Tennis has an anger management problem, and it’s getting worse

Tennis has an anger management problem, and it’s getting worse

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PARIS — On an obscure court at Roland Garros, in a women’s singles match that drew little attention, 63rd-placed Irina-Camelia Begu thrust herself into the global spotlight as the latest example of the ugly and potentially injuries on the court that plague professional tennis. These last months.

Angered at losing serve at a pivotal moment, Begu, 31, threw her racquet onto the red clay courts of Roland-Garros, and it ricocheted into the stands and towards a small child, who burst into tears. The chair umpire summoned the supervisor to judge, but Begu was allowed to play, later cited for unsportsmanlike conduct, despite her racket “grazing” the child, according to a statement from the tournament director.

Just two days earlier, Roland-Garros seventh seed Andrey Rublev had also received a caution for unsportsmanlike conduct after smashing a ball in a rage that almost hit a gardener.

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At Indian Wells in March, Nick Kyrgios slammed his racket so hard after a loss that it nearly hit a ball boy. Jenson Brooksby did much the same thing the following week at the Miami Open, throwing his racquet at a kid. He was given a points penalty and a $15,000 fine rather than being in default.

In February, after losing a doubles match at a tournament in Acapulco, third-ranked Alexander Zverev slammed his racket into the referee’s chair. He was disqualified from the singles event as punishment and fined $40,000. But after an investigation by the ATP, he dodged a suspension.

None of the current generation of bad actors in sports invented bad behavior on the tennis court.

John McEnroe has been a master anger thrower throughout his career. For Jimmy Connors and Ilie Nastase, profane tirades and obscene gestures were simply part of the playbook of the 1970s and 1980s, designed to inflame the crowd as well as themselves and shake their opponents.

But the recent spate of seizures is different, with a physical component that some say requires a firmer hand.

“It’s more violent; it’s absolutely more violent,” said Mary Carillo, who trained alongside McEnroe as a junior and won the 1977 French Open mixed doubles titles as a partner. “These guys took it up a notch.”

Two-time Grand Slam champion Tracy Austin called on the ATP to “step up” its response.

Hall of Fame inductee and frequent tennis commentator Pam Shriver also believes tournament officials and the ATP need to take a firmer hand – especially when players verbally abuse the crowd, as Denis Shapovalov has put it. did at the recent Italian Open, shouting “Shut the f—up” to fans who booed his extended rant against the chair umpire.

“I don’t think there were serious enough consequences in some situations,” Shriver said. “Swearing in front of a crowd is completely unacceptable because that’s what makes your livelihood – the fans.”

Regarding Zverev’s attack on the referee’s chair, Shriver argues that it warranted a suspension from future tournaments.

One American player, Taylor Fritz, ranked 14th, however, thinks tennis would be better served if players had more leeway to express their emotions – not less.

“I think it would be cool to see the kind of hype around tennis grow,” Fritz said this week at Roland Garros. “One thing we can do on tour is to be more accepting of crazier attitudes and things like that that happen. I feel like any little thing can kind of result in a fine or cause trouble someone, so maybe I’d like to see more openness for players to be crazier.

This is what his generation is reacting to, he noted.

“Maybe letting the players get away with a little more would be a little exciting,” Fritz said.

This, according to Carillo, is the catch.

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Unlike team sports, where a star athlete can be sent off for a serious offense and replaced with a substitute, tennis is individual. If a chair umpire ejects an out-of-control player, it ends the game, penalizing ticket buyers and broadcasters.

And because players know this, they see no reason to control their own behavior, even if they can.

“That’s the tricky part,” Carillo says. “Players who act out know, looking at the ref, ‘Are you going to kick me out? Do you know how many boos are going to come when you kick me off that pitch? I think that gives them extra agency They think, ‘Why not push it all the way?’ ”

However, most pros at the top of the sport realize that controlling their anger is ultimately in their best interests.

For five-time ATP Sportsmanship Award winner Rafael Nadal, behaving on the court is something he learned as a child.

“My uncle, my family, never allowed me to break a racket, never allowed me to swear or give up a game,” Nadal explained. “Probably when I was a kid, they didn’t care much about winning or losing. Of course, all the parents and family, my uncle [who was also his coach] wanted me to win every game. But that probably wasn’t the most important thing. The most important thing was the education and the fact that I was growing up with the values, with the right values.

For second-seeded Daniil Medvedev, who is still haunted by an epic meltdown he had as a 14-year-old junior, it’s been a process.

“At one point I understood that it could negatively affect your tennis,” Medvedev said. “But I certainly didn’t understand [at 14]. It was much later. … I’m still learning because I have tantrums, if that’s the right word, sometimes on the court. Usually I’m not happy about it. The most important thing is either to know how to react, or better not to do them and stay focused on the game.

Begu, who won Thursday’s game in straight sets, then went to the stands and held the scared child in her arms as pictures were taken.

In her subsequent press conference, she said she was sorry for the incident and called it an “embarrassing moment for me”.

“You hit the clay with the racquet, but you never expect to fly so much,” Begu said.

Hours later, the French Open released a statement recounting the sequence of events after Begu threw his racket. He read:

“The racket bounced off the bench in the spectator area. The racket accidentally ended up in the spectator area where it grazed a young spectator. After an initial scare, the viewer turned out to be OK. The Grand Slam supervisor spoke with the parents who were with the child, the parents confirmed that the child was fine and uninjured. According to the procedures, a code violation for unsportsmanlike conduct was issued.

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