After rough sailing the last few years, these were supposed to be new and calmer seas for the suits at the Spanish Tennis Federation.
Instead, its first big move was to fire former Wimbledon champion Conchita Martinez. Twice.
The RFET relieved Martinez of her duties as Davis Cup captain and Fed Cup captain Thursday. It was one of those “We love you, really, but we’re still breaking up with you” announcements.
“At the meeting held this morning in Barcelona, the members of the Board unanimously agreed to a change in the direction of our professional teams, highlighting the great work Conchita Martínez has done during these years at the head of our most emblematic tennis teams,” the federation’s statement said.
The board said Martinez “has done a great job. ” But ….. “we have decided to make a change, by general consensus, as we face new challenges in 2018.”
They said it will announce new captains “in the coming days”.
That probably means they already know who they are.
Typically, in these types of circumstances (note how many players and coaches, when they part ways, always do soand by “mutual agreement), the former captain will play ball.
He or she will talk about how it was a great experience. And they’ll speak warmly about how much they appreciated the opportunity, bla bla bla.
Martinez chose not do go that route. Instead, she’s being honest.
Disappointment and disrespect
“I want to share with you my disappointment and unease towards the RFET, which advised me late this afternoon that will not count on me for next season.
“It is very ungrateful, after you take over a ship in stormy seas and steer it towards calm and compromise, to be cast overboard. With the arrival of the new board, the situation was supposed to change. But it is more of the same; tennis still is not a priority,” Martinez wrote in her statement. “Given the complicated circumstances, I have accepted their decision. If the situation were different, I would not.”
Martinez wrote with the neglect she felt the last few months from the board, she pretty much figured her days were numbered. One big warning sign was when, for the first time in recent years, the new board of directors decided against her traveling to the Grand Slam events to meet face-to-face with the players on her players and keep track of their progress.
This is something just about all Fed Cup and Davis Cup captains do, as a matter of routine.
— Alex Corretja (@AlexCorretja74) September 14, 2017
“I’m proud to have been able to work with the best tennis players in the world. It hurts for the fans, with whom I share a love and passion for tennis, who have been there always supporting us in every match, on television, in the stands or with their messages through social networks,” she wrote. “My motivation and desire remain intact, just like my first day. I would have liked to continue, but the RFET’s decision is unilateral”
Martinez said that after all her contributions to Spanish tennis, she didn’t deserve to be fired in what considers such a disrespectful manner.
Can’t argue that.
New Fed – same as the old Fed
The Spanish Tennis Federation has been a dog’s breakfast in recent years. And its high-profile players refused to play ball.
When even Carlos Moyá couldn’t get them to commit to play Davis Cup, he resigned. Spain was crushed by Brazil in a playoff tie in Sept. 2014, and Roberto Bautista Agut was the only singles player ranked in the top 500 who committed to play. So the federation played its hand in a show of “executive power”.
It decided to unilaterally bring in a former WTA Tour player, Gala León Garcia, to become the new Davis Cup captain. Among the other names put forth at the time were people like Juan Carlos Ferrero, a former No. 1.
The power move backfired, big time.
The players objected to having someone they barely even knew (even in her previous administrative functions with the federation) forced upon them. And so León Garcia cried sexism. The top guns boycotted, and León Garcia went back underground as quick as she had emerged. She never captained a tie. And it further confirmed the players’ notion that they didn’t know her, she didn’t know them, and furthermore had little interest in even getting to know them.
That’s when Martinez came on board.
After that, federation president José Luis Escañuela and vice-president Olvido Aguilera got into some hot water over some alleged major financial irregularities including – most amusingly – some 12,000 Euros spent on candy.
Escañuela was suspended, then resigned.
New president promises transparency
The new president, Miguel Díaz Román, was elected a year later and promised change and transparency.
It wasn’t exactly a study of democracy in action, even if the voter turnout was nearly 97 per cent. The two other candidates withdrew just before the start of the meeting. The final tally was 123 votes for Díaz Román, 46 blank votes, and four spoiled ballots.
“We are going to unite tennis in Spain, we are going to work together to make the Spanish Tennis Federation a benchmark at the global level,” Díaz Román said upon being elected.
The first thing Díaz Román did was to shuffle León Garcia out of the federation completely. He promised to restore the federation to its former glory.
But barely a year after taking office, he presided over a move that cannot sit well with the new No. 1 in the WTA Tour rankings, Garbiñe Muguruza.
Muguruza called upon Martinez to take over the coaching when regular coach Sam Sumyk had to miss Wimbledon due to the birth of his first child.
She won the tournament. And it was clear that experience and chill of Martinez contributed greatly to that effort.
Davis Cup in disarray
As for Davis Cup, players like Roberto Bautista-Agut and Pablo Carreño Busta took part in 2017. But Rafael Nadal, David Ferrer and others took a pass.
The next Davis Cup tie will take place right after the Australian Open in early February (the draw will be made next week in London).
It will be fascinating to see who will be captaining. And even more fascinating to see which players will play.
Spain currently has the world No. 1 male player in Nadal, and the world No. 1 female player in Muguruza. You can’t ask for more in terms of spreading the gospel of the game in your country.
It defies the imagination as to why they would want to rock the boat in such a major way, right.
A piece in El Español posits a few candidates. And it indicates that ever since the French Open, the new board had decided Martinez was a (three-year) interim solution. But it wasn’t a long-term one.
For the Davis Cup, it seems like the same old, same old (former male player with a Slam on his resumé). For the women, a couple of former players whose main success came in doubles are on the list. As well – and we wonder about their thinking here – the former (male) coach of one of the mainstays of the Fed Cup team, Carla Suárez Navarro. Former coach. There’s a reason.
One interesting thing the board reportedly thought Martinez was lacking was “the ability to manage with a clear message to the group.” If that’s the case, the suits continue to fail to understand what the 21st century player is all about. And this is especially true on the men’s side, where the majority of the players are higher-ranked.
Those players play Davis Cup out of duty, not for the money. Because it’s an intrusion, in a sense, to the dynamics of their day job. The recent rash of injuries at the top of the game tell you most top players want to play less, not more.
The Davis Cup participants are not a team all season long. But when they show up, they give their all. They don’t need motivation – just making time for it in their schedule shows they’re plenty motivated. And they don’t need “a clear message”. They’re not children to be controlled.