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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 3, 2019 at 11:47 am

    Scoop is obsessed with his “subconscious tanking” theory. I think Bianca is more than happy to win in SS, like she did in her USO matches before last night.

    Her match ended at 12:40 am and I bet there were other things she would rather be doing, like sleeping. She and Taylor had a nice exchange at the net, but after that she was very subdued, with no real celebration of her win. Part of that may have been having the crowd against her, but I imagine she was simply exhausted. In her TSN interview she said it had been difficult to wait for 6 hours for her match to begin, but also said that is just the way tennis works.

  • Hartt · September 3, 2019 at 11:51 am

    I am not surprised that Taylor sent a congratulatory tweet to Bianca. Of course Fernandez’s first question in the on-court interview was about Taylor. Bianca was very gracious, smiled and said they’d talked a couple days ago and was full of praise for TT.

  • Andrew Miller · September 3, 2019 at 11:52 am

    Goerges SV on an 80-85 mph serve, which Vekic picked up on and promptly broke Goerges that point for 5-5 I think. Goerges was up 5-4 serving for the match, and SV down 15-40 I think, maybe even off a second serve, and off a soft serve. That wasn’t going to work and her nerves betrayed her. Vekic to her credit recognized it.

    Goerges played well whole tournament I think. Well coached. Has to play a little more courageously at points. Small adjustments that should help her in other big matches.

  • Andrew Miller · September 3, 2019 at 11:55 am

    Noah Rubin said players tank, and Agassi talked about playing just well enough to lose but making it a competitive loss to go home early. It’s real, but I think it’s pretty subtle when “done well”.

    I tanked a match once. It wasn’t subtle and I’d never encourage it. I was still going to lose, and it would have been better to go down trying.

  • Dan Markowitz · September 3, 2019 at 12:01 pm

    Talking more to Gilad B he said too many players today have no subtlety to their games. Osaka, all it takes is for a player to hit the ball deep and move her around for 3 or more balls and she’ll miss. Now there aren’t too many players like that, but obviously Bencic is one of them.

    He also said in his day, in the 90’s, there were 5 or 6 ways for a player to win a point, now there’s two or three. He said when he learned to play the object of the game was to move your opponent wide off the court and then come in and volley. But he said few players today really know how to volley and coaches today, brought up mostly in the modern game, don’t know how to volley either.

    He’d like pro tennis to get more innovative like pro basketball with the 24-second shot clock and the three-point line. When Wilt Chamberlain dominated the game two feet from the basket, they widened the lane, added the three-second violation and brought in the 3-point shot so shorter players could play with equal or even more importance.

    Gilad thinks with the light racquets players are serving and returning better. He mentioned the last two great male serve and volleyer’s, Rafter and Edberg, they didn’t hit hard first serves, they kicked their serves in to have time to get to net. He’d like to see either a rule that a player has to serve and volley twice a game. Then you’d know Nadal at 30-40 having only served and volleyed once in a game, would have to rush the net off his serve or lose the point.

    Gilad would also like to see if not the serve and volley 2X mandatory rule, than a one-serve rule. If that happened, plays like Schwartzmann he said will win slams.

  • Scoop Malinowski · September 3, 2019 at 12:03 pm

    Jack Kramer discovered the phenomenon or theory known as “subconscious tanking”, I’m just an advocate. Subconscious tanking and drama queen proclivities sure could combine to produce some interesting matches 🙂

  • Andrew Miller · September 3, 2019 at 12:05 pm

    Konta vs Svito. I think this will be good. It will be an intense one, whoever loses will be crushed. Both feeling good.

  • Andrew Miller · September 3, 2019 at 12:09 pm

    Berretini gets no TP love.

  • Scoop Malinowski · September 3, 2019 at 12:09 pm

    Subconscious tanking happens a lot, you don’t always feel like playing or giving 100%. A lot of players go through the motions. I think even Serena tanked the AO this year vs Pliskova, to prove to the world she can endure a bitter loss with grace and dignity, unlike what she showed at US Open last year. That choke or tank by Serena vs Pliskova might be the all time most obvious example of a subconscious tank. Serena needed to show to the world and media and fans – and to herself – that she can lose a heartbreaker without going crazy like she did at US Open final vs Osaka.

  • Hartt · September 3, 2019 at 12:24 pm

    i don’t doubt that players sometimes tank or even tank subconsciously on occasion. I just don’t think they are tanking subconsciously every time they turn around.

    And I certainly don’t think that Bianca tanked in any way, subconsciously or not, in that match in order to come back in the third set. I think she wanted to finish the match as soon a she could, but TT played well in the 2nd set and Bianca’s level dipped a bit, which is hardly uncommon in players. It would be crazy to lose the 2nd set on purpose, there was no guarantee she would win a decider.

  • Jeff · September 3, 2019 at 12:28 pm

    Interestingly, Zverev was critical of both Tsitsipas and Medvedev and the bad boy image. He said players should emulate the class and grace of Roger and Rafa.

    He didn’t mention either Kyrgios or Djokovic.

    Where Djokovic falls short compared to Federer is the fact that he has not cultivated relationships with the top young players and taken them under his wing. Thus, they have fallen for the Federer/Godsick/Mary Joe Fernandez triangle. I think Djokovic should mentor the Russian players

  • Hartt · September 3, 2019 at 12:49 pm

    I doubt the young Russian players are keen to be mentored by Djokovic. Now Safin would be another matter!

  • Harold · September 3, 2019 at 12:52 pm

    Safin is still looking for his own mentor…😊

  • catherine · September 3, 2019 at 1:58 pm

    Svitolina over Konta 6-4 6-4. Didn’t see any of it but score looks straightforward. I’ll go now and read the Brit weeping and wailing over the nearly woman.

  • catherine · September 3, 2019 at 2:10 pm

    35 UEs from Konta puts Elina into the sfs. I’m not crazy about her style but a Slam sf is a Slam sf, no arguing with that. I think practising with Monfils has lifted Svito’s game.

  • Andrew Miller · September 3, 2019 at 3:04 pm

    Konta, gone! Svito, US Open semis. Can’t believe it. Svito. She did look like she was in fighting mode against Yastremska.

    Svito. I can’t believe it. Konta looked like a conquerer. Should have recognized the killer instinct in Svito. Nothing is snuffing that out. Even if she loses, she’s completely different.

  • Andrew Miller · September 3, 2019 at 3:05 pm

    Konta is going to be upset. And she should be

  • jg · September 3, 2019 at 5:14 pm

    how about awarding double points for a volley winner, I sometimes play baseline games like this, if you hit a volley winner you get 2 points. How about the drop shot lob combo employed by Medvedev today, perhaps those points should be worth more.

  • Andrew Miller · September 3, 2019 at 10:24 pm

    Medvedwv, wow. He didn’t just defeat Wawrinka. Even at four sets, from the highlights this looked like a thorough shellacking. Medvedev is making the field bend a lot. He will relish getting Dimitrov or Federer, and he has shown an interest in playing spoiler.

    Federer doesn’t mind playing Medvedev because Federer has a lot of tricks, and Federer has beaten him everytime. Dimitrov shouldn’t mind either, given Dimitrov doesn’t mind varying the pace either.

    But Medvedev has made his presence felt here. He has all summer.

  • Andrew Miller · September 3, 2019 at 10:26 pm

    Can Monfils get the semis? His match against Berretini could be the match of the tournament for the men’s draw. Schwartzmann will have a tough time against Nadal.

  • Scoop Malinowski · September 3, 2019 at 11:02 pm

    Berretini is a wildcard player right now, very dangerous. Monfils may overlook him, he may expect the win as he is the favorite. Berretini has come a long way in two years, two years ago I watched his quali match 76 in the third loss to Tsitsipas and knew he was a good prospect, two years later he’s contending for a major title. Monfils better be ready for a tough match.

  • Andrew Miller · September 3, 2019 at 11:40 pm

    Dimitrov up 4-1 in fifth on Fed, closing in on SF…if this isn’t the end of the big three…it’s certainly something unexpected for this tournament.

    Remember: Fed is 37, a year older than Agassi when he retired and a year younger than Connors when he made his semifinal run in 1991.

  • Andrew Miller · September 3, 2019 at 11:43 pm

    Berretini – a right handed Rios! I had to do a double take. I thought Federer copied Rios shots and he did but Berretini has some of the nuance down, a little less aublime yet more artful and less expected. Almost as if he’s toying with opponents.

    Again Fed has done this before but he’s been more bread and butter in terms of his combinations. I think Berretini is a very original player.

    Can’t teach this style of playing. It’s too original.

  • Andrew Miller · September 3, 2019 at 11:47 pm

    Dimitrov d. Federer – big 4, only Nadal remains.

  • Andrew Miller · September 4, 2019 at 12:13 am

    Konta played well, Svito better. Harold was right, Svito has the fire. Konta hit unbelievable shots, but Svito hit very believable shots – Svitolina seemed to make Konta feel she had to hit big shots to win. Konta gave a nice interview afterwards. Delightful.

    Svito could beat Serena. I think Serena will tee off the Svito serve, but Svito is moving well, matching opponents intensity, and pacing herself during matches.

    I’m more impressed with Svito than I thought I’d be. And it’s nice to see two players proud of their performance. They raised it a level.

  • Jeff · September 4, 2019 at 1:05 am

    Major opportunity for Dimitrov to break through and become a one-Slam wonder. He will never have it easier and it won’t be easy. I think he dispatches Medvedev and reaches the final.

    Maybe that pre-Sharapova practice with Serena inspired him to greatness. It proves that trolling sometimes can pay off. Who would have believes that he would finally beat the mighty Federer in New York.

    For Federer, those 5 straight Opens seem like a distant memory. Clearly, he will never prevail in New York again. It’s a pity but I still think he will win one more Slam in Wimbledon provided the NextGen doesn’t step up.

  • catherine · September 4, 2019 at 1:15 am

    I’m surprised Wang even got a game. Serena’s had the easiest draw. She’ll take this one and retire ?

  • catherine · September 4, 2019 at 1:31 am

    Andrew – Don’t know about Svito beating Serena but she should detain her out there for more than 44 mins or whatever it was. You don’t normally get such a mismatch so late in the draw. Just hope Elina’s prepared for the crowd. And meke Serena run.

    Jeff – I predict Medvedev will destroy Dimitrov. This is the crumbling of the Big Three.

  • Jeff · September 4, 2019 at 1:41 am

    Wang put in the worst performance of a Slam quarterfinalist. She won 15 points with no winners. Not one game went to deuce. That is incredible. Serena actually choked in the one game Wang won.

    Thank goodness the men played 5 sets because imagine paying 1,000s to watch a match like that. Fifteen points! Not one deuce game. Serena didn’t even need to ace her more than once it was so bad.

    Just a black eye for women’s tennis and let’s hope everyone forgets about this match

  • catherine · September 4, 2019 at 1:51 am

    Yes – but how on earth did Wang beat Barty ? Ash probably isn’t feeling too good right now. Kerber could have beaten Wang. I’m serious.

    These things tend to happen in the women’s game. Not too often fortunately. I’m all in favour of refunds.

    Should Wang be fined for lack of effort ?

  • Hartt · September 4, 2019 at 8:40 am

    For a funny look at the idea of “bad boys” in tennis:
    https://www.theguardian.com/sport/blog/2019/sep/04/us-open-tennis-bad-boys-rebels-daniil-medvedev-nick-kyrgios

    “Then you have to consider the type of spectator the typical tennis bad boy is in rebellion against. Specifically: TENNIS spectators. At Wimbledon the Centre Court crowd applauds pigeons. Literally even my mother would be a rebel here.” (The Guardian)

  • catherine · September 4, 2019 at 8:52 am

    Bizarrely, Barty returns to the No 1 ranking. Is she the best player in the world ? By the points, yes.

  • Andrew Miller · September 4, 2019 at 8:56 am

    Svito 4-0 on Konta. She liked her chances and played a perfect mix of consistency and aggression. Reminded of Bouchard 2014 ( up until Canada that year, when the scouting report on Bouchard may have been readily available!).

  • Andrew Miller · September 4, 2019 at 9:04 am

    No. 1 is about consistency. It’s why it’s not a good gauge for WTA, with four different slam winners this year yet again. Three years in a row? Hasn’t ever happened. Shows what an anomaly this hunger games WTA tour is. It’s special and it shows the sport can handle a kaleidoscope of styles and top players.

    It’s especially good for the men’s tour because the big three, whether from a lack of aspirin, growing families, older age, etc is in the back nine of careers. The big three domination will likely hold up with Nadal still motivated to destroy the hopes of hungry opponents, but the barbarians are at the gate and they want slams. The big three should be repaired for Australia but this engine is sputtering.

  • catherine · September 4, 2019 at 9:18 am

    Hartt- Marina Hyde can be funny sometimes but I think this piece was a bit laboured and off the mark. Maria probably wasn’t around when MacEnroe, Connors, Nastase and other assorted bad boys played at Wimbledon – plenty of aggro on court and in the stands – and that’s happened more recently too.

    It’s a myth that the Wimbledon crowd is a collection of snobby zombies. Been known to boo underperforming players as well – and you have to have sympathy considering the ticket prices.

  • Scoop Malinowski · September 4, 2019 at 9:24 am

    Federer is 38.

  • Hartt · September 4, 2019 at 9:29 am

    Regarding Bouchard in 2014 I think there were a couple reasons she crumpled at the Rogers Cup. She was injured that summer, so did not have tons of practice, and she is a player who needs a lot of preparation. But the main problem was the expectations in Canada were simply crazy. The hype was too much and she couldn’t cope. During her match she actually said to her coach that she did not want to be on the court.

    It is interesting to compare Genie to Bianca. The hype, although big, was not at the same level for Bianca. And Bianca, along with being a better player, is mentally tougher than Genie. She embraces the big moments, does not shy away from them.

  • Andrew Miller · September 4, 2019 at 9:34 am

    Here’s a bad byline from ESPN: Osaka shows maturity and poise in loss. NO. It should be Bencic has beaten her three times this year. That’s lazy sportswriting – where fandom and love of Osaka overshadows an opponent that has beaten then every which way this year. It was no surprise as a bunch of tennis analysts know and have expressed. That’s the kind of piece that no one needed.

    I appreciate Osaka and her gestures. It’s big of a top player to say to a young tennis talent, hey keep up the good work, and let’s get some of this unhealthy post match sadness out of the way and put this match in perspective

    Nadal did this after the Australian in 2009 where, having survived against Verdasco, who had his chances to send Nadal home in the semis that year, Nadal felt he had nothing to lose in the fifth set with Federer and as Federer took his foot just a little off the pedal after winning the fourth, Nadal stayed focus to flatten Federer in the fifth.

    Federer as we remember was crushed. Crying as if someone had stolen his favorite toy. It was shocking to see the tears. But there was Nadal who said hey man, you’re one of greatest of all time and you will have more chances because you’re a great champion. Nadal consoled him too.

    But in terms of the emphasis – the focus should have been and the spotlight should have been on Bencic. Bencic has been playing well the whole tournament. Her game looked awesome in the early roundsm. She had found her way through Osaka this year. And she had an excellent result earlier this year.

    So sportswriters messed this up. The story was Bencic, not Osaka being graceful and reflective in the press conference.

    Otherwise the storylines should read:
    Konta Gives Great Press Conference.
    Kyrgios Loses Badly on court and in press conference.
    Svitolina Beats Konta, but her press conference joy is too much for cynical sportswriters.

  • Andrew Miller · September 4, 2019 at 9:41 am

    Bouchard was tough! Her game was worse. Probably the player with worst game to win a slam has been Ostapenko?

  • Andrew Miller · September 4, 2019 at 9:43 am

    Catherine, Svito has surprised me, but I guess she likes NYC and the open. The open does reward players that dig in.

  • Hartt · September 4, 2019 at 9:45 am

    The media will feature the bigger name. You see that all the time in headlines. It is “Big name” loses to “Not so big name” rather than featuring the winner.

    I get downright excited when one of the big papers, like the NY Times, does a feature on a player other than a top one, because it is so rare.

  • Andrew Miller · September 4, 2019 at 9:49 am

    Maybe Pennetta, Ostapenko are players with “worst games” to win a slam in last twenty years? Iva Majoli? Myskina?

  • Scoop Malinowski · September 4, 2019 at 9:51 am

    If Osaka sneezes, it’s a headline story.

  • Scoop Malinowski · September 4, 2019 at 9:59 am

    No one has a bad game. Everyone in the top 100 has all the shots to win a major, but they lack the results to prove it to themselves and to have the mental belief which is the key to win a major. To actually have that belief that they can do it. It’s very hard to have that belief. Even teenagers have the shots, the strokes to win majors. But not the belief. Pennetta, Ostapenko, Myskina all had the games to win majors and more importantly the belief.

  • Andrew Miller · September 4, 2019 at 10:06 am

    Yes, they all have the games. I don’t think there’s much that makes those three to four players stick out. Their games are more average. I remember Majoli winning the French, and it’s as much a shock now as it was then.

    Supreme accomplishment. I always liked Pennetta – scrappy player with a good game. But nothing fearsome, just all around solid. Ostapenko can turn on tue after burner on the right day, and I won’t take anything away from her slam. She earned it. Seven match wins in a row right to the title.

    In terms of their shots their groundstrokes etc, I don’t think they had many weapons out their. They were all around solid. Myskina had a nice backhand.

  • Andrew Miller · September 4, 2019 at 10:08 am

    It’s a little more than belief these days. Svitolina is extremely fast, and she has a lot of stamina. She made so many balls, Konta couldn’t put her away!

  • Scoop Malinowski · September 4, 2019 at 10:15 am

    Also a good player can suddenly play super GREAT tennis and shock everyone. Pioline in Monte Carlo in 2000. Kuerten in Lisbon 2000. Rios in Miami and IW in 1998. Korda in Aus Open 1998. Schiavone in Roland Garros. Oudin at US Open. Jiri Novak vs Sampras in Davis Cup in Los Angeles. Taylor Townsend at US Open this year.

  • Scoop Malinowski · September 4, 2019 at 10:16 am

    Svitolina also has the best hitting partner in the WTA right now, that is surely helping her, and him too.

  • catherine · September 4, 2019 at 10:56 am

    I think it’s helping her more than him. He can turn on power beyond anything another woman can. Which is why most top women prefer to practise with men, or should do.
    Gael can bang down Serena type serves.

    (What did Kerber get out of practising with Woz ahead of USO ? Nothing.)

    Too many tennis writers behave like fans – nothing new. It was worse when players and reporters were closer.

  • Hartt · September 4, 2019 at 10:58 am

    Scoop, to your list I would add Puig at the Olympics. She did not do much before then, or after.

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