By winning his semifinal match 7-6(4), 1-6, 7-5 over Wayne Odesnik at the U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championships, Sam Querrey, at least for a few days, ended what many felt was a slap in the face to the sport since Odesnik continued to play despite being under suspicion for recently pleading guilty in an Australian court to possession of Human Growth Hormone or HGH. Even though it’s unclear what actions, if any, the International Tennis Federation will take against Odesnik, it’s very obvious that the reaction by the mainstream sports media and casual fans of the game has been one of almost no reaction.
Aside from tennis journalists who cover the game week in and week out and diehard fans who follow every match regardless of who plays, Odesnik’s controversy has been largely ignored. Those “in the know” attending the Houston event were surprised by other fans cheering Odesnik on during his semifinal run. It’s plainly obvious those fans weren’t aware of Odesnik’s admission despite daily coverage in the local Houston Chronicle newspaper.
The reality is that after Houston, Odesnik’s lack of star status ensures his story, no matter how it plays out, will continue to get buried on the back pages of the sports section. The fact that it’s not even mentioned on the “front” page of the New York Times tennis section on its website speaks volumes. Odesnik’s case is not the same as last year’s Richard Gasquet’s “Pamela” incident in Miami. Lack of sex appeal and a star player equals zero to no interest for most press. And that makes it convenient for the ITF and ATP to move attention away from their own problems of monitoring drug use when more focus is what is needed. That shift in focus is already underway as the ATP Tour’s website made no mention of Odesnik’s issue during their coverage of the Houston event. You can’t blame the ATP for not wanting to add more fire to the story since many felt that they should have stepped in and prevented Odesnik from playing Houston in the first place.
What could make Odesnik’s admission a bigger or lingering story is if more scrutiny is brought upon the ITF and its “stringent” rules and procedures, which allowed Odesnik to fall through the cracks with no one knowing. Why did it take a routine check at a Brisbane airport to do what the ITF failed to do? If nothing else, how the ITF handles Odesnik, who many expect will get the full two-year ban for admitting possession, will serve as a barometer for future cases.
Meanwhile, Odesnik should drop his defiant tone and lay low for a while. I’m not an attorney, but doesn’t that make the most sense for him rather than stay on the tour and continue to face the ire of fellow players and fans? Plus the fact that any money and/or ranking points he earns now will be forfeit once the ban goes into place. That is, unless, Odesnik and his high-priced legal team can somehow convince the ITF that this is all one big misunderstanding. It’s highly unlikely, but if they pull that off, that would indeed be front-page news.