US Open Blog Mailbag: Crazy Outfits, Roger on Althea

by Richard Vach | August 30th, 2007, 1:30 pm

Answering US Open questions from the message boards and e-mail:

Q: Why are there no “US Open notes” about Roger’s shorts — huh Richard Vach?? We’ve had two postings on Maria’s red dress — why not have some discussion about Roger’s little black tuxedo shorts? There wouldn’t be a double standard here, would there?
— jane

Apologies jane, slacking on the fashion beat. Roger Federer’s “tuxedo shorts” were…heinous? Actually they grew on you as the match went on, and by the end of the match they were fun. Initially they reminded me of a few years ago when black socks and shoes were all the rage in the U.S., but instead of all-black, players were mixing them with colored shorts and shirts, so from the knees down they looked like your grandpa when he goes out in shorts with his dress shoes and socks. But the all-black worked, and afterwards in his press conference Federer acknowledged he did it for fun, which was refreshing.

Fans (and journalists) have been hammering the hubub over Maria’s dress, Bethanie Mattek’s wacky outfits, the “Maria Clones” running around the site, Hawkeye, basically anything outside of forehands and backhands, but hardcore fans who say “let’s keep it about tennis” need to realize that for years it has only been about tennis in the U.S. — and that’s why tennis is the 17th most popular sport (or whatever) on TV. If fashion brings more fans into tennis, bring on the fashion, bring on the stunts — Federer walks on court at Wimbledon in a blazer and the world sports media takes notice — even if it’s only to say “Ha! Only Roger Federer could get away with that!”

Tennis needs media attention outside of tennis to bring in casual tennis fans and new fans. At the 2008 Australian Open Federer needs to walk on court in a full spacesuit with helmet, tennis bag over his shoulder, then walk up to the chair umpire mike, take off the helmet and announce “I am miles above the Earth from anyone else in tennis!” Talk about an ESPN SportsCenter moment.

Q: Everyone is talking about what Roger Federer said about Althea Gibson, but how did he say it? What was his demeanor in the press conference?
— dv

Good question, because while it may have seemed like Federer blew off the question, there were extenuating circumstances. A journalist asked Federer what he knew about Gibson, as many journalists were asking the same question to many different players for their previews of the Gibson opening-night tribute. The problem was that Federer wasn’t familiar with Gibson so he reacted defensively, replying “You’re putting me on the spot,” perhaps thinking he was trying to be made to look foolish. Some journalists do attempt to put players on the spot if they suspect they don’t know something about a subject they should (remember back in the day with Jennifer Capriati not knowing anything about Title IX and the hammering she took?), but that wasn’t the case here.

So because of this Federer ended up making an honest, if a little chilly and clipped, response that he didn’t know anything about Gibson and the press conference moved on. Then, as you’re probably well aware, came the internet blog-o-storm from tennis fans about how Federer should be aware of such a ground-breaking piece of American civil rights tennis history — history that the majority of Americans are not aware of themselves. Hence the Althea Gibson tribute at the Open, and hence Serena William’s reply that this is why such events are important — albeit in my opinion in a better-late-than-never way, let’s not strain a muscle patting ourselves on the back. I say once we’ve found something important enough to educate more than half of our own population about, then we can expect foreigners to maybe know at least a little something. If there’s anyone to be angry with it’s ourselves as Americans, especially when you see how Gibson spent her last years.

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15 Comments for US Open Blog Mailbag: Crazy Outfits, Roger on Althea

jane Says:

Thanks Richard – I agree. Who cares what they wear (within reason)? It’s not like the shorts or dress have hurt Fed’s or Sharapova’s tennis thus far.

And if it means Anna Wintour publishes more editorials in Vogue (Ladies or Mens) about tennis stars, great. All the more cross-over and attraction to the best sport to watch – hands, shorts, dresses down.

penise Says:

Why is at the US Open all of a sudden tennis turns into this politically correct tribute thing? No one comments on black tennis players during coverage of any other tournament, but at the Open all of a sudden it’s on everyone’s mind. . . Louis Armstrong stadium, Arthur Ashe stadium, Venus/Serena role model commentary ad nauseum, Donald Young, Scoville. It’s weird. Even the ultra politically correct French don’t do it.

Here’s a tribute I’d like to see: Jack Kramer, for inventing the pro tour. Without him there wouldn’t have been a pay gap for Billie Jean to crusade about.

Deborah Says:

Unfortunately the tortured and largely unresolved racial history at the core of the US means that the kinds of uncomfortable incidents such as the one at Federer’s press conference are always waiting to happen. Last year, the tribute to Billie Jean King happened without this kind of flack. Given that anything to do with race in this country is fraught with minefields, I wonder why the USTA didn’t brief all the players better.
Roger Federer has a South African mother and a foundation devoted to helping African children. He has demonstrated his sensitivity time and again.

Joanne Says:

In Europe no difference is experienced any longer.Black athletes are athletes period,not black.Europeans don’t obsess about it.Its not an issue.

AKA Maverick Says:

AKA Maverick
Yes, a sports person is a sports person. Color, caste, creed, race, religion, ethnicity must not and must never come in between a sports person, their prowess and their viewers, admirers, supporters and fans. Suffice to say, it did when Serena so pointedly brought it up and made a non issue an issue.
Unfortunately, we in US have shown to the world how closed and narrow minded we are when we included race as a matter to react too. Thanks Serena
As far a tennis history, I have yet to meet a fellow American who says that he/she had heard or knew about Ms. Althea Gibson, prior to this incidence. I guess this means we are all racist. Serena did achieve promoting, Ms. Althea Gibson’s in a way, that we now know who Ms. Althea Gibson’s is.
As far as Mr. Roger Federer’s is concerned, his mother is South African. Mr. Roger Federer has a foundation dedicated to helping African children.
I ask, what has Serena done for Ms Althea Gibson’s foundation? Does she have a foundation of her own so to help educate under-privileged people. Maybe Serena would donate her time and money to promote Ms. Althea Gibson’s memory. This would serve her time better that pointing fingers at others
Maybe when the Williams sisters retire, they could spend their time and money to promote education and tennis in areas of this country where few can afford education, let go of playing tennis. This would serve our country better than talking about who should know what, and I would be the first person to call William sisters our heroes
We need to look at ourselves first before telling non Americans what they should know. Thank you

RJ Says:

I take exception to the notion that Althea Gibson’s importance has to do with the “Civil Rights history of America.” That’s partly so, but it still remains a fact that she was the first black person of ANY gender or ANY nationality to win Wimbledon — which broke a major barrier in what was long-considered a sport of the upper classes (not just in the U.S) and helped lead to the more diverse tennis champions that followed.

But I agree that it really should have been the USTA’s job to inform all the players playing on the opening day about who Althea was and why she was important.

TennisMasta Says:

If Federer were coached in the ways of most US players (and politicians and executives) responding to press, he would have given a dishonest and meaningless canned response. They are always looking for the racial angle and would tread very very carefully.

But Federer is not that. For all his talents, accomplishments and greatness, he answers endless media questions totally openly and frankly. Something absolutely unheard of in this modern day.

Doesn’t everyone wish we would have a world where every famous person speaks his or her mind – and every one of those minds is a great mind. Let’s start with Roger. Let’s celebrate the first great one.

TennisMasta Says:

“Why is at the US Open all of a sudden tennis turns into this politically correct tribute thing?”

Well said.

Somehow that seems to be the case with US Open.

It is one thing asking an American this question. And I wonder how many Americans know Althea Gibson. Ask James Scott Connors and see.

It is totally a different thing asking foreigners about US history. Imagine US players hounded with questions like this, say in China about an important Chinese person? How jingoistic we are that we dare hound hapless foreigners questions that most Americans can’t answer themselves?

It is surprising this charade of hypocrisy that USTA seems to promote.

JDC Says:

TennisMasta, I agree. As Americans, we generally know far less about foreign history (general, sports, etc) than foreigners know about our history. We should not expect non-Americans to know anything about US-centric historical achievements. This even applies to racial-barrier milestones, because most foreigners don’t see race as much as Americans do. Since most of their countries didn’t enslave races, they don’t notice or feel racial barriers.

Nancy Says:

I’d like to know the name of the reporter who blindisded Roger with the question about Althea Gibson. Why no discussion about her? Clearly she had an agenda.

jane Says:

Nancy – they were asking all the players about Althea; I don’t think it was a conspiracy by the press.

AKA Maverick Says:


AKA Maverick

The conclusion to all the talk about Althea Gibson, Serena and Federer are:
1. Federer is not guilty for not knowing Ms. Althea Gibson
2. Federer as we know by his deeds, is sensitive to race and color issue
3. Serena should not have pointed at Federer for not knowing about Ms. Althea Gibson, he is a fellow tennis player and should have gotten her respect.
4. Serena should not have made this into a race and color issue.
5. By telling off Serena, we have all not become racist.
Thank you

orson w. Says:

the us open has taken 50 whole years to pay tribute to this historic player – after her passing, no less. shame on them, if anyone. i attended serena’s and roger’s matches on wednesday and, correct me if i’m wrong, but only hip-hop was played during serena’s matches and only ‘white’ music was played during roger’s. whaddup w/ that? did no one else notice or care? furthermore, i was a bit nauseated w/ the althea tribute opening night. ppl kept referring to her as such a pioneer and role model for african-americans such and venus and serena. does she not mean anything to anyone else? do ppl of other races have nothing to learn from her legacy? she should be remembered by ppl of all races for her example as a human being, first and foremost; for representing a time when racism was more explicit (and 50 years is not a long time at all); for having to be a person who demonstrated to all of us that one’s abilities are not limited by one’s color. i have a suspicion that the open and ppl in general are reluctant to acknowledge our shortcomings as a society in breaking down race barriers.

whom... Says:

I don’t know if I can all of a sudden defend Federer for not knowing who Gibson was. I, mean come on, how long have you been a tennis player? You have been pro for years. What in the hell have you been doing? I respect the fact that he was honest, but I was hoping that he knew that she was a past champion. But, of course, he knows about Sampras, Agassi, Tilden, Borg, Becker, and many other greats. Race does not have to be an issue, but he could have talked about her character. I understand that some reporters ask dumb and interesting questions, but his response was as dumb and slow as Serena’s US Open performance against Henin. He could have said, “She was a great champion for every race”, or something of the sort. Now, he will probably face embarrassing questions about his comments. Oh yeah, the ceremony was a little farfetched. Using black people mainly in the event, come on. Gibson did not strike a tennis ball for black people only. I would have loved to seen all races talk about Gibosn. This world is in so much shit right now, and race is probably the main reason. Thanks.

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