Lowlights and Faults: The Worst of Tennis – 2014

2014 certainly had its highlights. But here’s a look back at some of those less than stellar moments we’d like to forget. And yes, there’s a reference to a famous outburst from tennis in the above track if you listen long enough.

Mr. Not So Fabulous.

Why was Fabio Fognini so unhappy in 2014? He’s rich, good looking, a now constant figure in the ATP top 20 and dates fellow Italian Flavia Pennetta. Still, throughout the season, Fognini was often upset about something or someone on the court. Usually umpires, but sometimes players and even fans.

At Wimbledon, the not so fab Fognini was slapped with a $27,500 fine for obscenities, racquet abuse and berating an umpire. The fine was pocket change to Fognini who kept on raising hell throughout the year. In Shanghai, after losing to unknown Chinese player Wang Chuhan, Fognini gave the poor guy a mild shove before then giving the finger to the partisan local crowd. Then, Fognini ended his season in Bercy by losing to young Frenchman Lucas Pouille while continually jeering umpire Carlos Bernardes who initially refused to shake Fognini’s hand (for good reason) after the match.

While many tennis observers openly wish for more “characters” to liven up the often too polite tour, Fognini’s antics have just gotten plain tired. Even the sport’s most notorious bad boys in Jimmy Connors and Ilie Nastase, famous for almost coming to blows several times in many of their matches, admitted later their shenanigans were mostly an act to enthrall crowds and build up interest in the (back in the 1970’s) still growing men’s tour. Maybe Fognini’s act would have thrived during the days of Connors and Nastase. It’s certainly not appealing to anyone now.

But Were They Carrying Racquets?

“We know that man is well-adapted to exercising in the heat. If you take us back a few thousand years, we evolved on the high plains of Africa chasing antelope for eight hours under these conditions,” Australian Open tournament doctor Tim Wood when discussing that event’s scorching heatwave back in January that affected many players.

A Time Out on Time Outs?

The use of medical time outs once again made headlines throughout the season, especially in two high-profile women’s matches. Maria Sharapova, when not convinced her Cincinnati semifinal opponent Ana Ivanovic really needed a MTO, was later seen mouthing to the umpire “check her blood pressure”. Sharapova, who lost the match, later told reporters in New York she thought players should be charged $2,500 dollars per MTO to make them think twice before using it.

Then, we had the unfortunate scene of China’s Peng Shuai visibly suffering from cramps and heat illness during her US Open semi against Caroline Wozniacki. As doctors, officials, and even Wozniacki hovered around Peng to help, the agonizing episode went on only until Peng herself decided to retire from the match.

It’s common knowledge that while most MTO’s taken by players are legit, some are just straight up stall tactics employed by players during a losing match. While John McEnroe called the Peng incident, a “black eye for our sport”, there doesn’t seem to be any efforts yet by either tour to add more oversight to either MTOs or when a player really should have the proverbial wheel taken from them as they lose control due to physical ailment. Players are still, for the most part, independent contractors and still have the final say, for now, on if they choose to retire during a match. It may take a few more episodes like the ones we saw in Cincinnati and New York before any real change happens.

Strike A Pose.

There’s nothing wrong with marketing. Yet, when marketing becomes the story, a lot of people get uncomfortable. That’s what happened with two of the sport’s rising stars on both tours.

In August, Montreal tournament organizers, hoping to capitalize on their hometown heroine Eugenie Bouchard’s recent upsurge in popularity, offered to pay for food and lodging for “Genie’s Army” the Australian-based fan club devoted to throwing stuffed teddy bears at Bouchard everytime she wins a match. But when The Globe and Mail first erroneously reported that the WTA, based on comments from WTA Chairman and CEO Stacey Allaster, would fly the “army” to Singapore if Bouchard qualified for the WTA Championships, a very public upcry ensued.

The WTA soon issued this terse counter-reply on Twitter.

Bouchard ended further discussion about the whole thing when she suffered a surprise opening round loss to American Shelby Rogers.

And, who could forget, or be allowed to, seeing all of the ATP’s promotional efforts for Grigor Dimitrov throughout the season. Though qualifying as an alternate for the ATP Finals, the Bulgarian chose not to compete in London. Fair enough. But Dimitrov didn’t keep a low profile during the week of the tournament as he showed up in London, of all places, to tag along with girlfriend Maria Sharapova. Dimitrov dutifully kept his fans apprised of his whereabouts.

The ATP, being socially savvy themselves, and probably feeling a tad jilted on Dimitrov’s no-show after all they had done for him throughout the year, noticed.

So what’s the lesson learned, we hope, from all of this? Both tours were right to promote the rising talents in Bouchard and Dimitrov due to each player’s impressive seasons. Yet, at times, the promotion often felt like both players were the only players competing on their respective tours. While it’s understandable both tours want to get fans invested in their rising talents now for a hopeful payout in the future, the mantra “less is more” might want to be chanted a bit more next year by all involved.

Things That Got Way Too Much Headline Space in 2014:

– The Psyche of Sloane Stephens

– Ernests Gulbis’ Blackjack/French Open Winnings Joke

– Redfoo and Victoria Azarenka Split

– Anything Off-Court Pertaining to Bernard or John Tomic

– Petra Kvitova/Radek Stepanek Split

No, You’re A Joke.

Russian Tennis Federation head Shamil Tarpischev, fined and suspended for a year by the WTA for derogatory comments made at the Williams Sisters, later said he couldn’t understand why given that, as he said, his remarks were meant to be “humorous”.

Yo! What?

This really falls into a “what the hell” category featuring Polish star Jerzy Janowicz. And on those notes, let’s hope 2015 proves to be a season full of winners. Happy New Year!

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