Lawsuits, Suspensions, and Fines…Oh My!
Guillermo Canas’ second dramatic win over Roger Federer had nothing on the off-court action that took place in Miami. Professional tennis turned into a serial drama including a player petition, a storm-off during a meeting with the ATP Chair, one lawsuit being filed, and another threatened to be on the way.
Get the popcorn ready. This is a thriller!
Key Biscayne, FL, site of the Sony Ericsson Open.
Scene I: The ATP makes two announcements. The obvious one is that they are killiing the Round Robin (pdf). The second is that Shanghai will be a new Masters Series event, and will cede its Masters Cup status for 2009.
While that wouldn’t seem to be a big deal ordinarily, discussions go on with tournament directors and players over changes to the calendar behind-the-scenes, and create a veritable tempest.
Scene II: The German tennis federation (DTB) files suit against the ATP in U.S. District Court seeking to stop the ATP from stripping Hamburg of its Masters Series status, which would make it harder to attract top players and harm the future of the tournament. The DTB maintains that it has valid contracts with the ATP beyond 2009, and that the Tour is in breach.
[Bob and Mike Bryan enter stage-right, raise forefingers to the sky, and sing in chorus, "Doubles Revolution!". They depart, stage-left.]
Scene III: According to papers filed in the DTB lawsuit, we learn that the 2009 calendar would create three new tiers of ATP tournaments: Masters Series 1000, Masters Series 500, and ATP 250. The gaps are also being filled in by disgruntled players who are talking to the press.
The newer plan reported to be on the table would move the Madrid Masters Series tournament to May, possibly as a combined men’s and women’s event, two weeks before Roland Garros. The plan will affect not only Hamburg, but also downgrade the Monte Carlo event. Questions about the clay Masters Series event in Rome are still hazy.
Scene IV: The plans regarding all three clay court Masters Series events lead to a petition signed by 60 players, and results in dozens of players walking-out during a meeting with ATP Chairman Etienne de Villiers in Miami.
[Rafael Nadal and Tommy Robredo enter stage-right, raise forefingers to the sky, and sing in chorus, "Revolución!". They depart, stage-left.]
Scene I: The WTA makes two announcements. On Tuesday, they hold a press conference to announce (pdf) changes to the tournament calendar; and an increased presence in China, including a new office in Beijing (pdf). The ATP’s China announcement and the WTA’s China announcement seem to be linked, but are instead not-coordinated-but-might-be-in-the-future announcements.
The WTA also announces a prize-money increase and stiffer penalties for players who skip mandatory events. Top players who fail to play at required tournaments will be subject to suspensions and larger fines than in the past.
Scene II: In the presser, which includes Indian Wells Tournament Director Steve Simon, reporters poke around on the issue of the Williams sisters boycott of the tournament since 2001, when the family was booed after Venus withdrew just before a semifinal match against Serena.
WTA Chair Larry Scott says that there will be a sanctioning process for players who dump out of one of the Tour’s “Crown Jewel” events, which will include “suspensions if players are not legitimately injured and able to play, which will last …for the next two premium tournaments.”
Larry Scott: “I’m very sensitive to some of the concerns that Venus and Serena have had with Indian Wells. I’ve discussed this with both of them, and I think they understand that we can’t design a system around individual issues that players have.”
Scene III: Serena Williams press conference the following day.
Serena Williams: “I need to have a sit-down and pow-wow with Larry Scott because we haven’t had a chance to talk about it. But I can guarantee you the chances of getting me to Indian Wells are slim to none, unless — I’m not going to go back. I have no interest in going. It’s just how I feel.”
[Assorted WTA players enter stage-left, they stop, place hands on hips and sing in chorus, "Oooh, snap!". They exit, stage-right.]
Scene IV: Richard Williams is talking to a reporter about Indian Wells. The reporter asks if his daughters will play there.
Richard Williams: “No. And the WTA don’t make the rules for America.”
Reporter: “What happens if they’re suspended?”
Richard Williams: “We’ll definitely have to consider legal action.”
[Assorted WTA players enter stage-right, they stop, place hands on hips and sing in chorus, "Oooh, double snap!". They exit, stage-left. One blonde girl stops at the edge of the stage before exiting, turns to face the audience and says, "Welcome back Williams sisters!" She chuckles, then exits behind the rest.]
Scene V: Another part the sanctions scheme is that players will have to submit themselves to WTA doctors for verification of their illness or injuries.
LS: “We’re not going to allow excuses or allow players to hide behind injuries that aren’t legitimate or to say it’s exhaustion if it’s not, because there’s been some of that going on. We’re not going to allow that anymore.”
(Aside, Me, to my friend: Wow. Did Larry Scott just accuse his players of lying? Or did he say he talked to the Williams family? All the lying and accusations have confused me.)
Flashback, Scene II: Reporters question the positioning by the WTA in China. The WTA seems unprepared. Scott bobbles through an answer about grass-roots development in the country by muttering something about ‘UNESCO’ and ‘UN partnership’ a few times, but doesn’t seem to know about any specific plans in place.
On a second-round question about China, LS: “I wouldn’t want to give you a wrong number, but we’ve got good data from the ITF about data, but I know the numbers are pretty staggering.”
(Aside, Me, to my friend: What did he just say?)
On the third-round question about plans in China, Scott pushes Sony Ericsson Marketing Director Dee Dutta up to the mic. LS: “Dee may know more than I do actually”.
[Title Card: To be continued...]
Walking out of the theater, I realized that the ending really seemed surreal at best. Why on earth would the corporate sponsor know more than the WTA CEO about tennis? Say, who’s running the women’s tennis tour anyway? I have to admit that I’m still confused. Why is this plot so hard to follow?
Honestly, this is the crappiest movie I’ve seen in a while — and I’ve sat through some Hungarian slapsticks in my day. I don’t know if I can stomach to see part two, but I’m thinking it might go straight to DVD anyway.
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