Tennis Prose




Jun/21

3

Media vs Player Controntations

In almost three decades of being a part of the professional tennis media, I can only think of a few reporter/player confrontations.

Another reporter/colleague told me that Pancho Gonzales had to be restrained by his brother from attacking a reporter after an offensive question at Wimbledon. He didn’t specify the question but the story is apparent legend…or embellished myth.

Marcelo Rios had an ugly episode with Chilean reporters during a Davis Cup tie in 2018 when Rios was serving as an assistant coach for the team.

Rios apparently agreed to speak to a group of reporters, but only on his terms: “As my personal friend Diego Maradona says, I never speak to reporters as you all suck,” said Rios to the assembled media, including live video cameras.

One reporter tried to ask another question to Rios, who snapped back, “You can all keep sucking.” Rios then bent over to pick up his bag and strode off, leaving the group of reporters stunned, amused and perplexed.

The ITF did not support this behavior by Rios and issued a statement: “Video footage of the incident was reviewed by the tie referee who determined that Mr Rios’s comments were abusive and violated the Davis Cup code of conduct. The ITF condemns all forms of offensive behavior and is supportive of the work of the media.”

Rios also had several bad encounters with media during his active playing career. One time Bud Collins tried to ask him a question at a press conference in Estorial and Rios refused to answer, telling the ATP official he would not talk to Collins, supposedly because Rios saw Collins make the mistake of criticizing him previously on TV.

Certain other players had rocky relations with the media but always did honor obligations and showed up for press conferences and TV interview duties. Jim Courier was bothered by a USA Today article about him but he did not cut off journalists. Lleyton Hewitt was another player who had trouble with the media.

When he was ranked no. 1 in the world, Hewitt was fined $106,000 by the ATP tour for failing to give a 10-15 minute nterview to ESPN in Cincinnati. The fine was reduced to $20,000 on appeal, but Hewitt wasn’t satisfied and threatened to sue over the punishment.

These are the only two notable player vs. media confrontations I can think of.

In my career, there have been a few uncomfortable brushes with players.

I tried to approach Agassi to do a Biofile at US Open and he responded angrily that I should respect the players and not bother them in the locker room, even though it was policy that reporters were allowed in the locker room back then (the rule changed about eight years ago).

Agassi was more cooperativ with media later in his career.

I also tried to do a Biofile with Boris Becker around the same year at US Open and he replied, “I’m already famous enough.”

I also tried to Biofile Jim Courier around this time also at Flushing Meadows and he said he couldn’t because he was “focused.” But Courier later did a nice Biofile with me at the PGA golf championship where he was caddying for a friend who was competing.

There was a strange encounter with Marinko Matosevic. I had done an excellent, fun Biofile with him at Newport. Then a few years later I could sense he was bothered by me, though I was not trying to interview him. It was bizarre. Maybe it was my hat, I still don’t know. Then he bumped into me intentionally with his bag at the US Open stadium entrance by the media center. Just a minor bump but I could feel there was some grudge coming from him.

Then there was a disagreement with James Blake on twitter a few years ago. He was against political walls and pro immigration and I tweeted back that America should be like Wimbledon and only let immigrants in legally, it should be a special thing to become an American citizen just like a person has to legally earn the right to be a member at Wimbledon and anyone can’t just jump over the wall and use the courts. He blocked me after that. I don’t hold any grudge for Blake, I still like him though we disagree politically.

Many many players have been super cordial, polite and accessible to the media, including many renowned superstars and champions. Grigor Dimitrov could not be nicer to chat with, and he always says Thank you to the media after his press conferences.

Stefan Edberg is another very approachable and normal guy to interview, as is Mats Wilander, Guillermo Vilas, Todd Martin, and so many more.

Don’t let the Naomi Osaka Roland Garros media blackout debacle mislead you. The player and media dynamic is very strong, respectful and I believe many of the players actually enjoy chatting with the media, instead of griping about it.

Sure, talking about a painful, heartbreaking loss isn’t always fun but it’s not the end of the world either.

Sometimes it can even be a blessing in disguise too. Mardy Fish lost a US Open five setter to Tommy Robredo a few years ago and reporter Lloyd Carroll asked Fish a question in which he called Fish a “journeyman.” Fish was offended by the unintended insult but he accepted it and did not get upset or angry. In fact, he used it as inspiration.

Fish transformed into an elite player after that humbling US Open press room encounter with Lloyd Carroll. Fish became a top ten player a year later.

At the next US Open Lloyd Carroll told Fish he felt he deserved some credit for sparking Fish’s career with that “journeyman” comment and Fish smiled and replied in agreement.

So though there always will be an occasional few isolated storms between pro tennis players and reporters, generally the relationship is very positive, friendly and mutually beneficial.

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3 comments

  • Scoop Malinowski · June 3, 2021 at 4:42 pm

    The Bryan Brothers would tell reporters thank you for what you do for tennis. Eric Butorac also told me that after we did a Biofile.

  • catherine · June 4, 2021 at 7:26 am

    The Osaka business is a storm in a teacup. It’s important to Naomi and where she is in her life, but not to anything in the wider press/player relationship which will remain pretty much the same.

  • Scoop Malinowski · June 4, 2021 at 8:59 am

    catherine, it’s a manufactured bs drama. the media has been excessively fantastic and fawning for bambi naomi. im no doctor but nobody wins thre majors while depressed. some people just love to portray themselves as victims. life is ups and downs, highs and lows, happiness and sadness. good for osaka to go home, maybe she needs a couple of years of life outside the tennis fantasy world bubble world and in the real world like Barty.

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