What Was Marion Bartoli Thinking?

WASHINGTON, May 30, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

Earlier this week, in a TennisMajors.com “Match Point” panel discussion video, Marion Bartoli, the 2013 Wimbledon singles champion, suggested – in the words of one British tennis writer, she “bizarrely proposed” – reducing the prize money and number of tournaments afforded to doubles players as a means of helping struggling singles players, who have been hit hard financially by a lack of opportunities to earn money due to the global coronavirus pandemic.

Mind you, there have been many suggestions offered – and some implemented – during the past couple of months regarding how to help low-ranking players survive the economic fallout. After all, it’s hard for a tennis player – many who are individual contractors living paycheck to paycheck or who do not have the endorsement nest eggs that extend to just a handful of elite players like Roger Federer, Serena Williams, Rafael Nadal and Naomi Osaka – to earn a regular income when there are no ATP, WTA or ITF pro tournaments happening for the foreseeable future.

Bartoli, 35, retired and never shy to express an opinion, questioned the work ethic of doubles players and doubles’s weekly place in tennis tournaments, suggesting: “I just don’t understand because in doubles, you just don’t make the same effort as a singles player.“

Further, Bartoli asked: “Why don’t you give some of that money to the (singles) qualifiers, to someone who is playing only challengers?

“You don’t practice so much, your routine is different. And they keep going week in and week out, getting that money, when actually the other ones playing Challengers are really struggling. I don’t know if we have to stop doubles completely, but to get less money and give that money to qualification and others, that could be the solution.”

Memo to Marion: Tell that to Jamie Murray or Juan Sebastian Cabal or Gabriela Dabrowski – all who have dedicated their respective careers toward becoming highly successful, full-time doubles specialists.

Upon hearing Bartoli’s sweeping comments, Dabrowski issued a lengthy 10-point response, which she shared via social media. The nine-time WTA doubles winner and 2019 Wimbledon doubles finalist from Canada wrote: “I’m a little bit in shock but I’ll do my best to address everything said.” 

In detail and on point, the 2016 Canadian Olympian explained how everyone has their own definition of what constitutes hard work and suggested there’s a lot more that goes into the effort than the public witnesses, such as gaining access to premium court time and a skill set that differs from playing singles. Here are some of the highlights of Dabrowski’s rebuttal to Bartoli:

“Not everyone, not even singles players, will put in the same amount of work as Marion did… she would be out there practicing or doing exercises sometimes for hours before her matches, whereas players normally will warm up for 30 minutes to an hour max on match day,” Dabrowski wrote.

“Certainly, players who play predominantly doubles train differently than singles players. Singles players focus a lot more on endurance and being able to last running side to side for a grueling three-hour match. Doubles players need different weapons to be successful: we need to learn to read the court, have exceptional reaction skills, a solid net game, well-placed serves, to use the lob both defensively and offensively, to understand what type of positioning puts the most pressure on the opponents, to threat the needle on a passing shot when you feel like you have no peace to hit into, to know when to poach at the net, to know who covers what shot, understand the angles of the court, to be able to manage another person next to you, to work together to solve a common problem, to be positive when you really do feel like it because you’re playing for more than just yourself. …”

Continuing, Dabrowski wrote: “I’m sure plenty of doubles players would love to get in even more hours on the practice court, but at most tournaments this would mean coming in at 7 a.m., which they don’t always allow you to do because the site isn’t open that early, or hitting late in the evening at 8 p.m. We never get enough court time during normal hours of the day as we are last on the priority list for practice courts.”

Dabrowski, who is a current member on the WTA Players’ Council, added: “I would like to emphasize that doubles has little to no exposure whatsoever. There are arguments to be made as to how to improve this, but if I had a dollar for every person who asked me where they can watch more doubles, be taught certain doubles skills, why doubles is rarely scheduled on a big court, if I had a dollar for those comments, I would be able to retire here on the spot.”

Dabrowski, whose career earnings exceed $2.7 million, asked: “Marion is suggesting to take money away from those who earn on average less than 19 percent of what a singles player makes? You do realize that doubles players split their earnings after the 19 percent, right?”

The bottom line according to Dabrowski: “Doubles is all about tactics and finding solutions. You can’t always hit harder and have that be the solution. We use lobs, angles, finesse and net play, alongside power, to win. A player who plays predominantly doubles can have a longer career in tennis because the wear and tear on their body is not the same as a singles player. While Marion may consider this to be some kind of negative, for many it has enabled them to keep pursuing their dreams and to keep playing a sport they absolutely love for a lot longer than they may have otherwise. To suggest these athletes should disappear is unconscionable.” 

Looking back, I’m in agreement with The Times of London tennis correspondent Stuart Fraser, who Friday wrote on Twitter: “Of all the suggestions floating around on how to give more financial support to low-ranking players at these difficult times, Marion Bartoli’s Is by far the worst. If anything, doubles should receive more in the form of marketing and money.”

Signs of the times …

Scenes from this week’s exhibition tournament in Prague

📸 – @epaphotos/Twitter

Behind The Racquet – Arantxa Rus

Seventieth-ranked Arantxa Rus of the Netherlands, a fixture of many Dutch Fed Cup teams, admitted in a first-person essay she wrote last December for the Instagram series Behind The Racquet that it’s “a tough battle when you begin to lose to people who you have beaten and then you begin to have no confidence.”

After winning the 2008 Australian Open junior singles championship and reaching a career-high ranking of No. 61 in 2012, Rus bottomed out three years later as her ranking dropped to a career-low of No. 289. Since then, year-by-year under the tutelage of Julian Alonso, the 29-year-old Rus has shown improvement. A native of Delft, she moved her training base to Barcelona. When the 2020 season was interrupted more than two months ago due to the coronavirus outbreak, Rus had accumulated a 12-8 win-loss record, playing on both WTA and ITF circuits. Her best result this year came in her most recent tournament when she reached the semifinals at Monterrey, Mexico before losing to Elina Svitolina, 6-0, 6-1.

Looking back five years when her singles ranking bottomed, as Rus wrote, “I wasn’t used to losing over and over like this. I began to feel a new pressure where I felt the need to stop playing tennis. I somehow managed to keep going. During that year where I pushed through, I learned a lot about myself. I was fighting the idea that I wasn’t good enough. 

“Once you fall outside the top 100 for a few years, you know you can do better but you just aren’t sure if you are able to. I was just not believing in myself. I was fortunate to have parents that always supported me but I didn’t have a coach I trusted to help me through this. As you get older you start to overthink far more than you did when you were younger and were just easily pushing forward. I knew I needed a change and I switched coaches after five years of having the same one. I had no guidance if it was the right decision but I felt that I needed to do everything completely different. I had to do the opposite of what I was already doing for the past five years or so. 

“I was questioning it along the way for the first few months because I didn’t see any results. To completely change countries for training and still not see results makes you question everything. After about four months, my coach and I finally connected, just had to get used to the way he worked. He was really straight forward with the way he spoke to me, right to my face, which I now know is what I actually needed. 

“You have to fight every day to get into the top 100. You worry about so many things, like travel and paying for a coach that it is tough to focus on tennis. My coach helped me get my confidence back, but not everyone is as lucky.” 

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“I grew up in the Netherlands close to Hague. I started to play tennis when I was about five or six years old. I had an older sister who brought me to the tennis club with her one day. I played other sports but it was never the same feeling as tennis. I enjoyed it more than others so I knew it was the one I would choose. I started playing tournaments around nine or ten, and I was good at just playing for fun and enjoying the competition. At seventeen I finished school and began traveling outside of home with a group of other players. It isn’t an easy decision for people to choose whether to continue to study or play full time. For me it wasn’t even a thought, I needed to play, practice and see how far I could move up the rankings. Coming from a Jr. Grand Slam title in Australia, I was confident in how I would do on tour. I moved up really quickly to top 100 but then had a few difficult years where my ranking dropped. It’s a tough battle when you begin to lose to people who you have beaten and then you begin to have no confidence. I wasn’t used to losing over and over like this. I began to feel a new pressure where I felt the need to stop playing tennis. I somehow managed to keep going. During that year where I pushed through, I learned a lot about myself. I was fighting the idea that I wasn’t good enough. Once you fall outside the top 100 for a few years, you know you can do better but you just aren’t sure if you are able to. I was just not believing in myself. I was fortunate to have parents that always supported me but I didn’t have a coach I trusted to help me through this. As you get older you start to overthink far more than you did when you were younger and were just easily pushing forward. I knew I needed a change and I switched coaches after five years of having the same one. I had no guidance if it was the right decision but I felt that I needed to do everything completely different. I had to do the opposite of what I was already doing for the past five years or so. I was questioning it along the way for the first few months because I didn’t see any results…” @arantxarus1 Read full story at behindtheracquet.com

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What they’re saying

Andy Roddick, appearing this week on Tennis Channel Live, on a possible ATP/WTA merger: “It’s great in concept and I hope it’s feasible. My point the entire time, whether it’s the player relief fund or a merger is does it work? Do both parties win from a business perspective if it happens? … It’s not as easy as a #weretogether and then all of a sudden it works. … In theory it would be great from a TV packaging perspective, as well as lowering costs on site. There’s a lot of benefit to it but there needs to be a lot of thought behind it.”

What they’re writing

Tumaini Carayol, The Guardian of London tennis writer, from “Dinara Safina: Being world No. 1 is not fun, it is the opposite”:

It has been nine years since Safina, now 33 and retired, last competed and she is locked down in Moscow. It takes just one question – about whether she would return to the sport if not for the stress fractures in her back – to understand that for everything she did, she never actually managed to reach either of those simple goals she set years ago.

“If I would be able to start from the beginning of my career, maybe, but I don’t feel like coming back to the tour. It’s something that I guess is very deep. I think I got disappointed in some way by tennis, because I dreamed that once you become really famous, you become No 1 in the world, you would have a different life. But once you have this, everything, and you realise that it’s not what you’ve been dreaming of, then all your dreams fall apart.”

What they’re sharing on social media

Moments we are missing / Roland Garros

Tennis Channel / Congratulations, Roger Federer

WTA / Practice partners