Foot Fault!

Calling all the lines of professional tennis

Players Clash With The USTA; What To Take From It.

After Tuesday’s Day and Night sessions were completely washed out, today brought similar woes as rain threatened to completely throw off the US Open’s schedule and only around 10-12 minutes of play was managed before the players were carted off-court and play was eventually suspended. In a desperate attempt to get players on-court and the fourth round finished, officials decided to put the players on-court during a brief window where the heavy rain became the lightest drizzle. Needless to say, the players were unhappy.

Considering all the volatile personalities on court in the form of Andy Murray and Andy Roddick, it was surprisingly Rafael Nadal who snapped first, and snapped is an understatement. After giving the umpire a record number of bad looks and headshakes within a minute of the rain returning, he eventually put his foot down, stopping play before completely laying into Tournament Referee Brian Early, shouting “It’s the same old story, all you think about is money.”

After the players cleared the court, Nadal went straight to the tournament office and was soon flanked by the two Andys as they confronted Earley. When asked about the tone of the meeting, Murray offered up the hilariously dry reply of “It wasn’t a party.”

Indeed it wasn’t. And what all three had to say afterwards confirmed that;

Murray elaborated more on the discussion that took place between the stars and players;

“Everyone’s relaxed about it now, but when we went out on court, it was still wet, and the balls too. It doesn’t make sense to get out there for seven or eight minutes and I don’t think that will happen again. I knew that Rafa was going to see [Brian Earley]. I spoke to David Ferrer, and he was saying: ‘It was still raining when we went on there.’ The lines are slippy and very dangerous. I said I will go in and mention it as well, then Andy [Roddick] came.”

Roddick actually attempted to be diplomatic for the first time in his life:

“They need to put tennis on television, I understand the business side of it, but they need to make sure the players are safe. If I were by myself I’d feel uncomfortable going in there, as an American. We said if conditions are similar to that again, it might be uncomfortable. To Brian Earley’s credit, he listened to what we had to say. He was very nice in the conversation.”

And Rafa? Well Rafa was just pissed. And when people are pissed, they rant. Even in their second language.

“It was a tough day. We don’t feel protected here. The tournament grand slams, they are [getting] a lot of money and they are working for that, but not [for] us.

“The rain really never stopped. The court was dry for 10 minutes and they know we have to go out there. The health of the players is important. This is part of the show – and we don’t feel protected. We are here working hard and we want to feel good when were playing a tournament.

“Things happened today and at [other] slams and for sure we cannot accept these things. We have to be together and not accept situations. We have to fight to change that, so we don’t go on court when it’s raining. If I have to, I go on court, but it’s not fair.”

So, where do we go from here? Is this just a small problem easily fixed by a little more communication between players and the tournament referee?

In a word; no. As Rafa and Murray walked back into the locker room, they were eavesdropped on by an unnoticed Pam Shriver craning her neck to listen in as Rafa muttered angrily to Murray. She said that Rafa was talking animatedly about the need for the players to unite together and meet more often both at and outside of slams to discuss and solve the issues in professional tennis.

And Rafa is right. There are a lot more problems in tennis than this one incident. For example, the issues of the mass slowing down of courts (though, somehow I think Rafa may be less willing to discuss that), the length of the season, the mandatory events, the crazy scheduling at events like here at the US Open which have all led to players bodies essentially falling apart time after time. And that is still only scratching at the surface of all the problems in professional tennis.

The ESPN crew backed this up, with Patrick McEnroe branding this a “potential watershed moment” for tennis, calling for the players to band together and make real change. John McEnroe spoke impressively about the history of the ATP and his own involvement in shaping what we see today, and it’s clear that he wants and expects the baton and impetus for change to be passed onto the Nadal and Federer generation. And this certainly involves the WTA too. We all saw Serena hilariously but tellingly backing Rafa on twitter. These problems affect professional tennis as a whole.

A couple of days ago, Andy Murray attempted to call out the “tennis authorities” on twitter after a record 18 withdrawals at the US Open this year. The problem is that the players are and should be the authorities of their sport. The only people with both the power and impetus to force through vital changes needed to benefit the players and the sport as a whole are the players themselves. So let’s hope that Rafa and co. do step up to the plate… for their own sakes.

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One Response to Players Clash With The USTA; What To Take From It.

  1. Ahmed September 8, 2011 at 8:40 am

    Great piece, Tumaini. The feeling that the US Open is turning into a shambles is gathering pace and if the likes of Nadal, Roddick, and Murray throw their weight into the issues then the organisers ought to take note. Your point is valid that “the players are and should be the authorities”. Players are being turned into pawn pieces for the simple reason of TV ratings and commercialisation by the organisers and the networks. Do the organisers care, I doubt it very much. They’d rather crack on regardless of any concerns. Will anything change? Maybe. Maybe not.

    The (many) problems are engrained deeply within the sport it’s almost impossible to see where to begin, but if we can take one thing away from all the problems there are then perhaps this will get the ball rolling.

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