When you forget to enter Wimbledon …

It happens more often than you think, sometimes because of miscommunication with an agent, or simply a brain cramp. 

But it happened to American Tim Smyczek: he forgot to enter Wimbledon qualifying.

The 30-year-old has fallen in qualifying at the All England Club six times. Still, he gave up $6,400 even for losing in the first round, twice that for winning a round.

Smyczek is getting his grass revenge (sort of) this week in Newport as he plays his first career ATP Tour semifinal Saturday. Already, he’s assured of $28,000 and a 20-spot jump in the rankings.

Another top-level match under suspicion

As much as the Tennis Integrity Unit’s few “gotchas” have been at the lower levels, there are occasional suspicions about top-level matches.

David Marrero found himself involved in a second such match in the first round of Wimbledon doubles.

Marrero’s first-round mixed doubles loss at the 2016 Australian Open was the impetus for the formation of the TIU’s review panel.

Fernando Verdasco Tweeted he was interviewed and cooperated fully. Marrero told EFE it was inconceivable someone could fix a three-hour match, and that he hadn’t played on grass in two years. His last grass win came in 2014.

Half-century of Open tennis marked

Open tennis, that moment when the professionals and the “shamateurs”  came together as one, is 50 years old.

It began this week in 1968 at the West Hants Club in Bournemouth with the British Hard Court Championships (actually played on shale).

It harkened the return of pros like Rod Laver, Pancho Gonzalez and Ken Rosewall.

Notably, Billie Jean King and Rosie Casals passed. The women’s prize money was 30 per cent of what the men were earning, according to a story in the New York Times.

The milestone was commemorated Sunday with an exhibition involving Tim Henman.

Serena will have words with Tiriac

“The same prize money … but the revenue from women is only 25 per cent. That’s fact,” Madrid Open owner Ion Tiriac told Sport Bild earlier this month. “The men ask me: ‘Ion, how long do you want to pay the women with my money?’ ”

“With all due respect, 36 years old, weighing 90 kilograms, I also wish something different for the women,” he added, referring to Serena Williams.

In an interview with the New York Times, Williams said she wasn’t going to let that one pass.

“I’ll have words with him, believe me, I’ll have words with him,” she said.

US Open to use serve clock in main draw

The US Open was the first to experiment with strict limits on the warmup period and time between points in its qualifying and junior events last year. This year, the last Grand Slam tournament of the season is taking it one step further.

According to a story from the New York Times, warmup limits and 25-second  “shot clock” will be used in the main draw events as well this year.

“Pace of play is a major issue in sports today. We recognize that and we want to be ahead of it,” USTA spokesman Chris Widmaier told the Times.

Were there any concrete science concluding the time-conservation rules resulted in an actual shortening of matches, no doubt someone (the Australian Open used the same rules in its own qualifying in January) would have produced it.

If matches are going longer these days, it more likely due to the fact that points are being shortened at the net a lot less frequently than in past eras. As a result, long rally after long rally means many matches can average an hour a set.

Qualifying experiment drama-free

Anecdotally, from walking around the courts all day at the qualifying both in New York last summer and Melbourne in January, there were very few instances where the players went over the 25-second limit between points. 

The serve clock did highlight players who were especially quick, though. There were many who typically took 15 seconds or less. But at least at the qualies level, the vast majority of the players just get on with it.

Sometimes, the conversation between the chair umpire and the two players at the net had to be extended. The umpires had to explain the changes. And it seemed that some players actually hadn’t gotten the memo.

Some were worried about being penalized for not being ready to serve at the start of matches. So they shortened their five-minute warmup period.

In the feature pic at the top, Canadian Françoise Abanda is heading back to the baseline to serve – with time left in the regular warmup period. The one-minute period between the end of the warmup and when the first serve must be struck hadn’t even begun.

Rafael Nadal will be pleased – not

At the main draw level – especially in its upper reaches – the proportion of time-wasters seems bigger. 

With all his rituals, Rafael Nadal is the most-mentioned offender. But he’s not alone. In recent months, Novak Djokovic has returned to his endless ball-bouncing ways. And Marin Cilic, out of nowhere, also has added a ball-bouncing ritual that takes up a lot of time.

(And yes, the perpetrators most often are on the men’s side – especially now that the human rain delay, Russia’s Maria Kirilenko, is retired).

(Note that the commentators – especially the former players, are absolutely no help in enforcing the rules).

Djokovic and Nadal probably set off all this focus on time with their five hour, 53-minute marathon at the Australian Open in 2012.

By the next year, the umpires were given directives to strictly enforce the existing rule. It was on the books, but they’d been notoriously lax with it. Many also are loath to be the bad guys and gals with players, by coming down on them about it.

Hot weather, longer breaks

According to a USA Today story, there were 36 time violations in the first five days of the Qatar Open, during the first week of that 2013 season. Guillermo Garcia-Lopez and Gaël Monfils in Doha, Marcos Baghdatis and Andy Murray in Brisbane, and Tomas Berdych in Chennai were among the perps.

By 2015, it came to a head in Rio de Janeiro between Nadal and longtime chair umpire Carlos Bernardes.

It doesn’t appear that Nadal has received significantly more time violation warning and sanctions than before. He also doesn’t seem to have speeded up very much.

But with the evidence right there on the serve clock for everyone in the stadium and at home to see, it’s going to create a very interesting dynamic for the time-wasters on the circuit.

The umpires themselves, and when they actually start the 25-second serve clock after points, will be under the microscope. They are allowed leeway after long points, on hot days and if there are crowd disturbances.

(Note Tommy Haas getting into trouble – at what is now his own tournament at Indian Wells).

No more lollygagging at the chair

But it’s more than just the 25 seconds.

Nadal also is one of the bigger lollygaggers after he arrives on court for a match.

How many times do you see the opponent, the umpire and whoever is out there to perform a coin toss standing at the net making awkward conversation for what seems an eternity? Meanwhile, Nadal arranges his bags, his drinks, sits down, has a little snack and only then finally gets to the net.

Now, the Mallorcan will have exactly one minute. The times we’ve put the clock on him, he’s typically taken three times that. He’ll have to snack in the locker room.

In one sense, it’s unfair to spring this on players in the middle of the season. They will not have had to deal with restrictions like this for a full eight months only to suddenly find themselves at a Grand Slam with additional elements to focus on.

The tennis authorities should really do it at the big tournaments in Canada and Cincinnati that lead up to the US Open. That would give the players a chance to practice it, get used to it, and not be distracted by it in New York.

Of course, that would require cooperation between the ATP, WTA and ITF. And we know how rarely that happens in tennis.

At any rate, it’s done. 

We await Nadal’s reaction next week, when he arrives in Monte Carlo.

Madison Brengle sues ITF, WTA Tour over blood tests

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.

“Permanent swelling and weakness”

Ginsberg provided a statement Monday to The Guardian, which is where Tennis.Life first saw the news of the lawsuit.

“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.”

If it gets to trial, will be the second high-profile case brought against tennis authorities by a player, after Canadian Genie Bouchard reached a settlement in her suit against the USTA during the trial held in February.

Notably in previous years Serbia’s Viktor Troicki had to serve a 12-month doping suspension when he balked at having a blood sample taken via needle at the Monte Carlo Masters, five years ago next week. “I feel like I’m being treated like a criminal,” he said.

Tennis.Life has read the court filing, and summarized the major elements of it (summary being a relative term) below.

Brengle

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.”

“Reasonable modifications”

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.

Wimbledon, 2009

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.”

Brengle

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.

Wimbledon, 2016

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.

Brengle Brengle

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.

When she played her first-round match two days later, she “continued to experience pain and loss of feeling in her right arm”, and retired down 6-2, 4-2 to countrywoman Kayla Day. (Brengle won just one more match the rest of the season, and that was when her opponent retired).

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).

Brengle
A coaching consult with friend Nicole Melichar was an entertaining moment, during Brengle’s upset of Serena Williams in Auckland in 2017.

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.

Citi

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.”

Ginsberg represented NFLer Ray Rice in his wrongful termination suit against the Baltimore Ravens, getting his client $1.588 million. He also represented former New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Wilma in the “Bountygate” scandal.

”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.”

Adieu, fabulous Court Numéro 2

The price of progress.

As part of the refurbishment of the French Open site at Roland-Garros, one of its most intimate, atmosphere-filled courts has bitten the dust.

That’s No. 2, which was twinned with No. 3 and allowed fans to stand up on a walkway and keep track of both. It’s gone, part of the work to add a roof to nearby Court Philippe Chatrier.

Court No. 1, also known as the Bullring – another perfect place to watch tennis, is also disappearing in favour of a grassy viewing area à la Henman Hill

“Le Mont de La Monf'”, maybe?

Estonian repeat courtsider arrested

A repeat courtsider was arrested Friday at the US Open.

The man, a 33-year-old named Rainer Piirimets according to the New York Times, was among 20 courtsiders caught at the US Open in 2016.

Courtsiding is not illegal, per se, but it allows big betting operations to shave precious seconds on results because of the time delay on broadcasts.

Offenders were given 20-year “No Trespassing” notices, which Piirimets apparently ignored. Tournaments have files of photos and are always on the lookout. The Times said eight courtsiders had been caught this year. 

  

Federer’s tears were for family

Roger Federer lost it a couple of times on court after winning Wimbledon No. 8.

But the most emotional moment was when he looked up to the player’s box.

“That was really the first moment I had to myself out there,” he told the New York Times. “And I guess that’s when it sunk in that, man, I was able to win Wimbledon again … and my family is there to share it with me. I was hoping the boys were going to be there, too, not just the girls. And so I just felt so happy.”

Mom Vika realizes error of ballkid ways

Ask any ballkid: they’ll tell you Victoria Azarenka ranks near the bottom in terms of how she treats them – dabs notwithstanding.

Motherhood, it appears, will change all that.

It hit her when she attended the French Open and watched a player take out his frustrations on a youngster. “I was like, ‘Oh, my God, I’ve probably done it myself toward these kids,’ and I felt so bad as a player, as a human being. I told myself I will try to never make that mistake again,” she told the New York Times.