By Maud Watson
(Potential) Crisis Averted
Fans, players, and Australia Tennis staff can all breathe a little easier, as it seems any chance of a potential boycott of the first major of 2013 has been avoided. Australian Open Tournament Director Craig Tiley and Australia Tennis Chief Executive Steve Woods spearheaded an effort to meet demands put forth by the ATP Players Council for higher prize money, and their efforts paid off in a huge way. Prize money for the upcoming Australian Open will be $31.1 million. This is approximately a 15% increase, reportedly the largest increase in the history of tennis. Woods and Tiley will be meeting with the ATP Players Council to determine exactly how the increased purse will be doled out, but it’s likely the early round losers will be the biggest benefactors. Just how likely a boycott was will remain unknown, but it was nice to see management willing to work with the players to ensure that the 2013 Australian Open continues in the tradition of being a top-notch event.
There are any number of players who might make a good candidate for the WTA’s campaign to decrease grunting/shrieking on tour. Someone like Caroline Wozniacki, Li Na, or Aga Radwanska comes to mind. But one of the least likely advocates has to be Maria Sharapova. The Russian has come out in full support of the WTA’s plan, which is not surprising given that as it currently stands, it won’t impact her and the rest of the current crop of shriekers. There’s no sense rehashing the pros and cons of the WTA’s proposal, but it’s questionable how much Sharapova’s comments actually helped its cause. As one of the loudest on tour, her remarks seemed hypocritical. The fact that her own shrieking volume can fluctuate to a very low level during a match to virtually non-existent on the practice court would seem to suggest the noise level could be controlled much easier than she has argued. For that reason, perhaps her silent support would have been preferred, as judging by some of the message boards, Sharapova’s statements have only encouraged many fans to clamor for the WTA to take immediate action that is enforced uniformly across the board and at all levels of the game.
The WTA has dropped its working agreement with the ITF over Fed Cup and new player requirements for Olympic eligibility. The new requirements state players must make themselves available for three ties prior to Rio, whereas they only had to make themselves available for two years prior to the London games, with at least one of the two years being 2011 or 2012. The WTA and some of its players feel these new requirements are unfair, but the ITF isn’t concerned. The system for determining who qualifies for the Olympics does need some adjusting (like not punishing players who happen to be the fifth best in a tennis-rich nation like Spain or France), and the Fed Cup structure definitely needs revamped. But it’s easy to see where the ITF is coming from on this one. As the Olympics become increasingly popular with the players, it’s only natural the ITF would look to use it as an incentive to get the players to compete in other ITF-governed events like Fed Cup. On the other hand, the WTA is correct in that theoretically every player represents his or her nation every time they step out onto the court. The WTA arguably loses a little credit by threatening to stage its own team competitions and/or allowing players to compete in exos during Fed Cup weeks, which outside of the likely choice of venue and fat paycheck that comes with an exo, isn’t all that different than committing to play a tie. Either way, it’s going to be interesting to see how this all unfolds. Will the top players cave to compete in Rio? If the players refuse to meet the requirements, will the ITF stick to its guns at the risk of a depleted field? Time will tell.
Indian Wells has always been one of the premiere events in the sport. In fact, it’s the fifth-highest attended event in the sport, just behind the four majors. But if owner Larry Ellison and new CEO Ray Moore have anything to say about it, the desert event will soon be rivaling those four historic tournaments. Earlier this week, Ray Moore announced an ambitious plan to have an 8,000 seat stadium completed in time for the 2014 event. The tournament, like the Miami Masters, currently lacks a decent second show court. This proposed stadium would rectify this problem. There is also talk of adding a new parking lot, entrance, and box office. Much like the addition of the Hawk-Eye on all courts, with the money and clout of Ellison behind it, these upgrades look like a real possibility. It’s unlikely (at least in the foreseeable future) Indian Wells will officially receive status as the “Fifth Slam,” but hopefully with these types of plans and actions, they will inspire other premiere events to further raise the bar at their own tournaments.
As if Roger Federer didn’t have enough to worry about as he prepares to defend points from his successful 2011 autumn campaign in order to maintain the number one ranking, now some loony tune has threatened to assassinate him. A user on the website baidu.com made the death threat and allegedly posted a picture of a decapitated Federer on his knees on a court, with a masked executioner standing next to him. It’s likely that the threat is nothing more than words and a desperate attempt to get attention, but particularly when one considers what happened to Monica Seles, no chances can be taken. For that reason, security around Federer in Shanghai has been tightened, with added security for the rest of the players. It’s a sad world we live in that this sort of thing happens. Federer’s safety and that of his family is most important, but hopefully this jerk hasn’t also thrown him off his game.