Weird Tennis Weekend

It is a bizarre time for tennis.

A few weeks ago, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) announced a new strategy to reduce the total number of professional tour players. I’m not sure if any sport is as Byzantine as tennis, but essentially there are the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) which runs the elite men’s tour, the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) which runs the elite women’s tour and the ITF, which runs a lot of things, like the Davis Cup, Federation Cup, Hopman Cup, Olympic tennis and circuits of smaller professional, junior, senior, wheelchair and even beach tennis tournaments. The ITF “partners” with the ATP and WTA, and “sanctions” each of the four majors – which are otherwise run independently – and manages the ranking system.

The ITF now plans to reduce the number of professional players from around 14,000 to 1,500 – 750 men and 750 women. Their research indicates that half of the current players don’t actually earn any prize money on the tour, and that many more don’t actually earn a living, relying on parental or sponsor support. They also claim that all these journeymen players make it difficult for talented juniors to advance to the elite tours.

I watched one set of the ATP Masters 1000 tournament in Monte Carlo last weekend. I usually prefer WTA matches, but TennisTV can’t broadcast those anymore. The semifinal match between Rafael Nadal and David Goffin seemed promising. Goffin was having the best week of his career, bumping off Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals. But Nadal is a god on clay, and had already won Monte Carlo nine times. They had never played each other before.

Goffin broke early. He was playing well and was holding serve fairly easily until he served at 3-2. Nadal finally seemed to put some return pressure on Goffin, and in a long game, earned but lost a break point. Then it appeared that Nadal had hit wide on a Goffin game point. Nadal began walking to the service line, but the chair umpire climbed down, circled a mark in the clay and signaled that the point should be replayed. Looking at a replay, the announcers were certain the ball was out by, “a mile.” Goffin held his head in disbelief, but to no avail. The game went back and forth for fifteen minutes with each player holding and losing game points until Goffin hit a ball into the net. 3-All.

Nadal held easily for 4-3, then Goffin rather meekly lost serve again, and with Nadal leading 5-3 I decided to watch something else. I read that Nadal won 6-3, 6-1. Nadal could certainly have come back to win without that bad call, but the match had changed from compelling to a cakewalk.

In Federation Cup action, Great Britain was visiting Romania, whose captain is the talented but tasteless Ilie Nastase:

At a news conference on Saturday to preview the matches in Constanta, Romania’s captain was heard to say of [Serena] Williams’ baby, due in the fall: “Let’s see what color it has. Chocolate with milk?”

On the first day, a win by Simona Halep had Romania 1-0 against Great Britain. In the second match, Brit Johanna Konta, who has been hot lately, was leading Sorana Cirstea 6-2, 1-2. But when captain Anne Keothavong complained about Nastase’s audible comments, he began verbally abusing the chair umpire, Keothavong and Konta from the sideline. Nastase was escorted out, but Konta was rattled and lost the next game. She asked for a time out, then ran out the next five games to tie the rubber at 1-1.

ESPN reported that Nastase had been creepy before the matches:

The 70-year-old, who had a reputation as a playboy during and after his playing career, had previously made Keothavong feel uncomfortable with a number of inappropriate remarks earlier in the week.

Having asked for her room number during the event’s official dinner on Thursday, Nastase then repeated the request when the captains posed together for photographs following Friday’s draw, and he put his arm tightly around Keothavong’s shoulder. When both teams were called back together, Nastase said to Keothavong, who is married and 18 weeks pregnant with her second child: “We keep being attracted.”

Romania went on to win both subsequent singles matches, but Nastase is now suspended by the ITF. Cirstea called Konta weak for needing the time out, and Halep claimed that Nastase is always joking, but a Romanian official took the cake by noting that Nastase wasn’t a racist because he is friends with Yannick Noah.

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