run more than I do. No one runs more than me.” He laughs. “A cruel observation but all-in-all right.” What is your opinion of the Kostner case, the former skater accused of complicity and failure to report to the authorities in the story linked to her former boyfriend disqualified for doping, the walker Schwarzer? “The fact that there is a relationship of affection or intimacy does not absolve you from the complaint. It is a very much correct disqualification, every affiliated has a duty to report in case of illegal activity.” Doping or betting, what is worse for the image of the sport? “One would instinctively say that the worst issue is doping, but the other issue is moral, and it is the worst cancer but also the easier to eradicate. In betting there is a flow of money, so when you find them out, you can be relentless. But with the doping issue we are also talking about the health of the athlete and the credibility of the sport. Regarding the betting issue I am favorable to maximum rigidity, except that I do not think that there are players who lose on purpose: losing is against nature in the sport. “
Federer, Murray, Seppi, Nadal And The Doubles’ Slam
In his study Rino has the TV right in front of his desk, behind us, on the right. The images of the newscast scroll through the screen, muted to allow us to listen. I ask him if he followed the Australian Open. “Certainly,” he replies. “There were a few surprises. The results were very regular. I would say an ordinary tournament.” Is a tournament ugly when the main favorite wins? “Absolutely.” He does not agree on the idea that there is a revolution taking place, started by the success of Wawrinka in Melbourne in 2014 and carried forward by Cilic and Nishikori in New York. I ask then about Federer. “Federer is confusing me, he is resisting more than expected considering his age, but that’s all because of his talent.” And Murray, a recent protagonist in Australia? Here the expression of Rino becomes witty. “Murray is an interesting subject to be studied. Regarding natural qualities, I speak from the perspective of personal resources, he is a true athlete. He is one that is able to do 10% more on the day of a big match. Murray is one who can get excited at times, from an athletic standpoint. The problem is that during the year he loses 5 or 6 matches that he should not lose, because he obviously can not be always at his best.” Are we going to remember this Australian Open because of Seppi beating Federer? “It was not Seppi beating Federer, but Federer that can not play at his best because of his age.” But there was the big news of the doubles. “Forget it. No one plays doubles anymore, it is a consolation race. The good ones do not want to waste energy because they are not interested neither in the economic benefit nor in the athletic one coming from it and many of those who play it are not that serious about it, they just play a few matches.” And Nadal? “Nadal is at risk. In my opinion he can even get seriously injured. He pulled out all that there was to pull out from his body. He can also have drained his desire of competing maybe, after all he has solved the problem of life”, money.
Camila Giorgi And Italian Tennis
The star of the moment, also because of her presence in the first round of Fed Cup, is Camila Giorgi. What do you think? “She is a resource, she represents the new generation making progress.” Her father is sure that she is going to get to the top. “Her father is crazy, but in a useful way. He is a charlatan, but he raised this little girl, whom definitely is his creature. Camila Giorgi is almost a burden for the other teammates, for the relationship between her and the historical group, which, anyway, apparently are good. There is always going to be a bit of rivalry, it is inevitable. I do not think she has neither centimeters nor muscles to climb to the top.” The common vulgate says that she has to change coach to reach the top. “No, I do not agree. Her father is crucial.” Just like for Williams? “Exactly. Without her Camila is not going anywhere. Parents as Sergio or Richard Williams are bulky but fundamental figures. They exert a power that is beyond the one of the coach, or the parental, and this can be devastating but also vital, useful”. I tease him on the alleged crisis of talent among the males, at the highest level. “Talents exist. We have been fortunate to find Panatta, an extraordinary talent with a great hand”, he says, mimicking the gesture of the forehand with his right hand in the air. “Then there were those like Barazzutti, who through hard work have achieved results. Anyway in the history of Italian tennis I do not remember a player about whom we can say: ah, if he only did better he could have achieved great things. I can not find many players who could have changed much of their career.” Inevitable final note on Fognini, our best player. The jaw stiffens: “I do not like Fognini”, he says in a lapidary way, as if to say: let’s close the topic here.
Panatta, Tv And Clerici
You talked about Panatta, recently returned to the commentary on TV. Many listeners have branded him as superficial. “But he is like that. All in all it is not an entirely wrong attitude. Of course, Adriano, leans on his popularity. I don’t want to take the example of my case and of the one of Clerici, but let’s just say that we have studied more.” The problem, for him, is that television executives, are unqualified in the choice of the commentators. “What is lacking in many TVs, for example, are the leaders. Until I was there I got to work with Lombardi and Scanagatta, I mean, I am talking about two amazing commentators. Now, however, the concern of these leaders is finding the great name, to draw the attention of the public.” One last thing: who was a better player between you and Gianni Clerici? “I am convinced that I was better than him, but I cannot tell this to him. We never met in a tournament; I was stronger athletically, but he had more talent than me. “
Rino smiles amused, asking us how we got attracted to tennis. He seems interested, and after a more relaxed, easygoing and outside of the journalism’s boundaries chat, he talks bout his collections of books, of his hundreds of yearbooks on football and tennis that are sorted on the shelves. Well, if you do a search on something that is not on the internet, Tommasi’s house, and Rino himself, are your solution.
Translated by Lorenzo Dicandia
EXCLUSIVE: Fabrice Sbarro Explains The Tiny Percentage That Separates The Big Three From Everybody Else
According to Daniil Mevdev’s former data analyst the success of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic is incredibly no more than 2% greater than their rivals when it comes to one specific area of their tennis careers.
Written by Federico Bertelli
The second and final instalment of our interview with Fabrice Sbarro, who was part of Daniil Medvedev’s team as data analyst, during his successful summer season of 2019. After telling UbiTennis how Sbarro managed to convince coach Cervara (Medvedev’s coach), we broaden the field of analysis to the whole world of tennis. How important is that famous ‘1%’ difference, which at most becomes 2%? Considering such a slim margin can mark the difference between multiple Grand Slam winners and the rest field, maybe it’s something worth investigating…
CHAPTER 3 – SMALL TALKS AND FUTURE PERSPECTIVES
We were talking about that 1% of extra-success; considering the level of competition in man’s tennis, that makes sometimes winning or losing a match a little more than a toin coss, everything that can give an edge is surely interesting. The conversation continued on this topic.
Q: Maybe it is still not that clear the difference it makes that 1%. What do you think Fabrice?
A: 1% is not a tiny difference. Djokovic, Nadal and Federer in their careers scored a percentage of points won around 54%. Maybe people think that these great champions, because of their successes, have simply wiped out their opponents. But the reality is different and even for them the margins are narrow, they won around 54% of points played in their career. I’ll tell you more: Gasquet in his career won around 52% of the points. On one hand, the Big Three has won dozens of Slam titles, while the Frenchman has only reached the semi-finals in a Major. In short, my idea is to help athletes to reach that 1%, to provide a competitive advantage that can allow them to step up a gear and reach new heights. Daniil was at the same level as Gasquet at the beginning of 2019, standing at 52% of points won. During the period from Montreal to Shanghai, in which we collaborated, this figure jumped to 54% (on the levels of the big 3).
Q: Can you tell us how your collaboration with Gilles and Daniil developed?
A: In the period from Montreal to Shanghai 2019, I helped Gilles in the preparation of the matches and we were completely on the same page, sharing thoughts at all level. And it was incredible, because usually the coaches hardly trust 100% and tend to discard most of the proposals. But with Cervara it was different, he was really believing in what we were doing. He liked the concept. And I could check it first hand, because in that period Daniil actually translated our indications on the field at a rate of 70-80%; obviously there is also the opponent on the field and obviously a lot of factors are involved in a success story, also luck. For example, at the Us Open Daniil was clearly injured and was lucky to get away with it. But after Shanghai another very important aspect emerged: psychology.
Q: What does it mean?
A: After Shanghai, a tournament in which Medvedev had beaten Zverev in the final, Daniil’s status had changed, he had now become a superstar, no longer just a good player, but one who rivalled the best and could compete at a Slam level. And arguably, from an emotional point of view it was not easy to manage. After all, Daniil was coming from an exhaustive ride, both mentally and physically. Maybe, the fact of having ascended to a completely different status was also carrying more pressure: maybe this kind of pressure plus all the physical and mental toll was an excessive burden to manage. After Shanghai he felt the need to play in a certain sense alone, without the aid of statistics, despite the fact that coach Cervara was fully supportive of the new approach. Basically, Daniil wanted to test himself and do his own thing. Despite this turnaround, the relationship of trust with Gilles was not harmed, he continued to pay me in order to have my analysis: my work after Shanghai had a different perspective, aimed at developing the game of Daniil in a broader sense and not just focus on tactical pre match advice. In other words, even if we no longer did the statistical preparation of the matches and therefore no longer took care of the tactical aspects, we worked in terms of post-match analysis, in order to understand what was working and what not. It does not mean that Daniil’s refusal to rely on the statistical approach is definitive, simply for now we are exploring other ways, even if it is arguably a shame.
Let’s consider the rematch with Wawrinka at the Australian Open. I had studied the game of Wawrinka and I realized that although for most of 2019 the backhand of Stan was going wild, in the last few weeks before the happy Slam, things had changed: already in Doha, I noticed that the shot had returned solid. I knew that Vallverdu (Stan’s coach) had focused on that shot; so even if the backhand is a shot that Daniil plays very well, me and Gilles had suggested that going to much crosscourt on the backhand would not be a good idea; instead, would have been better to go down the line earlier in the rally. Unfortunately, it did not go that way. Since numbers don’t lie, at the end of the match I reviewed the match and noticed that Daniil had played 85% of his backhand crosscourt. Obviously, we will never know what could have happened with a different tactic. But certainly, it was a hard-fought game that could have gone either way. And when the matches are so contested small details make the difference.
From an outside perspective, it seemed that after Shanghai Medvedev had lost the magic that had led him to sniff victory against Nadal, in one of the most dramatic Grand Slam victories of the Spaniard. And quickly Daniil was going back to the level he had at the beginning of 2019. Once again tennis proved to be a sport in which climbing to the top is a process made of steps that costs time and effort; progress that can be reverted very quickly. In such a competitive world, where statistics are not yet handled by most of the players and coaches themselves, mastering data can give an even more significant competitive advantage. And speaking of tennis players who have made a great leap forward, one cannot avoid talking about Matteo Berrettini, named “Most improved player” in 2019.
Q: Talking about Matteo Berrettini, what are your thoughts Fabrice?
A: I think that all the players who worked with data experts got results and Berrettini is a good example: he started 2019 around number 50 and managed to close the season in the top 8 and go to the Finals. And he worked with Craig O’Shannessy. With all due respect it was not expected to end at number 8! Being a top ten means more or less winning 52% of the points, a performance that was not the standard for Berrettini. Berrettini: top 30 / top 50, won about 51% of the points. Once again: we are talking about a difference of one percentage in terms of point won, but precisely, this is the difference between a good player and the absolute elite. I am absolutely convinced that Craig O’Shannessy was crucial in Berrettini’s quantum leap. In the end, it’s about small details, like serving strategies, being a little more aggressive and looking a little bit more for the net, or using the slice a little more. In the end, this is what we are talking about and this is the role of a statistics expert who interprets the data in order to suggest tactical adjustments. In short, data is coming!
Q: Do you think many players are already benefiting from these small adjustments?
A: Definitely, and a good example is surely Murray: I know for sure he has benefited from this type of support. Andy was certainly a top player but probably not at the level of the other three, and the fact that he managed to say a word in that contest is amazing. Maybe what I say is completely wrong, but in my opinion, he was an excellent top ten, like Berdych for example, who really was only one step away from being a Grand Slam champion, also reaching the final in Wimbledon. Murray instead won Slams, the Olympics and had a completely different career. While the other three were sitting above 54% of points won, Murray remained slightly above 53%, but still better than 52% which is the top ten mark.
Q: A part from Medvedev, did you have other important collaborations in 2019?
A: Yes, I collaborated with Nicolas Mahut, who told me that he was interested in my job and wanted to have a try. And the occasion when we started to get serious was the 2019 London Masters. During that tournament we made preparations for each match. It was a great effort because I had never dealt before with doubles and so I built a database of matches in order to chart the style of all the competing couples of Mahut and Herbert at the ATP doubles finals in London. But in the end, they didn’t lose a single set in the whole event and considering the quality of the opponents it was a great result. Of course, this is not to say that statistics was the reason of the success. But maybe, it was not only a matter of Herbert and Mahut being unbeatable in their good days, as some sceptics say. Anyway, building from that result, I decided to start following even the double, but only the best 20 couples in the world in order to provide my services only to the best in class.
(EXCLUSIVE) Why LGBTennis Is Much More Than A Pride Celebration
On the surface, tennis appears to be a frontrunner in the representation of gay athletes with the likes of Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova. However, a closer look shows why a series of LGBT events set up by journalist Nick McCarvel are as important as ever.
It can’t be underestimated how much of an impact the world of tennis has had on the history of LGBT sports.
Some of the first openly gay athletes were tennis stars who went on to become pioneers of the game. WTA founder Billie Jean King was unfairly outed by a newspaper in 1981 before going on to become a leader in the world of equality. During that same year, Martina Navratilova spoke out about her sexuality for the first time by telling The New York Daily News she was bisexual. The two came out during a time where they risked losing sponsorship deals and that was before the devastating AIDS crisis began, which triggered widespread discrimination against the LGBT community.
In the coming years, there have been many top-level LGBT players on the WTA Tour. Including Amelie Maureasmo, Casey Dellacqua, Conchita Martinez and Alison Van Uytvanck. However, on the men’s side, it is a somewhat different picture. Bill Tilden, who won 10 Grand Slam titles throughout the 1920s, struggled with his sexuaility during a time where gay sex was illegal and not accepted by society. More recently, America’s Brian Vahaly was a former top 100 player during the early 2000s, but chose to come out after retiring from the sport. Clearly there is still much more that could be done.
Fortunately, tennis has its very own driving force helping bring the subject of LGBT issues into the limelight. Nick McCarvel is a renowned journalist who has worked at every Grand Slam in various positions ranging from writing reports to fronting online coverage for their official media channels.
“Would I like there to have been someone like a Brian Vahaly, who came out after his playing career, to have had come out while he was still pro, or a current, active player who felt empowered enough to do so? Yes, sure. But I don’t feel any impact one way or another.” McCarvel told UbiTennis about growing up with there being no openly gay role model in tennis.
“I think as I got more comfortable with who I am and in my standing as a tennis journalist, I felt driven to get the conversation going perhaps because of a lack of such an out male player.”
McCarvel has more than got the ball rolling. A couple years ago, he launched the LBGTennis events where individuals can discuss topics related to the gay community. The first coincided with the US Open and was held at the Housing Works Bookstore in New York’s SoHo area. Named ‘Open Playbook: Being Queer and Out in Pro Tennis’ he was joined by Vahaly and Dellacqua on the panel,
“In the spring of 2018 I had been thinking about doing something that brought the tennis and queer spaces together, and I finally felt like the time was right to act. I didn’t have any outstanding goal other than to prompt a discussion within the sport that I, a gay journalist, didn’t really see as lively,” he commented about what triggered him create the events.
Since the birth of its inaugural night, the concept of McCarvel’s idea has gone on to take place during Wimbledon and the Australian Open, too, with more top names joining his panels. However, there is, in a sense, a fine balance to organising these evenings.
“I’ve had a rather warm response from the players, but it’s been pretty quiet. We haven’t necessarily encouraged or pushed them to take part. Instead engaging a variety of facets within pro tennis and the recreational game,” McCarvel explains about promoting his concept.
“Two-time major finalist Kevin Anderson attended one of our events ( Australian Open 2019) and was a huge support, and players like Nicole Gibbs have voiced their support online. Former players Billie Jean King, Brian Vahaly, Casey Dellacqua, James Blake and Rennae Stubbs have been speakers at one point or another and current players Alison Van Uytvanck and Greet Minnen were a part of #LGBTennis at the US Open last year.”
To save the prospect of repetition, each of the five events held so far have had a different dynamic whilst raising money for charity. Some of the organisations that have benefited include: Housing Works and New York Junior Tennis & Learning in USA, Stand Up Events in Australia and Pride Sports in the UK.
McCarvel, undoubtedly, has a lot to be proud about when it comes to the events he has helped organise and run. But what has his standout achievement been so far?
“Having the AELTC invite us onto the grounds of Wimbledon for our event there last summer was amazing; and Billie Jean King was our speaker that day,” he said.
“And having 400+ people attend our event at the USTA National Tennis Center last year on the eve of the US Open was pretty cool, too!”
Everybody has a part
Critics could argue why events like these are needed in 2020. A 2015 worldwide study called ‘Out In The Fields’ found that 8 out of 10 gay men and women have experienced verbal homophobia in sport. To put this into context, a total of 9494 people were surveyed. The report also found that almost half (49%) of gay men and one in four (24%) lesbians under the age of 22 feared that they would be bullied if they came out in team sports.
These findings can only be partly applied to tennis as it is an individual sport but it does highlight the fear some have about coming out, especially on the men’s Tour, which has more than 1000 players with an ATP ranking and none of them are openly gay or bisexual. Ironically, back in 2010, tennis was voted the most gay-friendly sport in a poll ran by British organisation, Stonewall.
“There are so many layers. I think the individuality of the sport and — at times — the loneliness can be impactful in a negative way. The sport can only help to break down these barriers by meeting itself where it’s at and being willing to do the work in making things change,” McCarvel said.
“It’s similar to what we’re seeing — though on a much bigger scale — happen with the Black Lives Matter movement around the world. We need to be open with dialogue, ideas, differences, different people… and tennis has that need to do so with the LGBTQ+ community so it can continue to grow and evolve.”
McCarvel’s commitment to the cause is to be praised but change can’t be created by just one person. It could be argued why the campaign hasn’t attracted more investment or interest from any of tennis’ seven governing bodies over the years. Although that is slowly changing with the US Open hosting its first ever ‘Open Pride’ night last year.
“I think they are getting there. I’ve brought to their attention these issues and I think it’s on their radar. For the #LGBTennis events/evenings, I’ve worked with Tennis Australia (TA), the USTA, the All England Club, the WTA and — to a lesser degree, the ATP, ITA, Tennis Canada and LTA,” he said.
“Where is their player education series? How are they making tennis as inclusive for every recreational player out there no matter where they come from or who they are? TA has done a great job with the latter, but am I frustrated? No. I just want to see progress.”
— Nick McCarvel (@NickMcCarvel) September 5, 2019
Then there is also the power of support from straight-allies in the sport, especially among active players. It isn’t very often that gay-related questions are asked to the likes of Roger Federer and Co, but when they have, there has always been a positive response. 20-time Grand Slam champion Federer told The Body Serve in 2018 ‘It doesn’t matter where you came from, who you are, I’m all for it that you’re open about it (being gay).’ Later that same year Novak Djokovic says during the ATP Tour Finals: “It’s everybody’s right to have sexual orientation as they desire, any kind of direction in life they desire. I respect it.”
“When Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic were asked about the issue in the press in the summer of 2018 it made international headlines when they spoke out on the issue. I know not a lot of LGBTQ+ activists feel as though we need to rely on or promote allies, but in sports, I think they’re big because of how heternormative the culture is.”
Perhaps the most fascinating aspect is that tennis, in some ways, has been a leader when it comes to representation of LGBT people in sport but at the same time still has a lot of work to do in many other ways. It is for this reason why McCarvel’s LGBTennis events have been inspirational.
I have no idea if there are any gay professional tennis players currently on the ATP Tour or if they will come out soon. The only hope is they can seek some sort of comfort from what McCarvel is doing as he issues his own coming out advice.
“There is some conservative thinking in the sport – and that’s fine – but the more you can be your authentic self on the court, in the locker room, in the press room, in the hallways of the Grand Slam arenas around the world – that is all very, abundantly important. And support one another! Tennis is wonderfully gay. This sport touches the queer community like no other! Let’s highlight that. Let’s embrace it and do our (small little) part,” he concluded.
EXCLUSIVE: Serena Williams Is Facing ‘A New Situation’ In Her Career
The coach of the 23-time Grand Slam champion speaks to UbiTennis about her recent disappointments in the majors and the reasons behind them.
Serena Williams has established herself as one of the most decorated players in the history of women’s tennis but there is still one record that continues to elude her.
It has been more than three years since the 38-year-old defeated sister Venus to triumph at the Australian Open and claim her last Grand Slam title. The milestone elevated her to a single trophy away from drawing level with Margaret Court for most grand slam singles title ever won by a man or woman. At the time of her Australian victory, it seemed that it was only a matter of time before Williams would level and even break Court’s record, but this has failed to happen so far.
Shortly after claiming grand slam No.23, Williams took time off the Tour due to pregnancy and the birth of her daughter Olympia. When she returned to action, there were still glimmers of the player who had dominated the WTA Tour. However a combination injury setbacks and lack of consistency has resulted in nothing but frustration in the big events.
“It was a tremendous effort to come back and reach all four grand slam finals after becoming a mother at the age of 37,” Williams’ coach Patrick Mouratoglou told UbiTennis.
“I’ve never seen anyone work as hard as that, it was incredible. Her motivation is incredibly high and her disappointment is as big as her motivation when she lost those finals.”
Williams has featured in four out of the last seven grand slam finals, but has lost them all in straight sets to different players. Including her controversy-stricken US Open clash with Naomi Osaka in 2018 and a comprehensive loss to Simona Halep at Wimbledon last July. Besides the impressive play from those who beat her, is there something more significant that is hindering Williams?
According to Mouratoglou, who has worked alongside Williams since 2012, he admits pressure is a factor on the seemingly resilient player. The Frenchman believes the task of trying to equal Court’s record is ‘the greatest pressure’ an athlete can experience. Although Williams has on previous occasions played down the idea of nerves being the reason for her losses. Instead praising the performance of her opponent.
“I think it is normal that the pressure is at a peak that she has never reached before because she is playing one match for history. That is the greatest pressure anyone is any sport can experience,” he said.
“When the pressure is too big for you it highlights some of your weaknesses.’
“Physically we (Williams’ team) could see that she was not back 100 percent. It was not obvious in the other matches, but when the pressure was on it was more.”
Not all down to Serena
It is unfair to suggest that the reason for Williams’ series of losses in the finals is solely down to her when you take into account the calibre of player she was facing. Three out of her four losses were to women who are currently ranked inside the top 10 on the WTA Tour. The only exception is world No.21 Angelique Kerber, who claimed the Wimbledon title back in 2018.
“I think she was unlucky because in all four grand slams she played a player who had nothing to lose and played the best match of their life,” Mouratoglou reflects.
“When you’re under pressure, you don’t play well and nervous you might still have a chance to come back. But if your opponent plays the match of their life then you don’t and I think that is what happened.”
Perhaps the loss that hurt the most for Williams took place on the grass courts at the All England Club. Last July she rallied to the final by dropping just two sets in six matches played. Awaiting her in the title match was Halep, whom she led 9-2 in their head-to-head. Williams was the odds on favourite against the Romanian, but suffered a 6-2, 6-2, loss.
Halep conjured up a comprehensive game plan of taking the ball early and not allowing her nemesis to dominate play. Impressing the Wimbledon crowd and leaving Williams settling for runner-up once again.
“We all knew that Halep never thought she would win Wimbledon in her life. So she has no expectation, which is the ideal situation to be in,” Mouratoglou said of the world No.2.
“Probably at the start of the match she felt that Serena was really nervous. I think this was one of the matches she was the most nervous in. She hit a few shots that almost went under the net and I think Simona felt so free. She hit a few great shots on difficult points.” He added.
The job for the Williams contingent is trying to come up with a way to overcome this barrier. In January the former world No.1 looked to be back to top form by winning the ASB Classic in New Zealand. Her first title of any sort since becoming a mother. However, it would be another disappointment at the Australian Open. This time losing in the third round to Wang Qiang.
“You have to find a way to loosen up more. If you can’t find a way you can’t play your tennis and then you have no chance at that level. It’s a new situation she faces, but it is also explained by that fact that nobody has ever experienced that much pressure.”
Mouratoglou now hopes the lack of tennis in recent months due to the COVID-19 Pandemic could be a blessing in disguise. It is still unknown as to when the Tour will resume, but officials are hoping for the New York major to go ahead as planned with certain restrictions in place. Potentially providing Williams with another shot of drawing level with Court.
“I think this (break) is good for her because she can rest. The top player’s need less time to come back to a great level. They don’t need too much competition. We have seen that with Roger a few times. He was out for six months and then came back and won straight away. It is almost an advantage for the older ones.” He concluded.
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