Hello and welcome to the eighth issue of Tennis inbox. This week, we see how Universal Tennis—the company behind the Universal Tennis Rating (UTR)—is helping restart tennis all over the globe. And we ask the age-old question: How should we expect our famous athletes to behave? Read on to find out more.
Universal Tennis makes its move
You might have noticed the logo of a turquoise tennis ball showing up in the tennis world lately. With the professional tours halted across the world at least until early August, it seems that Universal Tennis—the owner of said logo— has made it a goal to capitalize on this lack of play.
The first sign came in early May with the Men’s UTR Pro Match series, where four men competed in West Palm Beach, Florida on a court with a mounted camera and no linesmen. A few weeks later, four women competed in the women’s version of the round-robin event on the same court. During this coronavirus shutdown, the UTR logo has also been sighted on the Ultimate Tennis Showdown’s courts and at the Credit One Bank Invitational.
As part of its worldwide push, Universal Tennis unveiled plans for a Pro Tennis Series in partnership with Tennis Australia about a week ago. The domestic series has a prize money pool of $450,000 AUD, and the first events took place this past weekend all over Australia. Craig Tiley, CEO of Tennis Australia said of the events:
“[W]ith so much of the tennis season still uncertain, our aim through the UTR Pro Tennis Series is to give as many of our athletes the chance to compete and, importantly, also earn prize money. The series has been started to provide competition for players.”
Even at the lower levels, UTR events are popping up left, right, and center. In the United States, where the UTR rating system is already established, one has to simply search for tournaments through the UTR app to see that competition is available everywhere; UTR announced the UTR National Championship Series recently, which includes 70+ tournaments for junior, high school, and college players across the United States.
In Australia, Australian Money Tournaments (a series of local professional tournaments) have been halted. But a few, smaller UTR-powered events are available to eager competitors in the coming months.
Mark Leschly, the Chairman and CEO of Universal Tennis appeared on The First Serve podcast with ex-player Sam Groth (career-high #53 ATP and record holder for world’s fastest serve) and announcer Brett Phillips on Monday 29th June. Commenting on UTR’s rollout across the world, Leschly said:
“We’re on a mission. This is not a sprint. This is a long-term marathon. There are a lot of issues in tennis and we’re ambitious enough and crazy enough to go fix them all.”
In response, Sam Groth added his thoughts on Universal Tennis’ current surge:
“2020 gives us such an opportunity to shake things up…. We’ve discussed it for quite some time. If there’s going to be change made, make it while we’re not playing. Make it while the tours have got a break and a chance to try a few things.”
With the tagline of “Play locally. Count globally.,” UTR is perfectly poised to come out of this pandemic with stronger brand recognition—and possibly even goodwill from players and fans for helping to organize all of these tournaments.
In case you were wondering about the history of UTR and how it works, we’ve published a research article on it in the past:
We’ve all had blowouts while competing. We’ve all ‘sent someone home on a bicycle’ (the popular euphemism for beating someone 6–0, 6-0 from my junior days), and we’ve all taken that soul-crushing ride, too. Running into an opponent far more skilled than yourself is a likely feature of tournament play, where opponents—in general—get better and better the further you progress through a draw…
What should we expect from tennis players?
If you’ve taken a gander at Tennis Twitter in the past few days, you’ll know that it is currently aflame at world #7 Alexander Zverev for breaking self-isolation guidelines by attending a day party.
Though Zverev tested negative for the coronavirus after the cluster at the Adria Tour (where Djokovic, Coric, Troicki, and Goran Ivanišević tested positive), he had released a statement saying:
Pay attention to the, “I will proceed to follow the self-isolating guidelines advised by our doctors.”
Six days later, a video emerged of Zverev at a day party.
Anger was harsh. Condemnation was swift. After Zverev’s statement that he would follow safety protocols and self-isolate, perhaps it was deserved. Nick Kyrgios, never one to shy away from speaking his mind, said in response to the video:
“Sascha Zverev again, man. Again. Again. How selfish can you be? How selfish can you be? If you have the audacity to fcking put out a tweet that you made your management write on your behalf saying you’re going to self-isolate for 14 days and apologizing to the fcking general public for putting their health at risk, at least have the audacity to stay inside for 14 days.”
As others have pointed out, Kyrgios himself was driving while recording—certainly not the safest thing to do. The response from Kyrgios sparked a rejoinder from Boris Becker, who called the Aussie a “rat” in a tweet.
Controversy and Twitter squabbling aside, these types of incidents invoke the age old question that we sports fans have asked ourselves: Should we expect our athletes to be stand-up citizens? Are they just that—athletes, young men and women, who play their specific sports to the highest levels? Or do they become de facto public figures who must watch their every move carefully?
Tennis has—in general—stayed away from the controversies that have plagued some of the larger sports in the world like basketball, soccer, and football. No widespread charges of domestic violence, belligerent behavior, or sexual assault allegations. On that front, tennis players have been pretty clean.
Only six months ago, Alexander Zverev was on the tennis public’s good side. In Australia, the German pledged to donate $10,000 AUD for every match that he won in Melbourne. He kept his promise. His semifinal run there meant that he ended up donating $50,000 AUD to the Australian bushfire relief efforts.
Today, he is reviled by a fair chunk of fans and the journalists responsible for covering tennis. We’re not defending Zverev, but keep in mind that he is a 23-year-old with a net worth of millions of dollars. And young men, in general, tend to make stupid decisions. Add in a ton of money and a pandemic and you’re going to end up with brouhahas like this. There’s sometimes an air of invincibility—and yes, perhaps selfishness—that comes with power, fame, and wealth.
No female players have been seen flouting social distancing and quarantine rules in public—at least as not as egregiously as male players have.
Dan Evans wins Battle of the Brits
Exhibition events are still taking place around the world. At the LTA’s National Tennis Center, Dan Evans (#28 ATP) defeated Kyle Edmund (#44 ATP) 6–3, 6–2 in the final of the inaugural Battle of the Brits, a round-robin tournament. Evans defeated Andy Murray 1–6, 6–3, 10–8 in the semifinals, while Edmund snuck a close win against Cameron Norrie (#77 ATP) to set up the finals clash against Evans.
Andy Murray pulled out of the third place playoff, but said that some of his performances at the event had been “encouraging.”
“My game is there—I just need more time to practice and prepare and I’ll get there.”
Tennis fans have kept a keen eye on Murray’s recovery. The former world #1 is a major threat when he manages to stay healthy.
On another note, Evans is always interesting to watch because of the way he plays. He uses guile and touch in a way that’s rare—and refreshing—on the men’s tour.
Wimbledon would have started this week…
Obviously a pandemic has put that on hold. But if you’re a Roger Federer fan, and you’re feeling that you need some masochism in your life, you can watch him have two match points taken away from him by Novak Djokovic. If you’re a Novak fan—well, we’ll just let you enjoy. The video should start at 2 sets all, with Federer serving for the match at 40–15. Ouch.