On Sunday Gael Monfils battled past John Isner in a two-and-a-half-hour tense clash at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells. It was a gripping encounter, but the main talking point was what Monfils did immediately after the match.
Celebrating his place in the third round, the Frenchman crossed his arms and banged on his chest. He had become the latest high-profile athlete to celebrate with the ‘Wakanda Forever’ salute. An action adapted from the movie blockbuster Black Panther. A Marvel film that has been deemed a game changer in the entertainment industry for having a cast of mainly black actors.
World No.42 Monfils believes the ‘Wakanda Forever’ sign isn’t just a minor action. He believes it has wider implications for the black community.
“I think that movie is great, it’s great for the community, for our community, it means quite a lot. It’s not just a sign. It’s everything. It’s everything going on and definitely it’s a shout-out saying that I’m supporting the Black Panther’s community,” he said during his press conference on Sunday. “It’s a lot going on I think. It’s battling politics, everything you know for our community. I’m following, I have a close friend in France, he is actually really involved and every morning I read every post he does, every interview, his name is Claudy Siar and he’s from Guadeloupe.
“It’s the world in general. I’m not so much involved but sometimes I like to pay attention. When you have movies who help, who give belief and show strength, it’s good.”
— Tennis TV (@TennisTV) 11 March 2018
Monfils is not alone in the praise. Earlier in the week America’s Sachia Vickery conducted the same celebration following her win over Garbine Muguruza. The parents of the 22-year-old are both from the African country of Guyana.
“I’m so obsessed with the movie. It’s taking over my life. I have seen it four times already. Literally, I’m obsessed. I have watched it twice here (in Indian Wells).” She told wtatennis.com.
“Actually, the girl who plays Shuri, she’s from Guyana, and that’s where my mom is from. I was just like so crazy to see that and the movie is just so awesome. I’m just obsessed with it right now.”
— Sachia Vickery (@SachiaVick) 9 March 2018
More than an action
Besides the cultural phenomenon of the Black Panther, it’s impact highlights something deeper in the world of tennis. In the 21st century racism continues to be an unwelcome threat. Last year Donald Young spoke to Ubitennis about receiving racist messages from the public. Something Monfils can also relate to.
“I have good and bad. Bad because basically every match I receive some racist comment and you can cross some racist person,” he explained.
“And then you can have the opposite like super-fans following you, in the street, in the shop, not far where you live. Both are weird a little bit but that’s the way our job is so we take it.”
Indian Wells is also a tournament that has been blighted in the past by racial allegations. On Monday, Serena Williams will take on her sister Venus during what is the 17th anniversary of an incident that lead to their lengthy boycott of the event.
Both sisters were set to play each other in the semifinals of the 2001 tournament. Minutes prior to the match, Venus pulled out due to injury. Leading to former player Elena Dementieva accusing their father, Richard of doing it on purpose. An allegation that was never proven. Amid the confrontation, both sisters said they were victims of racist chants from the crowd despite Serena going on to win the title.
“I literally didn’t even think about it. That’s, you know, totally gone out of my mind. First of all, 17 years ago seems like forever ago. Yikes.” Serena said about the upcoming meeting.
In February Serena treated a group of children from the youth group Black Girls CODE to a private screening.
Currently there are only two top 20 black players with both of those being on the women’s tour – Sloane Stephens and Venus.
Djokovic Isn’t Satisfied With The 20-20-20 Look
The world number one will be the overwhelming favourite at the US Open, but Berrettini is here to stay
Now that Novak Djokovic has 20-20-20 vision, he says he’s not through.
He’s aiming to be the sole leader of the gang now that he has deadlocked Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer at 20 Grand Slam singles titles each.
But future Grand Slam titles might not come easy for any of the 20-20-20 gang, even youngest member Djokovic. Italian muscleman Matteo showed on Sunday in his Wimbledon championship match loss to Djokovic that he has arrived as a legitimate Grand Slam tournament contender.
NOVAK BIDDING TO MATCH LAVER
Of course, Djokovic now has won three Grand Slams this year and has his eyes focused on winning all four Grand Slams in one year, matching something the great Rod Laver accomplished twice about half-a-century ago.
The U.S. Open awaits the challenge. Novak will be a huge favorite, although it would be great to see Rafa and Roger in New York again.
Who knows? These two legends hopefully are already out getting their games ready for the hard courts of Flushing Meadows.
MATTEO AGGRESSIVE, YET PASSIVE
Berrettini had his chances against Djokovic. But he was either too eager or too passive with his shots much of the afternoon. Unlike the 20-20-20 Gang, Matteo really doesn’t have great touch. But power? He has more than he needs.
Between the two traits, Berrettini didn’t take full advantage of his many opportunities. Had he cashed in on the majority of them, Wimbledon might have had a different champion, and Djokovic would still be looking up at Nadal and Federer.
But Novak was always there, ready to pounce on the smallest window of opportunity. He often turned opportunities for Berrettini into his own.
BERRETTINI: THE BIG MUSCULAR GUY
The preliminaries to the match were very English-like, much like the aftermath of the grueling 6-7 (4), 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 victory by Djokovic. Both players were somber as they made their way onto the court, each carrying green and white Head tennis bags and hand bags
Wearing his usual cap turned backward, the 25-year-old Berrettini looked like a movie star or a tight end with his 6-5, 209-pound figure, overshadowing the 6-2, 172-pound Djokovic, whose thin-man look enables the 34-year-old Serbian to be as nimble as an acrobat.
The first game lasted what seemed like a set as Djokovic survived two double faults and a break point to take a 1-0 lead. Novak broke in the fourth game and led 5-2 before Berrettini pulled his game together to survive the eight-deuce eighth game, then broke Novak and held service for 5-5.
TIEBREAKER BELONGS TO MATTEO
Berrettini surprisingly outplayed Djokovic in the tiebreaker and closed the door with an ace. But the Italian came down to earth and was broken early in each of the last three sets to allow Djokovic to take the title.
Grand Slam titles didn’t always come so often for Djokovic. After notching his first Grand Slam title at the 2008 Australian Open, he watched Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer win 10 of the 11 Grand Slams before Novak got in the winner’s circle again in 2011.
EVERYTHING GOING NOVAK’S WAY
But now as Nadal and Federer appear to be struggling with their age, Djokovic has won eight of the last 14 Grand Slams. Overall, he has won 20 of the last 54 Grand Slams.
While all of that has been happening, Djokovic has won five of the last seven Wimbledons, and six in all.
Everything appears to be going Novak’s way, but the young guns of the tour obviously are getting anxious to win Grand Slams. And Novak can’t look like Superman forever.
See James Beck’s Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier columns at postandcourier.com (search on James Beck column). James Beck can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com
Why Are So Many Tennis Players Skipping The Olympics?
It isn’t just the COVID-19 pandemic which are putting players playing off going.
On Monday Canada’s Dennis Shapovalov joined the growing number of tennis stars who have decided not to play in this year’s Olympics Games.
In a statement issued on social media, the world No.12 said his decision was due to the COVID-19 pandemic and doing what he believes was best for the safety of his team. Japan, which is where the Games are being held, has been dealing with a surge in cases in recent weeks with a low number of the population to be fully vaccinated. Whilst the country has banned international spectators from attending amid fears of the virus being spread, organisers say up to 10,000 domestic fans will be allowed to attend the Olympic venues.
“After careful consideration I wanted to let you know that I will not be participating in the Olympics this year. Representing Canada means the world to me, but due to the current situation my team and I have decided this is the best decision for everyone’s safety,” Shapovalov wrote on twitter.
Shapovalov’s concerns related to the pandemic aren’t the only thing which is deterring tennis players from attending the Olympics. Over the past week, two top 10 players from the men’s Tour also confirmed that they will not be participating. Rafael Nadal is missing the event in order to take a break from the sport following what was a demanding clay court swing. Meanwhile, Dominic Thiem says he doesn’t want to travel to Tokyo and instead wants to focus on his title defence at the US Open.
This year’s tennis calendar doesn’t favour the Olympics. The Wimbledon Championships concludes two weeks before it begins and the US Open starts five weeks after. Two of the biggest events in the sport which offer the highest amount of prize money and ranking points per round. At the same time as the Olympics two ATP 250 events are taking place in Austria and America.
“So much has to depend on where a player is in their career. Have they won an Olympic medal before? How important is it to them? Do they want to travel to Asia in the middle of the summer? For every player I think it is very individual how seriously they take the Olympics,” former Olympic champion Lindsey Davenport told The Tennis Channel in 2020.
Tennis was officially reintroduced into the Games back in 1988 after being showcased as a demonstration sport four years prior. It is different to Tour events with no official prize money on offer. However, some countries such as Russia have previously issued financial rewards for athletes who win medals.
Another sticking point is there being no ranking points available for players participating. Back in 2019 the International Tennis Federation told UbiTennis they were ‘open’ to allowing points being awarded but no progress has been made. Perhaps due to the complex governance of the sport with the Olympic event being run by the ITF. Meaning they will have to form an agreement with both the ATP and WTA for such an incentive to happen.
“Currently, the WTA and ATP do not award points for the Olympic Qualification Pathway. We (the ITF) are always open to discussion on the matter.” The ITF said.
Another issue concerns the location. Players face having to travel from Europe to Asia and then North America within a month. A journey made substantially more difficult than usual due to restrictions related to the pandemic.
Chile’s Christian Garin says his decision not to go to Tokyo is because he feels athletes will not be able to get the full experience due to the current restrictions in place.
“Due to the instability of this year and added to the fact that the established conditions will not allow me to live the real experience of what the Olympic Games mean, that is why I have made this decision,” he wrote on Instagram.
When it comes to other Olympic absentees, a contingent of Spanish players will not be attending due to what newspaper Marca describes as ‘calendar issues and a logistically difficult trip to Tokyo.’ Those skipping the event are Roberto Bautista Agut, Albert Ramos, Feliciano López, Jaume Munar and Carlos Alcaraz. Norway’s Caper Ruud, Serbia’s Dusan Lajovic and Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov will also not be playing.
Despite the surge in withdrawals which will most likely increase in the coming weeks, other top names have committed to playing. Novak Djokovic, Naomi Osaka, Daniil Medvedev, Victoria Azarenka, Aryna Sabalenka and Andy Murray have all confirmed they will play.
“It’s going to be my first Olympic Games. We have a great team so we can do some doubles, mixed doubles, everything,” Medvedev said about playing.
“Going to be amazing experience. Of course, with COVID maybe it’s not going to be the same like every year.”
The Olympic tennis event will be held at the Ariake Coliseum and get underway on July 24th.
The Other Side of Press Conferences
American author and journalist Mike Mewshaw gives his take on the controversy that surfaced at this year’s French Open
After Naomi Osaka’s withdrawal from the French Open, the debate about press conferences keeps cropping up. Pressers have been analyzed from more angles than Rafa’s forehand or Serena’s backhand. Players, both active and retired, have weighed in with their opinions, along with coaches and sports therapists. The consensus is that tennis reporters are insensitive, disrespectful, sexist, racist, and eager to provoke controversy.
The constant threat of illness, the absence of fans, the isolation, and loss of income has certainly added to impatience with reporters. Venus Williams tartly suggested she maintained her composure during interviews by realizing she could beat any hack in the room; none of them could hold a candle to her.
But this sort of disrespect runs in both directions. While players view reporters as pesky publicity machines, at best, or gossip-hounds at worst, some journalists regard players as spoiled high school dropouts who couldn’t write a grammatically correct paragraph if their endorsement contracts depended on it. With all due deference to Naomi Osaka, I would urge her and her colleagues on the ATP and WTA tours to view things from a different perspective. The coronavirus has wreaked havoc on the press just as it has on them. Plenty of tennis reporters have lost their jobs. Almost all of them earn less income. They face the same risks of infection and submit to enough Covid tests to leave them as red-nosed as Rudolph.
Under the circumstances, reporters who travel the tour, along with those covering matches remotely from their basements, have done a creditable job. Sure, they sometimes sound testy, just as the players do. Of course their questions can be repetitious, just as the players answers can be.
Over the past four decades, I’ve covered more press conferences than I now have white hairs on my head. I’ve heard racist comments, sexist remarks and massively insulting accusations. But more often than not, the putdowns were aimed at reporters or at other players. In the old days, these seldom made it into newspapers, and the really offensive quotes and admissions of rule breaking were deleted from press conference transcripts. In that politically incorrect era, Arthur Ashe, for instance, came in for a raft of prejudice. Ilie Nastase openly referred to him as negroni.
Although it’s now largely forgotten, Billie Jean King’s sexuality was accepted by the press long before many on the women’s tour spoke up in her defense. While male journalists can be appallingly insensitive—Italian Hall of Fame journalist Gianni Clerici used to print Steffi Graf’s menstrual cycle in La Repubblica—it would be difficult to find anything less “woke” than Martina Hingis’ description of Amélie Mauresmo as a “half-man” who “travels with her girlfriend.” Or Lindsay Davenport’s comment after Mauresmo beat her, “I thought I was playing a guy.”
Predictably, both women walked back these quotes, accusing the press of taking their words out of context. That’s an ancient canard on the circuit—shoot off your mouth, then claim you were misquoted. I remember Buster Mottram, then the British Number One, complaining about rowdy fans in Rome, accusing Italians of being animals. At his next press conference he carefully parsed the remark. Suddenly the voice of reason, he observed that human beings were all, anthropologically speaking, animals.
If Buster had won a few majors, his quotes might have been immortalized, like Andre Agassi’s wisecrack at the French Open, “I’m happy as a faggot in a submarine.” That line made the list of Esquire Magazine’s annual Dubious Achievement Awards.
John McEnroe’s infamously objectionable conference quotes could only be contained on a wall as vast as the Vietnam War Memorial. Even if one had the space and energy to chisel them in stone, many would have to be bowdlerized. One that barely passes the censor’s blue pencil is his barbarous backhand at a female reporter who had the impertinence to question him. “Lady, you need to get laid.”
In some cases actions speak louder and more loathsome than words. After a match in Milan, a local female journalist asked Jimmy Connors, “Why do you always touch yourself in a particular place?” Jimmy shoved a hand down his shorts and gave his genitals a good shake. “It feels good. You should try it.”
To repeat, I empathize with Naomi Osaka’s aversion to press conferences. More than she might imagine I agree that they can be frustrating, stress producing, depressing, and borderline transgressive. I accept the sage advice of deep-think editorials and socially conscious scribes that reporters need to raise the level of their game. But so do players who could profit from sensitivity training, anger management, and basic etiquette lessons. With mutual respect for all those who share a rough road toward an uncertain future, the tour could become a better place for everybody.
Michael Mewshaw is the author of 22 books, among them AD IN AD OUT, a collection of his tennis articles, now available as an e-book.
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