Owning It: Vandeweghe Versus Putintseva

During many a Real Housewives reunion special, a middle-aged, mildly affluent woman sits in a tight, off-the-shoulder cocktail dress (I’ve watched a couple in my day), and tells another similarly dressed woman to take responsibility for her actions. In other words, “own it.”

With this sort of cartoonishly glamorous set up unfortunately missing from the tennis world, it can be difficult to keep track of the daily drama, on both a macro (the game’s elite) and micro level (everyone else). Like those sage Bravo producers, we can often bow to clips conclusively showing Juan Martin del Potro dissing Andy Murray’s mother, or Jelena Jankovic imitating compatriot Ana Ivanovic’s signature fist pump.

But just like those bastions of reality television, it is almost always what happens “off-camera” that stirs up the most controversy. As a New Jersey housewife would probably say, “the fewer witnesses, the better.”

In tennis, nothing breeds isolation quite like a rain delay. With troubling forecasts predicting rain through early next week in Europe, qualifying matches in last minute warm-up tournaments like Brussels were driven indoors to ensure the event reaches completion. One such match was ripe for drama, rain or shine.

In one corner was 21-year-old CoCo Vandeweghe. A former US Open girls’ champion, the young American made a dream run to the Stanford finals last summer. Since then, however, she has struggled to reign in her high-octane game, and coming into Brussels had yet to win back-to-back matches this year. Granddaughter to a former Miss America, Vandeweghe’s senior career has been largely played under the radar, but she has had a “princess” moment or two, as evidenced by her twitter account.

Her opponent likely needs no introduction: the “delightfully offensive” Yulia Putintseva. After pushing Serena Williams to a tiebreak in Madrid, the teenaged Kazakh suffered a potentially soul-crushing loss in Rome, failing to convert a 5-1 final set lead to Madrid quarterfinalist Anabel Medina Garrigues. But whether you’re throwing drinks on someone at a party or playing a tennis match, it helps to be a little bit delusional. Shrugging off her fourth three-set loss (three of them from a set up) of the year, Putintseva crushed her first two opponents, including an equally offensive (though arguably less delightful) Michelle Larcher de Brito.

Playing on a surface that mitigates her weapons and exposes her suspicious movement, Vandeweghe had been surprisingly comfortable in Brussels, and took a tight first set from Putintseva with only one break separating the two. From there, Putintseva went on a tear, winning 12 of the next 14 games, and broke the big-serving American five times for a 4-6, 6-1, 6-1 victory.

But it was after the match where the drama (allegedly) reignited.

With no one reporting more than the score of “Brussels QR3 Vandeweghe/Putintseva,” Vandeweghe took to Twitter to enlighten the public to that which many already consider to be obvious:

From there, CoCo outlined an exchange following the match’s conclusion where the victorious Putintseva allegedly told her, “You are a terrible player only serve. I win all the rallies.” The American went on to accuse Putintseva’s father/coach, Anton, of not only condoning, but also “clapping” as his daughter made these biting observations.

Hours later, Putintseva popped up on Twitter herself, at first to nonchalantly express her satisfaction at qualifying for the main draw, then to give us a “No comment,” re: CoCo. Elaborating for a fan, she said,

which appears to imply whatever occurred was a two-way street. But why many flocked to Putintseva’s support in the immediate aftermath of this bizarre incident was the same reason why reality TV fans love Nene Leakes and Caroline Manzo: Putintseva appeared to take ownership of what many would consider a gauche act of gamesmanship. In its own way, that was breath of fresh air in a sporting world that can often feel stilted and devoid of cadence. It keeps us from our own delusion that everyone on the Tours is there to make friends. Because they’re not, they’re here to win.

And thus would have ended this episode of The Real Tennis Players of Brussels, until Putintseva took to Twitter again early this morning. After tacitly accepting Vandeweghe’s version of events, she made a complete about face when asked about the incident directly:

In barely 140 characters, the teenager took her ownership, and sold it back to the American, who has already rallied support from the American media.

Is Putintseva a cult hero for telling it like it is, or a spoiled brat deflecting blame? Is Vandeweghe a victim of needless trash talk, or a bully for inciting an angry mob on an 18-year-old? For a Tour that peaked in the late 90s because of exchanges like these, it might behoove us all not to ask too many questions, sit back, and “watch what happens.”

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Piotr?

The WTA has had its share of infamous parents, particularly fathers, over the years. First there was Jim Pierce, Mary Pierce’s father, who was physically and mentally abusive to Mary for the majority of her formative years. In November of 1992, the ‘Jim Pierce rule’ passed, which stated a member of a player’s entourage, whether it be an agent, parent or coach, could be banned for his or her conduct. He was banned from all remaining events of the 1993 season due to violent behavior towards Mary at that year’s French Open.

Next came Marinko Lucic, father of Mirjana. Lucic, who made the semifinals at Wimbledon in 1999 at just 17, said her father started physically beating her at the tender age of five and also beat her mother and siblings. Years of physical and verbal abuse followed Lucic’s young career, until countryman Goran Ivanisevic saved the family and helped them move to the United States. Stefano Capriati was also alleged to have crossed the line with his daughter Jennifer and used the teenaged Capriati as the cash cow for her family.

Damir Dokic is perhaps the most infamous father in tennis history due to a variety of off-court incidents; he accused the Australian Open organizers of fixing the draw against his daughter in 2001, complained about the price of food at the US Open and was kicked out of Wimbledon for being drunk and disorderly. In June 2009, Damir was arrested and eventually sentenced to 15 months in prison for threatening the Australian ambassador to Serbia; he and Jelena reconciled in 2011, ending their eight-year feud. Arsalan Rezai, whose daughter Aravane seemed poised to be a contender on the WTA after winning Madrid in 2010, was indefinitely banned from the WTA after a violent incident with Aravane and her boyfriend at the 2011 Australian Open. The incident has had a profound effect on the Frenchwoman, who has slipped to near No. 200 in the WTA rankings.

While Piotr Wozniacki has not approached these extremely abusive levels, he’s become a tennis villain in his own right. Much like Yuri Sharapov before him, Piotr has been the one constant in Caroline’s tennis career, perhaps to a fault. Over the past few years, Caroline has been criticized just as much for Piotr’s domineering presence in on-court coaching visits as she has for her defensive game style or “Slamless No. 1” status. Many have called for Caroline to fire her father as coach and employ someone who knows the game better to try and help her win her maiden Slam title.

When the Wozniackis hired Ricardo Sanchez in early 2012, it seemed as though she had turned a corner; however, this coaching relationship latest all of two months, and Sanchez later stated that it was impossible to coach Caroline under Piotr’s influence. Both father and daughter have insisted to the press that their system is the best system for Caroline.

On Thursday in Doha, Caroline argued with chair umpire Julie Kjendlie over a phantom ‘out’ call during her match with Mona Barthel. Piotr felt the need to join in from the stands, and the scene became a circus when a WTA official came to confront him.

As a spectator, Piotr has no right to argue his daughter’s case or strike up any sort of conversation with the chair umpire or other officials from the stands, and Kjendlie should never have engaged him. Players have no right to claim hindrance based on calls from the crowd, and as the linesman signaled the ball in with his hands, it should have been ruled a clean winner and Barthel’s point. Kjendlie was in the midst of explaining this to Caroline when Piotr got involved. Following his tirade, she proceeded to change her ruling and ordered the point to be replayed.

Was Kjendlie ‘bullied’ into doing so? Maybe. Nonetheless, she should’ve stood her ground here; the first rule of umpiring is stick to your guns, no matter what. But that doesn’t, even for a second, excuse Piotr’s behavior.

Maria Sharapova finally put Yuri in the backseat after winning the Australian Open in 2008. After firing her father as coach and hiring Tomasz Wiktorowski as coach in July 2011, Wozniacki’s friend and rival Agnieszka Radwanska finally reached the next level; she peaked at World No. 2, reached the Wimbledon final in 2012 and has cemented her status as a top-five player. Marion Bartoli, who recently settled her rift with the French Tennis Federation and was named to the Fed Cup team for the first time since 2004, stated that her father will no longer be coaching her, ending the other high-profile WTA father-daughter coaching relationship.

It can’t be denied that Wozniacki reached the pinnacle of women’s tennis under her father’s tutelage. However, his on-court episodes have become more and more frequent following Caroline’s slide down the rankings. If other players can ‘put on the big girl pants’ and take control of their own careers, why can’t Caroline?

Because she doesn’t want to. At the end of the day, Caroline is an adult; if she wanted to end the coaching relationship with her father, she would’ve done so already.

Agassi’s Upcoming Book Continues To Stir The World Of Tennis

Andre Agassi’s much-talked about auto-biography OPEN is available starting November 9. Over the past two weeks, the sports world has been rocked when excerpts from the book have leaked out, where Agassi admits crystal meth drug use (and not being prosecuted by the ATP Tour for testing positive for the drug) that his famed flowing hair was actually a hair-piece and abusive behavior from his father. Many tennis celebrities from Boris Becker to Martina Navratilova and many great champions have commented on Agassi’s book revelations. I wanted to get another perspective on this from another part of the tennis world. For this I interviewed Levar Harper-Griffith, a former top American junior, to provide perspective on the situation from those lower-ranked players in professional tennis. Harper Griffith once served as a practice partner for Agassi and the U.S. Davis Cup team during a 2000 match against Zimbabwe in Harare. Click here to buy Open – The Andre Agassi biography.

Question 1: Andre Agassi admitted earlier this week to using a drug called crystal meth. What do you think are the consequences for tennis in general and the ATP Tour?

First I’d like to say that Andre has always been one of my personal heroes for what he’s accomplished on and off the court. More so his work with his school in Las Vegas he has been a real inspiration to me personally of what people can do to give back and affect real positive change in peoples lives. That being said I think Andre coming out and admitting that he tested positive and the ATP did nothing, sends a bad message to the other players on tour that have tested positive and received punishment for those positive tests. I quite clearly shows preferential treatment in a situation that affects all of the players and the game itself.

Question 2: Agassi wrote a letter to the ATP Tour saying that he drank his assistant’s drink which was spiked with crystal meth. The ATP bought it or do you think they covered it up? If you think they covered it up then why would they do that?

Well whether they bought it or not or covered it up I couldn’t tell you. But for whatever reason it didn’t come out and that’s the big problem. There have been guys in recent past that have used similar reasons for positive tests and at least it was made public and the players had to prove their innocence to a degree. If it was covered up, which I would have no proof of, it’s obvious that Andre has been an absolute titan within the sport and it would hurt the sports image, similar to what baseball and track and field have had to go through in recent years. The dynamic of an athlete testing positive has a far greater affect in tennis because it is an individual sport and there is a lot at stake. Having the big name players at certain events and promoting the game has been at the forefront of rule changes in recent past. Making sure the top players play the top events. Having a player of Andre’s stature not be able to compete has a huge impact on the game as a whole. The sport relies on these big personalities at these events for a number of reasons.

Question 3: If the ATP decided to cover it up and the players who got caught using doping. Then aren’t they the victim of discrimination?

Sadly. if it’s not a clear case of discrimination it must be quite close, which is the dangerous part. I hate to say it, but now all the other players that tested positive have a real reason to ask the question why? Why was my offense made public and not his? Why was my reputation tarnished and not his? And if the tour was willing not to make Agassi’s case public. who knows who else might have tested positive and it never came out. The ATP might have to answer some tough questions in the months to come.

Question 4: What do you think of Agassi’s confessions?

I commend him for coming clean about his story and his struggles. I’m sure there were other players that have had success and failures that haven’t had the courage to come out and be as honest as he is willing to be. Since his resurgence to the top levels of the game he has always been a positive role model and I believe that being honest with yourself and the people around you is part of that. These are lessons that a lot of people can take from this both good and bad.

Question 5: I have been reading the forums and comments of blogs and some fans are literally screaming that he should be stripped of his titles. What are your thoughts on that?

I personally don’t think he should be stripped of any titles. It was in the past and we had the mechanisms in place to punish those who tested and they weren’t followed through. So to punish Agassi after the fact would be an immature way for the ATP to save face on a mistake that may or may not have been made in judgment.

AusOpen 2008: A Dose Of Controversies

The first week at the Australian Open was a controversial one with Cypriot and flamboyant player Marcos Baghdatis playing the lead role in what should be a Razzie nominated movie. In the movie Baghdatis was seen with friends at a barbecue holding a flare while chanting “Turks out.” Bluntly put: This is racism. And the strange part is he won’t apologise for what he did. Endorsing racism when you are a celebrity and especially the kind of celebrity he is in his own country can get nasty.

Kids following his example come to tolerate racism thinking it’s an acceptable way to emulate their idol. Even though it’s a tough task to lead by example while keeping your political views to yourself when you are in the spotlight, it would be wise for him to be more aware of his actions.

His actions also caused upset with the Turkish Cypriotic community. Specifically, the “Australian Turkish Cypriot Cultural and Welfare Association” in Australia and its members will actively seek to get Baghdatis expelled from the Australian Open for abusing his celebrity status.

Baghdatis himself says in a statement issued by the Australian Open organisers that he was defending the interests of his country Cyprus but that he would like to focus on his tennis.

Something he should have done in the first place rather than chanting simply because he is a much better player than a chanter.

Another controversy revolving Marcos Baghdatis is the fact that on the video there is a man in his company who got ejected from the Australian Open during the Fernando Gonzalez (CHI) versus Konstantinos Economidis (GRE) match.

The fans got ejected for rioting during the match and were ejected by the police with pepperspray. I believe it’s the first time that pepperspray has ever been used at a tennis match.

Tennis has enough problems than to deal with nationalistic fans and players who can give the sport a black eye.

Sania Mirza

Another player who is under fire in her native country is Sania Mirza. She was caught on photo with her feet up after a long and hard match during the Hopman Cup earlier this month.

Sania Mirza 1

Mirza is a girl who can’t do anything right in the eyes of orthodox Indian Muslims back home country India. She is either too naked or reveals too much with her tennis attire. Wearing scant attire is the lest of her troubles when considering that she shouldn’t be playing tennis at all because, well, she is a woman.

For shame.

This time it’s different and what bothers me most is that you can’t take a rest anywhere anymore these days. You can’t take a rest on a bench in the park without the police stopping to suspiciously ask what you are doing – as if you’re a criminal. You can no longer sit on a sideway to take a rest after a long walk and you sure as hell are not allowed to get your feet up after an intense match at the Hopman cup with the Indian flag present.

Indeed, places to rest are becoming scarce. Perhaps next year the tournaments can just put the Indian flag like 50 feet away from Sania Mirza so she can get her feet up.

The issue is reaching the point where Mirza even considered quitting the game. This is unfortunate. I would hope not because she is a real asset to tennis and is definitely a proper example for Asian muslim women all over the world regardless of what Orthodox Indian Muslims say.