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.

98 comments

  • Scoop Malinowski · December 1, 2019 at 3:48 pm

    Dan Weil only had a battle with a writer, Bonnie Ford of ESPN, jockeying for questions for Gulbis… “My worst one was actually w/a journalist–Bonnie something or other from espn.com. She thought I surpassed my question allotment to the great Ernests Gulbis. And when I suggested to her that she was wasting my time, she went absolutely ballistic on me in front a full press room at the French. I apologized to calm her down.”

  • Matty · December 2, 2019 at 1:11 am

    @Scoop. One of the more fascinating insights into pro level tennis. I’ve met them all as well, as a fan. Here are some memories: at our hometown tourney in d.c. you can arrive at Rock Creek hours earlier than the match times and run into your fave players. I literally shared a half-hour of alone time sharing a lunch with the Bryan brothers – so down to earth! Brad brought a 16 year old Andy Murray to hit with Todd Martin, that year’s US Open finalist. Brad, always approachable and considerate. Kyrgios, who takes a lot of bullets here, withdrew from DC two years ago right before the first round. Having spare time, he went over to our club, JTTC, and hit with the summer campers all afternoon! Three years ago I was in the US Open suites with Blake & Courier – make the convo interesting and throw in personal nuggets and these two classy lads will engage you indefinitely with their wit & wisdom. Roddick? Always a dick, will forever be a dick, never have seen an athlete with so much contempt for fans. Coddled since birth.

  • catherine · December 2, 2019 at 1:15 am

    I’m afraid my one contribution to this conversation is about something which didn’t happen. The last press conference I ever attended was at the USO and I raised my hand to ask Martina Navratilova a question and she got up and left the room.

    I also missed the most exciting moment in tennis media history – the punch up between two journalists in the press room at Wimbledon – over questions put to McEnroe. That was in the 80s.

  • Matty · December 2, 2019 at 1:29 am

    (continued) Cilic, Anderson, Isner, Felix AA – all fan friendly will pose for selfies and sign autographs, if that’s your thing. It’s not mine. Tennis Sandgren, the most honest athlete I’ve ever encountered. Very direct, very truthful, well read and educated, will answer any question. Tiafoe, as generous and kind in real life as he comes off in interviews & ads. Universally loved by fans and media. Marius Copil, as genuine as any player on the tour. Win or lose, a sunny disposition. Has a real thirst for exploring all the cities he plays in. Generally speaking, the smaller the tournament, the more access you will have to your fav player.

  • catherine · December 2, 2019 at 5:11 am

    BTW -The reason I missed the brawl in the press room was because I was doing something quite unusual at W’don – watching tennis. For a while after that you couldn’t find anyone in the court press section when McEnroe was being interviewed.

  • Hartt · December 2, 2019 at 7:42 am

    I will post this here because the old thread is very long.

    Kiki Bertens married Dutch tennis coach Remko de Rijke on Nov. 30. She posted a lovely photo on IG. Julia Goerges was a guest.

    It’s getting so that tennis player weddings are as common as coaching changes!

  • catherine · December 2, 2019 at 8:13 am

    As I commented before, the WTA should turn itself into a social site for wedding news and dating gossip. Couldn’t be worse than it is now.

    Bertens – she was engaged for a while and her husband is a physio on her team, not a coach.

    Julia’s boyfriend was (according to Chris Evert) also her physio but in her team clearout a couple of months ago the physio/boyfriend went as well. So no wedding bells there.

  • Scoop Malinowski · December 2, 2019 at 8:23 am

    Bryans are the ultimate ambassadors for not just tennis but sport. No better ambassadors. So many unheralded players similarly friendly. Thanks for sharing your good experiences around tennis.

  • Hartt · December 2, 2019 at 8:25 am

    The power of Instagram. Tsitsipas has 809,000 followers. That would be a fairly large city! A recent post, where he waxed lyrical about his trip to Iceland in a very Stefanos sort of way, had 94,521 likes, including one by tennis youngster Alexei Popyrin.

    It is a whole different world. 🙂

  • Scoop Malinowski · December 2, 2019 at 9:08 am

    Catherine do you remember the question to Martina you had ready to launch before the snub?

  • Scoop Malinowski · December 2, 2019 at 9:23 am

    Almost forgot this semi confrontation with Cedric Pioline about Facing Sampras on a US Open media bus.

    The Frenchman lost in straight sets to Sampras in the 1993 US Open and 1997 Wimbledon finals. Also Pioline’s loss to Sampras in 1993 at Antwerp eliminated him from qualifying for the year end ATP Tour Masters World Championship in Germany (Ivanisevic qualified instead of Pioline)…

    Question: Hi Cedric, can I do a quick interview with you (at US Open 2017)?

    Cedric Pioline: “I’m good, I’m good.”

    Question: Just two quick questions?

    Cedric Pioline: “About what?”

    Question: It’s about facing the great champion Pete Sampras.

    Cedric Pioline: “Who cares?”

    Question: A lot of tennis fans do. He’s one of the greatest champions of history.

    Cedric Pioline: “I’m not interested in the past.”

    Sampras won series 9-0
    1999 World Team Cup Germany Outdoor Clay RR Pete Sampras 75 64
    1997 Wimbledon England Outdoor Grass F Pete Sampras 64 62 64
    1996 Wimbledon England Outdoor Grass R16 Pete Sampras 64 64 62
    1994 World Team Cup Germany Outdoor Clay RR Pete Sampras 63 763
    1993 Antwerp Belgium Outdoor Hard SF Pete Sampras 46 75 61

  • Dan Markowitz · December 2, 2019 at 9:33 am

    Interesting post, Scoop. Roddick was/is (?) definitely difficult to deal with, but I liked that he engaged the interviewer often, but maybe that the side of him that always wanted to prove that he was smarter than reporters and objected to the line of questioning.

    I remember Yannick Noah being one of the nicest guys I’d ever interviewed. Agassi, definitely a jerk and didn’t give a damn, especially early in his career, about the job the reporter is trying to do which eventually helps Agassi with his public fame or profile. I remember in that New York Magazine article I wrote on Agassi that it was killed (and as a reporter when a story is killed, instead of getting the contracted fee for the article, you receive 1/4 the contracted amount), when Agassi’s brother, Phillip, said Agassi wouldn’t sit for an interview with me unless the editor guaranteed it would be a cover story.

    I have to admit, Spadea, was excellent with me, even before I wrote the book with him. He didn’t have a huge ego, maybe his ranking had something to do with this, but I was so used to tennis players being poor interviews, Sampras, Agassi, Chang, Courier, at least with me, that when I interviewed Spadea I found him to be funny and engaging.

    Todd Martin was one of my favorites along with–I have to admit_Gimelstob, who even as a player, had a good rapport with media folk.

  • Jon King · December 2, 2019 at 9:43 am

    Same here with Kyrgios Matty. he was working out at in S. FL last year and hit with the kids for a few hours. He joined in a kings of the court game, and would take his place in back of the line. Lots of fun to be around.

  • catherine · December 2, 2019 at 10:00 am

    Scoop – At this distance I can’t remember precisely but it was something technical to do with the match. I’m not sure Martina was being personal – earlier that week I’d asked her something about her new hairstyle which she answered amiably. Probably she just was fed up with questions.

    Agassi was a pain when he was young – he used to come in surrounded by his entourage and be quite obnoxious if he didn’t like the question.

    Pam Shriver could also be pretty unfriendly – particularly if she lost.

  • catherine · December 2, 2019 at 10:16 am

    Hart – I thought Tsitsipas had decided to stay off social media for a while – maybe his agent reminded him that sponsors are delighted with stratospheric numbers of followers and comments etc.

    Of course none of this is important at all.

  • Scoop Malinowski · December 2, 2019 at 11:33 am

    Catherine, you showed a proclivity to off the court activities early on as proven here by asking Martina for details about her follicular creativity. 🙂

  • Scoop Malinowski · December 2, 2019 at 11:35 am

    Catherine do you have any questions for Tsitsipas about his hair style?

  • catherine · December 2, 2019 at 12:02 pm

    Scoop – This was 1987 and Martina appeared with a spiky punkish kind of haircut which occasioned much comment. She beat Sabatini and came into the press room and I asked her if she’d had it done on impulse and she said ‘No, I’d thought of it in the spring and put it off for different reasons. Then yesterday it rained so I took the chance and had it done’. There is a Czech name for her style, which she discussed. Then she said ‘I’m not Samson’ and giggled a bit and finished with ‘I’ll be surprised if I don’t win.’ Of course she did win but the hair didn’t last.

    (I haven’t remembered all that – I wrote about it and looked it up)

  • catherine · December 2, 2019 at 12:04 pm

    Re Tsitsipas – yes, why don’t you get a hair cut ? It’s not 1968 anymore.

  • Scoop Malinowski · December 2, 2019 at 12:05 pm

    Good story Catherine, would like to see a photo of this hair style, not sure if I ever saw it.

  • Hartt · December 2, 2019 at 12:07 pm

    I think Stefanos was just taking a break from social media, and the break is over. He tends to get very enthusiastic about things, like his social media break, and then enthusiastic about something else.

    Of course the social media stuff has no importance compared to actual tennis, but I have to admit I like looking at the photos. I am never going to get to Iceland, so enjoyed the pics that Stef and Dominic posted.

  • Harold · December 2, 2019 at 1:24 pm

    Saw Pioline make Courier cry, 1993 USO..players used to leave court under that tunnel in Armstrong. Courier was crying leaving Armstrong

    Scoop, Pioline is media now, next time you see him, ask him if he’d appreciate being talked to the way he talked to you

  • Scoop Malinowski · December 2, 2019 at 1:46 pm

    That’s hard to believe Harold but I do believe it. Courier was known as The Rock but losing can make the toughest of the tough break down. Pioline was very nice to be doing a Biofile 2-3 years earlier at US Open. Could not have been nicer. The Biofile is in the archives on this site. I understand why the mere mention of Sampras still gives Pioline a bitter feeling. Sampras killed Pioline in his only two major finals and cost him qualification to the Masters. Pioline should be mentioned as one of those players as the best to never win a major. But Pete cost him that too. I fully understand Pioline’s honest distaste and resentment to Pete two decades later. It actually made for an interest element of the Facing Sampras book.

  • Dan Markowitz · December 2, 2019 at 3:17 pm

    Funny you mention Pam Shriver. I met her in the press room or outside of it in Miami this year and yes she was stuffy, not friendly. Had a certain air about her that was not pleasant. That was also the case with Rennae Stubbs. I remember asking her something tennis-related and she kind of gave me a look like, “Don’t bother me.” Which surprised me because on air she seems to be nice and not so high-almighty.

    I realize you meet people at different times and it’s hard to always be friendly and open, but sometimes just a pleasant comment can justify being short with someone, especially a fellow press member. But the press, especially in sports, can be very rude to one another. I know we’re all going for a story and some reporters are on deadline–not usually the case with tennis–but I remember once being in the Washington Wizards’ locker room when Jordan was playing for the Wizards, and Rachel Nichols, who’s now a big deal ESPN tv personality, who was working for the Washington Post at the time, just jumped ahead of me in the questioning line to ask a question. Pissed me off.

  • Harold · December 2, 2019 at 5:17 pm

    Dan has never watched The Jump in protest

  • Scoop Malinowski · December 2, 2019 at 5:50 pm

    I guess my encounter with RIos at US Open press conference after his match win, counts as a confrontation. I had been trying to do a Biofile with him several times, he would just blow by me, no acknowledgement. So I went to his press conference in the afternoon after he beat someone in the first or second round, only one or two other reporters were there. So I tried to do a Biofile with him that way. I asked Childhood heroes, favorite movies, greatest career moment, etc. And he gave answers like I don’t remember, I didn’t have any. Just like a prick would. That same tournament I did a Biofile with Lapentti who could not have been nicer, Oh I had several heroes… Tennis magazine decided to run a contrast of both showing how nice Lapentti was and how rude Rios was. Another classic controversy moment by Rios, he was a walking talking controversy machine. My book on Rios reveals many of his controversies on and off court but probably only the tip of the iceberg for his entire career, which is amazing. Rios might be the most controversial figure in sports history, he makes Kyrgios look like a choir boy.

  • Harold · December 2, 2019 at 6:46 pm

    Rios had tons of talent, my memory of him is, him spitting, or cursing an umpire..

    Lapennti beat Wawrinka out on Court 18 late afternoon match…people going nuts.. 5 setter..one of the most fun matches in over 50 years of going to the Open

    Agassi caught Yzaga’s serve, lost the point, ..held the ball up to show Nick B..said “ hes got nothing”..lots of pricks out there

  • Dan Markowitz · December 2, 2019 at 9:35 pm

    Agassi was definitely one of the bigger pricks, as you so term it, Harold. He still is or was as of a few years ago where in that exbo match with Sampras he showed Pete up with Nadal and Fed.

    Rios, what a jerk, I’ll never forget Cincy ’95 when I’m doing the article on Agassi, I asked Rios for his opinion on Agassi and he said something to the effect, “If you don’t ask me about myself I’ve got nothing to say.” What a creep and egomaniac.

  • catherine · December 3, 2019 at 12:42 am

    Truth is, some players are just not very nice, stuck up and full of themselves and surrounded by yes-people – always been that way but you don’t often hear about it from journalists whose jobs depend on getting stories.

    In the past (at least in the UK) there was a big gulf between newspaper reporters and magazine writers – they didn’t communicate at all because magazines weren’t ‘real’ although newspaper people used to contribute to magazines when it suited them. Just snobbish. And you were last in line for credentials as well. In the end I was glad to get away from some of that.

  • Jon King · December 3, 2019 at 6:07 am

    We could substitute “people” for players in the above post. Players are no different than everyone else, some rarely nice, some usually nice, some have good days, bad days, some very shy and come across as stuck up instead, others simply stuck up.

    A simple trip to the local grocery store usually reveals the entire spectrum of human behavior at about the same ratio we see in tennis players.

  • catherine · December 3, 2019 at 7:56 am

    Well, obviously that’s true, but here we’re discussing tennis players and for some reason we are surprised when they aren’t invariably pleasant and cooperative. Maybe the media relations industry has conditioned things that way. Or maybe player/press relations are more combative now than was the case years ago. Reporters need stories and players aren’t always in the mood to supply them.

  • Scoop Malinowski · December 3, 2019 at 8:55 am

    Henman said Rios referred to media as parasites 🙂 Making money off the talent of the players.

  • Hartt · December 3, 2019 at 9:59 am

    I am listening to the Larry Stefanki interview with David Law a second time. Larry reminds David of when David, as a young ATP media relations guy, had to talk to Rios in the locker room, and Rios wanted none of it. Larry had to remind Rios that he would get fined if he didn’t cooperate, and Rios hated paying fines, so he did comply.

  • catherine · December 3, 2019 at 11:27 am

    One of the nicest players around, Carla SN, will retire at the end of 2020 and it’s goodbye to that lovely onehanded backhand. Carla is 31 and says she is growing tired of the tour grind and wants to spend more time at home.

    CSN won’t be alone is closing the door next year.

  • Hartt · December 3, 2019 at 1:01 pm

    CSN recently posted a photo with her GF, Marta, recently

  • catherine · December 3, 2019 at 1:33 pm

    Yastremska IGs herself training with her new coach Bajin, along with a lusciously posed shot which suggests her attention isn’t entirely on the tennis court. I don’t predict a soar in the rankings for pouty Dayana.

    I wonder why I’ve gone off the whole idea of Sascha in a really big way.

  • Hartt · December 3, 2019 at 1:49 pm

    Regarding Sascha, maybe it is because he is chasing shiny objects.

  • Scoop Malinowski · December 3, 2019 at 3:22 pm

    Zverev may eventually need his racquet to fend off all his female admirers, or just reluctantly surrender to it like Djokovic did.

  • catherine · December 3, 2019 at 3:41 pm

    Sascha Bajin I meant. I don’t mind Zverev.

  • Hartt · December 3, 2019 at 5:03 pm

    Catherine, I agree with you about Sascha. I had some sympathy for him when he was trying to make the transition from hitting partner to actual coach, and then he had that successful partnership (at least in terms of results) with Naomi. But things he has done and said since then, including leaving Kiki when she was making progress, have made me not so keen.

  • Hartt · December 3, 2019 at 5:04 pm

    “For the second time this year, another well-known female player has lost her father far too young.

    According to various reports out of Belarus, which received the news from the Belarus National Olympic Committee’s press service, Aryna Sabalenka’s father died suddenly early Friday morning.” (Tennis.life)

  • Jeff · December 4, 2019 at 12:19 am

    Interesting how the women on the ATP tour just gravitated to Novak, so many to name like Sharapova, Petkovic, etc. I think he has an odd face but his personality draws them in, it seems.

    Catherine is right that the WTA site should be all gossip with Instagram pics of the week. Fanny Stollar posts a hot pic every day it seems.

  • Jon King · December 4, 2019 at 8:02 am

    Fanny Stollar, had not thought about her in a while. When we were training down in Boca she and another girl used to always sneak out to shop and have fun. She was not the most tennis dedicated player, even as a kid. I think she has found her true calling…. Instagram star.

  • Hartt · December 4, 2019 at 8:21 am

    The fact that Stepanek was a lady killer shows how unimportant looks can be.

    I have to admit, though, as a fan it doesn’t hurt to have a few good-looking players on the ATP, and Novak is not in that group.

  • Hartt · December 4, 2019 at 10:10 am

    In my gossip columnist role I am reporting that Jack Sock is engaged to his GF, Laura Little, who is Miss North Carolina 2019. In a photo of the two together she is sporting quite the rock.

  • Hartt · December 4, 2019 at 10:19 am

    I just noticed this on Little’s IG where she announced their engagement, “#SockFoundHisMatch”

    Probably just the beginning of a lot of puns. 🙂

  • catherine · December 4, 2019 at 10:21 am

    Yah boo Hartt 🙂

    I was just about to start typing. But as I saw it on T-T I thought I ought to wait a while considering the last Sock item had him upclose to Katie Boulter….

  • Jon King · December 4, 2019 at 11:10 am

    Ha, yeah Stepanek has one bad looking mug. But he must have a wonderful personality!

  • Sherry · December 4, 2019 at 2:56 pm

    Jeff and Hartt

    Perhaps, it’s a minority opinion, but I think Novak is quite nice looking. Beautiful green-hazel eyes, appealing smile. His hair has been criticized, but at least he has plenty of it, which is more than can be said for other members of the so-called “Big Four.” I don’t claim that Novak’s looks rival those of, say, Edberg or Rafter, but that’s true for other members of the Big Four as well (one might make a case for Rafa, but that would be more for his body than his face).

  • Hartt · December 4, 2019 at 4:14 pm

    Well, since my eyes are the same colour as Novak’s I will agree with you about his eyes. 🙂

    But he has such a narrow face, and everything about his face is kind of thin and narrow. Fortunately, the top players aren’t judged on their looks.

    What we think of as attractive is subjective, but among current players, I think Khachanov is good-looking. especially when he smiles. I have seen him in person and if anything, he is even better looking in person than on TV.

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