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Is the ATP Cultivating A New Villain Subculture For The Tour?

This US Open has featured quite a few instances of rebel, bad boy behavior, something which the ATP Tour has been lacking for years with the pristine images of the high profile top players Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, among others.

Last night, Daniil Medvedev actually gave the middle finger to the Ashe Stadium crowd in his heated match with Feliciano Lopez and he later taunted New Yorkers during his post match victory interview, sarcastically thanking them for their negative reactions to him, which motivated him to play extra hard to beat Lopez. Medvedev, the no. 5 player in the world also boasted that the Ashe stadium energy last night will inspire him to play five more matches at the Open.

It was a surreal moment in tennis history to see a young player dare to insult a stadium of fans straight to their faces, it was behavior more suited to a pro wrestling arena.

The evolution of the pro tennis image seems to be in a transformation stage right now. With the non-stop Nick Kyrgios antics and controversies, now Medvedev’s stunning outburts, Roger Federer saying “shit” in a press conference, and Novak Djokovic even confronting a heckler at practice, even threatening that he could “find” the person, it’s almost like the pro tennis powers that be are cultivating a new image subculture for the sport, for the post Fed Rafa era.

Tennis has lacked a bad boy, rebel villain for a long time before the emergence of Kyrgios. And anyone who dared to shake up the status quo was immediately rebuked and punished. Examples? Marcelo Rios and Lleyton Hewitt.

Rios was such a provocative figure that Sports Illustrated even did a cover story feature about him titled “The Most Hated Man In Tennis.” Imagine the promotional value of that story in the most prestigious sports magazine in the world right smack in the middle of the Sampras-Agassi era.

In recent years, tennis has prospered massively because of the transcending popularity of Federer and Nadal. But you have to wonder, just how much more revenue and buzz could tennis have generated if there were some villain bad boys to suitably compliment Roger and Rafa?

Pro wrestling is the money making juggernaut it is because of the strategic blend of good guys and bad guys. Pro wrestling would be next to nothing if it was all good guys acting and talking perfectly. Tennis can learn a lot from the example of pro wrestling’s entertainment value.

With the creation of a handful of villainous figures, tennis could potentially reach the highest heights of popularity and revenue generation.

Remember, pro tennis was at it’s most popular time during the era of John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors, who both were heroic and villainous figures at the same time.

My tennis club Packanack Lake Tennis Club in Wayne, NJ has about 100 members today. Back in the late 70s, membership was over 700.

Villains. Bad boys. Rebels. They sell. They sell big. Would the ATP be wise to cultivate a sub culture of this so very profitable element? Yes. Is it? possible the ATP is already executing such an initiative? Who knows. But the public is massively enjoying the show this year, with starring roles being played by Nick Kyrgios, Daniil Medvedev, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. And who knows who next will step up and rock the boat

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170 comments

  • Hartt · September 4, 2019 at 11:02 am

    Andrew, I think Bouchard was tough for just a few months. She had that lack of fear of a young player who hadn’t encountered real adversity. But after that disastrous Rogers Cup match she talked as though she was confident, but did not show real confidence on the court.

  • Scoop Malinowski · September 4, 2019 at 11:05 am

    Puig at the top of the list.

  • Andrew Miller · September 4, 2019 at 12:01 pm

    Scoop, only one slam winner in my mind shouldn’t have won a slam. Petr Korda. He should have been serving a doping suspension. I have no idea if Rios would have summoned the courage to win the Australian as whoever was on the other side of the draw would have put forth their best effort.

    But I care that it should have been a fair fight, and with one player having injested nadroline or whatever it was, was unfair. For a talented guy like Korda, I’ll never square this and the ends don’t justify the means.

  • Andrew Miller · September 4, 2019 at 12:04 pm

    Re Worst games, what I mean by this is weakest games. But like Scoop said, winning ugly is winning, and these players are extraordinary. I don’t think I’d get a point against Pennetta. Maybe Ostapenko if I had the benefit of a warm up and could hide my game from her and had served for a few months straight and she had one hand tied behind her back and had to play with the racquet in her opposite hand.

  • Andrew Miller · September 4, 2019 at 12:09 pm

    Hartt, someone could write a Bouchard book. I’d love to see her catch fire again, but the requirements of the sport have changed – we aren’t in 2014 anymore.

    I think Serena 2014 would beat Serena 2019. But from there on down and I think the WTA is strong and players don’t seem to surprise one another much.

    Even Svito. She’s 4-0 on Konta. I was surprised, but this is Svito beating a player she’s used to beating, and making the semis of a slam that she’s made the semis before several times. Konta wasn’t surprised, just glad to play well.

  • Andrew Miller · September 4, 2019 at 12:10 pm

    Capriati of course came back. But Capriati had a much bigger game than Bouchard. Bouchard’s best does not beat Capriati at her best.

  • Hartt · September 4, 2019 at 12:12 pm

    So Andrew, you like your chances against Ostapenko? 🙂

  • Scoop Malinowski · September 4, 2019 at 12:17 pm

    Andrew you could maybe beat Ostapenko if you follow Annacone’s coaching tenets, go for big targets and trust the process.

  • Hartt · September 4, 2019 at 12:48 pm

    The main thing about Bouchard is that she thought she continue to win by playing the same way, without adding anything to her game. Andrew, as you have pointed out, the best players continue to work on improving and adding new shots or tactics.

  • Scoop Malinowski · September 4, 2019 at 1:09 pm

    Bouchard would rather win popularity contests than be the best. Also maybe she has learned that the former is a lot easier for her than to dare to tackle the latter.

  • catherine · September 4, 2019 at 1:44 pm

    There’ve been more comments here about Genie Bouchard in recent weeks than almost any other player. To me, her real significance in tennis is an Object Lesson. How to Fail Upwards.

    If she hadn’t been pretty who would be saying anything in 2019 about Genie Bouchard ? Answers in a very short tweet please 🙂

  • Scoop Malinowski · September 4, 2019 at 1:49 pm

    If Bouchard sneezes on instagram the video will get five million views.

  • Hartt · September 4, 2019 at 1:58 pm

    Bencic just beat her good friend Vekic in SS to get to the SFs of a Slam for the first time.

  • Hartt · September 4, 2019 at 2:00 pm

    Catherine, in answer to the Bouchard question – maybe 10 Canadians.

  • Andrew Miller · September 4, 2019 at 5:26 pm

    I like my chances of winning one point if Ostapenko had her racquet hand tied behind her back, was blindfolded, and if I had unlimited first serves. And if we had no warm up and I serve first. Then I think I could get my point. Otherwise if Ostapenko and I play, she plays a perfect match at probably 20-30 percent effort.

  • Andrew Miller · September 4, 2019 at 8:32 pm

    Catherine, yes. I also believe Bouchard is an excellent example of potential versus reality. The danger of the hype machine. Maybe the concessions some players make for fame or glory, and maybe how some players aren’t in it as much for the game as one would hope.

    But you never know. I thought Dimitrov had given up in the last year. Look at him now. We never know.

    Bouchard’s not a cautionary tale by any means. But she’s an interesting one – it’s awful hard to make a semi, semi, final in one year, especially a second full year on tour. She was until now the highest ranked female player in Canada’s history, even if Canada’s tennis history should be better (and will be).

    It’s awful hard to turn potential into reality, and for someone that came so close to completely disrupting the tennis universe I can’t go ahead and say well, Bouchard you know wasn’t that…she was. She was fearless. She did show desire and a lot of courage. In her first round match I saw some of it again, but her game, which seemed to be working fine, was no longer working against opponents.

    That has to be crushing in some ways. To have worked hard and see the effort fall flat. Then the players surround themselves with people that, if they know what’s good for them, advocate for a low pressure program of hitting sessions and expressions of encouragement.

    So long as Genie feels like she’s playing how she knows how to play, this is what we’re going to see from here on out. I find that very depressing.

    But then again I don’t know what the player plays for these days. And they have their own reasons.

  • Andrew Miller · September 4, 2019 at 8:36 pm

    Bencic may win this. Mertens may win vs new tp favorite BiancaA

  • Scoop Malinowski · September 4, 2019 at 9:20 pm

    Andrew, Dimitrov is the latest greatest example of a tennis player reviving from the living dead. Others who also returned from the living dead…Capriati, Seles. Spadea, Mathieu, Wayne Arthurs, Lorenzi, Brian Baker, Christian Harrison, Tommy Haas, Muster.

  • Andrew Miller · September 5, 2019 at 10:39 am

    Dimitrov was top ten at end of 2017, so it wasn’t that long ago. But I see your point, Scoop. He had an awful loss to the talented K. King – that’s a match Dimitrov wins 20/20 times spotting a break per set.

  • Scoop Malinowski · September 5, 2019 at 11:07 am

    Dimitrov is back from the living dead, just like Spadea, Lorenzi, Wayne Arthurs, Capriati, Muster, Seles, etc. Great to see Dimitrov bounce back from rock bottom

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