There’s a certain irony to the fact that the ITF, at its AGM this week in Orlando, Fla., announced a new campaign to promote gender equality to “ensure tennis is a leading light for sport both on and off the field.”
The organization’s entire focus the last months has been the men – its big-bucks reform of Davis Cup, which comes to a vote Thursday.
Madison Brengle, an American player currently ranked No. 83 in the WTA Tour rankings, filed a blockbuster lawsuit Monday in a Florida court.
In it, the 28-year-old names the International Tennis Federation, the WTA Tour, and the ITF anti-doping arm responsible for administrating drug tests. The suit also names Stuart Miller, Senior Executive director, Integrity & Development for the ITF since 2001.
It also names John Snowball, a doping control officer who also maintains an education manual “and thereby assists in training and supervising” those who collect anti-doping samples.
The suit was filed by lawyer Peter Ginsberg. Brengle also has a local lawyer in Florida, Charles Johnson III.
The suit aims “to hold Defendants responsible for their outrageous conduct in subjecting Brengle to anti-doping blood testing using needles, despite Defendants knowing and ignoring that she suffers from a rare medically-diagnosed physical condition which results in both temporary and permanent physical injury, emotional trauma, and pain and suffering from having a needle inserted into her vein, and thereafter extracting punishment and repeatedly harassing Brengle following her challenge to this conduct,” per the court filing.
In addition to damages “in excess of $10 million”, Brengle also is asking for an injunction permanently restraining the parties from “performing and threatening to perform a venipuncture blood test.
“Tennis authorities ignored evidence of her professionally-diagnosed condition and refused to provide alternative testing or a medical accommodation, instead subjecting Brengle to testing that caused her to withdraw from tournaments and has now resulted in permanent swelling and weakness in her serving arm and hand,” the statement read.
The statement also included comments from Brengle, per Reuters.
“I am bringing this action in an effort to force those who control the sport I love to understand that players are not commodities and should be treated with respect and dignity,” Brengle said. “The unbridled authority of officials to subject players to the kind of abuse I suffered cannot be tolerated; players must have a say in matters involving our health and safety.”
Tennis.Life has read the court filing, and summarized the major elements of it (summary being a relative term) below.
Short- and long-term effects
The condition Brengle says she suffers from is called “Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, Type I”. She says its induced by venipuncture (i.e. when blood is drawn), and the procedure causes “extreme pain as well as swelling, numbness and bruising” and “severe anxiety due to the anticipatory fear of the excruciating pain that the venipuncture blood draw will cause her.”
The ITF is the organization that administers anti-doping tests. The lawsuit brings in the WTA Tour as it says the WTA “forced” her to undergo the blood testing despite knowing about, and “witnessing the consequences of the effects of the procedure on her.”
The suit says the ITF promises players the tests will have no physical effect on their performance and that they are obligated to make reasonable modifications where necessary “to address a medical condition.”
In the suit, Brengle said she had repeatedly advised all parties she couldn’t tolerate the blood testing. And she says the reaction from those parties was to dismiss those concerns and, basically, that it was all in her head.
Brengle told the New York Times in an interview that the medical issue runs in her family. But she had never felt any ill-effects from it until she underwent intravenous sedation for the removal of her wisdom teeth, at age 17.
One specific instance alluded to in the court documents occurred at Wimbledon in 2009. Brengle underwent both urine and blood testing. But the phlebotomist’s first two tries at getting the vein on the inside of Brengle’s left elbow failed. On the third try, they got it. But the vein collapsed and Brengle lost consciousness. She suffered a panic attack and “painful bruising”. And after she returned home to Florida, Brengle developed a hematoma and for five days after the incident, couldn’t play tennis without “severe pain in her left arm.”
Australian Open, 2016
At the beginnig of 2016, the ITF began compiling “blood passports” for athletes, track records that they hope indicate patterns that can help identify dopers.
Brengle said she said she requested to have the blood drawn after her tournament was over rather than before, given her history. The suit says Miller was “dismissive” of her request and basically told her if she didn’t take the blood test, it would be an anti-doping violation.
The blood test was performed six days before the tournament – this time inside her right elbow. During that test, the suit alleges, the needle “hit a nerve bundle” in her arm, and had to be stopped. Brengle went to the tournament doctor, and due to the bruising and hematoma, couldn’t practice before the tournament. “Even two days before (her) first match, she could not maintain a grip on her racquet when making contact with the ball,” the suit states. She also was unable fully to straighten her arm, and the arm did not return to normal for two weeks.
Brengle came into Wimbledon that year in fine form. She reached the semifinals of a grass-court tuneup in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, and then qualified and reached the third round at Eastbourne.
But she lost in the first round, to Kurumi Nara of Japen.
The next day, Brengle went to pick up her prize money. There, she was informed she had to undergo a blood test. The suit states that this demand violated the rules of the program because it occurred after midnight following her elimination from the tournament, and thus was “a targeted out-of-competition drug test.”
Brengle says she told the administrator, Mr. Snowball, that she shouldn’t take the test because of the previous issues.
“In response, Snowball streamed at Brengle, publicly called her a liar for claiming she had a medical condition … and accused her of previously lying in this regard at the Australian Open.”
The doctor agreed to draw the blood from Brengle’s foot. And then, Brengle claims, it got nasty.
The American requested a form to complain about Snowball’s conduct. But she claims he “continued to bully and threaten her and told Brengle “that if she said anything about him, then he would say worse things about her.”
As it happens, the man she was complaining about, Snowball, is “responsible for collecting such forms on behalf of (the) ITF.
Brengle said she sent a letter to the ITF, along with photos of the effects on her foot. And she said the response from Stuart Miller was that “Brengle’s behaviour during the Wimbledon … test was unacceptable, and that the ITF was “considering taking action against Brengle for her conduct at both Wimbledon and the Australian Open” in connection with the tests.
US Open, 2016
Two months later at the US Open, Brengle was advised she would have to take another blood test related to the passport program prior to the tournament.
Given the previous incidents, her father Daniel contacted Stuart Miller to ask that the date of the test be moved up, so she could recover from the aftereffects in time to play in good health in New York.
Miller’s response, the suit claims, was that it “would cost thousands of dollars to do the blood testing earlier,” and asked if Brengle would pay for it. She agreed, but then, she claims the ITF not only refused to have the test done earlier, but informed her that it was now scheduled two days before the start of the US Open.
Only after all these incidents did Brengle get a medical diagnosis, for which a written report was prepared in November 2016. (You could ask the reasonable question about why she didn’t do this long before 2016, given the 2009 experience. The New York Times story says she was not subjected to a blood test in those intervening seven years).
Official medical diagnosis
In January, 2017, Brengle’s father Daniel submitted a request to Miller reiterating the need for accommodation in her case.
Two months later, the suit says, the ITF “acknowledged that Brengle suffered from CRPS Type I, but could not be exempted from the blood tests.”
In May, 2017, the ITF proposed Brengle take only the regular urine tests until the 2017 Open – subject to an independent medical assessment done by a medical professional chosen by the ITF and WADA, at her own expense.
That was done in July. And the suit claims the ITF-selected doctor agreed with the diagnosis. The one-year exemption was granted a month later. A few days after that, Brengle’s father received an email from Miller saying the exemption was “not an admission that her condition was caused by previous venipuncture.”
Happy Valentine’s Day
On Feb. 14, 2018, a doping control officer from the US Anti-Doping Association (USADA) arrived at Brengle’s Bradenton early in the morning for an unannounced doping test.
Brengle said that the officer arrived after the hour she had stated in her whereabouts filings, and that she was leaving for a doctor’s appointment. But the officer, per the filing, told Brengle that since she had opened the door, she had to submit to the test and if she didn’t, it would be a doping violation.
The officer then drove with her to the doctor (an hour away), “accompanied her to the treatment room, witnessed the entire exmination and listened in on Brengle’s confidential conversations with her doctor.”
They then drove back to Brengle’s home where she did the urine test.
Two days in a row
The next day, another officer, this time from the ITF, came to her house early in the morning and told her she had to do both urine and blood tests.
Brengle said she wouldn’t take the blood test and the officer warned her that if she didn’t, it would be an anti-doping violation.
She provided the officer with a copy of the latter outlining the exemption and didn’t take the test. But the suit claims Brengle experienced “significant anxiety and mental suffering.”
That’s the short version.
Experienced sports litigator
Lawyer Ginsberg is a New York-based attorney hired by Brengle last November. Per his website, the New Yorker has a practice that “has spanned professional football, representing chiefly players and coaches in League matters and litigation, NCAA matters, and professional golf, baseball and hockey internal and litigation disputes.”
”She can give blood. She just can’t tolerate the needle in her vein. She could give blood via a pin prick in her finger. She will submit to a urinalysis,” Ginsberg told the Associated Press. ”She’s not trying to avoid being tested. She’s trying to avoid having a needle being stuck in her veins.”
Spencer Furman, a Duke University sophomore, has been cleared of the anti-doping violation he was charged with last fall.
“Mr. Furman explained that he used an ADHD medication called Vyvanse that was prescribed to him by a doctor to help him concentrate while studying at university,” the ITF wrote in a statement.
The 20-year-old was granted a retroactive therapeutic use exemption.
Zeynep Sönmez, a 15-year-old junior girl from Turkey was given a 12-month suspension. A child psychologist diagnosed her with narcolepsy and prescribed Modafinil to help her “stay awake when studying for school exams”.
And he ended up with a lighter sentence, but also a lighter wallet.
The list of Nastase’s transgressions was long that weekend. It included a racially insensitive comment about Serena Williams’s (then unborn) baby. Not stopping there, Nastase also made inappropriate, sexually suggestive comments to Great Britain Fed Cup captain Anne Keothavong.
Added to that, the 71-year-old also made abusive and threatening comments to a British journalist. And then, there was the inappropriate behaviour on court during the actual matches. The arbitrator considered those the most serious.
All of his targets (including the journalist) were women with the exception of tie supervisor Andreas Egli.
The original suspension handed down by the ITF banned Nastase from “acting in an official capacity” at any ITF-related events for three years, through Dec. 31, 2020. Nastase also was denied access or accreditation to any ITF events through Dec. 31, 2018. He also was assessed a $10,000 fine.
After hearing the case, an independent tribunal called Sport Resolutions fattened the fine by another $10,000. But it reduced the length of the suspensions by eight months each.
Now, those dates are April 23, 2020, and April 23, 2018.
Timely decision during Fed Cup week
The timing of the release of the decision on an appeal filed last Aug. 11 is … interesting.
This week, the Romanian Fed Cup team is hosting Canada in its World Group II first-round tie. The tie, which is taking place Cluj-Napoca, Romania is the Fed Cup team’s first tie since that dramatic weekend last April.
As a result, all of the participants, mainly the Romanian players, will have to react to Wednesday’s decision. It’s a week when they should be focusing on winning and advancing to a World Group I playoff tie.
The hearing took place in London on Dec. 13, with Nastase accompanied by four lawyers (three of them women).
He had two witnesses, one of them his lifelong friend Ion Tiriac. For the ITF, Andreas Egli, the ITF supervisor for the tie, also was heard.
And, as outlined in that decision, Nastase continued to deny he said certain things. Or, he claimed he said them in a different language than he did. And then when that was challenged, the Romanian said he couldn’t remember what he said.
It sounds like it was quite a hearing.
The suspension did not prevent Nastase from attending any ATP, WTA or even Grand Slam events, which don’t fall under the ITF’s jurisdiction. And while some annual invitations were rescinded, he did attend his great friend Tiriac’s tournament in Madrid.
In his concluding remarks to the panel, Nastase expressed “what the Tribunal considered to be genuine remorse for his conduct and said in substance that leaving his beloved sport on such a note would be very difficult personally and would constitute a black mark on his career that he wishes were not there.”
The Tribunal believed the words were genuine and sincere. But it, but could not “excuse behaviour that is not acceptable according to the applicable standards and especially unworthy of someone who has been the number one tennis player in the world, among other accomplishments.”
Tiriac testified that Nastase “is not a racist person, as evidenced by his actions over his long career.”
It’s hard to fathom that Nastase would make an appearance in Cluj-Napoca this weekend. But you never know.
Florin Segarceanu is currently the Fed Cup captain.
The ITF announced the details of a new “Transition Tour” for 2019 Thursday.
But that’s not the only major change that is in the works.
Tennis.Life has learned the details of what the ATP Tour is doing, in conjunction with the ITF. The overarching goal is to create a structurally sound transition for players from the juniors through to the top level of the pros.
(The WTA Tour has not released any information of its own, outlining how it will affect the female players).
The ATP is making major changes at the Challenger Tour level, after completing an 18-month review of the rankings. The goal is to increase the opportunities for players to progress at the lower levels. Also, they plan to upgrade services to players in the “true” professional ranks. The Tour also feels it will result in “improved integrity in the sport.”
(What that means, in English, is that they expect fewer players to spend their careers at the ITF level, subsisting on accepting bribes to throw and influence matches).
Targeted prize money at the upper levels
The Tour believes that the current system “encourages players to play down for points and upwards for money.” It says the new structure will reward playing up, and “reduce a stagnation in the rankings.”
The goal, from the ITF’s point of view, is to have a better link from the juniors to the pros. Another objective is to target the prize money so that more players can make a living from the game.
Here are the major changes at the Challenger level:
*The number of Challenger Tour events will be increased
*Challengers will have 24-player qualifying draws as of 2019. There will be only rounds of qualifying and six spots in the main draws.
*The “special exempt” spots will be eliminated. The qualifying at Challengers will take place on Mondays and Tuesday, not over the weekend as it currently stands.
*All Challengers will now offer hospitality (i.e. pay for accommodations) for both singles and doubles players.
The current ITF Futures events and the lowest-level ITF Women’s Pro Circuit tournaments (for the women) will become the “ITF Transition Tour”. And that tour will have its own ranking system.
As a result, the ATP and WTA Tour rankings should top out at 500-750 players. Currently, there are 1,976 players with ATP Tour rankings. More than 550 of them have just one or two points. And there are 1,275 women with WTA rankings.
Hundreds and hundreds of these players have never played at the WTA or ATP Tour levels. And, putting aside the dream, they likely never will.
The Challenger qualifying events will be the link between the “ITF Transition Tour” and the Challenger level. There will be a certain number of spots allocated in those 24-man draws for players based on their new ITF Entry Point ranking. (The exact number has not been finalized).
Points towards that ranking will be awarded at the ITF events and also in the Challenger qualifying rounds.
Guaranteed spots for women and juniors
On the women’s side, there will be five spots reserved in the main draw of $25,000 ITF Pro Circuit events for the five players with highest “ITF Entry Point” rankings.
On the juniors side, there will also be more opportunities on the Transition Tour. Five spots in the ITF main draws will be earmarked for juniors ranked in the ITF top 100.
The number of ATP points available at the $25,000 ITF level will be reduced. Instead, players will earn ITF Entry points, as well as some ATP Tour points in the later rounds. (The women will continue to earn WTA Tour rankings points in 2019) .
By 2020, the second year of the program, the plan is to make those $25,000 men’s events part of the “Transition Tour” tier, and offer ITF points only.
The overall theory behind this is that under the new system, men’s professional tennis will no longer begin at the ITF level. It will start on the Challenger Tour. And the conditions on that Tour will be upgraded to reflect that fact.
The women’s side is a little more complicated. While the WTA Tour does run some $125,000 tournaments, the ITF Pro Circuit runs its own events with prize money up to $100,000. Those are events that, with similar purses, fall under the ATP Challenger Tour umbrella on the men’s side.
During the 2018 season, players will have “shadow” ITF and ATP Tour rankings. Those will give them an idea of their ranking will look like in 2019 when the new system kicks in.
More local circuits
The new “ITF Transition Tour” will operate with a more localized structure. That saves the tournament organizers, and the players, money. It rather sounds like the old Satellite Series events of decades ago.
It already happens on an informal basis. There are areas of the world – Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, Hammamet, Tunisia and Antalya, Turkey are just a few – where there are Futures events nearly every week.
However, the ITF press release also states that the requirement on the Men’s Futures tour to host three consecutive tournaments will no longer exist. So that seems contradictory to the stated intention to “localize” the structure.
No benefit to playing down
The way the rules currently stand, anyone outside the top 10 on the WTA Tour or the top 150 on the ATP Tour can play down at the very lowest ITF level. Those lower-level tournaments will no longer offer ATP or WTA Tour points. So it is expected to weed out higher-ranked players looking for points on the ITF circuit to get their ranking back up.
(Immediate question on that, for players who miss time with injuries or take a break of some kind. If a player doesn’t have the ranking to get into an ATP or WTA Tour event, or even a Challenger, they will find their path to return slowed down considerably. First, they would have to earn ITF Entry points only, even if their level was superior to those toiling at that level. They would play all those matches, but still not be able to make a dent in their ATP ranking. Then they would have to use those to get into Challenger qualifying. It sounds like a lengthened slog for viable players).
(Also – it would be easier to just restrict the ranking at which players can drop down – i.e., no one better than a top-300 ranking, for example. But perhaps there are legalities involved there as players could make a case for restraint of trade).
All these new ranking systems will merge and cooperate by the end of 2018.
End of 2018 for ranking conversions
Any ATP or WTA ranking points earned at $15,000 men’s events, the early rounds of the $25,000 events and in the Challenger qualifying draws will be converted into “ITF Entry points”. And with those points off the computers, those players’ ATP and WTA Tour rankings will drop right off.
And so, in 2019, it will all look a lot different.
Will it solve all the perceived current issues? Well, it looks like it will eliminate a lot of players who spend too much time in the Futures; it will be even more difficult to eke out any sort of a living there. So a lot more players will give up the dream.
It all sounds very logical on paper. We’ll see how it plays out in real life.
Florida’s Whitney Osuigwe, the 15-year-old who won the French Open junior girls’ title and has posted up an impressive number of wins this season, is the ITF junior world champion for 2017 on the girls’ side.
Osuigwe had just cracked the top 100 in the ITF junior girls’ rankings when the 2017 season began. She ends it at No. 1 and is still alive in singles and doubles at this week’s Orange Bowl in Florida.
She won both the 18s girls singles and doubles titles last week at the Eddie Herr tournament. That’s a home event for her as it’s held at the IMG Academy where she trains.
Countrywoman Catherine Bellis won the award in 2014 and Taylor Townsend in 2012. Before that, you have to go all the way back to Zina Garrison and Gretchen Rush in 1981 and 1982.
On the boys’ side, Axel Geller becomes first junior from Argentina to be named ITF world champion in 22 years. (Mariano Zabaleta and Federico Browne won the award back-to-back in 1994 and 1995).
He reached the singles final at both the French and US Opens, and took the doubles title in Paris.
On the pro side, ATP No. 1 Rafael Nadal and WTA No. 2 Garbiñe Muguruza have been named world champions for 2017.
Muguruza is just 40 points out of the No. 1 spot in the WTA Tour rankings, just behind Simona Halep. But unlike Halep, Muguruza is a Slam champion, having won Wimbledon this year. The ITF awards weight the Slams (which it has jurisdiction over) more than other tournaments.
According to the ITF, it’s the first time both winners have come from the same country since Lindsay Davenport and Pete Sampras were named ITF world champions in 1998.
It’s the third time Nadal has been so honored. Time flies: he’s the oldest-ever to be honored, at age 31.
“Becoming ITF World Champion in such a competitive year is amazing for me and is even more special because Rafa has also been awarded on the men’s side. He is a great role model for all of us, so it is a great moment for tennis in Spain,” Muguruza said in a statement.
“I knew that putting in the hard work would pay off eventually and it made winning Wimbledon and achieving the No. 1 ranking so special. I’m motivated to take everything I’ve learned this year and apply it to my work next season.”
Final accolade for Hingis
The doubles champions are Marcelo Melo (Brazil) and Lukasz Kubot (Poland) on the men’s side, and Yung-Jan Chan (Taipei) and Martina Hingis (Switzerland) on the women’s side.
Melo and Kubot won the ATP Tour Finals last month, one of six titles that included Wimbledon, in their first season together.
Hingis, who retired at the end of the season, gets one more accolade.
She and Chan made nine finals – and won all of them.
David Wagner, 43, was named the first-ever ITF Quad Wheelchair World Champion, a long overdue accolade after he finished No. 1 in the year-end rankings for the eighth time. Gustavo Fernandez, 23 is the ITF Wheelchair champion on the men’s side and Yui Kamiji – also 23 – was honored on the women’s side.
Kamiji won three of the four major titles in 2017, all but Wimbledon.
The awards will be handed out at the French Open next June.
The International Tennis Federation met with the presidents, general secretaries and managers of its regional associations last week, at the ITF headquarters in Roehampton.
Among the issues covered were development programs for 2018, as well as the planned 2019 ITF transition tour.
“This was an important opportunity to freely discuss key strategic and operational matters in order that the ITF and our Regional Associations can find new ways to develop and grow the game together,” ITF president David Haggerty said in a statement.
From the group photo, that’s quite the diverse group.