Some of you old enough to remember might recall the heyday of Men’s tennis. I would say, for my lifetime, it was the late 80′s and through part of the 90′s, and as a purist, we are in somewhat of a heyday in the Roger Federer Era, which now includes Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic as key protagonists.
The problem (some say) with this latest era is that very few of the main characters are American. What players do emerge once in a while are not consistently riveting us like McEnroe, Connors, Sampras, Courier, Chang, Agassi and others. Therefore (some say), the sport of tennis has been in decline for much of the 00′s and into the ’10′s.
The reality, though, is tennis – much like golf or soccer – is a global sport and one that gets more mainstream attention in other countries than it does in the US. So, in the men’s game, American tennis fans in the last decade are mostly treated to watching people from Switzerland, Spain, England, Serbia or other countries putting on displays of tennis that are literally and figuratively otherworldly.
Once in a while, in galaxies far, far away, with characters from the US and outside the US, something happens that stains the sport. One of the episodes that comes to mind in recent years was Serena Williams’ tirade at the US Open. That was bad.
David Nalbandian, a fine Argentinian player who has been in the top 10 pretty consistently throughout the 00′s and has been making a resurgence of late, just freaked out during a match (one he was winning, no less) and decided it was a good idea to kick the wooden-framed box that one of the linesman would usually be perched in. It just so happened that there was a linesman sitting in said perch when he did. Of course, wood splintered everywhere including into the innocent linesman’s leg.
When have you ever seen blood drawn on a tennis court? Way to bring Ultimate Fighting to the ATP Tour, David!
In all seriousness, this was a terrible black mark for tennis. Tennis has always been seen as a sport played by competitors, yet mostly gentlemen, BUT, it has also been seen as a sport played by spoiled brats. It is a fine line. Some – like Federer, Nadal, Sampras and many more – walk that line perfectly well. Others don’t.
In other sports, we see people flip water coolers, break bats over their legs, throw their helmets and other things probably on par with what Nalbandian did. But the difference is the context of such things. People watching football or basketball or baseball tend to expect outbreaks of anger; not that it is “OK”, but it is more expected or more ACCEPTED given the physical nature of these sports vis-a-vis other competitors.
To use an analogy: the media has a field day anytime Tiger Woods slams a club or swears after hitting an errant shot. Can you imagine any other sport or sportsman getting such attention for dropping an occasional “F Bomb”? In the context of that sport, golf, it is frowned upon. Whereas, in any other sport, it is OK and actually a part of the game.
You can take the Tiger reference to tennis, too. In the clip above, Serena Williams told a lines-person that she wanted to shove the tennis ball where the sun don’t shine. Is that something said every day on the football field? Probably, and probably worse. On the tennis court? Hardly ever. From experience, us tennis players THINK such things all the time. But part of the mystique of the sport is being able to manage emotions unlike athletes in any other sport.
So now, we have Nalbandian going mental (not for the first time, mind you) and making excuses. The ATP Tour is tough. We play a grueling schedule. The conditions aren’t perfect.
Cry us a river, dude.
Did he intend to hurt this poor linesman? Probably not. Did he mean to shatter the first thing in his view out of anger? Yep.
The sport of tennis will survive – and thrive – after this. Most Americans probably didn’t even know about this incident. The incident happened in England, and involved someone from Argentina. Big deal right? Well, the people who love the sport know about it and it is just the latest in a series of black marks. Did my guy John McEnroe lose his temper? Did Connors? Of course they did. Did they ever draw blood on others and put other people in harm’s way? Not that I remember. It is one thing to throw your own tantrum. It is completely another to throw a tantrum that then injures someone else, and then show no real remorse afterwards.
David meet Serena. Serena meet David. Except I think David has Serena beat in the case.
After this, some people will still say men’s tennis is a gentleman’s sport. But others will say it is another symbol of tennis being for spoiled brats.
Unfortunately, sometimes both sides are right.