Wertheim Annoints Zvereva Meltdown As Tennis' Most Embarassing Moment
Jon Wertheim, SI.com
Aug 2, 2006
Picking out embarrassing moments in tennis is like shooting fish in a barrel. A very small barrel, stocked with marlin. Really, Bob Saget could be commissioner. In the past decade alone we've seen players wear catsuits on the court, chest-bump each other at changeovers and throw crockery at one another in the locker room. Stars have vomited on the court, sprinted off of it to make emergency restroom runs, and virtually every player has dissolved into tears at one time or another. Teenagers have thrown fits in Grand Slam finals and needed their mother to escort them back on the court. Then there are the trophy presentations, those excruciating rites that, unfailingly, breed humiliation.
Herewith are 10 embarrassing moments from the past 20 years. And we issue this list without even mentioning the name Anna Kournikova.
1. Zvereva's collapse: June 4, 1988
The seeds of the Russian Revolution were sown in the late 1980s when Natasha Zvereva burst onto the scene, playing attacking tennis and demanding to keep all of her prize money. (Under the Soviet system, most of her cha-ching reverted to the Federation.) In the 1988 French Open final, Zvereva faced Steffi Graf, and more than a few tennis flaneurs figured this could be the start of a real rivalry. Zvereva, though, played as if she'd never had a lesson. Graf won the match 6-0, 6-0 in 32 minutes, the worst drubbing in a Grand Slam final in the Open Era. Graf went on to win the Grand Slam (and an Olympic gold medal) that year. At least in singles, Zvereva never came close to replicating that success.
2. Mamiit's missed call: May 6, 1999
Hardly a tennis match goes by these days with an unwelcome interruption from a fan's cell phone. No matter how often crowds are advised, "As a courtesy to the players, please turn off your cell phones," the Nokia chirp is as much a part of tennis' soundtrack as the pock of the ball. At the Delray Tournament a few years ago, a phone beeped close to the court. On further review, it was discovered that the offending phone belonged to one of the players, Cecil Mamiit, who had left his Motorola in his racket bag. The tournament P.A. announcer couldn't resist. "As a courtesy to the fans," he intoned, "would the players please keep their cell phones off during the match."
3. Richard Williams' press conference: March 27, 1999
With Venus and Serena Williams making history by blitzing through the draw and reaching the final of the 1999 Lipton Championships, the WTA administrators thought it would be a swell idea to let the proud paterfamilias, Richard, hold a press conference and bask in the achievement. They learned the hard way that Richard Williams + open forum = public-relations disaster.
As the tour executives stood red-faced, Richard offered some gems that included: "I think I could really capitalize off of Venus and Serena if I had more time. But I really do not, because I really do a lot of work for the Chinese peoples and the Japanese peoples and so on, and represent them. As a matter of fact, we thinking now about buying Rockefeller Center for $3,900,000,000, so I don't have time to even think about tennis no more." Here's the full text.
4. What's the score again? June 24, 2004
To err is human. But to mess up the score of a taut match? At Wimbledon? On Centre Court? In 2004? Having lost the first set, Venus Williams was trailing Karolina Sprem 2-1 in a second-set tiebreaker. Sprem won the next point and suddenly the score was 4-1. Chair umpire Ted Watts was asleep at the switch and, amazingly, neither player protested. Sprem went on to win the match and Williams gamely diffused the embarrassment, noting, "I don't think one call makes a match." Weirdly enough, tennis officials endured more embarrassment at the next major, the 2004 U.S. Open, when Serena Williams was jobbed by adverse overrules and non-calls in a quarterfinal match against Jennifer Capriati.
5. Household name ... or not: Sept. 6, 2003
Already a top player with a major title to her name, Justine Henin-Hardenne won a breathtaking semifinal match against Capriati and then thumped Kim Clijsters to win the 2003 U.S. Open. You would think that she'd have been by then a household name, at least in tennis circles. But when a suit from JP Morgan Chase presented Henin-Hardenne with the winner's check, he referred to her as "Christine." (She had the good form not to thank the Bank of New York in response.) The following year a blustery USTA president -- not one to learn from mistakes of the past -- mangled the name of the women's champion, Svetlana Kuznetsova, pronouncing it as something sounding like "Sweat llama."
6. Title what? Aug. 29, 2002
With Title IX coming under fire by the Bush administration, it seemed like a good time to ask women tennis players -- multimillionairesses who benefited enormously from the sacrifices of Billie Jean King, et al. -- to reflect on the legislation. Looking as if she had been asked about her third eye, Jennifer Capriati responded, "I have no idea what Title IX is."
7. Missing the mark: June 5, 1993
Best known as a fan-friendly, high-energy novelty act, brothers Luke and Murphy Jensen struck a blow for credibility when they paired to win the 1993 French Open doubles title. After match point Murphy exuberantly rushed up to his brother to give him a congratulatory, WWF-style chest bump. But he missed and butted his brother in the face, breaking his nose.
8. Another father run amok: 2000
Tennis has an unfortunately rich history of "Fathers from Hell." But Damir Dokic, father of Jelena, is the benchmark against which all others are measured. In 2000 his daughter reached the Wimbledon semifinals, a run that was overshadowed by Damir's behavior. Visibly intoxicated, he wrapped himself in a British flag and stood on a Wimbledon balcony, offering an anti-queen tirade that was worthy of the Smiths.
At the U.S. Open, Damir was evicted after arguing about the price of salmon in the players' cafeteria. Sadly, owing in no small part to Damir's antics, Jelena's career went into a downward spiral, and she is now ranked outside of the top 500.
9. Watch what you eat: Oct. 5, 2005
Yevgeny Kafelnikov is arguably the best Russian player of all time. However, his 2005 retirement ceremony was canceled when a Russian tennis czar, Shamil Tarpishchev, claimed that Kafelnikov was too heavy. "To have a proper farewell ... he needs to trim down," said Tarpishchev.
10. Agassi's damage control: July 31, 2005
Having won the Los Angeles title in the past, Andre Agassi knew that, during the trophy-presentation ceremony, the winner's check envelope was blank. When he won the title in 2005, Agassi was presented with the envelope and said to the crowd, "Don't give me an empty envelope, please!" He tore it open and nothing was inside, drawing howls from the fans and looks of mortification from the sponsors. He was then presented with a Raymond Weil watch. Playing to his audience, Agassi joked, "That's what I call an eBay watch." (To Agassi's credit, he did quick damage control, vowing to donate the watch to his charity and adding, "Nine times out of 10 I say something and I go, 'I'm glad I said it.' One out of 10 I go, 'Haven't you learned yet to keep your mouth shut?' And that was one of those times.")