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Mailbag: Is Media Access an Issue in Tennis? – Sports Illustrated

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Plus thoughts on the pre-match interview, Yetunde Price and more.

Hey everyone. A short vacation Mailbag….

1) Our most recent podcast guest: WTT CEO Carlos Silva.

2) Next up: Wifi willing, it’s Richard Gasquet.

3) Congrats Sam Stosur.

4) We’re hearing that while the WTA’s China stretch is deeply imperiled, the ATP Finals are still on the docket for London. It will likely be a no-fans scenario, but cancelling the event would mean a $10 million swing for the ATP.

5) Your name in the Hall of Fame…Fans can get involved here.

Onward….

Mailbag

Have a question or comment for Jon? Email him at jon_wertheim@yahoo.com or tweet him @jon_wertheim.

Jon, did you see John Feinstein’s column about media access in golf versus tennis? If so what did you think and is this something that tennis needs to address?
Sam S., San Francisco

• First, here’s the column. I like John professionally. I like John personally. (I first met him when I was in eighth grade and he was in my town writing Season on the Brink.) But his tennis playbook might need an update. The sport still has a long way to go in the media relations department—and any journalist satisfied about the level of access would be committing an act of professional malpractice—but it’s not as bad as he makes it out to be.

If you’re a member of the International Tennis Writers’ Association—which has requirements for membership, but they are reasonable—you usually have access to the players’ lounge. Some players are happy to engage on social media and respond to DMs, eliminating the middle-folk. Players’ agents are generally helpful. I also think media relations are largely top-down. A quarter century ago, Pete Sampras and Steffi Graf liked being interviewed about as much as they liked getting their serves broken. Other players picked up on that ethos. Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic are much more media-friendly and this, too, marinates throughout the sport.

John tells that Henri Leconte story. But note how many players have spent more than 20 minutes on podcasts or videos. I linked this piece a few months ago re: Djokovic spending multiple days with American journalist Graham Bensinger. (In December—the off-season—I was in Mallorca with Nadal for multiple days as well.)

More important: access is only relevant if the players have something to say for themselves. I have covered golf and—at the risk of the same wild generalization I gently accuse John of indulging—you can fill notepads and recording devices and not have one quote worth using. I remember asking a golfer named Justin Leonard a question. He looked me in the eye, smiled and said, “I’m not sure it does me any good to answer that question.” He was a gentleman and was gracious. But if that’s the attitude, I’m not sure it did me any good to cover golf.

Say this about tennis (at least tennis in the last decade or so): When you get to the athletes, the assignations are often worthwhile. They are engaging and funny and quotable. I’m not even talking about Nick Kyrgios. Here’s Taylor Townsend. Here are the Bryans. Here’s Naomi Osaka. Here’s Federer talking to a journalist aboard a private plane. Here’s Nadal.

There’s a meta point to be made in here somewhere…but in tennis, the pursuit may be a challenge; but the payoff is usually worthwhile.

Whenever I catch Jan-Lennard Struff (currently playing in Thiem’s 7), I always remark that he has a game similar to John Isner’s, but with better mobility. Why has his career never taken off the way John’s has?
James in Ho Chi Minh City

• I like Struff and like watching him as well. I wouldn’t necessarily compare his serve to Isner’s but he’s a heavy hitter. His movement has improved, but he’s still a big lumbering guy and can struggle with fitness. Note his record in best-of-five matches: he’s 15-26 at majors, which is really low for a guy who’s usually on the verge of getting seeded. He tends to beat the players he should beat and lose to those above him. Now 30 (when did that happen?) he is ranked No. 34.

Jon, I assume you caught Mardy Fish winning the Celebrity Golf title. Maybe now more people will realize that tennis players are serious athletes!
Colin, New York

• Somewhere Gael Monfils shakes his head. (“I can leap over the Eiffel Tower to hit an overhead; but some dad crowding 40 and wearing pants can thwack a ball out of some tall grass and suddenly tennis players are athletes?”)

We jest. Congrats to Mardy.

Huge fan for more than a decade. I’ve been wanting to ask you this for some time. How much of “what questions you choose to answer” is driven by internal SI politics as opposed to everything else ? After all, even Hannity claims he’s fair and balanced.

What’s the thought process and the system for choosing which questions to answer? Has there ever been a case where you are friends with a player and have chosen not to entertain a question from someone who has less (much less) than complimentary things to say about said player? Enlighten us!
Deepak, New York

• Hey thanks. It’s an imprecise science, but there’s no politics here other than my own. Some heuristics:

1) I’d like this to reflect the tennis vox populi. So if 75% of the questions are about, say, the Adria Tour, I feel duty bound to discuss. Some topics (labor economics of tennis) interest me more than others (the GOAT debate) but I feel like this is every bit as much the readers’ column as it is mine.

2) I have no Facebook-style algorithm, but I try to reward regular readers. Some of you have noticed repeat names (Helen of DC, Megan of Indy, Sally of Switzerland, Shlomo, Fernando, Deepak himself.) That is no accident.

3) I shy away from questions about physical appearance. Who’s hot and not. Who looks good/bad in what outfit.

4) With the possible exception of Wayne Odesnik—multiple doping cheat—I have no personal animus toward any player. By the same token, I try not to let relationships or personal fondness interfere with analysis.

Hello. Do you know what happened to Wu Yibing? He was a promising young junior and then disappeared.
@sflatennis

• From the Beijing bureau…here’s his agent:

Thank you for your email. Wu Yibing is a very talented player. He was suffering from elbow pain and finally decided to have a minor operation on his elbow last August. He was recovering and doing treatment at the IMG Academy since then. And it was very unfortunate that he was getting ready for competition and the ATP Tour got suspended because of the COVID-19. Thank you for thinking about Wu. Hopefully we can get back to competition soon!

Do you like the pre-match interview?
Brian T. Barnstable

• Does David Foster like the horns section in Chicago? The pre-match interview is excruciating for all parties. It is made worse by “questions” that trigger predictable, numb responses.

Q: “How excited are you by this opportunity?”

A: “Oh, very excited. I want to enjoy the experience.”

Q: “You lost to her the last time you played. What are you going to have to do differently?”

A: “Be more aggressive and take my chances.”

Q: “Does David Foster like the horns section of Chicago?”

A: “Why no. But it did lead to the breakout solo career of Peter Cetera.”

Can I please call for an immediate and permanent moratorium on the use of the phrase “balletic grace” in regards to the playing style of Roger Federer? So many journalists and commentators use it (though not you, as much as I can remember), and if they aren’t using it in an article about him, they’ll use it in all other articles not about him (for example, to emphasize, say, the physicality of Nadal’s playing style). It’s become comedic and there are so many adjectives in the English language…
Mark

• You’re very kind but you probably give me too much credit. I suspect “balletic grace” has infected my writing at one point or another. My pet peeve phrase to retire? “Maestro.”

Here’s a moratorium for athletes: “Prove the doubters wrong” and “fueled by my critics” and “not-so-fast to all the people encouraging me to retire.” This is a classic straw man. Who are these doubters? Who—besides Papa Djokovic—actively wants Federer (or Venus or Sam Stosur or the Bryans or whomever) to retire?

• Matt George, take us out:

I’ve been thinking a lot about Yetunde Price lately. Yetunde was a mother of three, a nurse, and a small business owner who was tragically killed as an innocent bystander in gang-related violence on September 14, 2003, about a mile and a half from the Compton public courts where her two younger sisters, Venus and Serena Williams, learned tennis from their parents. When her boyfriend called paramedics and the police, he was actually arrested although he had nothing to do with the crime. Although Venus and Serena had both missed the just finished U.S. Open with injuries, they had combined for nine of the previous 13 Grand Slam titles. Yet they would not win a Grand Slam title in 2004, despite both being at the absolutely prime of their games. And while they each nabbed one title in 2005, 2006 was also a drought, and it probably wasn’t until Serena’s comeback win at the 2007 Australian Open that really re-sparked both their careers.

During this time, however, the killer was unsuccessfully tried two times, before pleading to a lesser charge, and in her true courageous fashion Serena addressed him in court, concluding that, “Our family has always been positive and we always try to help people.” True to their word, the Williams’ sisters opened the Yetunde Price Resource Center in 2016, whose mission “works to ensure that victims of direct or indirect senseless violence have complete access to existing resources and that where there is a dearth in services, new resources are created.” 

Although this topic must be unbelievably painful to discuss, Serena has opened up more about it the past couple of years, explaining how the scourge of gun violence has impacted her family and the depression it caused her during these years her results tailed off. So I’m surprised that Yetunde is not a bigger part of the Williams’ story, and my own conclusion is that the tennis media has failed to fully address or incorporate this into the narrative simply due to its blind spots about the unique difficulties African-American tennis players have had to face in their off-court lives. 

Indeed, in May 2006, one Hall-of-Famer wrote an open letter that was sent to the entire USTA membership describing Serena’s lack of results as being “sidetracked with injuries, pet projects, and indifference.” I wonder if this player ever thinks about how the grief associated with the murder of a sibling might have impacted her life, let alone her match results. If John McEnroe had a mid-career drought after the murder of his sibling, would he have been publicly chastised this way? I don’t think so. And as much as we all agree a deranged German man altered the course of tennis history in April 1993, I believe it is a foregone conclusion Serena would be well past Margaret’s mark already had her sister not been killed when she was.

So when the tour resumes, I believe it is incumbent on you and members of your profession to ask (with permission of course) our African-American players about the unique challenges they’ve faced, so they can be heard and seen for who they are, so that their results can be appropriately placed in context, and so that we all may learn from their experiences and do better. We owe it to Yetunde. 

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LIVE outside Adamson BBQ: Adam Skelly demands media leave property – CityNews Toronto

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Nelson thrust into media spotlight over mask wearing – The Nelson Daily

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It’s been said that even bad press is better than no press at all.

However, Nelson would like to be known as the picturesque city nestled in the Selkirk Mountains on the edge of beautiful Kootenay Lake tourists love to visit instead of a place where patrons spit at staff at hotel coffee shops for not wanting to wear a mask during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last Friday, media reports said an irate customer at Empire Coffee Shop in the Adventure Hotel on Vernon Street spat at staff after refusing to wear a mask.

The staff member, who confronted the irate customer and was spit at, later felt ill from the experience. She was later airlifted to Kelowna Hospital with what was determined to be a heart attack.

Nelson Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Tom Thomson said the Empire incident is very alarming to a business just doing its best to comply with Public Health Office.

The recent incidents at three local businesses is upsetting, as these businesses are trying their best to follow PHO and WorkSafe BC mandates,” Thomson told The Nelson Daily.

“And to have a customer or perhaps an anti-mask protester take it out on employees or businesses is just beyond what would be acceptable.”

Last Friday, a customer spat on a staff member at the Empire Coffee shop on Baker Street. — The Nelson Daily

Thomson, who was in the downtown core last week handing out “Wearing is Caring” signs to local businesses, said the past eight months during COVID-19 has been a really tumultuous time for owners trying to stay afloat.

He said the mandatory mask public health order by Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, that came down last week was just one more thing business had to quickly work into daily operations.

“This mandatory mask policy is totally accepted by a huge percentage of business and consumers,” Thomson explained.

There have been push back from some members of the community regarding mask wearing.

Kootenay Co-op grocery store has hired security following a few recent incidents.

There have also been anti-mask protests the past couple of weekends in Nelson, one held outside City Hall and the other on Baker Street outside the CIBC.

A business owner on Baker Street told The Nelson Daily Wednesday, that for the most part, the new mask order by the Provincial Health Office has been widely accepted, with many downtown shoppers wearing masks on the street as well as inside stores while shopping.

“Businesses are doing whatever is possible to stay open for business,” Thomson said.

“(They are doing their best to) employ a few people and still be able to pay bills at the end of the month.”

Media reports the Adventure Hotel staff member suffering the heart attack is stable.

After locating the spitting suspect, Nelson Police continue to investigate the incident.

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Canadian Stories that Will Inspire, Educate and Entertain

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This content was sponsored by Audible.ca

For generations of Canadians, storytelling has been one of the most important tools for surviving long Canadian winters.

When the wind is howling outside your window and it feels like the night will never end, anecdotes, true stories, and tall tales are a vital way of keeping your spirits up while connecting with loved ones, so it’s no surprise that this country has a long history of producing storytellers of remarkable talent.

And as this list of Canadian Audible Originals attests, Canadians have access to more stories than ever before. Whether you’re looking for narratives about failure and success that will inspire you to take charge of your own life, celebrated accounts from Indigenous storytellers, or fascinating true-crime adventures, here are just a few of the audiobooks and podcasts you should check out this season.

Michele Romanow’s The Revisionaries

In the world of business, the most glowing victories usually come after years of setbacks and missteps, and in our haste to celebrate success we often downplay the failures that most entrepreneurs have had to deal with on the way to their big breakthroughs.

Over the course of ten illuminating episodes, The Revisionaries entrepreneur and Dragon’s Den star Michele Romanow interviews the leaders of some of the world’s most exciting start-ups about the mistakes they made and the pitfalls they encountered along the way.

Thomas King’s Indians on Vacation

Few living artists in Canada can command the same respect as Thomas King, author of The Back of the Turtle — and his latest audiobook, Indians on Vacation offers up the same signature blend of humour, wit and trenchant cultural criticism that has made him a household name.

Now more than ever, it is important to celebrate Indigenous writers and learn from their unique perspectives on pressing cultural concerns like environmental degradation, racism and the importance of respecting the treaties that laid the foundation for Canada’s existence.

If you want to listen to an audiobook that is as thought-provoking as it is entertaining, this is one title you should download immediately.

Colm Feore’s True North Heists

Have you ever heard about the time Georges Lemay broke into the Bank of Nova Scotia and got away with hundreds of thousands of dollars? Or the group of criminal masterminds who successfully pulled of a plan to steal thousands of barrels of maple syrup?

In True North Heists one of Canada’s most celebrated actors shares some of this country’s most fascinating true crime stories. From train bandits to securities fraudsters, this series will introduce you to audacious plots and daring thieves that will change the way you think about Canadian history.

With winter setting in again and many Canadians turning to more contemplative activities, audiobooks and podcasts are a wonderful way to unwind.

Cozying up under a warm blanket and putting on the latest episode of The Revisionaries or Truth North Heists won’t just help you clear your mind and focus on what’s important — it will also help you plug into a storytelling tradition that is as old as Canada.

 

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