‘Political chaos’ envelops tennis as French Open approaches

Getty Images
0 Comments

Tennis is in turmoil as the French Open approaches.

As three-time major champion Stan Wawrinka put it: “Politics have overshadowed the action on the courts.”

In a letter published Friday in The Times of London, Wawrinka decried his sport’s “worrying decline in moral standards” and outlined several aspects of the ongoing drama enveloping the men’s tour – and causing more of a racket than the rackets themselves.

“I feel compelled to express my views on this regrettable period in our sport,” said Wawrinka, who once was ranked as high as No. 3 and is currently 33rd after a series of injuries. “This episode has left many players, myself included, concerned about the direction tennis is heading in.”

There certainly has been a lot going on behind the scenes with regard to who runs the men’s professional tour, and lately it’s been spilling into public view. The conversation is sure to continue until a key vote for the ATP board of directors takes place May 14 in Rome – and through the next Grand Slam tournament, which begins at Roland Garros on May 26.

Wawrinka slammed the representatives on the board and the player council, saying the problem is not with the governing structure but the caliber of the people in positions of importance.

Wawrinka’s letter mentions “political chaos” and the “numerous conflicts of interest” that plague tennis. It also prominently discusses a topic about which he already had been outspoken: Justin Gimelstob, the ex-player, coach and TV commentator who resigned from the tour board this week after pleading no contest to misdemeanor assault for attacking a former friend. While Gimelstob’s case still was pending, he was allowed to remain in his powerful ATP post.

The 42-year-old American was sentenced April 22 to three years of probation, 60 days of community service and a year’s worth of anger management classes for what prosecutors said was Gimelstob’s attack of Randall Kaplan as they trick-or-treated with their kids in Los Angeles on Halloween in 2017.

In a statement to the court, Kaplan said Gimelstob struck him multiple times and threatened to kill him.

“There is no place in our sport for those who behave like Justin. The lack of responses from people involved in the game, particularly at the beginning of this saga, when he was charged last December, was alarming,” Wawrinka wrote. “This is a situation where silence amounts to complicity.”

Wawrinka also referred to what he called a “concerted plot” to oust Chris Kermode as executive chairman and president of the ATP. Kermode’s departure was announced in March after a vote by the board of directors.

Rafael Nadal, who has won 11 of his 17 Grand Slam titles at the French Open, was among those who said they were not consulted before the decision was made to push out Kermode when his current term closes at the end of 2019.

“Many players feel that they were not represented properly throughout the last few months, during which so much has happened politically. I agree with them,” Wawrinka wrote. “I do not want to be associated with anyone who played a part in this, let alone be represented by them. I want to be represented by people with clear, strong ethical values.”

Novak Djokovic, who was involved in the Kermode situation through his position as president of the ATP player council, conceded that the business matters might have taken a toll on his performance.

After earlier-than-expected losses at Indian Wells and Miami, the top-ranked Djokovic said: “Way too many things off the court. I guess that affected me a little bit on the court.”

Fernando Verdasco accepts 2-month doping ban

Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

LONDON – Former top-10 player Fernando Verdasco accepted a voluntary provisional doping suspension of two months after testing positive for a medication for ADHD, the International Tennis Integrity Agency announced.

Verdasco, who turned 39 this month, said he was taking methylphenidate as medication prescribed by his doctor to treat ADHD but forgot to renew his therapeutic use exemption for the drug. The integrity agency said Verdasco has now been granted an exemption by the World Anti-Doping Agency moving forward.

He tested positive at an ATP Challenger tournament in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in February.

The integrity agency said in a news release that it “accepts that the player did not intend to cheat, that his violation was inadvertent and unintentional, and that he bears no significant fault or negligence for it,” and so what could have been a two-year suspension was reduced to two months.

Verdasco will be eligible to compete on Jan. 8.

The Spaniard is a four-time Grand Slam quarterfinalist, reaching that stage most recently in 2013 at Wimbledon, where he blew a two-set lead in a five-set loss to eventual champion Andy Murray.

Verdasco reached a career-best ranking of No. 7 in April 2009 and currently is No. 125.

Auger-Aliassime, Shapovalov give Canada 1st Davis Cup title

Peter van den Berg-USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

MALAGA, Spain — Felix Auger-Aliassime fell to his back behind the baseline, then waited for teammates to race off Canada’s bench and pile on top of him.

A few minutes later, the Canadians finally could lift the Davis Cup.

“I think of us all here, we’ve dreamt of this moment,” Auger-Aliassime said.

Canada won the title for the first time, beating Australia behind victories from Denis Shapovalov and Auger-Aliassime.

Auger-Aliassime secured the winning point when he downed Alex de Minaur 6-3, 6-4 after Shapovalov opened the day by rolling past Thanasi Kokkinakis 6-2, 6-4.

Seven years after leading Canada to the top of junior tennis, Auger-Aliassime, Shapovalov and their teammates finally got to lift the biggest team trophy in their sport.

“We wanted to grow up and be part of the team and try to help the country win the first title,” Shapovalov said, “so everything is just so surreal right now.”

Shapovalov had dropped both his singles matches this week and needed treatment on his back during a three-set loss in the semifinals to Lorenzo Sonego of Italy that lasted 3 hours, 15 minutes. But the left-hander moved quickly around the court, setting up angles to put away winners while racing to a 4-0 lead in the first set.

Auger-Aliassime then finished off his superb second half of the season by completing a perfect week in Spain. He twice had kept the Canadians alive after Shapovalov dropped the opening singles match, and he replaced his weary teammate to join Vasek Pospisil for the decisive doubles point.

This time, Auger-Aliassime made sure the doubles match wouldn’t even be necessary. After his teammates poured onto the court to celebrate with him, they got up and danced around in a circle.

Canada had reached the final only once, falling to host Spain in Madrid in 2019, when Rafael Nadal beat Shapovalov for the clinching point after Auger-Aliassime had lost in the opening match.

But with Auger-Aliassime having since surged up the rankings to his current spot at No. 6, the Canadians are a much more formidable team now. They won the ATP Cup in January and finally added the Davis Cup crown to the junior Davis Cup title Auger-Aliassime and Shapovalov led them to in 2015.

Australia was trying for its 29th title and first since current captain Lleyton Hewitt was part of the title-winning team in 2003.

But it was finally time for the Canadians, who were given a wild card into the field when Russia was suspended because of its invasion of Ukraine.

“Look, I think we were very close today,” de Minaur said. “Just wait until the next time we get the same matchup. Hopefully we can get the win and prove that we can do it.”

But Canada will be tough to beat as long as Auger-Aliassime and Shapovalov play.

Shapovalov is just 23 and Auger-Aliassime 22, but both already have been Grand Slam semifinalists and Auger-Aliassime ended 2022 as one of the hottest players on the ATP Tour. He won all of his four titles this year, including three straight weeks in October.

He also beat Carlos Alcaraz in the previous Davis Cup stage in September, just after the Spaniard had won the U.S. Open to rise to No. 1 in the rankings. That victory helped send the Canadians into the quarterfinals, which they started this week by edging Germany.

“They’re not kids anymore, that’s for sure. Not after today – well not after the last couple of years,” said Pospisil, the team veteran at 32. “They’ve been crushing it.”