There are children the world over who would have given anything to be lucky enough to have those tennis rackets. As Bhagdatis just calmly, casually broke four new rackets because he was losing a match, I decided that I will never support him again. He owes an apology to his tennis fans. And he owes children the world over an apology and an explanation that this is not how adults and professionals behave.
I was reading recently a story about Nadal in the 2010 Best Sports Writing collection. It wasn’t a well-written story. The writer seemed to be too blinded by her lust for Nadal to really examine him as a phenomenon. Not that I am opposed to noticing what an incredible butt he has, but there is a place and time for lust and this story about how ripped Nadal is, just seemed wrong.
But one of the things that the writer got right was her observation of Nadal’s good manners. She interviewed Uncle Toni who explained that he would never settle for anything less in his charge as Nadal was growing up. There was to be no breaking of rackets. Nadal carried his own bags. Good manners meant that from a young age Nadal was taught to respect the sport and everything that came with it.
Which is why it was shocking to read of his criticism of Federer’s stance with regard to players’ complaints. At heart the complaints seemed to be about two things – that the season is too long, and that the players feel entitled to a larger share of the huge profits that tournaments make.
Federer’s stance has always clearly been that you cannot make decisions that only benefit the guys at the top. I completely agree with this. A long season gives a lot of players chances to make money. But the greed of the top tier is such that they seem to want to keep the big bucks but want to work less hard for it. And their utter narcissism was so perfectly captured in Bhagdatis’ selfish display of disrespect.
I know that Bhagdatis wasn’t raised by wolves but he sure looked it today. There was no breeding there, no class. His behavior was common, distasteful. And as he kept calmly reaching into his bag and breaking racket after racket, I was reminded of those children or immature teenagers who know that they have gone too far in a situation but who nevertheless just keep going – almost as if they cannot figure out a way to save face, to turn back, almost as if with each new act of outrage, they convince themselves that they are not actually out of control, that their behavior is actually justified. And to smile afterward. That was the icing on the cake that Bhagdatis shoved our faces in.
It is a privilege in tennis to have a sponsor willing to give you free rackets and shoes and clothes. (I know that there are players ranked in the 1000s who would have loved to get their hands on those rackets.) It is a privilege to have tournaments that cater to your every fricking need. It is a privilege to earn a hundred times more than the average degree-holder will ever earn in a lifetime.
Tennis players need to develop a bit more gratitude. Sure they have worked hard for these privileges. But they also have the option to manage their own schedules, to play as often or as little as they want, to skip entire tranches of the tour so that they can rest and heal – and so that the little guy gets a chance to make a buck or two.
What is never an option is to benefit handsomely from a system only to turn around and complain about it once you get to the top. It’s the same kind of narcissism and disregard shown by that unshaven jackass breaking the rackets that he did not have to pay for, because you and I already do.