One thing I’ve always loved about athletics is its competitive undeniability. Oh, occasionally you’ll have a complaint about jostling indoors, or a false positive drug test. But mostly, it’s point A to point B, first in wins. And we have cameras that can track it down to the thousandth of a second.
In every other sport, it’s bitch, bitch, bitch. I’m telling you, that’s all you get from pro athletes these days.
“That was a foul.”
“I wasn’t holding.”
Canadian tennis player Denis Shapovalov complained earlier this week that the chair umpire had given Rafa Nadal what Shapovalov thought was preferential treatment in their quarterfinal match at the Aussie Open that the Shap-man lost in five sets.
“I felt like I was playing against the chair umpire, too,” he said in the pressroom after.
Today, Russia’s #2 seed, Daniil Medvedev, came unglued – as he has a tendency to do – in the second set of his semifinal against Greece’s # 3 seed, Stefanos Tsitsipas, after going down 4-5 following a double fault.
During the changeover, he began yelling at the chair umpire for not upholding the no-coaching-from-the-stands rule, saying, “is his father allowed to talk after every point? Look at me! I’m talking to you!”
The Med-man went on to whip Tsitsipas in four sets to set up the final on Sunday between him and Nadal, who will go for his record-breaking 21st Grand Slam title.
In baseball or basketball, petulance of the kind we see in tennis would get a guy thrown out of the game. Tom Brady got a 15-yard personal foul penalty called in last Sunday’s NFC Divisional round loss against the LA Rams for bitching about getting hit late.
But in tennis, it’s like the officials are afraid of the top players, as opposed to the other way around. It’s a long-standing problem, going back to the days of John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, and Ilie Nastase. They might be the extreme examples, but almost everybody in the tennis does it in one form or another. It’s all part of the sport’s gamesmanship.
You know why they do it to the extent they do? Because tennis was originally a 19th century game played on grass courts by courtly gentlemen under an honor system for a trophy and pride alone. Once you introduce multi-million dollar contracts and prize purses, and TV, folks are going to get a little more exercised by what they consider bad calls. It’s simple, up-the-stakes human nature.
Coming from its lily white elitist past, the game simply chooses not to enforce its rules across-the-board in the same way that the NBA enforces the 24-second shot clock, which is unrelenting.
Maybe if running had higher stakes, we could induce a little more on-track bitchin’ of our own. Might add a little something extra. In this day and age of sport, Mr. Nice Guys only get you so far. Sad, ain’t it?