Blog posts are made by fools like we, but only God can so perfectly juxtapose the Women’s Tennis Association’s and the Association of Tennis Professionals’ (men’s ATP) responses last week to allegations of sexual abuse and domestic violence involving star players.
In response to Peng Shuai’s allegation that she (former World #1 doubles and former #14 singles) had been sexually attacked by a top 5 Chinese government official, former Senior Vice-Premier, Zhang Gaoli, resulting in her immediate disappearance, the WTA quickly threatened China with disappearance of several major tournaments held in Chinese cities. That immediate and powerful threat sent shock waves through the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that is scheduled to hold its Winter Games in Beijing in 11 weeks. But now is threatened with a second cancelled Olympics, because of a second Chinese fiasco and second Chinese government coverup. In response, the historically, notoriously and pervasively corrupt IOC collaborated with the Chinese government in a pretense that all was well with Peng Shuai.
Over in the boys’ locker room, ATP # 3, Alexander (“Sascha”) Zverev won the ATP’s end of season championship defeating Novak Djokovic and Danil Medvedev, #s 1 and 2, along the way, while the ATP was taking its time conducting a tardily convened investigation into allegations that Zverev had beaten and effectively imprisoned his former girlfriend, tennis pro, Olya Sharypova.
As committed readers of this blog/newsletter know HL is tennis obsessed. Prior to the week that was, we would have said that the ATP was an association at least twice the height and weight of the WTA. Less because of how well the ATP manages its extraordinary product and more because of how badly WTA promotes its equally compelling content. Check out the associations’ websites. Also, ponder the WTA’s recent multi-year boycott of The Tennis Channel for a hodge podge of broadcasts on various obscure networks and channels. Tennis fans avidly follow the weekly changes in players’ rankings. But until recently ranking points awarded players by WTA tournaments for reaching various stages and winning required a Cray supercomputer to make the tally.
But #Me Too has flattened Planet Tennis. Most clearly and powerfully last week in the aforementioned associations’ responses to Peng Shuai’s and Sascha Zverev’s situations. There were things that happened leading up to those that presaged the men’s tours weakness relative to the strength and resolve demonstrated by the women’s tour.
The ATP has generally coddled its bad boys. Notably Australian Nick Kyrgios, who has engaged in all manner of on-court nastiness and in one match shouted to his opponent, Stan Wawrinka (and an international television audience) that an Australian Davis Cup teammate, Thanasi Kokinakis, had “banged” Wawrinka’s girlfriend, WTA star Donna Vekic. The ATP’s slap on Kyrgios’ wrist was followed by numerous additional Kyrgios code violations and additional minor fines.
Last year #1 Djokovic almost ended the tennis season by hosting maskless and shirtless parties during exhibitions he sponsored in the Balkans at the height of the pandemic, resulting in several top players including Djokovic and their wives (including one pregnant) contracting Covid. The fiasco was bitterly criticized by tennis giants Andy Murray and Martina Navratilova and even Kyrgios. But ATP Chairman, Andrea Gaudenzi said “I know there has been a lot of criticism but on the other hand we have to be careful because we also have to be conscious that even extreme measures, you could actually end up having some players testing positive.”
The domestic abuse allegations made by Olya Sharypova against Zverev, supported by photos, witness testimony and documents surfaced in November 2020. Zverev, immediately and persistently denies them. But as of last summers’ Olympics (in which Zverev gold-medaled) and the September 2021 U.S. Open (where Zverev was a semi-finalist) the ATP had done nothing. It finally opened an investigation last month, which apparently is proceeding, and was during the recent ATP finals, which Zverev won.
We have been clear, strong and perhaps an annoyingly repetitive advocate of due process with regard to “#MeToo” and generally. See e.g., HL 47. But there must be a process and accountability, things the ATP has substantially ignored. The WTA has stepped and stood up and in one week grown enormously in stature. The ATP should look up to it.