Sep/19

16

Are PEDs a part of junior tennis?

“There will be doping for as long as there is commercial sports, performance-related shoe contracts and television contracts.” – Angel Heredia (boxing nutrition consultant)

“I’ve created 20 different drugs that are still undetectable for the doping testers.” — Angel Heredia

With all the money that is in pro sports and pro tennis, performance-enhancing drug use, steroids, human growth hormones, are widely suspected to be used by a few, or possibly many athletes, despite strict testing procedures.

But does the cycle of alleged PED use start even earlier? Are parents of junior players making the decision to invest in PEDs to help their kids make it? To assist their chances to earn the big prize money, endorsement contracts, etc? The high cost of first rate tennis coaching and travel expenses can be devastating on a household’s bank accounts.

Richard Williams, father of Venus and Serena flat out admits he got his daughters into tennis because of seeing Virginia Ruzici win a check for $25,000 for winning a tournament on TV.

Money was the motivating factor for creating two of the greatest champions of the modern era. And perhaps many, many more.

Today there are countless academies in the US and all over the world, varying in size. Some are massive operations, others are small time clubs functioning on your local public park courts. All are trying to produce champion players or at the very least, college scholarship recipients.

Just about every player has a dream to be the best, to win majors, to become a professional player. Or an NCAA Division 1 athlete.

In the roller coaster of life, every edge helps and it’s come to my attention that some of the biggest academies are actually suggesting and recommending parents to get their undersized kids to use PEDs like Human Growth Hormones.

Which is “very dangerous for a fourteen year old” says a small academy owner who reached the ATP top 20 and played in a major final.

“You don’t know what the long term effects will be.”

You see some of these famous players today who are a foot taller than her dad or has legs three times as thick as his dad and it makes you wonder. You see the bad cases of acne, the muscular legs and shoulders, kids well over six feet tall.

Would the dreams of making it in pro tennis, which is about as likely as winning the lottery, induce some or many parents to play the PEDs gambit?

One parent of a player who is no. 1 ranked in her age group in the nation and clearly a clean athlete by the looks of her unmuscular, natural body type, has suspicions about some of her daughter’s rivals, some of whom do not look like typical kids from the neck down. One player has particularly aroused her concerns. “Some of these kids will do ANYTHING for tennis,” she says with a tone of both frustration and respect.

The stories are out there.

Like the Russian girl who went back to Russia after posting mediocre junior results, only to return a couple of years later with a new hair color, birth date and name. That is just one story of many I’ve been told.

Some kids have grown over a foot in a year. But why is there such an emphasis put on height when there are so many players under five-foot-ten that are enjoying super successful careers…Philipp Kohlschreiber, Kei Nishikori, Fabio Fognini, Diego Schwartzman, Yoshihito Nishioka are all well under six feet tall. They didn’t need HGH.

We are going to try to investigate further into this potentially dark corner of the tennis world in the future, so stay tuned…

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114 comments

  • Jon King · September 18, 2019 at 11:15 am

    There have always been fit players but today that is the minimum to even be competitive. Sure some talented players can still be excellent these days that are not exactly the fittest, but it is getting rarer. I watch these matches from China and pretty much every WTA player in the top 200 are crazy muscular and fit.

    We spend time at Evert’s, Saviano’s and Pro World academies and the amount of strength and conditioning just keeps increasing with each passing year. Even at Johan Krieks academy, which is just a handful of wealthy kids at a small local tennis club, they put in lots of physical training. Go to You Tube and check out Brian Dabul, a former pro who now runs an academy south of us, the level of physical work is astounding.

    The game is only going to become more and more physical going forward.

  • Andrew Miller · September 18, 2019 at 12:43 pm

    Scoop, maybe the video tape was lying. Sampras was hitting aggressive backhands against Roddick in their 2002 US Open. Sampras had also sharpened things up so that rallies were short and favored his game, which is why he was among the best in my opinion: his game was designed to win quickly and efficiently, nothing in excess.

    I’ve seen Becker McEnroe from 1986, a few old matches. I’m not a fan of today’s wars of attrition on court, nor of the early 1990s a few balls per rally.

    Courts must be slower today. Players in 2002 weren’t going to make it to the ball, they’d be superhuman to be that fast.

    For what it’s worth I also watched some Alex Zverev as well. Sorry to disappoint his fans: he’s Berych 2.0. Beautiful ground strokes and no purpose whatsoever to his game. Not designed to be lethal, no discernible strategy to his game. Seems to be floating like Kyrgios on talent alone.

    Saw some Dzumhur vs Kyrgios as well. Kyrgios is gifted like Shapovalov, just does special things. But the other surprise was Dzumhur, is is worthwhile to support. He has a nice, nice game. Fun to watch. Does a lot of things for a small guy. If he were a few or quite a few cm taller he’d be top fifty permanently.

  • Andrew Miller · September 18, 2019 at 12:48 pm

    For what it’s worth: a nice game, or reservoirs of fitness, are no substitute for the ability to think through a match while playing (and beforehand). A juiced player will lose to a better thinking player because the sport has always been about more than brawn (see Diego Schwarzmanm, Ferrer, etc).

    I will always enjoy that aspect of this sport. That you can have the most beautiful game but be a terrible player because of zero strategy or ability to acclimate. For what it’s worth Tommy Paul is showing more smarts as a player. It pays off.

  • catherine · September 18, 2019 at 1:52 pm

    Coco Gauff is playing a lot of exhibitions for a 15 year old – what is she, a travelling circus ? And has her schooling finished ? Not that I imagine she’s ever had much.

    Just hope she makes it in tennis because she’s not going to have a lot to fall back on.

  • Andrew Miller · September 18, 2019 at 1:53 pm

    Unpopular opinion: believe Roddick’s a lot better player even as a teen than almost all next gen players will be, save Medvedev. Medvedev may be better as he has a game that is more formidable.

  • Hartt · September 18, 2019 at 1:58 pm

    I am behind in the tennis gossip, so only learned today the Lucas Pouille married his longtime girlfriend, Clemence Bertrand, on Sept. 8. They both posted a nice photo of them sharing a kiss after the ceremony. Lucas is wearing a jacket, open-necked white shirt, slacks and – white tennis shoes.

  • catherine · September 18, 2019 at 2:01 pm

    Rumour Mill: Will Wim Fisette join Naomi’s team ? Last I heard Wim was coaching Azarenka but that isn’t going anywhere. He certainly jumps around a bit. Maybe Naomi’s family should have a chat with Kerber before signing on the dotted line.

  • Harold · September 18, 2019 at 2:49 pm

    Do a Facing Becker, and I bet 90% of players would say playing Becker after 87 was easier than his first two years. Becker decided he wanted to show people he could beat anybody and everybody from the baseline. Cost him a few more Slams

  • catherine · September 18, 2019 at 3:24 pm

    I first saw Becker at the USO before he won Wimbledon and I noted that he played too much from the baseline in whatever match it was 🙂

    So he went forwards, won, then went backwards.

  • Dan Markowitz · September 18, 2019 at 6:42 pm

    My son played a big tournament in the East called a “Super 6” this weekend and the withdraws were epidemic. In the semis, a Russian boy pulled out after being down 3-1 with a headache, and then came back and played the 3rd/4th place match like a couple of hours later. One boy pulled out after being down 6-1, 3-0 saying he wasn’t ready to play at the level of the other boy. In the finals, Callum’s opponent, who had not dropped a set all tournament and is 14 and 6-feet-tall, withdrew after losing the first set saying he felt a twitch in his back.

    This is why tennis, particularly junior tennis, gets such a bad name because a lot of these kids (this doesn’t hold true nearly as much in national events thankfully) just don’t know what it’s like to tough it out or to take a loss. The only time Callum’s ever pulled out of a match is in the third round of the Clay’s Consolation this summer when the match because of rain didn’t start until noon and the kid he was playing, a Floridiian, and the match was in ridiculous heat in Fort Lauderdale, just didn’t miss.

    When he dropped out after losing the first set his face was Casper white and even then I felt bad he dropped out and I know he didn’t feel good about it either.

  • Jon King · September 18, 2019 at 8:04 pm

    Dan, I discussed the withdrawals in another comment. When my daughter started juniors 6 years ago there were almost no withdrawals and everyone played consolations. Now there are so many withdrawals.

    Universal Tennis Ratings is the major culprit. Thats why withdrawals began to increase 2 years ago when UTR became popular. UTR rates on games lost and what the opponent’s UTR is. Kids and parents know UTR of every kid in the tournament to the 2nd decimal place these days. Every game lost lowers UTR. Losing games to a lower ranked UTR player hurts more. Many times a player has a lower UTR but is a better player but just does not have the tournaments needed to build UTR. No one wants to play that type of player.

    Sometimes withdrawals are ego, don’t want to lose to a younger kid, etc. But in most cases its UTR these days. Most likely the Russian boy felt he could play the 3rd/4th place match, win many games, and boost his UTR where as if had kept playing your boy, maybe lost 6-1,6-2 it would have hurt his UTR even more.

    Parents and kids make decisions during the match sometimes, other times before it starts. UTR is a disaster for junior tennis because not only it leads to withdrawals but kids cheat more to win every possible game they can.

  • Jon King · September 18, 2019 at 8:10 pm

    For example Dan, we have a girl in our group who is a great player but was injured for a year then wanted to take a year off to develop her weapons. So she basically has no UTR since she played no tournaments for 2 years.

    This makes her a strong player with a low UTR. The absolute nightmare of UTR obsessed parents and players. She started entering local tournaments again 3 weeks ago. 4 out of her first 5 scheduled matches the other girls either did not show up or withdrew after going down 0-2 or 0-3. Like I said, UTR is a disaster for juniors. Kids and parents know college coaches lean on it for recruiting so they protect their UTRs like gold.

  • Scoop Malinowski · September 18, 2019 at 8:25 pm

    I remember Agassi vs Becker, it was when I first started following tennis seriously, early 90s. Agassi dominated him and Becker stubbornly tried to beat Agassi at his own game, at the baseline. Never understood that. Maybe he lost confidence in his serve and volley? Or Agassi showed him he could handle and beat it?

  • Scoop Malinowski · September 18, 2019 at 8:30 pm

    Dan all those quit jobs sound like tanks because they knew they were going to lose. But they are still kids, still learning to be tough, finding themselves. Some kids mature later on and get tougher later. Sometimes they just don’t feel like playing. But it’s a bad habit that has to be broken. Or it’s a sign of weakness. And the kid just doesn’t have the necessary toughness to fight it out. Tennis is a tough sport and everybody quits or tanks sometime.

  • Scoop Malinowski · September 18, 2019 at 8:34 pm

    Jon, thanks for this info on UTR, it’s shocking to learn this. It’s a sign of weakness in American juniors that they are doing this. No wonder US tennis is in the shape it’s in. I doubt this silliness happens in Canada.

  • Andrew Miller · September 18, 2019 at 9:32 pm

    Becker improved from the baseline. So did Pat Rafter.

  • Andrew Miller · September 18, 2019 at 9:36 pm

    The Court v King 1970 match I think was almost a different sport. Only began watching around 1989-90, a few matches before then such as Becker’s Wimbledon title. Saw Noah on TV in the late 1980s and he was good!

  • Dan Markowitz · September 18, 2019 at 9:54 pm

    Jon,

    I don’t know if you remember Jim Bouton’s book “Ball Four,” but when someone would read Jim Bouton, the author and pitcher for Yankees and Seattle Pilots, his bad statistics, he’d say, “Tell my statistics to shut up.”

    My son’t UTR just went up to a 10 flat which is pretty high he tells me for a 13 year old. So we’re going to a tournament this weekend in Hilton Head and he told me even though he’s the 8th seed, he has the highest UTR in the tournament. And I told him the same thing Bouton said, “Tell your UTR to shut up.”

    I don’t want to hear it. It’s all distraction. Tennis is about playing the opponent on the other side of the court and it doesn’t matter what their ranking, UTR or past results show. It’s about finding out a way to beat that opponent on that day. If you start withdrawing from matches it creates a very bad mindset.

  • Jon King · September 18, 2019 at 11:45 pm

    Dan,

    Sounds like you have your son with the right mindset. I think UTR is nice for adults, they can match up with similar players. But for kids, best to keep it on the back burner. So many times the kids look at their opponent’s ranking and record, expect an easy match, and get surprised to find themselves in a tough match. Sometimes a player uses a style that just does not match up with yours so the records and rankings are not worth looking at. Or the opponent plays the match of their lives and gets 5 net cords to go their way. Stuff happens.

  • catherine · September 19, 2019 at 12:41 am

    Andrew – the Court v King match was exciting to watch live because the Grand Slam was on the line and there was known friction between the two but both were injured and the play wasn’t a high standard. BJK was at her peak in the mid-70s but Margaret had more or less retired by then.

  • catherine · September 19, 2019 at 12:44 am

    Giorgi bt Stephens 6-0 6-3. Hardly worth Sloane changing coaches.

  • Dan Markowitz · September 19, 2019 at 1:03 am

    Geez, Stephens is getting killed! I know Giorgi can be hot and cold, but to get only three games off her, that is mind-boggling.

    I actually got that Jim Bouton story from “Ball Four” wrong. It was Bouton who kept incessant tracking of his stats and he thought his stats should earn him a better role as a relief pitcher for the now-defunct Seattle Pilots.

    So Bouton would go up to his manager, Joe Schultz, and read him off his stats and Schultz finally said, “Jim, tell your stats to shut up.”

  • Jeff · September 19, 2019 at 1:19 am

    Kyrgios is trying to date Anna Kalinskaya. We will see if he dedicates his Laver Cup appearance fee to her.

  • catherine · September 19, 2019 at 5:26 am

    Giorgi buzzed around like demented bumblebee. Sloane looked sedated. One time Slam winner I’d say.

  • catherine · September 19, 2019 at 5:33 am

    Naomi busy promoting her boyfriend’s music in Japan. Hope she remembers the day job.

    Giorgi busy promoting herself in Japan. So no change there. I’m wondering when Nick K is going to get around to Camilla- or has she already turned him down ?

  • Hartt · September 19, 2019 at 8:16 am

    Catherine, at MCM (Match Call Migrants) we have a perfect word for Sloane when she plays poorly. She “whatevers.”

  • Jon King · September 19, 2019 at 8:40 am

    Sloane definitely “whatevers” a lot. That is a good way to put it Hartt.

  • Scoop Malinowski · September 19, 2019 at 8:58 am

    Sloane seems to be going through the motions lately. Giorgi said after beating Sloane, “I was able to play my game.” That quote made the headline at the WTA site. That may be the most inane cliche in the history of tennis. And the WTA puts it in a headline?

  • Andrew Miller · September 19, 2019 at 9:02 am

    “Happiness over success” – Osaka.

  • Jon King · September 19, 2019 at 10:11 am

    Sloane seemed to enjoy her broadcasting gig when she was injured a few years ago much more than she seems to enjoy playing tennis much of the time. And she was very good at it.

  • catherine · September 19, 2019 at 10:17 am

    Another WTA pearl: ‘I felt like I really wanted to win’, from Naomi.

    All those other times, had she really sincerely wanted to lose ?

    Jon – you have to be retired to get a regular broadcasting gig so are we looking forward to Sloane’s imminent departure ? She can get married and that would be a good excuse.

  • Scoop Malinowski · September 19, 2019 at 10:35 am

    But will the sponsors accept that philosophy?

  • Andrew Miller · September 19, 2019 at 11:27 am

    Putinseva vs Osaka. Putinseva would love to improve her record from 3-0 to 4-0 against Osaka. She enjoys this kind of match.

    My take: Osaka has two slams and can retire now. Why? Happiness over success. If you don’t like the sport, even if caught in the trap of can’t really do anything after tennis and no where else can you make a few hundred thousand bucks just for stepping foot at a tournament, fine…make your choice!

    Don’t think that’s much of a problem this week. She no doubt collected a huge appearance fee, she’s in QF in Osaka. Now she gets Putinseva, who owns Osaka and will gladly allow Osaka to be happy while winning the match.

    Happiness over success.

  • Scoop Malinowski · September 19, 2019 at 11:35 am

    Putintseva is one of the most vicious ruthless competitors out there and will fight tooth and nail for the win. I saw her play in Miami and DC years ago and a Russian journalist told me some stories about her behavior on the court, she said the most unspeakable things in Russian to a female chair umpire who did not understand the obscenities said to her. If she did should would have been fined and suspended. Shocking stuff. Now Putinteva has matured and calmed down and gotten a grip on her lip. Credit to her. Angryness leads to success.

  • catherine · September 19, 2019 at 11:38 am

    I’ve been wondering what has happened to Cibulkova – she’s had an Achilles problem and has been at home in Slovakia and most likely won’t play again until next year.

  • Andrew Miller · September 19, 2019 at 11:41 am

    Saw Putinseva destroy a racquet at a match. Kind of like Zverev. I don’t get the whole destroy my racquet thing. Racquets are expensive. It was ugly. I’ve seen too many players do it.

    Didn’t think much of the Putinseva game, but she’s solid and aggressive. Pretty good serve pound for pound. Pretty tight game over all. Not much fun to watch, but she plays every point.

  • Scoop Malinowski · September 19, 2019 at 11:43 am

    Regarding Cibulkova, mysterious absence, haven’t heard anything. Hate to be suspicious but…

  • Scoop Malinowski · September 19, 2019 at 11:45 am

    Putintseva is a ferocious fighter on court but a sweetheart off, very very nice to interview, Biofile in Miami this year, friendly, smiling, engaging, funny, revealing. Excellent interview. But all business on court. Beauty and the beast all in one kind of. She was a top junior, was once coached by Hingis about five years ago.

  • catherine · September 19, 2019 at 12:38 pm

    Scoop – I’ve just told you what’s happened to Cibulkova. She’s had an achilles injury. Why should she make it up ? There’s a story on the WTA site. Are you hinting it’s a drug issue ? Nothing mysterious about it.

    Simona’s been off for a while. Maybe she’s hiding from the drug squad as well.

  • Scoop Malinowski · September 19, 2019 at 12:43 pm

    Oh ok, didn’t see that it was an injury. Achilles injuries are rare for female players in their 20s. Not doubting just saying. Can’t think of another WTA player having an achilles injury or achilles snap, those are six months on crutches. Sore achilles can linger for weeks or even months. Did she snap her achilles tendon?

  • Scoop Malinowski · September 19, 2019 at 12:50 pm

    Found article, she was supposed to return for grass season. Injury must have been worse than expected. I’ve been lucky with sore achilles, had it four or five times and it lingered for weeks but it always disappeared. Knock on wood.

  • catherine · September 19, 2019 at 12:58 pm

    Cibulkova is around 30 + I think – so not that young. I imagine it was an achilles strain. A snap would end her career now.

    Halep has had achilles problems on and off. A couple of years ago she had to miss some tournaments – can’t remember the details. Achilles problems don’t seem that common in tennis – not like football (soccer) where they are not infrequent.

  • Dan Markowitz · September 19, 2019 at 2:53 pm

    Geez,

    The antipathy towards Sloane and to a lesser degree Osaka is a bit much. Some athletes just don’t look like they try hard all the time. Stephens is one of those athletes. She’s had a pretty good career so far; provided a good deal of seemingly effortless beautiful tennis. I wouldn’t be so hard on her.

    As for Osaka, she’s not allowed to express an appreciation of being happy or having a boyfriend? She’s only allowed to be a tennis machine? So much for wanting to be a well-rounded person.

  • Hartt · September 19, 2019 at 3:14 pm

    I was curious about Cibulkova’s age, so checked. She turned 30 in May, and is ranked No.96.

  • Hartt · September 19, 2019 at 3:19 pm

    In St. Petersburg new dad Khachanov lost in SS to Sousa. I imagine Karen hasn’t had enough practice, or sleep, recently. Sousa played well, but Karen had a huge number of UFEs, hitting the ball long or into the net way too often.

    Medvedev won in SS against Donskoy. You have to think he has an excellent chance at winning this tourney.

  • catherine · September 19, 2019 at 3:24 pm

    Did you see Sloane’s match ? ‘Seemingly effortless beautiful tennis’ wasn’t much on display, and hasn’t been for a while. Her behaviour in snatching her coach from Puig didn’t endear her either.

    Tennis players are performers, people in the public eye. We’re allowed to comment on them, as long as we aren’t libellous or defamatory. You’ve been pretty hard on players when you’ve felt they weren’t trying or didn’t come up to certain standards.

    As for Naomi, I couldn’t care less about her personal life but if her tennis starts to slip I’ll be looking for reasons why.

  • catherine · September 19, 2019 at 3:29 pm

    Hartt – Thanks for that info on Cibulkova – I didn’t get around to finding out her age. She got married a couple of years ago so maybe she’s thinking of winding down anyway.

  • Scoop Malinowski · September 19, 2019 at 3:50 pm

    Agree, September and October results are like mop up time. Or the pre preseason for 2020.

  • Harold · September 19, 2019 at 4:17 pm

    They break racquets because they havent paid for a racquet since theyre 12 years old…

  • Andrew Miller · September 19, 2019 at 5:12 pm

    Osaka was a great player and she’s definitely struggling. I think she definitely earned criticism for her issues with coaching and some things she says doesn’t square well with a world number one. But fine – she can do what she wants. She’s a hall of fame first ballot. Just that her tenure was surprising in how durable it was and then how flimsy it was. That’s shocking a players game comes so unglued so quickly.

    I like Stephens a lot. A six love six three scoreline is awful. Her US Open effort wasn’t much either!

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