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Should the top players help financially the ones beneath them? – Match Points #3

In episode 3 of Match Points, Josh Cohen guides Marion Bartoli, Noah Rubin and Ben Rothenberg through several hot topics facing tennis right now. The trio discuss player relief and the origin of the big financial issue that the sport currently faces.

May 20, 2020
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Our panel today consists of former Wimbledon champion and world no. 7 Marion Bartoli, ATP world number 225 Noah Rubin (founder of Behind the Racquet) and American journalist Ben Rothenberg. The guests joined Cohen to give their take on controversial remarks made in the last week by Dominic Thiem.

“There are some players I would not like to support,” Thiem told the website ORF in an interview last week. “So I’d prefer the player got to choose and then it would benefit the ones who really need it.”

Bartoli says that Thiem’s comments were a bit tone-deaf, but added that she understands his point of view.

“I think to me he phrased it quite badly,” the Frenchwoman said.

“I think when you have the whole world trying to help each other, I think it was a little bit too rude from him to say straight away ‘I’m not going to help those players.’ I sort of understand his point, I think he wanted to say that he knows some of them or he knows the behavior of some of them, and for him they are not behaving the way they should. They don’t train enough, they are not professional enough and therefore he doesn’t want to help them. Fine, but I’m sure he knows two or three guys in that group that work extremely hard, are trying their hardest and still doesn’t make enough money.”

“I think to scratch completely the idea and to say he’s not giving anything, I think he’s making his image quite damaged, and I think that’s a bad communication.”

An Embarrassing Situation?

In another segment of Match Points Rubin echoed the sentiments of fellow American Reilly Opelka, who last week criticized the ATP in an interview with Racquet Magazine, saying “I don’t think, as an ATP exec, you should be supportive of asking your players to pay for other players when you haven’t taken a pay cut yourself, when us players have taken a 100 percent pay cut. That’s completely wrong.”

Rubin notes that other major professional sports are not asking their athletes to shoulder the financial burden – only tennis is.

“I think it is embarrassing for players to be helping players, there’s no other sport that actually does that,” he said.

Dominic Thiem

Rubin also took offense to Thiem’s comments, saying that they were unfair to lower-ranked players.

“The out of line starts when you start degrading tennis players that are 500 in the world,” Rubin said. “We’re not all gifted with his talent to be No.4 in the world (Thiem actually ranks at No.3). So to single them out to say they don’t deserve any money – it’s okay if it’s not from him – but to bring up this idea, it’s this full topic we deal with in tennis, which, we just beat the crap out of each other in the world of tennis, and I think we have to stop doing that.”

Are Players Unfairly Being Punished by the Tour’s Mistakes?

When Cohen asked the panel whether they agree with Darren Cahill’s comments that the players are being asked to pay for the tour’s mistakes, all three guests agreed that the tour could, and should, do a better job of taking care of lower-ranked players. And they each agreed that in a perfect world players should not have to be a part of the financial compensation of lower-ranked players.

“There’s been a lot of mistakes in the payment structure that have helped some players and hurt some players too,” said Rothenberg. “I think that for example the US Open champion getting four million dollars feels like an outsized amount to be winning a tournament, especially when there is two million dollars riding on that one match, between the champion and the runner-up, and that’s a ridiculous disparity. It is a broken system, I agree with Darren on that, but I also think that the players at the very, very top have benefited a lot from this inequality of wealth.”

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