Here's Andrew's article, just recently published in the NY Times:
He'd love to have your comments (especially since, if a lot of people make comments, he might get the chance to write again!).
PS. We still owe everyone the final wrap up on the Ivy season, but the end of the season, and the start of our tennis academy/summer jobs, the never ending recruiting cycle, end of season fundraising...and of course, working on a cure for global warming...has kept us busy. We'll get it out shortly.
Straight Sets - Tennis Blog of The New York Times
June 20, 2009, 10:00 am
Wimbledon, Ethics and Tennis
By Andrew Rueb
Andrew Rueb is the assistant coach of the Harvard University men's tennis team. He played for the Crimson in the early 1990s before devoting four years as a journeyman on the professional tennis circuit. His favorite court is baked cow dung and molasses in Zambia; the grass of Wimbledon, where he played doubles in 1997, is a close second. He published an article of his travels in Tennis Week magazine. Before college coaching, Andrew worked for the Boston Lobsters of WTT and Tenacity, an inner-city youth tennis and academic program. In the summers he is the director of tennis at the Belmont Country Club in Belmont, Mass.
What better time or place to discuss sportsmanship and tennis than the fortnight at Wimbledon - the epicenter of tennis and guardian of its history? It is no accident that Kipling's poem, "If," adorns the entryway to the famed Centre Court, and serves, in a way, to frame the contest as a battle not between enemy combatants, but ultimately, as a match with the self, in which honor and valor are not decided by the scoreboard but by one's conduct in the arena.
Over the past few years, there have been several high-profile lapses in sportsmanship on the professional tennis tour that did not receive much media attention. At this year's French Open, Serena Williams's opponent, Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez of Spain, contended that the ball never touched her - despite the smoking gun of instant replay to support Williams's claim. The rules of tennis state that once a ball hits any part of a player's body, even if the player manages to hit the ball afterward, that player forfeits the point. In some reports, Serena's outrage was seen as overly dramatic, but in my view her anger was justified.
By the letter of the law, an umpire is required to call a ball that glances off a player or a ball that was picked up on two bounces - but it is certainly in the spirit of the game for athletes to call these violations on themselves. Often, only the player knows if the ball tips his or her racket, or glances off an article of clothing. Who could forget the famous incident at the 1985 U.S. Open when the ball "allegedly" contacted Ken Flach's flowing mane of hair in the doubles final as Yannick Noah and Henri Laconte protested? In that situation, according to Sports Illustrated, the umpire even turned to ask the player if the ball had come in contact with him.
Or, more recently, how about the spat last year between James Blake and Fernando Gonzalez in the Olympic semifinals? With a trip to the gold medal match hanging in the balance, Gonzalez feigned ignorance and deferred to the umpire's call when the replay clearly showed that Blake's passing shot ricocheted off Gonzalez's racket. This ethical lapse shows a deterioration of sportsmanship in the game. I wonder what most players on tour would think? I imagine that older players and former pros would stand with Williams and Blake, but what about the younger players? I was surprised to see anyone standing with Gonzalez in the blogosphere. Golfers regularly turn themselves in for minor infractions and it is a credit to the sport that the sanctity of the game is important to the players. If you think sportsmanship is passé, just check out the story of J.P. Hayes.
In 1935, in the Davis Cup interzone final between Germany and the United States, Baron Gottfried von Cramm, a famous gentleman of the game, and his partner, Kai Lund, were playing Wilmer Allison and John van Ryn on Centre Court at Wimbledon. At the end of the match, Lund appeared to hit a winning shot to give the Germans match point and an almost insurmountable lead against the Americans. But von Cramm approached the umpire and volunteered that the ball had nicked his racket before Lund's winner. The Germans ended up losing the match.
After being chastised by German tennis officials for giving away the match, according to Marshall Jon Fisher's book, "A Terrible Splendor," von Cramm replied: "Tennis is a gentlemen's game and that's the way I've played it ever since I picked up my first racket. Do you think that I would sleep tonight knowing that the ball had touched my racket without my saying so? Never, because I would be violating every principle I think this game stands for. On the contrary, I don't think I'm letting the German people down. I think I'm doing them credit."
In the old days, players would routinely overrule poor line calls and give the point to their opponents. Tilden was famous for never accepting a point he didn't deserve and would publicly shame officials. I'm not suggesting going that far, and I believe that with instant replay and improved modern officiating, players should accept the calls as they stand. A player is never really sure of a line call either (witness how few calls are overturned on replay), unlike contact with a ball.
Some have argued that the money in sports is so great that one can hardly blame these players for their infractions. But this is specious reasoning. There was no money directly at stake in the Olympic match between Blake and Gonzalez, and von Cramm certainly had the weight of a nation on his shoulders when he decided to do the right thing.
The problem becomes systemic, in my view, if the public, the media and the players start to see Sanchez's no-call as acceptable, or worse, as just part of being competitive. I think, as Jim Courier points out, that these cases are by no means representative of the bulk of the tour, and that is a credit to tennis. But we are nearing a tipping point where tennis could lose its moral compass.
Here is what Jim Courier told me about Williams's match: "It is clear evidence of poor character when a player refuses to admit an infraction so blatant as the one we saw in Serena Williams's match in Paris a few weeks ago. It is not possible for the umpires to see rapid-fire exchanges like this one where it was unclear whether it hit the racket or the body of the player, so the burden falls upon the player, and Serena's reaction was understandable from my position. Still, while there may be a few who taint the public's perspective, I think there are many more examples of great character in the sport."
Now that tennis is back at Wimbledon, it is the right time to return the game to its roots in chivalry and sportsmanship. Thoughts?
Andrew's blog NYTimes
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