The BLOG: Lifestyle

For the Love of it all: Scandal rumors can’t diminish tennis fans’ ardour

Love was in the air for Serbian Novak Djokovic and Angelique Kerber of Germany as they advanced over their opponents, winning the first Grand Slam events of the 2016 tennis season at Melbourne Park in Australia. In the Land Down Under, gender-neutral paychecks netted the winners a cool $2.73 million. A purse that size makes more than a fashion statement; it banks the unmistakable look of success. The cachet of carrying that kind of cold hard cash around looks great every day, everywhere, and is always in style.

As Djokovic and Kerber were awarded their prize money, they personified what’s best in the sport. Observing tradition, winners politely thanked the sponsors, the fans and fellow tournament competitors. Sweat wiped away, the victorious ones glowed, taking in the adoration of their peers and club level players who wish as much for their grace as their pace. Playing tough on urban courts, playing prissy on private courts, wherever in the world one plays, it takes more than spin to win. It also takes drive.

Tennis tends to be a quiet sport. There are no marching bands, no cheerleaders to announce the best players. Points earned on satellite tours add to those accrued at Grand Slams. The combination of those points quantify which players are on the top tier of the sport’s matrix. Week to week, names bounce around a baseline of computer generated International Tennis Federation stats. A rapacious back hand is a great asset, a record breaking serve is a gift, but it’s the point ladder that quietly announces who has risen to the top of the international money making chart each week. Professional tennis is big business; so, too, is gambling on it.

Wrapped around hushed whispers, players and tennis’ governing bodies screamed, “untrue,” when declarations of game-tossing spun in the Australian air. Without surveillance tapes, bank records or phone conversations, players summarily reject the notion of bookie match-making. A Tennis Integrity Unit has found evidence in the past of wrongdoing but says these new allegations will take time to prove or disprove. What exists until their findings are reported is the shadow of doubt placed on elite athletes who strive honestly to advance their professional touring careers while players of lower rankings struggle earnestly to cover their expenses following the sun on mini-tours.

Accusations are common to professional sports. Football had Deflategate, baseball had a juicing scandal, and college basketball had sexual recruitment allegations to address. Rumors such as these fill water cooler conversations and coffee shops. Most times the gossip is grist for a sports mill and not much more. Occasional fines or suspensions are frequently seen as simply the price of doing business.

It’s unlikely the court of public opinion will limit ticket sales at tennis venues, diminish racquet orders, or dampen enthusiasm for buying this season’s new clothes and sneakers. The tennis tour will continue its gritty schedule, playing its next Grand Slam events on the Parisian clay of Roland Garros in May, on the London lawns of Wimbledon in July until it reaches the bright lights and hard courts of New York for the U.S. Open on Labor Day.

(Courtesy of Diane Kilgore)

(Courtesy of Diane Kilgore)

Until then, professional players will continue to earn points and reap the financial rewards of strategy sessions coupled with countless hours of hitting balls and lifting weights at the gym. The true winners of the sport are, however, the ones who play for the fun of it, who are gifted with improved fitness, tenacity and poise rather than money and fame.

It may be that the best purse of all is the one that holds the love of competition and a long list of friends. For amateur players, scandalous rumors can’t compete with the joys of playing in weekend matches and club tournaments. Perhaps that’s what most drives weekend warriors, who play tough on urban courts or prissy on private courts, to loudly announce at the start of each match “love all.” Saying that is always in style.