Ever since Andy Roddick expressed his displeasure in no uncertain terms about signs posted at the 2009 U.S. Open informing players to mind what they say on their personal Twitter accounts as their posts could infringe on the rules set up by the Tennis Anti-Corruption program, despite any jitters the ruling bodies of the sport might have had about its players and social media, the use of Twitter by pros on both the ATP Tour and the WTA has increased tenfold with, for the most part, positive results including increased fan interaction with players and a wider awareness of the sport.
But with any communication platform, and especially one as easy to use as Twitter, the chance for a player to go “off-message” or just “go off” is always there and for multiple reasons, that scenario played out this week on both tours. Young American Donald Young, Jr. shocked many in the tennis world with an expletive laden rant against the USTA after he lost in the finals of the USTA Wildcard Shootout, with the winner, Tim Smyczek, earning a coveted wildcard into this spring’s French Open. While just today, Jarmila Gajdosova (formerly Jarmila Groth) used her Twitter account to fire back against critics who suggested that Gajdosova, who recently announced her split from husband Sam Groth, married Groth only to gain Australian citizenship.
Even more so than Facebook, which a lot of players use to connect with fans, upload photos and share news, Twitter has become the source for almost everyone in the tennis world to share news, rumors, match results and anything else pertaining to the sport. But even though Young’s Twitter tirade caused shockwaves among those who “follow” him and those that monitor the sport every day, I don’t think it’s impact is going to be as great as many suggested or that it will even be a “career killer” for Young as one noted tennis writer wrote today. For one thing, Young despite his “phenom” status is still barely known outside of diehard tennis fans, even here in the United States, and though Young apologized to the USTA for his comments, I just don’t think his comments on Twitter will really matter down the road with regards to his career, even if the USTA decides to pull all support from him. Young’s comments will haunt him for a while, but if he can find a way to improve his on-court results, that more than anything will help make this incident fade from the memories of tennis fans.
And let’s not forget that even though many of us, including me rely on Twitter as a daily source of tennis news, plenty of people still don’t use it and have no idea how to access messages from it. After all, according to a recent report from CNBC.com, Twitter only has 200 million subscribers worldwide as opposed to Facebook’s 600 million and growing subscriber base and, even worse for the “blue bird” nearly half of those signed up for Twitter don’t even use it anymore on a regular basis. Why do I list all these stats? Just so that everyone realizes that even though it may seem like everybody and their brother is on Twitter, the reality is, they’re not.
Even with Twitter not being used by everybody, the fact that it’s become (though some will still dispute this) a legit source for breaking news in the span of a few short years is quite amazing. How the ATP Tour, the WTA and other governing bodies decide to (or not) deal with the fact that someone, somewhere could send out a message on Twitter that will require an immediate response from the powers that be remains to be seen. After all, unlike other sports and sports leagues that have tried in varying degrees to monitor or even ban player use of Twitter in some circumstances, tennis players are basically independent contractors who can pretty much do or say whatever they feel like off the court. Whatever the final impact of both Young and Gajdosova’s comments this week, it probably won’t be the last time a tennis player uses Twitter to tell the whole world how they really, really feel about something. But it wouldn’t surprise me if players start seeing signs in the locker rooms of tournaments very soon with a very basic but very clear message to them –
Think Before You Tweet.