In a year that most people want to forget, 2016 proved a tough one to bear for the tennis world as well, with a variety of controversies, blunders, and one very bad meltdown. While it’s impossible to go through them all, here’s a not so fond look back at some of the moments that made tennis fans cringe, moan, and cover their eyes all year.
In Need of Fixing
The tennis season woes kicked off right away in January after a media investigation by the BBC and Buzzfeed exposed numerous match fixing offenses that had taken place within professional tennis since 2008. The report, which was released during the Australian Open, later prompted an inquiry by British Parliament. As the fallout from the report continued, Novak Djokovic revealed early in his career he had once be offered $200,000 to throw a match while Andy Murray criticized the current ties the sport has to organized gambling sponsors. While the Tennis Integrity Unit has added more personnel and resources to deal with the problem, match fixing still continues, especially in the lower tiers of the sport.
Maria Sharapova’s announcement in March that she had tested positive for a banned substance stunned the tennis world. But the carefully planned PR event did little to help Sharapova’s cause which soon turned into a year-long soap opera between her, the World Doping Agency (WADA), and the International Tennis Federation (ITF). The ITF handed Sharapova a two-year suspension for testing positive for meldonium, a substance that had only been added to the banned substance list just months before the Australian Open. Despite Sharapova’s cool and precise persona, the internal documents released during the squabble revealed that the former No. 1 left oversight of her personal health, more or less, to a family doctor who prescribed her the drug years ago, and to her team of managers and handlers in terms of checking up on changes in the banned substance list by WADA. Sharapova also accused the ITF of going after her because of her high profile status. Eventually, the Court of Arbitration for Sport reduced Sharapova’s sentence to 15 months citing that she was not an “intentional doper”.
Claiming a victory, of sorts, Sharapova then went on a media blitz by hitting all of the major talk shows, although most of her interviews got lost during the intense coverage of the U.S. election. While the drama is now over, the tennis powers still face a lot of questions about how drug testing overall is administered. Though Sharapova will return to action next April, it’s likely it will take some time before the focus on Sharapova goes back to solely being her results on the tennis court.
Tell Us How You Really Feel
“In my next life, when I come back, I want to be someone in the WTA because they ride on the coattails of the men. They don’t make any decisions, and they are lucky. They are very, very lucky. If I was a lady player, I’d go down every night on my knees and thank God that Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal were born because they have carried this sport. They really have.”
Former Indian Wells CEO Raymond Moore who resigned a day later after making these comments before the women’s singles final.
Proving there’s no such thing as a routine final, Grigor Dimitrov earned meltdown of the year dishonors in May’s Istanbul final.
Dimitrov, despite holding an early lead, could not hold off the tenacious play of Argentina’s Diego Schwartzman. When Schwartzman earned an early break in the third set, Dimitrov began to unravel. With a series of broken racquets, Dimitrov ended up defaulting the match on purpose thus handing a first ever ATP title to a stunned Schwartzman.
Dimitrov did apologize afterwards. The meltdown also seemed to force the former top 10 player to reassess his slumping season that later resulted in him finishing the year inside the top 20 again.
Second place meltdown of the year goes to Viktor Troicki during and after losing his second round match at Wimbledon.
Bring An Umbrella
Eurythmics’ 80’s hit “Here Comes The Rain Again” proved an apt theme song of the year as rain seemed to follow the tour all across the globe. Rain washed out most of the French Open and Wimbledon was forced to play matches on a rare middle Sunday in order to catch up. The Cincinnati event was plagued by rain that turned the surrounding parking lots into mud. Fortunately, the US Open’s new roof prevented rain from being a big factor there, although the continued complaint resurfaced that only the biggest names, who get scheduled on the stadium court and thus getting their matches completed on time, actually benefit the most from the new roof.
Another Year, Another Kyrgios Mention
Nick Kyrgios once again ends up on this list after his very obvious tank job at the Shanghai Masters. Kyrgios put in little effort and then berated fans as he lost to German qualifier Mischa Zverev. The ATP fined Kyrgios $25,000 and then suspended him not only for the rest of the year but through the Australian Open. Kyrgios did agree to get psychological counseling afterwards, resulting in making him eligible for his home major.
Check Your Local Listings
It used to be that tennis fans, those that wanted to pay anyway, could rely on one to two paid subscriptions (cable television and/or online streaming) to watch all of the matches on both tours that they wanted. Not anymore.
As the major networks and streaming services that provide entertainment content continue to splinter and compete with each other, so also are those that provide sports content and, yes, also tennis content. The biggest change for 2017 comes with Tennis TV.com announcing recently it will no longer provide WTA matches to its viewers. In response, the WTA announced it will begin to implement its own mega million dollar television rights/streaming deal, but not until the second quarter of next year. Which means fans will likely have to find, and perhaps pay for access, to the WTA’s partner BEIN Sports for matches early in the season.
As tennis tournaments keep increasing their prize money pots, expect more tournaments, if they have the clout, to begin negotiating their own deals as well. Expect more splintering and more necessity to have more subscriptions to various providers in the future as this trend continues.
Have a Happy New Year!