Monthly Archives: October 2009

Sex and Tennis

Rakuten Open 2009 Day 5

About 4am last Sunday in the chilly early morning air of Stockholm, Sweden, two men entered a hotel accompanied by two young women. The men were tennis players in town for the Stockholm Open though only one of them was entered into the tournament.

As they entered the hotel, the players were arrested by local police who’d been keeping tabs on the two women. The women were prostitutes and the players were charged with soliciting sex. They spent the rest of the night in jail but were released after signing a confession and paying a fine of 2500 Swedish krona (about US $370).

The police have confirmed that much and nothing more. The rest of our information comes from tour players who say that the two men were Ernests Gulbis (pictured above) and his friend and hitting partner David Juksha.

Okay, first of all, if this had happened in the US, the police report and the mug shots would have been up on the internet by the end of the day. And the prostitutes would have hired publicists and had feelers for a reality show soon thereafter – that is after they were arrested and paid their fine.

But the prostitutes in Sweden weren’t arrested and this set me off on a trip through prostitution and the legal system. In some countries you can be executed, in some countries prostitution is legal and regulated, and in some countries – like Sweden – the person soliciting sex is arrested and not the prostitute. Sweden views prostitution as violence against women.

If the players had been arrested in certain places in the United States, they would have been given the option to pay a fine and go to a one day John’s school which is similar to going to traffic school to get a traffic ticket wiped off your record. All this leads me to wonder a few things.

First of all, shouldn’t the ATP create a card similar to the card listing banned substances that any player can download from the ATP website? The card could list the legal status of prostitution by country and players could slip it into their wallets next to their drug cards and their condoms.

Second, why do athletes need an escort service? Don’t women flock to good looking potential millionaires? Especially Gulbis who comes from a wealthy family. I suppose it’s one way to avoid emotional entanglement though, for me, that takes some of the fun out of it. I have considered using an escort service but I was always worried about getting arrested. And I’ve never been able to erase the image of Jane Fonda looking at her watch as she turns a trick in the movie Klute. I mean, how much could an escort be into it?

There is one more thing I wondered about. How often does this happen on the ATP tour? There have been plenty of athletes (and politicians) turning up on the client list of call girls, but I haven’t seen it in the tennis world. The closest thing to an answer came from tennis writer extraordinaire Matt Cronin who’s twitter feed pointedly mentioned an 11 slam winner who had a glowing reputation for the same behavior.

There are three players who’ve won 11 slams: Bjorn Borg, Rod Laver, and Serena Williams. There are escort services that provide male clientele for their female customers but that’s far more rare than the other way around. And though I’m sure most female escorts would be more than willing to service female clientele, if Serena were into women, I’d probably know about it.

Okay, then, what do you think? Who was Cronin referring to: Laver or Bjorg?

Fed and Rafa Withdrawal

I’m in the early stages of Fed and Rafa withdrawal. Roger Federer waylaid his serve in the U.S. Open final and faded away in the fifth set last time I saw him. He begged off the entire Asian swing with a supposed bad back. This year was probably a temporary respite from Roger’s inevitable decline.

Rafael Nadal usually fades in the fall but this year he went down in his favorite season – red clay. He’s back now but he lost 3-6, 1-6, to Marin Cilic in the Beijing semifinals last week. He’s still in the Shanghai Masters draw this week but that score indicates one of two things: Nadal has lingering physical problems or he’s mentally/physically tired.

I haven’t yet put images of Fed and Rafa on the altar next to my cousin Vanna who died on September 6, but I am preparing myself for the end of yet another sustaining relationship and, at the moment, I’m reduced to watching Gael Monfils pound Paul-Henri Mathieu. Monfils made a few of his usual jaw-dropping saves – including a ridiculous lob winner off a running forehand that he shanked – but Mathieu was missing in action.

Fed and Rafa were seldom, if ever, missing in action. After they’re gone are we headed for a few years of the dreaded concept of parity and is that a good thing or not? Parity means that anyone can win on any day. It’s the direct opposite of the monopoly held by Fed and Rafa. Since 2006 they’ve won every slam except two. That’s a record of 14-2 against the rest of the field.

After the Monfils-Mathieu match I watched Andy Roddick go down with a knee injury as if to demonstrate his recent complaints about the absurdly long 11 month season. The point being that Rafa is the future rather than Fed as we are likely to see shorter tennis careers and fewer four-year monopolies.

In the U.S., football and basketball leagues have pretty good parity because each team has a salary cap – a limit on the total team salary. Having said that, football is a much healthier sport than basketball. That explains why the National Football League will probably succeed in preventing conservative radio personality Rush Limbaugh and his investment group from buying the St. Louis franchise: there will be multiple offers for the team and the NFL can say that it chose the better financial offer rather than saying it chose to avoid the controversy that will come with Limbaugh.

The National Basketball Association, on the other hand, allowed Russian Mikhail Prokhorov to invest $200 million into one of its franchises because it had no better offer from anyone in North America. I bring this up because tennis has already been down this road. They expanded into Asia and they gave Dubai a men’s and women’s tournament despite the controversy that was sure to follow.

A lot of professional sports leagues have suffered from expansion. In most cases, unsuccessful expansion ends with contraction – leagues fold unprofitable franchises. And a number of tennis tournaments have folded but only to turn up elsewhere in the world.

Mainly it looks like expansion will result in quicker player turnover and fewer Fed and Rafa monopolies. Just give me a while, I’ll get used it. Honest, I will.

One last thought. The end of the service let seems to be quietly making its way through the tennis world. The NCAA eliminated the service let and the ITF is experimenting with it in lower level Davis Cup matches. Should the ATP and the WTA eliminate the service let?

The most compelling counter argument is the following scenario: the server has match point and is up 11-10 in the fifth set of the Wimbledon final. He hits a serve that dribbles over the net and into his opponent’s service box and the match is over. Essentially, luck has handed him the match.

The rebuttal: what’s the difference between a serve that just dribbles over the net and a groundstroke netcord in the same situation? There’s no difference that I know of and there are far fewer serves than groundstrokes in a match, but if people are really concerned about a service netcord ending a match, then eliminate the service let except on set point.

What do you think?