A historical examination of the evolution of tennis balls allows to conventionally identify three phases:
- An initial phase, in the early days of the game, when the first regulatory developments took place
- A second phase corresponding to the beginning of the Open Era, when regulations became more compliant to television needs because of tennis’s increase in popularity
- A third phase starting in 2015, when the industry embraced the ecological way of the reconversion of the production process of fuzzy balls.
In the video above, shot in the 1920s, Renè Lacoste is about to try the first ball machine. It is possible to notice how balls are picked up from a carton box and not from a pressurized cylindrical metal tube, a packaging innovation which was introduced in 1926 by the American company Penn. A year before, in 1925, a new rule was devised, prescribing that balls had to bounce from 53 to 58 inches (135-147 cm), falling from a height of 100 inches. Bounce ranges have not changed, except for balls used at high altitudes and for special balls used by children for the progressive learning of shots.
At the onset of tennis, rubber balls were not pressurized. This way, there was no fear of losing pressure, because bounce and compression were produced by a rubber compound. However, the latter was far from being top quality, and consequently the balls were too tough or too soft or bouncing too low due to the lack of internal pressure. That’s why pressurization was introduced. But how were balls supposed to keep their bounce intact when they were simply packed in carton boxes? Before the advent of metal tubes, the solution was to over-pressurize the balls. This means that at the beginning of the season, balls were probably bouncier than at the end.
As for the use of felt, it is a material designed for tennis, provided with wider fiber threads than those used in clothing. This felt allows to:
- Reduce ball speed both after the impact with the racquet and in the air
- Improve ball control by preventing it to bounce irregularly after having hit the racquet
- Reduce ball bounce to a comfortable height, regardless of surfaces.
Felt is now the most expensive material of the production process.
TYPES OF BALLS
Today there are different types of tennis ball, which can be divided as follow:
- Type 1: fast, or known as regular duty (pressurized or not pressurized), commonly used on clay
- Type 2: medium, conventionally divided in Extra Duty for men and Regular Duty for women, commonly used on hardcourts
- Type 3: slow, commonly used on grass
- Balls to be used at high altitudes.
Additionally, other models have been created to facilitate the progressive learning of children (aged between 7 and 12) – it is the biggest innovation of tennis balls in recent years. The chart below summarizes the ITF standards that producers are required to abide by, with a few ulterior notes: Type 1 ball can be pressurized or pressureless, but the pressureless balls must have an internal pressure not exceeding 7 kPa (1 psi); Type 3 balls are also recommended for high-altitude play on any type of surface starting at 1.219 km above sea level; high-altitude balls are always pressurized and should only be used for play starting at 1.219 km above sea level.
|TYPES||MASS (WEIGHT)||SIZE||REBOUND||FORWARD DEFORMATION||RETURN DEFORMATION||COLOUR|
|TYPE 1 (FAST)||56.0-59.4 gr.||6.54-6.86 cm||135-147 cm (53-58 in.)||0.50-0.60 cm||0.67-0.91 cm||White or Yellow|
|TYPE 2 (MEDIUM)1||56.0-59.4 gr.||6.54-6.86 cm||135-147 cm (53-58 in.)||0.56-0.74 cm||0.80-1.08 cm||White or Yellow|
|TYPE 3 (SLOW)2||56.0-59.4 gr.||7.00-7.30 cm||135-147 cm (53-58 in.)||0.56-0.74 cm||0.80-1.08 cm||White or Yellow|
|HIGH ALTITUDE (3)||56.0-59.4 gr.||6.54-6.86 cm||122-135 cm (48-53 in.)||0.56-0.74 cm||0.80-1.08 cm||White or Yellow|
|Tolerance||0,4 gr.||None||4 cm||0,08 cm||0,10 cm||None|
|STAGE 3 (RED) FOAM||25.0-43.0 gr.||8.00-9.00 cm||85-105 cm||None||None||Any|
|STAGE 3 (RED) STANDARD||36.0-49.0 gr.||7.00-8.00 cm||90-105 cm||None||None||Red and Yellow, or Yellow with a Red dot|
|STAGE 2 (ORANGE) STANDARD||36.0-46.9 gr.||6.00-6.86 cm||105-120 cm||1.40-1.65 cm||None||Orange and Yellow, or Yellow with an Orange dot|
|STAGE 1 (GREEN) STANDARD||47.0-51.5 gr.||6.30-6.86 cm||120-135 cm||0.80-1.05 cm||None||Yellow with a Green dot|
Source: https://balls.com/rules/tennis- ball-specifications-defined-for-four-types.html
Research conducted in 2013 (and published in the “Journal of Sports Science and Medicine”) empirically showed that the forehand performance of a small group of eight children with an average age of 8.1 (±0,74) improved in a restricted court and with low-compression balls. The performance of the forehand hit from the baseline was evaluated using three indicators: speed and accuracy index (VP), speed and accuracy success index (VPS) and the percentage of success in hitting the shot – this last indicator is a function of the other two. Participants completed three different forehand patterns on two consecutive days, first using low compression balls on a 18,3 meters court and then using standards Type 2 balls on a 23,8 meters court. Participants using low-compression ball recorded higher VPS score values (p< 0,001) for each shot without errors, as well as higher VP (p= 0,01). The results are summed up below:
This research suggests that law-compression balls (as well as the reduced dimension of the court) facilitate the execution of the shot and improve children’s ability to hit with more speed and higher success rate. Performance improvement using such balls could become a decisive factor in the development of tennis fundamentals at a young age.
EVERY TOURNAMENT HAS AN OFFICIAL BALL
Managing to adapt to different balls in different tournaments is only one of the adjustments that pro tennis players have to make throughout the season. Some of them change the string tension according to the balls used in the various tournaments while also considering other (mostly meteorological) factors that might affect the bounce of the ball. It is known that heat makes rubber more elastic, thus making the balls bouncier. Humidity instead makes them heavier – this is the reason why Nadal is even more devastating at Roland Garros during sunnier days. What follows is the manufacturer used by each of the main ATP tournaments (Slams, Masters 1000 and ATP Finals):
Sources: essentiallysports.com, tennisfansite.com, ubitennis.com
Clay tournaments that sport Dunlop balls are Monte Carlo, Rome, Barcelona, Madrid, as well as the ATP 250 events that take place in Estoril, Munich, and Belgrade. Besides the above mentioned tournaments, Dunlop is the Official Ball of the ATP, a really important detail for merchandising purposes. Today, Dunlop is the most common ball brand in the tennis world.
Does balls supply represent a cost or an income from sponsorships for a tournament? Although figures are unclear, it is thought that the response depends on the importance of the tennis tournament. In December 2016, Le Figaro wrote that Wimbledon made the clever move of making its partners, including ball supplier Slazenger, the event’s official sponsors. This allows the AELTC to avoid restrictions imposed by brands other than the main suppliers and, at the same time, to have the necessary equipment while containing costs – revenues also grow because of the more collegial nature of the new partnership deals. In exchange for a sum negotiated by the two parties, brands can attach the Wimbledon logo on their products. Not all the tournaments have the importance and the contractual power of Wimbledon and this leads us to think that the less important the status of the tournament, the costlier supplies are.
Long-lasting supply collaborations imply that technological innovations are implemented by R&D departments of sponsoring companies, as is the case with Slazenger and Wilson. While Slazenger patented a phosphorescent fiber ball with a water-repellent system, Wilson tested different specific pressures only for balls used during the US open to reduce possible variations, as Bill Dillon (Wilson senior manager) told the New York Times in 2018.
Considering the chart at the beginning of this section (the one related to ITF standards for manufacturers), it can be noticed how rigid these standards are. However, there is some leeway when new balls come into play or at the end of the seven canonical games (in every match, balls are changed after the first seven games and then every nine games). This allows producers to stretch the limits a little bit. Jeff Ratkovich, Head-Penn’s senior business manager, claimed in the same New York Times article that pro players are able to “perceive even the smallest variation” – this is the reason why Head-Penn uses far more rigid specifications than those imposed by the ITF. When the changes of official supplies in the most important tournaments occur, players tend to be overtly critical. During the 2019 Championships, Nadal stated that balls had slowed down the game. During the Australian Open, a few months prior, Federer said that he had problems with the new Dunlop balls. During the 2011 Roland Garros, Djokovic, Federer and Murray complained about the new Babolat balls, which happened to make their debut in that edition of the event. In the autumn edition of the French Open held in 2020, Wilson balls made their debut, and as usual criticism abounded.
TOWARD THE ECOLOGICAL TRANSITION
On average, worn-out tennis balls are re-utilised for different purposes only in 3 to 7 percent of cases before they are incinerated and taken to a landfill – it is esteemed that about 300-325 million of tennis balls are produced every year. As early as August 2012, Ubitennis talked about a business initiative aiming to revitalize the old tennis balls, bringing them back to the appropriate pressure thanks to a special machine created by Rebounce. In 2015, this company teamed up with Advanced Polymer Technology and Ace Surfaces to create the Tennisballrecycling consortium, whose aim is to recycle the old balls to produce materials that will be used to re-surface tennis courts. How does the system work? After the first usage, balls are brought back to the appropriate pressure, extending their lifespan. When the felt is completely worn out, balls are snipped to recycle the rubber. Lastly, Laykold, an enterprise of the APT group (Advanced Polymer Technology) paves the tennis surfaces, recycling up to 10,000 balls for the surface of a single court.
The spring of 2020 marked the creation of Renewaball, a Dutch start-up which produces balls from recycled ones. Till then, the pure rubber and the felt partitions could not be separated – this was the main issue for the recycling process. The new start-up found out a way to do it, and therefore opened the door the production of a tennis ball that uses others as a base. The company has assured that the percentage of balls produced this way will significantly increase in years to come, but it has also warned that it will be impossible to produce a ball made of 100% recycled balls because the final product – a Type 2 ball valid for all playing surfaces and sold in pressurized plastic containers – will always need a minimum part of “pure rubber”.
Nowadays, the production of tennis balls takes places almost solely in Southeast Asia, i.e. far from where tournaments are played. It has been calculated that a tennis ball can travel up to 80,000 km before it comes out of the box. This is a cost for our environment, which implies a lot of marine diesel, kerosene and CO2 emissions. As highlighted in the chart below, the majority of production takes places in Southeast Asia – Thailand is the first producer in the world of natural rubber, followed by China and the Philippines.
Moreover, the use of tennis balls produces thousands of plastic microparticles that the polyester/nylon felt releases into the air after a shot is hit. Those micro-particles will probably end up on the sea ocean or will be part of the floating plastic “soup” that is constantly increasing in the seas. The graphic below highlights the comparison of CO2 emissions between the traditional productive process and that implemented by Renewaball.
Overall, for each ball produced with the Renewaball productive process, there should be an impact reduction of 0,1764 kg Co2-eq per tennis ball. Considering that the Netherlands are currently using 5,5 million balls, this is equivalent to:
5,5 mil x 0,1764 kg Co2-eq = 970.200 (a decrease of KgCo2- eq per year)
Further details and clarification on the Renewaball productive process are available to the following link.
Despite a productive know-how which is relatively stable over time, it appears that the market of tennis balls is going toward a monopoly. Until now, the most important takeover has been made by Head, which bought Penn in 1999. Reconversion of productive processes and the demand for new balls for children should guarantee other factors of differentiation, in addition to those crystallized over time due to specific sponsorship deals.
Once clarified the scenario, let’s try to imagine what the T7, the new tennis governance entity recently mentioned by Andrea Gaudenzi, might do vis-à-vis the implementation of a single supplier for tennis balls – albeit for different reasons, they would be following the supplying model of tires in motorsports (F1 and MotoGP). On the one hand, there is the undeniable advantage of having a single ball standard for all the players during the season. On the other, giving that much contractual power to a single interlocutor, representative of the various tennis organizations, seems unfeasible, given the number of interested parties that are currently part of this market, both in terms of tournaments and ball manufacturers. To get rid of sponsorship agreements, tournaments should receive more or equivalent incomes from the T7 or reduce supply costs. However, in the meantime producers will have developed specific know-how for playing surfaces, so another solution could be to split the supply cake on a triennial basis between the main manufacturers; however, this action could generate an oligopoly with fairly strong entry barriers for new producers. A final option would be to impose the use of balls from the same brand on each surface. If things remain unchanged, it is very likely that the entourages of the players will talk to experts in order to find algorithms able to optimise the string tension of racquets based on surface, ball typology, ball brand, the player’s feel and weather conditions, greatly simplifying the work of stringers.
As for the green solutions, the writer of this article thinks that the road undertaken by the producers aiming to extend the life of the balls without using plastic containers will only cause a reduction in sales and, besides, won’t solve the problem of their disposal. Tennisballrecycling’s solution is connected to the demand of new tennis courts to be paved and is thus connected to the sport – however, the destiny of said discontinued courts is still uncertain. The solution proposed by Renewaball, on the other hand, embraces logics and principles of circular economy, creating a potentially infinite productive cycle.
Article by Andrea Canella; translated by Luca Rossi; edited by Tommaso Villa
Wimbledon, a Preview of the Men’s Draw: Djokovic Is on Pace to Win His Twentieth Slam Title
The Championships are back after two years. Will Federer be fit enough to compete? If not, this could be a big chance for Zverev.
The most eagerly anticipated fortnight of the year in tennis is upon us, and now that the draw has been made it is time to analyze what might be ahead of us and who should prevail in the end on the lawns of Wimbledon. In my view, the draw is almost equitable for all of the top players and the world’s most prestigious tennis tournament ought to be a smorgasbord for all of the fans who have a reverence for tradition and an appreciation for a grass court festival that is not only beautifully run but also followed more closely by general sports fans than any other tennis event. And that is the way it should be.
Let’s look closely at the men’s draw. The clear tournament favorite Novak Djokovic will open his quest for a third consecutive title and a sixth overall against British wild card Jack Draper. Perhaps the 34-year-old would prefer to see a more familiar face across the net but surely it will not take him long to find his range and to start picking Draper apart from the back of the court. The view here is that he might have one tough set as he finds his bearings but I expect Djokovic to be the victor in straight sets.
Djokovic is likely to meet Kevin Anderson in the second round. Three years ago, the lanky South African overcame John Isner in a marathon Wimbledon semifinal which lasted six hours and 36 minutes. Djokovic also contested a hard fought semifinal that year as well, eclipsing Rafael Nadal 10-8 in the fifth set. They waged war from the backcourt for five hours and fifteen minutes but that was over the course of two days. Djokovic then cut down Anderson on Centre Court in straight sets to seal the crown.
Three years earlier on Court One, Djokovic had another memorable meeting with Anderson in which he trailed two sets to love. But he rallied to take that round of 16 battle in five tense sets on his way to a third title run at the All England Club. If they meet in the second round this year, the circumstances will be different. Anderson is not the same player he was in either 2015 or 2018. At 35, he is struggling to regain his confidence after injuries and disappointing results across the past couple of years. Anderson remains formidable, though, and he may get inspired if his serve is on against Djokovic. I will give him one set against the world No. 1 but no more than that.
In the third round, Djokovic could meet Alejandro Davidovich and his round of 16 opponent is likely to be either No. 17 seed Cristian Garin or the enigmatic No. 13 seed Gael Monfils, but ether way Djokovic should not have many difficulties making his way to a potential quarterfinal with No. 5 seed Andrey Rublev. Rublev will have his work cut out for him to make it that far. No 9 seed Diego Schwartzman and No. 19 Jannik Sinner could do battle in the third round with the winner facing Rublev in the round of 16, but I believe Rublev on form should make it through to an appointment with Djokovic.
Rublev is a big hitter and a total professional. He cares deeply about his craft and has an unwavering desire to win every match he plays. But he has never played Djokovic before. The Serbian will not allow this encounter to turn into a slugfest. He will rely heavily on his defense and ball control and throw in a lot of backhand slices to break the rhythm of Rublev. I am picking Djokovic to oust Rublev in four well-played sets.
Now that we have Djokovic into the semifinals, who will join him there? The seedings tell us that No. 3 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas will be the man standing across the net from Djokovic in the penultimate round. The Greek stylist has a tricky opening round assignment against the gifted yet underachieving American Frances Tiafoe. Tiafoe has sometimes performed commendably against top players at majors. This year in Melbourne, he pushed Djokovic to four hard sets at the Australian Open in the second round and in 2017 he took Roger Federer to five sets in a first round showdown at the U.S. Open.
Tiafoe will surely be inspired against Tsitsipas, who has yet to play his best tennis on grass. Here is a fellow who just reached his first major final at Roland Garros, where he took the first two sets against Djokovic before bowing in the title round. Tsitsipas was a semifinalist at Roland Garros last year, losing another five setter to Djokovic. He has twice been a semifinalist at the Australian Open, including an appearance in that round this year.
Will he demonstrate that he can adjust to the grass this year and improve his backhand return? I believe the answer is yes. Tsitsipas should account for Tiafoe in four sets and then he should play his way through safely over the next few rounds. In the fourth round he could find himself facing either Dan Evans, No. 15 seed Alex de Minaur or even the surging young American Sebastian Korda. Korda takes on De Minaur in he first round. That will be a blockbuster and I envision a five set verdict either way. The winner would probably play Evans in the third round, although the British player has an arduous first round appointment against 39-year-old Feliciano Lopez.
Lopez is appearing at Wimbledon for the 19th time in his distinguished career. He made his debut in 2002 and has been to the quarterfinals three times across the years. With his aggressive game and first rate volleying skills, Lopez is always dangerous on the lawns. The No. 22 seed Evans will have to return well in this intriguing contest.
My guess is that Evans will pull out a five set victory but then lose to Korda in the third round. Tsitsipas will have his hands full with Korda in he round of 16 but will win in four sets. I am picking No. 10 seed Denis Shapovalov to reach the quarterfinals against Tsitsipas, and that one could be a dandy. But I believe Tsitsipas will topple Shapovalov in five sets to set up a semifinal appointment against Djokovic.
Now let’s proceed to the bottom half of the draw. If all goes according to plan and the seedings hold up, No 7 seed Matteo Berrettini will play No. 4 seed Alexander Zverev in the quarterfinals, and No. 2 seed Daniil Medvedev is due to confront No. 6 seed and eight-time Wimbledon champion Roger Federer. Is that going to happen?
Berrettini opens against the guileful Guido Pella, the 31-year-old, left-handed Argentine who is a very capable grass court player. That will be no easy contest but Berrettini is feeling good about himself after winning the title at the Queen’s Club in London. He will succeed in four sets. But a more dangerous confrontation for the Italian player could be a third round duel with No. 28 seed John Isner.
This would be a top of the line server’s duel. Berrettini now has established himself as one of the premier servers in the game of tennis, right up there among the top five. Isner, of course, has one of the greatest weapons in the game with his serve. Both Berrettini and Isner struggle with the return of serve. So there will not be many service breaks in this compelling contest. I believe Berrettini, however, is in better form at the moment. The match will feature four tiebreakers, and the Italian will win three of them.
In the round of 16, it looks like Berrettini will meet Casper Ruud, and he will stop the No. 12 seed from Norway in four sets, moving on to the quarterfinals. Zverev in my view should move smoothly into the round of 16, but in that round will be severely challenged by none other than No. 21 seed Ugo Humbert. The Frenchman was victorious in Halle, ousting Rublev in the final. Earlier in the tournament he defeated Zverev. Humbert has the unenviable task of playing Nick Kyrgios in the first round of Wimbledon, but I believe he will get through that battle in four sets.
Can Humbert replicate his Halle performance across the best of five sets in a much bigger setting against Zverev? I doubt it. Zverev has become comfortable at all of the majors over the last year. He should have won the U.S. Open last year but squandered a two-sets-to-love lead against Dominic Thiem in the final. Moreover, he served for the match in the fifth set before losing that agonizing skirmish with the rugged Austrian.
Zverev could well have been in the final of Roland Garros a few weeks ago but he fell in five sets against Tsitsipas after taking the third and fourth and reaching 0-40 on the Tsitsipas serve at the start of the final set in that semifinal. So I am going with him to beat the impressive Humbert in five sets at the All England Club.
And so Zverev and Berrettini will meet after all in the quarters. The German beat the Italian in the final of the Masters 1000 tournament at Madrid last month. He has a 3-1 career head to head lead over Berrettini. To be sure, Berrettini has improved markedly over the past few years, and he is playing the finest tennis of his career at the moment. Nevertheless, I see Zverev securing a four set triumph over Berrettini to reach the semifinals.
Medvedev opens up against the industrious Jan-Lennard Struff of Germany. Struff is currently ranked No. 45 in the world but he is a much better player than that and a big server with a game well suited to the grass. Struff just upended Medvedev on grass in Halle. He will make life difficult for the Russian again at Wimbledon, but Medvedev will come from behind to win in four sets.
The Russian could have another tough match inn the second round against either Spanish wild card Carlos Alcaraz or Tommy Paul of the United States. In the third round, Medvedev could well meet 2017 Wimbledon finalist Marin Cilic (the No. 32 seed) and one round later he will be up against No. 14 seed Hubert Hurkacz or perhaps the Italian wizard Lorenzo Musetti. Musetti versus Hurkacz will be an intruding first round battle. None of these matches will be facile for Medvedev, yet somehow he will plod on to the quarters.
But will he face Federer? The Swiss Maestro is not heading into Wimbledon with the kind of preparation he wanted. Gone from the game for over a year while enduring two surgeries on his knee, Federer has played only four tournaments and eight matches this season. He surely wanted to go deep into the draw in Halle but he contested only two matches there, falling tamely in the final set against the gifted Félix Auger-Aliassime.
Clearly Federer will be buoyed by the British crowds who have always cheered his every move. This will be his 22nd Wimbledon and it could well be his last. Federer will surely want to make the most of it and undoubtedly he remains the most natural grass court player in the field.
He will commence his campaign for the “Crown Jewel” of tennis against the Frenchman Adrian Mannarino. This should be an ideal beginning for the Swiss, who owns a 6-0 career head-to-head record over his left-handed rival. Twice Federer has stopped Mannarino at Wimbledon, including their most recent encounter in the round of 16 three years ago.
Federer will not waltz through this match but he will win in four sets, and then he could meet another Frenchman in the second round. That would be Richard Gasquet. In the third round, Federer is likely to play No. 29 seed Cameron Norrie. He will be tested by British player. But Federer will get it done in four sets.
Predicting Federer’s fourth round opponent is no simple task. It might well be the Italian Lorenzo Sonego who is seeded No. 23. That is my guess. And Sonego will throw everything he has at Federer after having a great week in Eastbourne. The problem is that he is overmatched on grass. Federer is a four set victor in this one.
Although I have my share of doubts about both Medvedev and Federer as they head into this edition of Wimbledon, I still believe they will uphold their seedings and clash in the quarterfinals. Although Federer has won all three of their career meetings, the last time he took on Medvedev was in Miami back in the spring of 2019. Medvedev is a different player now.
This quarterfinal could be tumultuous as Federer looks to assert himself with his attacking game. It will come down largely to the quality of his first serve and the capacity of Medvedev to counter with solid and deep returns from his customary position far behind the baseline. It will be a pendulum swinging affair but in my view the better grass court player will not be victorious. His lack of match play will catch up with him as Medvedev rallies from two sets to one down and wins in five.
Both semifinals are set: Djokovic and Tsitsipas will renew their rivalry. The Serbian has won six of his eight meetings with the Greek player, including that memorable Roland Garros five set duel. I believe Djokovic will be more at home on the grass than Tsitsipas. His second serve returns will be very burdensome for Tsitsipas and the Serbian will outmaneuver his adversary from the baseline.
I am picking Djokovic over Tsitsipas in four sets after they split the first two. Zverev and Medvedev will come at each other full force. Medvedev will have the upper hand in the longer rallies while Zverev has the edge when he opens up the court and blasts winners. It will be very close. Medvedev has prevailed in his last three confrontations with Zverev and hopes to even their career series at 5-5. But Zverev is the victor here in five enticing sets.
And so it will all come down to Djokovic versus Zverev for the Wimbledon title. Djokovic has won six of their eight career meetings, including a come form behind four set win in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open this year. This will be another dandy of a duel. Zverev will feel immense pressure to get at least 65% of his first serves in because Djokovic will be all over his second delivery. Zverev will take chances from the baseline to avoid getting worn down by the precision and immaculate ball control of the Serbian.
They will split the first two sets but Djokovic comes through in the clutch to win a tight third set tie-break, and then slowly pulls away in the fourth. Novak Djokovic wins Wimbledon with a 7-5, 4-6, 7-6 (6), 6-3 triumph over Zverev, claiming a 20th Grand Slam title, tying Federer and Rafael Nadal for the record in the process. He claims his third major in a row with the victory in Great Britain. And he puts himself one title away from becoming the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to win the Grand Slam.
That is how I see it, but this much is certain: even casual sports observers will be watching this Wimbledon with heightened interest as Djokovic pursues history of the highest order and fans from every corner of the globe celebrate the return of the sport’s centerpiece event after it was canceled a year ago due to Covid considerations. The tennis world will rejoice as Wimbledon makes a spectacular comeback.
Steve Flink has been reporting full time on tennis since 1974, when he went to work for World Tennis Magazine. He stayed at that publication until 1991. He wrote for Tennis Week Magazine from 1992-2007, and has been a columnist for tennis.com and tennischannel.com for the past 14 years. Flink has written four books on tennis including “Dennis Ralston’s Tennis Workbook” in 1987; “The Greatest Tennis Matches of the Twentieth Century” in 1999; “The Greatest Tennis Matches of All Time” in 2012; and “Pete Sampras: Greatness Revisited”. The Sampras book was released in September of 2020 and can be purchased on Amazon.com. Flink was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2017.
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.
French Open, Steve Flink: “The Third Set of the Semifinal Was the Best in the Djokovic-Nadal Rivalry”
A final recap on the Parisian Major. Can Djokovic clinch a calendar year Grand Slam? Krejcikova’s double win and Zverev’s shortcomings
The 2021 French Open was one for the history books, with countless historical milestones and topics. Ubitennis CEO Ubaldo Scanagatta and Steve Flink have summed it all up, touching on Novak Djokovic’s three comebacks and the interruption to Rafa Nadal’s Roland Garros reign, while keeping an eye on the upcoming Championships at Wimbledon. Here’s their chat:
1:14 – On the Djokovic-Nadal semifinal: “The third set was the best in their rivalry, and even Djokovic highlighted this match as one of the best he has played at the French Open.”
4:40 – “I thought that whoever won the third set tie-breaker would have won the match, although Nadal came out strong at the beginning of the fourth, before running out of gas…” Was the Spaniard uncharacteristically dispirited?
08:40 – Can Djokovic win all four Majors like Rod Laver did in 1969, becoming the only man in the Open Era to complete a Calendar Grand Slam?
09:40 – On the final against Tsitsipas: “That break of serve in the third set really changed the tide for good…”
11:50 – “There were two Novaks in this tournament…”
17:00 – “The Serbian will remember this win as one of his best, both because of his win against Nadal and because of his comebacks against Musetti and Tsitsipas.”
18:50 – Djokovic was criticised for his behaviour during the match against Berrettini – are the media and the fans too tough on him?
24:45 – On Zverev vs Tsitsipas: “Had the German broken in the opening game of the decider, it would have been him facing Djokovic on Sunday.”
26:00 – “Zverev can’t really expect to beat someone like Tsitsipas after failing to show up for two sets, he needs to work on the mental aspect of his game.”
28:20 – Again on Djokovic and the Grand Slam. He’s been here before, in 2016: can he go all the way this time?
34:45 – The women’s tournament: “The Krejcikova-Pavlyuchekova final was a good match, the Czech player should be proud of what she has achieved.”
Transcript by Giuseppe Di Paola; translated and edited by Tommaso Villa
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REPORT: Wimbledon Matches Under Investigation Over Suspicious Betting Patterns
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Wimbledon, Flink: “Djokovic Will Beat Zverev in the Final”
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French Open, the women’s draw. Flink: “Osaka’s press conference boycott is a mistake”
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