Jonathan Newman and James Rogers are the hosts of The Body Serve Tennis Podcast. In the The Body Serve Diary, Jonathan and James write conversationally about the various happenings in the wild world of tennis.
JONATHAN: I don’t know about you, but I thought for sure I’d get at least a couple of days after returning from Cincinnati before jumping back into the tennis fray. Nope, no such luck: the tennis news and off-the-court stuff just kept on coming today! Let’s start with Stefanos Tsitsipas and the now deleted Nick Kyrgios tweet.
JAMES: Nicholas. We just talked about how he covers up his sensitivity with anger and aggression, but this was just straight up high school bullying. Jock vs. nerd is my least favorite dynamic. Stefanos tweeted a characteristically whimsical, earnest tweet about New York City, and Nick quoted it with “da fuq.” He deleted it quickly. Nick snapping at reporters and being generally surly is one thing; picking on younger players for absolutely no reason is just ugly.
JN: He could have been joking. Perhaps we are just too far out of touch with how “the kids” use social media these days. Regardless, this is something to keep an eye on; Stefanos seems to march to the beat of his own drum, and perhaps some of the other young #NextGen folks don’t really know what to make of him just yet. As you said, it reeks of high school nonsense.
We also learned today that Serena will be bumped up from her #26 ranking to the 17 seed at the U.S. Open. Sounds about right, no?
JR: The USTA watched the wreckage of the seeding debates at Roland Garros and Wimbledon and said, “Not today, Satan.” Partly due to circumstance and partly due to good PR, they were able to stay above the fray, announcing back in June that they would alter their seeding policy so as not to penalize women returning from maternity leave. This pre-emptive strike was a public relations slam dunk: it allowed them to assert their moral high ground by championing social justice and squelch any debate that could dominate the pre-US Open news cycle, as it did before the French and Wimbledon.
As far as the actual seeding, I think they made a smart choice. This time around, the tournament benefits from the fact that Serena is already ranked within the top 32, so seeding her won't displace another player. Giving her a top 16 seed would have guaranteed Serena not to face a top 16 player before the fourth round. At #17, she will face a 9-16 seed in the third round. I would like to see her higher, because I think she can beat many in the top 16, but for now let’s all just move on and stop talking about it.
Of course, as with all things Serena, people are still mad about it. Speaking of manufactured controversies, tell us what Twitter tried with Simona Halep today.
JN: Earlier today, we saw a quote from Simona about Serena circulating all over Twitter. I believe there was a story written about it too. Here’s the question and Simona’s response:
Simona was asked whether she thought the current crop of players were intimidated by her since she is world #1. Halep seemed a bit amused by the question, then pivoted to say the only time she was ever really intimidated on court was years ago playing Serena: “actually, I can say I was, back a while ago, I was intimidated by Serena because she's so big, she's huge, but with other player, no, I haven't been.”
We were both in that press conference, and we both interpreted Simona’s description of Serena as having to do with her otherworldly stature in the game and culture. We also discussed privately that this sound bite could turn bad for Simona because the text, on its own, brings to mind the many times that Serena’s body has been discussed and written about in racist ways. With that in mind, it is understandable if someone -- having not seen the video -- assumed that Simona was speaking about Serena’s body as being intimidating. And that is precisely what happened today. This instance is a good example of why it’s always good to get ahold of video from press conferences rather than relying solely on the text or the way the text has been editorialized.
JR: Whew. Honestly, it made me mad. Serena has been subject to so many aggressions, micro and macro, that trying to rile people up over this non-issue is just annoying. Let’s save our energy for something actually worth getting mad about.
On a happier note, the Open Playbook event we spoke about on last week’s podcast is coming up this Thursday at Housing Works Bookstore in NYC. The event features the openly gay retired ATP player Brian Vahaly, is hosted by Nick McCarvel and co-sponsored by our podcast pals No Challenges Remaining.
Vahaly spoke to Tennis.com’s Jonathan Scott about his coming out process, the challenges that face an ATP player thinking about coming out, and what it meant to hear encouraging words from Roger Federer and Kevin Anderson. When discussing being closeted during his career, he said something that struck me: “I hate that I couldn’t have been a leader at that time, but unfortunately I didn’t have it in me.” I feel he’s being hard on himself, considering the barriers that existed -- and still exist -- for LGBTQ people to live openly in the sports world. We still see coming out as a solitary endeavor. That Vahaly wasn’t able to be that out and proud advocate shouldn’t be seen as a failure. What he’s doing now has started a meaningful conversation. I hope that stories like Brian’s will create the conditions for more LGBTQ people to feel safe and supported.
JN: Well said. Again, we encourage everyone in the NYC area who is free this Thursday to attend Open Playbook. Even if you cannot, you can still make a donation. Let’s keep this conversation going.
Elsewhere today, our pal Michael Lewis wrote about Madison Brengle and provided an update on her ongoing struggles on the court and in the courtroom. We learn that Brengle’s lawsuit against the WTA has been moved to arbitration and should be settled soon. Meanwhile, her suit against the ITF remains at the federal court level. I am fascinated by this case. A lot of folks don’t seem to be able to understand the nature of Brengle’s injuries, or grasp what it is she’s going through; this article does a good job of providing insight into her daily struggles.
JR: Brengle’s story is a fascinating and troubling one. It forces us to consider just who the anti-doping agencies are accountable to, and what they owe to players. Do we accept that the current testing protocols are necessary and non-negotiable? What sort of accommodation is required when a player needs them for medical reasons?
I have no idea whether anti-doping officials violated Brengle’s rights under Florida and federal law, but I think it says a lot about tennis that she has to fight on her own. There is no players’ association representing her. To me, it exposes a massive problem in professional tennis; a player has to file suit, with her own money, against the organization that purports to support her because there is no union to represent her interests. Whatever the outcome, I hope that it helps the anti-doping programs become more transparent and more amenable to change.
Stay tuned for our US Open preview episode, which will come out this weekend when the draws come out. Shoot over to our Body Serve Podbean site for our three episodes from Cincinnati!