Dec/19

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Our Media Confrontations With Players

Confrontations between tennis pros and media like the recent Nadal vs Ubi tiff in Paris happen infrequently but they do happen.

In an email discussion between myself, Dan and veteran scribe Richard Pagliaro and former tennis writer Dan Weil, we remembered a few chilly and heated moments with tennis players and also fellow reporters.

Pagliaro recalled to Dan:   Actually, I believe you had two run-ins with Roddick.   One was Indian Wells.    The other was at US Open when you were writing a piece for Tennis Magazine on how marriage impacts players.   I was working for Tennis Mag at the time and sitting next to you in interview room one after Roddick lost to Tipsarevic with the infamous foot-fault call.  And you asked him the marriage question.

 
Q. You’re a married man now. Do you feel you kind of curtail your anger when you have situations like this and maybe not go off into a real boil? Is it different now that you’re married in these situations where you feel you have to be more respectable on the court?
ANDY RODDICK: You thought I was respectable tonight?

Q. Could have taken it to Johnny Mac levels.
ANDY RODDICK: Yeah, I could have. And the fact that I didn’t is because I’m married? That’s the thought process we’re going to go with?
No, I think that’s — no. We got to find another avenue for a story, I think.

I remember Roddick actually returned to your marriage theme in his final answer:

Q. Do you feel like you were aggressive in tonight’s match?
ANDY RODDICK: I mean, yeah. A little tough to be aggressive when a guy is hitting every ball as hard as he can. I felt like I was hitting the ball pretty firm.
I think I wasn’t aggressive because I got married.


The Agassi run-in was probably more intense. I was thinking about another Agassi run-in you had when Agassi mocked Chang’s cheapness making a remark to the effect that Why is Chang so cheap? His arms are too short to reach into his pockets.

When Agassi saw you noting his Chang cheap shot he was incensed.
What about the time you taunted James Blake for “working with a cookbook writer” for his memoir and “JamesHimself” famously replied directly on the old TennisWeek.com board? 

You actually had run-ins with most of the US Davis Cup team – Roddick, Fish, JamesHimself – yet oddly you never had a dispute with Bryan Bros.

You left out the time when you drilled Connors in a pro-am doubles and Connors replied “you’re gonna pay for that.”  Jimbo did not appreciate the body blow.


Dan replied: Rich. You missed a few and the incident with Roddick occurred not over marriage–can’t remember that one–but at Indy Wells, when I asked Roddick why people found his game boring and he said people find Shaq’s game boring too and he didn’t care. And you forgot actually the biggest one of all, with Agassi at New Haven, when in the middle of a presser, he started yelling at me with his high-pitched girlie yell because I asked him an innocent question, phrased wrong I must admit, “How good a loser are you? and Agassi screamed, “I’m not a loser. You’re a loser!” Oh well, that was before Andre became enlightened and OPEN. 


I’ve had mostly very good relations with 98% of the players but I can think of a few testy moment. For some reason Marinko Matosevic became a prick to me. We did a Biofile in Newport at the hard courts across the street and he was a great guy, super Biofile. Super nice guy, enjoyed doing the Biofile. Then I remember a few years after it I could sense he had it in for me for some inexplicable reason. I don’t remember ever bothering him or asking for an interview after. But one day at US Open as we waited to enter the press center entrance showing our credentials, he kind of bumped his bag into me on purpose. We walked by each other a few times and I actually felt by a look he gave me we might fight someday. Yet I have no idea why. Bizarre.

Marcos Baghdatis got hot on me and the ATP media guy in Washington DC at Citi Open two years ago. I wanted to do a Biofile at night after his win. It was set up and at the media zone I started asking Biofile questions and he suddenly resisted, barking at the ATP guy about he only expected to talk about the match. It was almost to the point of abusive. Very uncharacteristic to see Bag act like that and vent on the poor guy. I somehow managed to convince him to do the Biofile anyway, just a few minutes and then he gave me an absolutely superb Biofile! Definitely a weird moment how it was reversed from a tense, negative situation into a classic Biofile.

I had a clash with Agassi. In the mid 90s when Agassi was at the height of his rebel fame, at US Open I approached him spontaneously in the old locker room to do a Biofile. He had seen and heard me do one with Stefan Edberg a day or two before but he wanted nothing to do with it, barking at me about media not being allowed in the locker room, etc. His whole team, Gilbert, Juliani, Reyes were with him looking at me, as he did. I just said something about the media credential does allow us into the locker room and walked away.

Another time around this same era, I asked Boris Becker to do a Biofile on the steps going to the old locker room and he replied, “I’m already famous enough.”

Of course my latest clash was with Marcelo Rios at Eddie Herr last year. He was practicing for his exhibition with Lapentti. When he realized who I was while we were chatting on breaks, he contradicted what he told me seven years earlier about my book about him. At the ATP No. 1 Gala in NYC Rios said “there were some things in the book that weren’t true but it was pretty good, pretty good.”

Last year he changed his opinion, saying I should not have written the book because “if you write a book about someone you should know the person.”

I replied that a writer is like an artist, he can paint anyone or anything he wants. Needless to say, the hard-headed Rios did not appreciate my point of view and we are still at odds and probably always will be.

Another time I approached Dmitri Tursunov about Facing Nadal while he was hitting with a female player, but he thought I might hit him with gambling questions and brought me over to Greg Sharko to make sure I was legit – it was before the tournament started and I was dressed casually. After a delay, Tursunov eventually opened up and shared some great memories of Facing Nadal.

That’s all I can think of as far as awkward or uncooperative moments with players.

158 comments

  • Hartt · December 11, 2019 at 7:00 am

    The fact that countries like Australia, which has a rich tennis tradition, have not produced a male Slam winner in recent years shows how incredibly tough it is.

    The top players had good training from an early age to go with their incredible talent, but they were fortunate to get that. Federer trained at Basel’s Old Boys Tennis Club at an early age and worked with Peter Carter, occasionally when he was as young as nine and more extensively as he got older. The club subsidized his private lessons. He decided himself to go to the Swiss national training centre when he was 14. He was so homesick that he spent a lot of time crying, but he stuck it out, and was able to go home on weekends. So the infrastructure was available in Switzerland to provide Fed with the training he needed. And he had the drive to make good use of it.

  • Scoop Malinowski · December 11, 2019 at 8:39 am

    I was told Gil Reyes only function at Agassi’s practice was to stalk him back and forth on the baseline and say over and over how great he is, blah blah blah. “Hit harder” may work just as effectively.

  • Andrew Miller · December 11, 2019 at 9:18 am

    Hartt, seems like developmental coaches or crazy fanatic genius coaches make a difference for uber talented players. Agassi had his dad Mike, connected in with some of the best players in history such as Pancho Gonzalez. Shapovalov has his parents and someone else must have helped him perfect his lovely, ferocious and promising ground game. Raonic had the coach you mentioned. Young Djokovic somehow talked his way into Gencic’s world. Capriati…Mike Joyce…list goes on and on and on.

    Someone cared a lot and the players themselves grew up with competition around them (Djokovic and his decamping for Niki Pilic academy). But no Gencic, not sure what Djokovic would be…Borna Coric? Who knows!

    The Williams had a coach working very early with them in addition to their dad, who brainwashed them in the best sense – warriors with a lot to admire and no excuses for beating higher ranked players and taking no prisoners. Excellent way to play.

    I’ll write this until I am blue in the face. The player has to have some primitive desire, something that forces them to believe they must stop at nothing. And they need people to help them get there as well as a stable group of competitors.

    If a player goes to a big academy it means nothing. But if that player has huge desire and already has a well formed game and it’s just another proving ground I think that’s a pro, barring injury.

    An example of a guy that had this desire but ruined by injury – Brian Baker. A lesser know but well known player here on TP is Christian Harrison. He was better than his big brother and I hope he considers coaching or something like that. Best number five hundred or whatever he was I’ve ever seen!

  • Andrew Miller · December 11, 2019 at 9:23 am

    Scoop, Gil Reyes must be doing something right. He seems like a very good guy. Verdasco loves him, Agassi, Bouchard. I think he believes his point on the planet is to ensure people have the love and support they need. I get that sounds corny but he is like a parent that is up at the crack of dawn when someone is training and has no agenda other than to let them know hey, you’re good, you’re not alone, let’s go hit the gym.

    Again it sounds corny. But if you’re Osaka and you really should be up early hitting a few balls or Mardy Fish and you need some track work, if you don’t have Gil Reyes or someone like that, are you really going to do that or say you know what I’m already good enough?

    Gil Reyes is there to remind you: nothing comes easy. Let’s get the job done and no judgement and then we’ll get breakfast.

    Sometimes little stuff adds up.

  • Andrew Miller · December 11, 2019 at 9:33 am

    Hartt, Australia is confusing for sure. It’s good to see they have so much champion talent on the women’s side. The men should be inspired by De Minaur (and if anyone could ever break through to Kyrgios, he’d be close to a slam final these days).

    But no, Australia’s draught on men’s side is interesting. Such tradition. On women’s side it’s been enjoyable to see Molik, Stosur, Barty keep up a tradition of Aussie women breaking through.

    Australia on men’s side is especially surprising given how many resources they have poured into tennis. Tennis isn’t cricket in Australia but still extremely popular, no? And they have had a LOT of celebrated juniors, and lots and lots of challengers. Tons of opportunity.

    It’s a bit surprising to me. And I’d think surprising to Australia. Maybe an Aussie can speak up here or someone familiar with men’s tennis issues in Australia. Tomic of course we know of, Kokki decked by injuries, Kyrgios in his head, and de Minaur emerging as best player in Australia (a huge accomplishment if you ask me!!!)

  • Andrew Miller · December 11, 2019 at 9:36 am

    Barty is Australia’s best player, De Minaur best men’s player. Sorry about that.

  • Scoop Malinowski · December 11, 2019 at 10:01 am

    Gil Reyes is a legend of tennis. He’s more renowned than Kristian Pless and Levar Harper Griffith combined. He is like a brother/father figure for Andre and they remain close today. Money can’t buy friends like that.

  • Hartt · December 11, 2019 at 11:08 am

    Andrew, Shapo’s mother does deserve the credit for developing his shots. There is a video of him hitting with her when he was about 8, and his shots were similar to what he does now – he was incredibly good for such a young kid. They were trying to find financial backing for him. Then, when he was about 12 and needed someone stronger to hit with, he started working with a Tennis Canada coach, Fuoriva. Fortunately he was able to get a couple backers then. I think Casey Curtis, the Raonic coach I mentioned, may have recommended Denis to businessman Andrzej Kepinski. Kepinski just asked Denis to pay it forward, to help a young player if he himself became successful.

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