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The ATP Player Council Rises Again, The WTA Players Are Out Of Work And The Search For Sam Goes On

Kevin Anderson of South Africa reacts during his men’s singles second round match against Taylor Fritz of USA at the Australian Open Grand Slam tennis tournament in Melbourne, Australia, 23 January 2020.

By Alix Ramsay

It’s been a funny old week. It started badly last Friday when, in a moment of madness, we tried some multitasking. It all went downhill from there.

After the furious activity of the US tennis extravaganza in New York followed by the European clay court slog, we were trying to have a few days off. But with such glamorous activities as laundry, hoovering and invoicing keeping us busy, we were not succeeding. No matter: speed up the chores and move on to the R&R.

So, rising from our desk, we collected the coffee cup and lunch plate and planned a route to the kitchen. But as we stood up, we noticed that our left foot was entangled in some of the wires under the desk, one of which was connected to the reasonably new and fairly expensive laptop. Ah, don’t want to pull that off the desk. So we hopped about a bit on our right leg and tried to unfankle our left foot, all the while clutching a piece of crockery in each hand (that was the multitasking bit). And then we lost our balance, went over on our right ankle and landed in a crumpled heap on the floor.

The good news is that the cup and plate survived unscathed (although the remnants of the toasted lunchtime sandwich can still be found in the most unexpected of places across the study). Alas, the same could not be said of the right ankle. As we turned the air blue with epithets both sacrilegious and obscene, the ankle puffed up to the size of a small football. It remained that way for days and is only now beginning to deflate.

So, for a week, we have sat, like a beached whale, with our ankle strapped up and elevated (if, indeed, whales, beached or otherwise, have ankles to strap up and elevate) with nothing to do but think. And that can lead to trouble.

The first thought was: be careful what you wish for.

When Novak Djokovic walked away from the presidency of the ATP Player Council (having been invited to do so by those who understood the term ‘conflict of interest’) and on to an empty court at Flushing Meadows, he took with him a gaggle of disgruntled players. This group would now become the Professional Tennis Players Association. This was supposed to be the beginning of a new era in men’s tennis. They had photographs taken and everything.

Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic speaks during a press conference for his Adria Tour tennis tournament in Belgrade, Serbia.

But behind him, Djokovic left a gaping hole in the old player council. He took Vasek Pospisil, John Isner and Sam Querrey with him into the brave new dawn – and that left four empty seats at the ATP.

Ten days ago, it was announced that those gaps had been filled by Andy Murray, Felix Auger-Aliassime, John Millman and Jeremy Chardy while Kevin Anderson had taken over as president.

In Anderson, the council has a level-headed, intelligent and decent leader. He does not appear to have a personal agenda other than to deliver what the membership wants; he does not have a public image that he is desperate to promote. Judging by the evidence of his years as a pro player, he seems to listen to both sides of an argument before delivering an informed opinion. And he is presiding over a board rather than ruling it.

In Murray, the council has a man who is more than comfortable in his own skin. He, too, is intelligent, well-informed and considered in his views on his sport. But he is not shy when it comes to saying his piece: he stands up for what he believes to be right. And usually, when Murray speaks, people listen.

Andy Murray of Great Britain hits a return to Yoshihito Nishioka of Japan during their match on the second day of the US Open Tennis Championships the USTA National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, New York, USA, 01 September 2020.

When the Scot reposted a feature on MaliVai Washington on social media the other day, highlighting the lack of any Black, Asian or minority ethnic representatives on the boards of either the All England Club or the LTA, Coco Gauff was the first to respond.

“Nothing’s wrong with asking for more diversity,” she said. “For him to say that is definitely inspiring, especially with him being a man and white.

“For someone like him to call for diversity, it shows how great an ally he is – I love what Andy is doing on and off the court. He’s one of my favourite players to watch.

“It’s important we do have diversity because there are people from all over the world from different backgrounds and areas and I think representation is important. At least for me, as a girl – seeing yourself being represented means a lot.”

Coco Gauff of the US during her second round match against Martina Trevisan of Italy at the French Open tennis tournament at Roland Garros in Paris, France, 30 September 2020.

Not that Murray’s post would have come as a surprise to anyone. When he appointed Amelie Mauresmo as his coach in 2014, he thought nothing of it – the fact that she was a woman was of no importance; the fact that she was a good coach was all that mattered. When he took flak from many sides for his choice, he batted away the bigotry and declared himself to be a feminist. He had not thought about it before but if being a feminist meant wanting fairness and equality for all, then he was a feminist.

It was the same when he was pulled into the debate over the possible renaming of the Margaret Court Arena in Melbourne. He was not about to tell Tennis Australia what to do but he did make the point that no matter who you are, where you come from or who you love, you have the right to be treated fairly and equally. All human beings deserve that much at the very least.

Add Murray into a mix that already includes Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, and one that is now led by Anderson, and suddenly the ATP Player Council looks like a serious and powerful body. One that Djokovic has walked away from and now has no voice in. Like we say: be careful what you wish for, Novak…

And then we got to thinking about Djokovic’s fellow revolutionaries, and Big Sam in particular. As we sat watching our ankle throb (and turn a very fetching shade of bluish purple, it has to be said), we wondered where – and, more importantly, how – Querrey had gone into hiding following his dawn flit from St. Petersburg.

Rather than risk enforced hospitalisation having tested positive for Covid-19 (anyone in Russia with symptoms must go to hospital), Big Sam, his wife and eight-month-old son left their hotel without a word to anyone.

They fled the country on a private jet and headed for an undisclosed location somewhere in Europe. But where? How is it possible to hide a 6ft 6ins, 15-stone American tennis player, one who, in a certain light, bears an uncanny resemblance to Herman Munster and one who is travelling with a wife and baby in tow? We in Europe are quite good at spotting Americans as they travel across the continent, particularly Americans the size of a small lighthouse. And yet, there has been no sign of Big Sam since he left St. Petersburg.

Given that he, his wife and young son all tested positive while in Russia, we can only hope that they are all now fully recovered and merely twiddling their thumbs until their 14-day isolation is over. But if anyone has seen them, do let us know.

And finally, we came to the conclusion that the old sayings are the best. For example, if only the WTA had known not to put all their eggs in one basket, their players might still be gainfully employed. Yet while the men still have a couple of weeks and more of tournament play left this year, including Vienna, the Masters 1000 in Paris and the ATP Finals in London (and few additional, pop-up events in Germany), the WTA has Ostrava this week and Linz in two weeks’ time.

Jennifer Brady stormed back from a set down to overcome Russian qualifier Veronika Kudermetova and advance to her fourth WTA singles semifinal of the season at the J&T Banka Ostrava Open.

Six of the 11 events left on the WTA calendar were due to be played in China, but China closed its borders to all international sport nearly two months ago. One was to be played in Japan but Japan, too, closed its borders ages ago. As for Houston, Moscow and Luxembourg, they were cancelled as infection rates soared on either side of the Atlantic.

There may be money to be made in China but there is little by way of a paying public. Everything there is run by the government – and when the Chinese government says an event is cancelled, there is no bargaining position. Sob stories about poor, penniless players in need of work and pay cheques fall on deaf ears; bullish talk of bio-secure bubbles and Covid-free areas is ignored. China doesn’t need tennis but the WTA clearly needs China. Obviously, no one at the WTA ever thought that China would close for business.

But by this stage, the week was coming to an end. The ankle was still throbbing and, now, so was the head (all that thinking had been too much); it was time for the weekend, a weekend under Covid tier two restrictions: no seeing friends in your own home or in the pub or restaurant, no mixing with anyone outside your own household… no doing anything much at all. Like we said: it’s been a funny old week.