Tennis is a sport that breeds individual stars. Mix in its ability to create equality among the sexes and the glamour and fashion off the court and professionals have the potential to become famous and rich beyond our wildest dreams. The one pre-requisite you would think would be necessary is a world class skill with a racquet and ball. Maybe even some major or tour wins on the CV to really get your name out there. This is not always the case however. Tennis players come in all shapes and sizes and some have become famous for almost everything but Tennis, and here are my top four.
The Bulgarian really has become the Casanova of tennis. Blessed with good looks as well as tennis ability the 24-year-old has been linked with Serena Williams in the past, and dated poster girl Maria Sharapova as recently as 2015. To be fair Dimitrov is not completely useless with a racquet and has been likened to the great man Roger Federer before, garnering the nickname ‘baby fed’. His best ever ranking was 8th in 2014 after he had reached the semi-final at Wimbledon. While still young and with plenty time to make himself a household name in Tennis, his reputation as a Casanova doesn’t seem to be waning. If you google him currently you will see his new flame, former Pussy Cat Doll Nicole Scherzinger grace your screen. It seems Dimitrov has chosen his path and with players nowadays becoming millionaires without having to win, Dimitrov is a breed of professional whose motivation seems be in the bedroom more than the practice courts.
Another young man on the list, but for different reasons. Like Dimitrov, Kyrgios has shown flashes of brilliance and has finished strong twice in majors, reaching the Quarter Finals in both the Australian Open and Wimbledon. His short career has been riddled with controversies however. At Wimbledon 2015, a year after reaching the QF, Kyrgios was booed by fans after looking like he has given up and was ‘tanking’ the match. While he professed his innocence stating “Of course I was trying” many who watched the match saw an insolent teenager who was letting his hot head rule him. In the same year Kyrgios clashed with Stan Wawrinka in the Rogers Cup. Sledging his opponent using many slurs toward Wawrinka’s personal life, and it was picked up by the match’s mics. Kyrgios was fined $10,000. Kyrgios definitely has talent and with Australia lacking a hero, he coud truly be the next ambassador for the great Tennis nation. At just 20 years old the Australian is more known for his controversies, fashion and endorsements, than any Tennis match he has played in however.
In 2016 Barker turned 59 and received an OBE from the Queen in broadcasting and charity work. You would be forgiven for thinking therefore that those two things are what she does. In Europe Barker maybe remembered fondly as a tennis player, but in Britain her success post Tennis career has seen her name better known for television presenting. Her credits include BBCs Sport’s Personality of the Year from 1994 – 2013 and the long running quiz A Question of Sport, but do people watching truly know who their watching. Sue Barker is the last women to win the French Open from Great Britain. In 1976 she won the Roland Garros title after beating Romata Tomanova 6-2 0-6 6-2. While this should be celebrated just as much as any Andy Murray triumphs unfortunately due to her prowess in front of a Camera, most people now will assume Sue Barker is just an opinion in a power suit.
Last but certainly not least, Anna Kournikova is probably the best example of a Tennis player whose fame came off the court. Although unlucky with injury, if someone says the name Anna Kournikova to you, chances are you’re not picturing her in tennis attire. She was incredibly young when she arrived on the professional circuit and was gaining notoriety as a pretty face even at the age of just 15. She moved to Florida from Moscow at the age of ten to train at Nick Bolletieri’s famed tennis academy. She reached No.8 in the World at her peak but at 21 a herniated disc forced her to leave the circuit. To any other player this would be devastating news and they would be figuring out what they would do next. For Anna it was not the end of the world, she had garnered global fame despite her short stay because of her looks and at her peak Anna Kournikova was one of the most searched words on google. Her retirement was followed by a high profile relationship with singer Enrique Iglesias, and the young Russian even appeared in his music video ‘Escape’. Her notoriety became so high that she had her name given to various items. A white Russian cocktail that uses skimmed milk is called an Anna Kournikova and so is receiving a hand of an Ace and a King in Poker, because ‘though it looks nice, it rarely wins’.
Tennis Has A Justin Gimelstob Problem
Once tipped to be the chief of men’s tennis, Gimelstob’s future in the sport looks to be coming to an end following his latest and most shocking controversy.
Once again in the coming weeks men’s tennis will be dominated by off-court politics in an all too familiar trend occurring this season.
Following on from the decision to remove Chris Kermode from his position, the focus is now on Justin Gimelstob. A man once tipped to take on Kermode’s position as CEO of the ATP. Earlier this week the 42-year-old pleaded ‘no contest’ to an assault charge against one of his former friends. A plea where somebody accepts the charges without accepting or admitting guilt. As a consequence, Gimelstob was handed with a 60-day community service and a three-year probation.
“Justin Gimelstob pled no contest to the charge filed against him and the Judge, after evaluating the evidence, exercised his discretion and reduced the charge to a misdemeanor,” said his legal team in a statement.
“Justin did this to move on with his professional life and focus on his family.”
The incident occurred last Halloween when Gimelstob approached Randall Kaplan and hit him a reported 50 times, according to a restraining order issued last year. The incident took place in front of Kaplan’s pregnant wife, who film some of the incident, and his two-year-old daughter. Prosecutors said that the stress of the attack caused Kaplan’s wife to have a miscarriage.
“Thankfully my husband survived, but our unborn child did not,” Madison Kaplan said. “My doctors said everything had looked perfect with the pregnancy before the attack. The only reason they could see causing the miscarriage was the stress from the attack. Justin might not have gotten his wish in killing Randy, but he did kill a tiny innocent little baby girl.”
The Rome vote
Gimelstob is currently one of three player representatives currently serving on the ATP Board and represents the Americas region. They are elected by the Players council and play an instrumental role in decision making. Such as voting for the removal of Kermode.
The fact Gimelstob remains in his current position is one that has drawn concern from some. The All England Club confirmed on Tuesday that he has been banned from the Wimbledon legends event as well as sitting in the Royal Box. The Telegraph has also reported that officials are pondering whether to remove his credentials all together.
Statement in from All England Club. "The AELTC can confirm that Justin Gimelstob has not been and will not be invited to participate in the Invitational events, or to attend the Royal Box at The Championships in 2019." He had previously played in the doubles every year since 2010
— Simon Briggs (@simonrbriggs) April 23, 2019
It will be the Player’s council decision if Gimelstob should maintain his current position or not. They will gather in Rome next month to have a vote on his future. Among the member’s is John Isner, who has Gimelstob as an ‘unpaid advisor‘ on his team. The world No.10 has previously described him as a ‘’a misunderstood character.’
“The decision was taken to let the judicial process run its course before any judgement was made on his future, so with that process complete this is now a subject for review by the board and/or the player council.” The ATP said in a statement.
“As a related matter, the election for the role of the next Americas player representative on the ATP board – the position currently held by Gimelstob – will take place as scheduled on Tuesday, 14 May, in Rome.”
Despite his work and dedication to tennis, the idea of voting to keep Gimelstob in his role seems illogical. Prior to his assault charge, he has been embroiled in a series of controversies. Speaking about former player Anna Kournikova in 2008 he once said ‘She’s a bitch. Hate’s a very strong word. I just despise her to the maximum level just below hate.’ He later apologised for that comment. In 2010 he also was briefly suspended from the Tennis Channel concerning comments he made about then president Barack Obama.
A return to The Tennis Channel?
Besides his role at the ATP, Gimelstob has been a prominent figure and valuable commentator for The Tennis Channel. He took a leave of absence from the network in November due to the legal proceedings. Now he has received his sentence, it is unclear as to what will happen next.
“We are sure that Justin is pleased that this matter has been resolved. Since he took his leave of absence from Tennis Channel in November 2018, we have been waiting for the legal system to run its course. Now that this is behind him, we will have internal meetings among our executives — and meetings with Justin — to discuss his future with Tennis Channel.” The Tennis Channel said in a statement.
According to Deadline the situation is complicated due to the close relationship between the former player and Ken Solomon, who is the president of the Tennis Channel. Speaking to The New York Times Solomon said ‘We are here and ready to discuss the situation with Justin whenever appropriate, and will decide at that time.’
Despite the seemingly calm approach from the president of the network, some people within The Tennis Channel are questioning the situation.
“There is a feeling here that it would be shocking if he comes back and works for the Tennis Channel,” one source told Deadspin. “But at the same time, this guy is super powerful and has been at Tennis Channel since it started, so he has a very close relationship with [Tennis Channel president] Ken Solomon. They go way back.”
At one point in his post-playing career, Gimelstob was regarded as one of the most powerful men in tennis. His resume includes commentator, coach, ATP board member and owner of a television production company. Now his stronghold within the sport is rapidly loosening. Any decision by the ATP to keep him on their powerful board will be one condemned for years to come. Despite all he has done for the sport.
It is for this reason why at the upcoming Italian Open only half of the attention will be on the court’s. The other half will be on how the Player’s Council handles this situation. Another new headache for president Novak Djokovic and his fellow members.
COMMENT: At Indian Wells, the Lucky Loser Is Not So Lucky Against Milos Raonic
A new kid surprises, maybe gets to the third round, but then he plays the big names.
INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — The description, “Lucky Loser,” seems an oxymoron; army intelligence, jumbo shrimp, lucky loser. Except this is tennis, not the military or crustaceans.
And tennis is a sport in which love means nothing — getting shut out — so anything goes, including at times a qualifying loser into the main draw.
One of those in this BNP Paribas Open was a 19-year-old from Serbia, Miomir Kecmanovic (no, I don’t know why Serbs, Croats, Russians, Spaniards, French and Austrians can play and Americans can’t).
Kecmanovic finally was eliminated Thursday, as you would imagine when a guy ranked 130th in the world meets up with the guy ranked 14th, who three years ago was ranked third and was a Wimbledon finalist, Milos Raonic.
Yes, Kecmanovic was the loser, and this time not so lucky — except by getting to the quarter-finals he earned $182,000. Raonic, with his big serve, scored a 6-3, 6-4 victory.
When you’re not exempt, as in one of the top money winners, you try to get into a tournament through qualifying. Kecmanovic did try. And failed, if barely, getting beaten in a third-set tiebreaker.
Depressed? That’s an understatement; this led to an overreaction. He was going to quit the sport. Then he came to a realization. “You’re like, ‘OK, you don’t know anything else in life, so you’ve got to stick to this,’” he said.
Someone eligible inevitably withdraws. At the BNP it wasn’t someone, it was three people, all because of injuries, Kevin Anderson (the 2018 Wimbledon finalist), Pablo Carreno Busta and Grigor Dimitrov.
Kecmanovic had a bye in the first round, then won three matches, the last when Yoshihito Nishioka retired because of a bad back after losing the first set. Lucky? Perhaps, but this time Kecmanovic wasn’t a loser.
Nine lucky losers have been ATP tournament winners since 1978, the most recent Marco Ceccinato at the Gazprom Hungarian Open in April 2018. He didn’t have to play against someone as competent as the 28-year-old Raonic, who now has reached the BNP semis a fourth time.
“I think the conditions are good for me, especially when the sun’s out,” said Raonic. ”The court heats up a little bit. There is a good amount of jump on the court. This year it’s a little bit slower than the previous years, but it allows me to take a few more swipes at a few more shots, and I can do different things with my serve that I need to get ahead in the point.”
Raonic was born in what was then Yugoslavia, but when he was 3 years old his parents, both engineers, emigrated to Canada where Milos, now 6-foot-5 and 215 pounds — if that sounds like a basketball player, well, he took part in an NBA All-Star celebrity game — was introduced to tennis.
He had been introduced briefly, during a match in Australia, to Kecmanovic.
“I played him in Brisbane after — I wasn’t aware until they mentioned it today that he was the Lucky Loser,” said Raonic. “But he beat, fairly handily, Leonardo Mayer down there. That was a tough match.
“Today I knew it was going to be tough. He’s won his last three matches against good players.”
Against a better player, Kecmanovic didn’t win. That is usually what happens in tennis. A new kid surprises, maybe gets to the third round, but then he plays the big names. On Kecmanovic’s side of the draw are Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
To borrow a lyric, the road gets tougher.
But Kecmanovic has a few dollars now to bankroll himself. And he has success in a tournament that most players consider just a notch below the four Grand Slams.
“I knew he had nothing to lose,” said Raonic, “and I had to be real.”
If that means taking the match seriously, well, anyone skilled enough to qualify for the main draw of any ATP tournament, whether as a Lucky Loser or not, is world-class. These guys, and on the other side, these women, are great athletes, top to bottom. Or they wouldn’t be on tour.
“Guys bring their best tennis at the beginning of the year,” said Raonic, alluding to the BNP and Miami, which last a week and half as compared to the weeklong events, “because guys have a lot of time. Nobody is really rushing. It’s tough to do it here.”
Even when you get lucky.
The Canadian Rising Stars Tearing Up Indian Wells
The BNP Paribas Open has served as a platform for the North American country to showcase their trio of success stories.
Eight years ago Milos Raonic was the sole Canadian success story of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells.
At the age of 20, he received a wildcard into the main draw of the 2011 tournament. Stunning 13th seed Mardy Fish on route to the third round. During that year Raonic was the only player from his country – man or woman – to score a main draw win in the event. At that time there were only four players in the top 200 from the North American country with two of those in the top 100.
Now there is a trio of rising stars paving the way for a new era of Canadian tennis. Denis Shapovalov, Felix Auger-Aliassime and Bianca Andreescu have all cracked the top 100 before their 19th birthday and have already enjoyed success in the Californian desert in 2019.
“We can never take credit for all this. We are a facilitator,” Tennis Canada chief executive Michael Downey told The Canadian Press on Match 5th. “At the end of the day, there are many parents, many external coaches and the players themselves that go on court and actually win these matches.”
18-year-old Auger-Aliassime has posted the most high-profile win of the trio so far in Indian Wells. On Saturday he eased to a comprehensive straight sets win over Australian Open semi-finalist Stefanos Tsitsipas. The teenager has been regarded as a tennis prodigy throughout his junior career and with good reason. At the age of 14 he qualified for the main draw of a Challenger event for the first time. He also is a former US Open boys champion and is one of the youngest players of all time at win a Challenger title at the age of 16 years and 10 months. More recently he was runner-up at the Rio Open, which is a ATP 500 event.
“I want to win as much as I can. I want to go as far as I can as a player. I don’t know what my limits will be, but I try to work hard every day to go as far as I can.” He proclaimed after defeating Tsitsipas.
“I probably want to feel all the emotions that I can feel on these courts, win as many trophies as I can.”
The achievements have drawn praise from Davis Cup team mate Shapovalov, who is almost 16 months older than him. Nicknamed ‘Shapo’ for short, he is still the youngest semi-finalist in the history of Masters 1000 events (dating back to 1990). Achieving that milestone at the 2017 Canadian Open at the age of 18.
“For Felix to get his first top-10 win, I was so, so pumped.” Said Shapovalov. “I remember still warming up, and I was asking my team, I was, like, Did they just finish? It was so quick. He really just outplayed Stefanos, from what I saw. So I was really happy for him. I gave him a big hug.”
Still in the search for his maiden ATP title, Shapovalov kicked-off his Indian Wells bid with a 6-3, 6-4, win over Steve Johnson. Setting up a clash with Marin Cilic in the third round. Regardless of his lack of silverware, he remains the second youngest player in the top 100. Boasting a win-loss record of 8-5 so far this season.
“Obviously it’s a tough one. I haven’t thought too much about it. Played him once before, so I kind of have a feel of him going into the match, but he’s a tough player,” Shapovalov said of Cilic. “He was playing really well, so I’m expecting a battle. I feel good, as well. I’m looking forward to it.”
Andreescu making waves on the women’s tour
12 months ago Andreescu was playing in a series of ITF events in Japan with the dream of progressing to the main stage of the WTA Tour. Since then, she has played her first tour final in Auckland, clinched her first win over a top 10 player (Caroline Wozniacki) and rose to a current ranking high of 60th.
“If someone would have told me I would have gone to the fourth round of this tournament at the beginning of the year, I would have said, You’re crazy.” The two-time junior grand slam doubles champion said about reaching the last 16 in Indian Wells.
“It’s just an incredible experience. This is one of the best tournaments in the world, so I’m just really, really happy.”
Belonging to a trio of rising stars from the same country, a competitive rivalry is forming between them. Something that Andreescu hopes will propel them further up the ranks in the future.
“We’re all killing it. It’s great. We have played so many junior tournaments together, and it’s so nice to see each and every one of us at the top of our game at this stage in our life, only 18, 19, which is pretty incredible.” She said.
“I think all that really contributes to our successes. We motivate each other. If one person does well, it’s really nice to see.”
It isn’t just each other they hope to inspire. A determined Shapovalov is aiming to create a domino effect to boost the popularity of tennis back in his home country. In 2018 a survey conducted by Tennis Canada found that 6.6 million Canadians played tennis at least once over a 12-month period. Furthermore, 60% of respondents said they were interested in the sport. Placing Tennis in fifth place out of 14 sports that was surveyed.
“To be honest, I’m not shocked. I was telling everybody, it’s just a matter of time until Felix and Bianca show up.” Said Shapovalov. “They both had unbelievable games in the juniors, and I grew up with both of them. So honestly, I knew the potential they have, and I knew it’s just a matter of time until they are gonna have these big results. I’m really happy for them. They are both really good people.”
“And hopefully we can just keep going like this to make tennis a really big sport in Canada.” He added.
Whilst all is not perfect, it is clear that Canada is becoming a fierce tennis nation. A prospect that is exciting many in the sport.
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