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Earthquake in women’s tennis and the ATP’s lack of authority over players’ bad behaviour – Match Points #38

In episode #38 of Match Points, our panel ponders the sudden retirement of Ash Barty and the ATP’s unwillingness to properly punish bad behaviour on court

April 5, 2022
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The sudden retirement of Ash Barty at the age of 25 surprised the entire tennis world. The Aussie star, a three-time major champion, is just the second player to ever retire at No 1, after Justine Henin, and when she broke the news ahead of the Miami Open, many were not quite ready to believe it.

In Match Points #38, former Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli and journalists Carole Bouchard and Simon Cambers get to grips with and discuss the implications of Barty’s announcement, as well as the shortcomings of the ATP’s decision to let Alexander Zverev continue to play on a probationary suspension after his violent actions on court in Acapulco.

The panel combs over the issues with host Josh Cohen, wondering how much Barty will be missed in the coming years on tour. The discussion then move to the next No 1, Iga Swiatek, and whether or not the Pole will be able to create stability at the top of the rankings.

Iga Swiatek kissing the trophy, Miami 2022
Iga Swiatek, Miami 2022 (© AI / Reuters / Panoramic)

Next the discussion moves to the ATP, the tour’s reluctance to punish the bad behaviour of a number of its stars. As the public frustration with abusive behaviour towards officials and ball kids grows, why isn’t the tour itself taking a stand and setting an example?

Key moments in Match Points #38:

  • 2:25: Marion Bartoli explains how Barty took everyone off guard when she made her announcement, and says it was shocking to see her call it quits at 25. “I just felt she is so young,” says Bartoli.
  • 4:30: Simon Cambers points out that Barty has been on tour for nearly 10 years. He adds that she’s young enough that there is plenty of time for her to come back if she ever has the desire.
  • 7:30: Marion Bartoli points out that Barty’s consistency will be missed. “I never felt when Ash was on court that I wasn’t certain about what kind of level she was going to bring,” she said, adding that the Tour has been hungry for consistency at the top and just when they got it with Barty, it is now gone.
  • 9:00 Carole Bouchard says she believes that Iga Swiatek can dominate as No 1 for a while, but adds that it would be nice to see Naomi Osaka and Bianca Andreescu back at their top level to create rivalry. “She’s ready to own it,” Bouchard says of Swiatek.
  • 9:45: Cambers says that Swiatek has everything she needs to be a great player. “As time goes on she looks like the one who is most likely to be dominant,” he says.
  • 12:30: Cambers says that the ATP’s decision not to suspend Zverev is not surprising, but really disappointing. “Zverev’s behaviour was the worst,” he says of the German’s abusive outburst in Acapulco. “To me, that’s almost as bad as it gets. The poor umpire looked terrified.”
  • 14:00: Cambers continues, saying that he feels Zverev should have been banned for a couple of months.
  • 16:00: Bartoli was most surprised by Jenson Brooksby’s outburst in Miami, saying that she thought the 21-year-old was the kid who was humble and would keep his nose clean at all costs. “Don’t tell me that it’s not on purpose that you do that,” she said. She goes on to say that she feels bad for the ATP right now, because they are looking terrible in the public eye.
  • 21:18: Bouchard says she honestly cannot understand why the ATP is refusing to set an example by banning someone like Zverev. She wonders why they are trying to protect individual players when instead they’d be wiser to protect their image as a sport.
  • 25:15: Bartoli believes that there could be a price to pay for all the ATP’s trepidation. One time, she says, something truly bad will happen that leaves an on court official or ball kid seriously injured, and it will have been due to all the previous leniency.
  • 28:15: Bouchard says forget about comparing the glory days of bad boy tennis, featuring John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors, to today’s cast of characters. It’s a different time and a different place in history, she says – why do we want to go backwards?
  • 30:30: Bartoli says that the introduction of a match tiebreak at 6-6 in the final set of Grand Slams will reduce suspense, to a certain degree. She believes that an element of surprise will be missing when fans and players know that a tiebreak is coming..
  • 34:15: Host Cohen goes “predictive” and asks the following question: Which is more likely… a) Carlos Alcaraz winning Roland-Garros this year b) Novak Djokovic winning 25-30 Grand Slam titles or c) Rafael Nadal having a normal hard court season this summer without injury. Watch the video to find out the panel’s choices…
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