Adler vs. ESPN settled, as Adler returns

More than two years after some tennis fans on Twitter set in motion a chain of events that appeared to have destroyed tennis broadcaster Doug Adler’s career, there’s a happy ending.

Awaiting more details from ESPN on this, but according to the New York Post’s Phil Mushnick, ESPN has settled the lawsuit Adler filed on Feb. 14, 2017.

Reached in California, Adler confirmed to tennis.life that he has dropped the lawsuit.

“I am no longer pursuing legal claims against ESPN.  I have been asked about my lawsuit and claims for more than a year. And at this point I believe it is in my best interests to move forward and to focus on the future,” he said. “ I look forward to my employment with ESPN.”

No word so far on the nature of the settlement. But the fact that it appears Adler now will be an ESPN employee is, in fact, big news for the longtime broadcaster.

Adler had always been working freelance. In fact, in the early documents ESPN brought to the table when the case appeared headed for trial last fall, his employment status – who his employer/superior actually was – was one of the elements of the company’s defense.

The statement issued by an ESPN spokesperson was brief.

“We have amicably resolved our dispute with Doug Adler.”

The jury trial to rule on the lawsuit was to begin Oct. 15, 2018. It later was postponed to April. Now, it won’t happen at all.

Venus Williams and the “Guerrilla Effect” 

The on-air incident that led to the legal action came in the first week of the 2017 Australian Open.

It involved Adler’s use of the term “putting the guerrilla effect on” during Venus Williams’s match against Stefanie Voegele of Switzerland.

It’s a phrase that likely first came into the tennis vernacular with the iconic Nike commercial in the mid 1990s. The commercial starred Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras and the theme was “guerrilla tennis”.

When I first heard the video, after the issue blew up, I immediately knew what Adler was referring to.

But the word “guerrilla” was heard as “gorilla” by some fans watching at home. And given Williams is African-American, and given the long history of racism the sisters have endured throughout their brilliant careers, it pushed a hot button. A couple of Tweets turned into a relative avalanche. And ESPN went into damage control mode.

Adler was dismissed from his duties for the rest of the first-week interactive ESPN coverage. His disappearance from the booth (which was in Los Angeles, not Melbourne) followed an on-air apology Adler said he didn’t feel he should make.

Rather, he wanted to clarify his comments. But Adler says he did it because he was assured by his superior that it would result in him not losing his gig, that it would calm the situation down.

He apologized. He lost the gig.

ESPN motion argues Adler case

Significant health consequences

The now 61-year-old’s devastation in the aftermath led to multiple physical and emotional issues, including a heart attack. (Adler had coronary bypass surgery March 29).

On Feb. 14, 2017, he filed the suit against ESPN for wrongful termination and four other complaints.

The lawsuit filing explained what Adler meant by the term.

“To someone like Plaintiff, who has over 40 years of tennis experience, the phase “guerrilla tennis” is something that has frequently been used to describe a player’s aggressive surprise tactics in the sport,” it states. It also states that “many other tennis commentators and writers have used “guerrilla” to describe aggressive tennis players”. And that it “became widely used by those who actually understood tennis vernacular and followed the sport closely.”

The document even quoted Mao Tse-Tung’s definition of “guerrilla warfare”.

Adler

  Social media reaction creates storm

The biggest reason that this issue became a full-blown crisis within ESPN was that it quickly spread across Twitter – as these things tend to do.

Adler’s claim stated he was pulled out of the broadcast booth the next day to “discuss issues raised by a handful of people on social media”. He referred again to “a few people on social media”, and “a couple of media outlets” that had contacted ESPN.

For its part, ESPN described the reaction as a “viral uprising on social media, and mainstream global media accused him of making a racist comment”.

Tennis legend Martina Navratilova Tweeted her agreement after ESPN let Adler go.

Amongst the 1,128 documents and exhibits that were entered into evidence for this case were numerous Tweets – approximately 100 in all.

Adler

According to the ESPN court filing, the initial Tweets appeared to come from an account called @pinacocoblog. A  quick search reveals that there were numerous Tweets on the subject from that account.

Others weighed in or reTweeted. Down the list, the 15th Tweet in chronological order in the ESPN court documents was made by NY Times freelance tennis correspondent Ben Rothenberg.

With his large number of followers and visibility within Twitter’s tennis community, that reTweet of the @Pinococoblog Tweet (and video clip) was the catalyst for the issue taking on a significantly larger scope. 

The chain of events that followed was laid out in those court documents, as the situation went up and down the chain within ESPN and resulted in Adler being let go, even though he had done nothing wrong.

Finally, it seems the regrettable incident is resolved, although Adler can never get those two years of his life back.

But perhaps the new gig will serve as salve for those wounds.

Mushnick has been consistent in his crusade to get justice for Adler – and, in the process, if he’s able to get shots in at the New York Times and ESPN, he seems happy, too. He may have been the only writer to point out Chris Evert’s gaffe at this year’s Australian Open, although Twitter did notice.

Oldest club in South America to disappear

The “Club de Tenis Inglés de Viña del Mar” in Chile, founded in 1882 by English settlers and the oldest tennis club in South America, is no more.

According to EFE Saturday, club officials were waiting to be evicted. The Valparaiso Sporting Club terminated a lease agreement in place since … 1953.

They didn’t go down without a fight – see the sign – and took them to court. But to no avail, the club president said.

The club hosted the opener on the ATP’s South American clay-court swing from 2001-2009, and 2012-14. 

After years of financial struggles, it relocated to Quito, Ecuador.

“No” to November Davis Cup from Zverev

As the new Davis Cup format looks to entice the Big Four to buy in, it may well be they’ve ignored the next generation.

Many future stars have bemoaned the new format.

And the best of them, Alexander Zverev, is clear the proposed dates are a deal-breaker.

“I’m still not playing Davis Cup in November. That’s not gonna happen. It’s nothing against the Davis Cup. I love the Davis Cup. I love my country  … But if they put any other event end of November, I’m also going to not play it,” he said at Laver Cup.

Serena drama means high ratings for ESPN

NEW YORK – The women’s singles final at the US Open might not have ended the way many hoped, or expected.

But the high level of drama meant that the overnight ratings on host broadcaster ESPN went (by tennis standards), through the roof.

The Williams vs. Naomi Osaka match checked in with the second-highest overnight ratings in ESPN’s history with the event. ESPN took over the non-weekend broadcast rights from the USA network in 2009 and has had the exclusive rights since CBS exited the picture in 2015.

The only broadcast with higher ratings (out of 225 in total) was the network’s prime-time broadcast on quarterfinals day in 2015, when Williams played her sister Venus.

Up 32% from ’17, 79% from ’16

Last night’s program is tied for second all-time with the 2015 men’s singles final between Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer.

The 2.4 overnight rating is up 32 per cent from last year’s women’s final between Americans Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys. And it is 79 per cent higher than the 2016 women’s final between Angelique Kerber and Karolina Pliskova, two non-Americans.

Not surprisingly, the numbers peaked (at 3.3) during the last 15 minutes of the match – when everything went haywire.

The highest ratings came from the West Palm Beach area (where Williams resides) at a 6.0, Washington, D.C. at 5.5, and Richmond, Virginia at 5.1. New York City checked in at 4.5.

It will be fascinating – although hardly conclusive about any bigger-picture issues – to see how the men’s final between Djokovic and Juan Martin del Potro does, in comparison.

(The numbers indicated above are the percentage of households in the U.S., who have the TV turned on, and were watching the tennis. It is obviously a statistical analysis based on sample sizes, and not an exact count).

Seeded No. 17, Serena prepares Open run (photos)

NEW YORK – The U.S. Tennis Association came through with what they said they would do back in June.

They upgraded former champion Serena Williams’ seeding for this year’s women’s event. 

The 36-year-old would be No. 26 based upon her current ranking. But the tournament moved her up to No. 17.

On the plus side, it doesn’t bump a deservedly seeded player out, as it did at Wimbledon with Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia.

But it’s largely a ceremonial bump of nine spots. The way the brackets work for seeding purposes, seeds No. 17 through No. 24 are drawn at random, to (potentially) face a player in the No. 9 through No. 16 seeds bracket in the third round.

So moving Williams up two spots, to No. 24, would have had the same effect.

“If she would have gone to the finals of these (US Open Series) tournaments, I think that would have raised her seeding a little bit, but again, she was — I think safely we can say unsuccessful in the hard court lead-up. For them to seed her 17, I think that’s pretty fair,” Chris Evert said during an ESPN conference call on Wednesday.

Save Venus, sacrifice Gavilova

(Here’s Williams practicing in cavernous Arthur Ashe Wednesday. The roof was closed, and it was hot and pretty stuffy in there).

Had the tournament seeded Williams any higher, it would have meant that her older sister Venus – also a former champion and currently in the No. 16 spot – would have been dropped out of that group.

Again, that’s fairly symbolic in the sense that 9-16 are drawn to play against 17-24. So in that sense, had Venus been in the lower bracket and drawn a player seeded No. 9-12 in the third round – and beaten her, it would have actually improved her lot.

The way the elder Williams has looked this summer, it might well be a moot point.

Instead, the casualty of the USTA’s arbitrary treatment for Williams is Australia’s Daria Gavrilova.

Gavrilova would have been the No. 24 seed (in that 17-24) group. With Serena Williams’s upgrade, she’ll now be No. 25 and in that 25-32 group that is drawn to face one of the top eight in the third round.

In a little bit of symmetry, Gavrilova is the only player Williams defeated during a truncated US Open series warmup tour. 

Not a great summer

Williams was trounced, 6-1, 6-0 by Johanna Konta in her first match at the San Jose tournament. There were some seriously extenuating circumstances in that match, despite an opinion held by some that Konta wasn’t given her due for the victory.

But dropping a baguette and a bagel on Serena Williams involves a lot more than a player who has struggled most of the season having a vintage day.

It was clear even during the match that Williams was agitated. Often, she looked flat-out anguished. And anyone who has watched her throughout her career could tell that this wasn’t run-on-the-mill Williams on-court drama.

Mom break needed

 

Last week was not easy for me. Not only was I accepting some tough personal stuff, but I just was in a funk. Mostly, I felt like I was not a good mom. I read several articles that said postpartum emotions can last up to 3 years if not dealt with. I like communication best. Talking things through with my mom, my sisters, my friends let me know that my feelings are totally normal. It’s totally normal to feel like I’m not doing enough for my baby. We have all been there. I work a lot, I train, and I’m trying to be the best athlete I can be. However, that means although I have been with her every day of her life, I’m not around as much as I would like to be. Most of you moms deal with the same thing. Whether stay-at-home or working, finding that balance with kids is a true art. You are the true heroes. I’m here to say: if you are having a rough day or week–it’s ok–I am, too!!! There’s always tomm!

A post shared by Serena Williams (@serenawilliams) on

Basically, she needed a mental health week – which of course is her right.

Seeded on the past, not the present

After beating Gavrilova in Cincinnati, Williams was beaten by a red-hot Petra Kvitova in a match of tremendously high quality. But she didn’t win it.

Evert’s colleague Brad Gilbert said in the same conference call that he would have seeded Williams No. 1 at Wimbledon, based on her history. And he would have put her in the 5-8 bracket in New York.

“She’s never had this love before in her life. She’s never had this nurturing feeling, this protective feeling. It doesn’t switch on and off. It’s there.  … Even more than the physical part, the emotional part is the toughest one to try to figure out for Serena to be successful and to get back to being No. 1 and also to feel guilt-free that she’s spending enough time with her child,” Evert said.

“It’s just a love affair that she’s never had before, and it’s just gut-wrenching sometimes when you’re feeling guilty about your kid.  Again, these are — she’s only had to think about herself her whole career. She’s only had to think about Serena.”

Murray calls for testing transparency

As Andy Murray returns to action Monday night, he made a plea for more transparency with the ITF drug-testing stats.

“Sometimes from what I’ve seen it’s quite vague, like they put ‘7-plus’ so that means that someone could have had seven (tests) or someone could have had 20 -– which is obviously quite a big difference,” Murray said during a press conference at the Citi Open.

No reason they couldn’t; other associations do.

Murray also pointed out tennis players get tested a lot less than other sports, and the sport is rich enough to devote more resources to it.

Mardy Fish joins ESPN for Slams

This news seems to have gone fairly unnoticed over the last week.

But it’s a nice addition to the already king-sized ESPN tennis crew.

American Mardy Fish, who turned 36 Dec. 9, is joining the network’s tennis coverage in 2018, as reported by Vero News.

He will work the four Grand Slams, beginning with the Australian Open next month.

Fish worked a little bit on the Tennis Channel in 2015. But this past summer, stints for ESPN at Wimbledon the US Open led to an offer of an expanded role.

Fish remains close to the game, having retired just two years ago.

“People I know seem to like what I’ve done so far, and they’ve been pushing me to do more of it. And I’ve really enjoyed the TV experiences I’ve had, probably more than I expected,” Fish told VeroNews.com.

“So when I had a chance to work with ESPN again, especially at the four biggest tournaments of the year, I decided to go for it. This is a tremendous opportunity.”

In-studio, hopefully not for long

Mardy
Fish on the practice court at the Australian Open in 2011. He’ll be there in January – except in a suit and tie. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Vero News says Fish is expected to be an in-studio analyst. Hopefully, they can quickly promote him to a live match commentary role. 

It’s a great add for ESPN, which needs to get a little younger and more current.

The fact that Fish has faced most of the players they’ll be featuring on the broadcasts can only be a major plus. In recent months, he also has done some coaching with the USTA, working with up-and-coming pros.

Click on the link for more of a very good interview with Fish.

He talks about how wanting to be a mentor to young American players met with surprising resistance. And he also talks about how his awareness that playing tennis and being a television analyst are separate skill sets means he has already begun preparing for Melbourne.

2017 US Open – by the numbers

With the end of the 2017 edition, the US Open tallied up the numbers on various fronts.

There are a lot of big numbers.

Here’s a list of the main points, as released by the USTA.

 

American Players

  • Four American women reached the singles semifinals at the US Open for the first time since 1981. First-time US Open champion Sloane Stephens, first-time US Open finalist Madison Keys and first-time US Open semifinalist CoCo Vandeweghe joined two-time US Open champion Venus Williams in the semifinals.
  • Eighty five American men and women competed in the US Open main draw and the US Open Qualifying Tournament – an increase of nearly 40 percent since 2013.
  • 2017 also marked the first time there was an all-American women’s singles final and an all-American junior girls’ final since 1981. Sixteen-year old Amanda Anisimova defeated 13-year old Coco Gauff, who was the youngest-ever girls’ singles finalist at the US Open, in the title match.
  • David Wagner won his third US Open quad singles title, his eighth US Open quad doubles title and remained unbeaten in doubles at the US Open.
numbers
“HOW much is that check for? Girl!”

Attendance

  • Twenty of the 24 sessions comprising the US Open sold out.
  • Total attendance for the 2017 US Open was 691,143.
  • More than 100,000 fans visited the first-ever US Open Experience, a two-day recreation of the US Open during US Open Fan Week at the South Street Seaport Historic District in Manhattan.

Social Media

  • From August 28 to September 10, US Open social channels, including Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, posted 3.8k pieces of content that generated 18 million interactions and 92 million video views.
  • Across Twitter and Instagram, hashtag #usopen was the most engaged hashtag of the 2017 Grand Slam season, producing 38 billion impressions.
  • Record fan engagement on all social platforms resulted in unparalleled growth for every social channel. Overall interactions were up 625 percent and video views were up 556 percent.

numbers

Digital Platforms

  • For the third straight year, more than 10 million unique visitors engaged with US Open-owned-and-operated digital platforms – usopen.org and the US Open app, produced in partnership with US Open sponsor IBM – throughout the tournament.
  • Those fans consumed more content than ever: 46 million visits (+15 percent vs. 2016), and 366 million page views (+-23 per cent vs. 2016).
  • More than 63 per cent of all page views came from outside the United States.
  • Mobile consumption continues to drive growth, as more than 73 per cent of the total unique audience came via a mobile device.

Television

  • Saturday’s US Open Women’s Championship on ESPN earned a 1.9 overnight rating in the metered markets for the match portion of the three-hour telecast, 36 per cent higher than last year’s women’s final and the highest overnight rating for the match in the three years ESPN has held exclusivity for the U.S.
  • The three components of streaming the match were also significantly higher than previous years. The total number of unique viewers was up 71 per cent, the total minutes watched was up 15 per cent and the average minute audience was up 38 per cent to a new high for 2015-17.
  • ESPN’s Total Average Audience for US Open was up 11 per cent after 11 days.
  • The total average audience for ESPN’s exclusive coverage of the U.S. through Thursday, Sept. 7, was up 11 per cent to 952,000 viewers on average, compared to 856,000 for the first 11 days of last year’s event.  The increase includes a 50 per cent rise in the audience for streaming.

Federer win nudges ESPN ratings

It’s a bit surprising, but the presence of Roger Federer in the Wimbledon men’s singles final resulted in only a slight increase in the ratings on ESPN.

A year ago, Andy Murray and Canadian Milos Raonic played the final before 2.22 million viewers. This year, the Federer victory over Marin Cilic – not a compelling match, per se, other than the history at stake – pulled in 2.36 million.

The 1.5 Neilson rating was the same for both finals.

On TV, the audience was up six percent. The live stream viewership was up significantly – 51 per cent – to 46,400.

Serena proclaims Andy Murray love

Serena Williams has been on an interview binge for her sponsor, Tempur-Pedic.

And while most of the answers have been obligatory, her reaction to Andy Murray’s “reporter correction” was heartfelt.

“I don’t think there’s a woman player … that is not totally supportive of Andy Murray. He has spoken up for women’s issues, and women’s rights – especially in tennis – for … forever,” Williams said on ESPN. “He has such a wonderful mother, who’s been such a strong figure in his life. And he’s done so much for us on our Tour.

“So we love Andy Murray.”