Racquets Down, Hands Up: Tiafoe Takes A Stand Against Racial Injustice

WASHINGTON, June 2, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

Over the weekend, people all across the sports world began to speak out against the brutal killing of an unarmed black man, George Floyd, by a Minneapolis police officer. One of them, Frances Tiafoe, on very short notice created a video: “Enough is enough,” set to music and lyrics by Grammy Award winners John Legend and Common. It’s powerful, it’s on point and, throughout, a who’s who of black tennis players – past and present – lent their participation.

“Hi guys,” Tiafoe begins his two minute and 30 second video. “I hope everyone is doing well during this crazy time. Ayan (Tiafoe’s girlfriend, 2019 NCAA national champion Ayan Broomfield) and I felt the need to reach out and express our feelings for what is and what has been going on here in America.” 

Broomfield continues: “We wanted to do a small gesture to spread awareness about the unjust deaths of many African-Americans here in this country. You know, this is definitely bigger than tennis, and we all need to use our platform to come together regardless of class, gender, race, ethnicity or any other category.”

“Today, we put our racquets down and our hands up,” says Tiafoe as he and Broomfield lay down their racquets and put their hands up in unison. It is followed with cameos by 32 current and former players and coaches, each identified by name, with their hands raised.

As Legend and Common begin to sing and rap the lyrics to “Glory,” “One day when the glory comes / It will be ours, it will be ours / Oh one day when the war is won / We will be sure, we will be sure / Oh glory (Glory, glory) Oh (Glory, glory)” … the roll call of supporters putting their racquets down and their hands up includes: 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams, French No. 1 Gaël Monfils, former USTA President Katrina Adams, two-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka, 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens, teen sensation Coco Gauff and her father/coach Corey, British No. 2 Heather Watson, and former American pros MaliVai Washington, Zina Garrison, Lori McNeil, Chanda Rubin, and Miami Open tournament director James Blake.

Appearing on Tennis Channel Live Sunday night, Rubin said, “This is just impressive from Frances Tiafoe and Ayan, his girlfriend, to have this idea along with his twin brother, Franklin. They were trying to come up with a way to bring awareness.

“It’s been important for these young players – young black youth – that are feeling the affect of everything that’s going on. Frances was able to pull this together in about 24 hours. It’s a really quick turnaround to get all these videos sent in, having the support of all of these players. It’s fantastic to see. Hopefully, this will continue to move the conversation along and to continue towards progress in this area.”

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“Our Lives Begin To End The Day We Become Silent About Things That Matter” Martin Luther King Jr. Thank you to everyone that joined us in this, it starts with each and every one of us. • • @serenawilliams @iamgaelmonfils @katadams68 @malwashington @kgmontjane1 @zackeveee @k1ng_2._0 @heatherwatson92 @jarmere @naomiosaka @sloanestephens @tennisdarian @eastpoint_jenkins @tsongaofficiel @asia.muhammad @coacho.g @r_bizzeee @donaldyoungjr @mcneil8970 @coreygauff @haileybaptiste @ymerjr @philsbrainparade @thechandarubin @michaelmmoh @sachiavick @kamaumurray @cocogauff @garrisonzina #tennisforequality #lovewins #itisbiggerthantennis • • Song: Glory (@johnlegend @common) Thank you for creating such an impactful piece of art. Special thank you to Brian Tsao (@the_general_tsao ) for helping with edits. • • @wta @atp @espn @usta @itf__tennis @shaunking @bleacherreport @theshaderoom @octagon

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Roland Garros eSeries by BNP Paribas underway

Roland Garros eSeries by BNP Paribas, a virtual tennis competition aimed at raising funds for charity providing financial support against Covid-19, began Monday and continues through Sunday. It brings together French tennis players such as Jo-Wilfried Tonga and Alizé Cornet and other French celebrities to raise money for hospital charity AP-HP Foundation.

ITF and Grand Slam tournaments pledge support for wheelchair tennis

On Monday, the four Grand Slam tournaments – Australian Open, Roland Garros, Wimbledon Championships and US Open – along with the ITF united to pledge over $300,000 (USD) in financial support for wheelchair tennis.

A statement signed by by ITF President David Haggerty, Tennis Australia Chair and President Jayne Hrdlicka, FFT President Bernard Giudicelli, AELTC Chairman Ian Hewitt and USTA Chairman of the Board and President Patrick Galbraith said:

The fund will provide grants to help wheelchair athletes and national association event hosts impacted by the suspension of the UNIQLO Wheelchair Tennis Tour and postponement of major wheelchair tournaments due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Eighty-eight (88) ITF-sanctioned wheelchair events have been postponed or cancelled since the ATP, WTA and ITF tours were suspended on March 12, including the BNP Paribas World Team Cup, Roland-Garros and Wimbledon. The UNIQLO Wheelchair Tennis Tour is currently suspended until July 31 in alignment with other professional circuits.

Wheelchair tennis players who earned less than US$100,000 in prize money in 2019 ranked inside the Top 20 of the UNIQLO Wheelchair Tennis Tour rankings in the men’s and women’s open division, and the Top 15 in the quad division, will be eligible to apply for a grant.

This fund follows the announcement of the Player Relief Programme, a similar joint initiative of tennis’ seven major stakeholders, which will provide financial support to approximately 800 ATP/WTA singles and doubles players.

The grass is always greener …

If not for an interruption of the tennis season for Covid-19, the British grass-court season would have begun Monday in Surbiton, south-west London.

Behind The Racquet – James Blake

James Blake turned pro in 1999 after his sophomore year at Harvard and reached a career-high of No. 4 in November 2006. His career cut short by injuries, Blake still won 366 matches, captured 10 titles, reached the quarterfinals of three Grand Slams (2005-06 US Open, 2008 Australian Open), and earned nearly $8 million by the time he retired after playing his last match at the US Open in 2013.

Blake’s autobiography, Breaking Back: How I Lost Everything and Won Back My Life, written with Andrew Friedman, a candid look at his comeback after his unlucky 2004 season debuted on The New York Times Best Seller list, in which he broke his neck after slipping on a clay court while practicing in Rome, lost his father to cancer, then developed shingles, which temporarily paralyzed half his face and blurred his vision.

Last December, Blake penned a first-person essay for the Instagram series Behind The Racquet, in which he discussed the stress of playing tennis – at age 24 – after his father’s passing and how it led to the development of symptoms that affected his facial nerves. It eventually sidelined him for eight months.

“It was all a tragedy, but I found a way to make it a positive,” wrote Blake. “There were newfound connections with friends and I found a way to cope with my feelings, which got me to a better place emotionally and mentally. I am beyond thankful for that. If anything it was a learning experience for me. I saw home my emotions could affect me physically. It gave me insight into the lives of people who deal with mental health issues and how it can cripple them. I have complete sympathy.

“With a sport like tennis it’s really important to shed light on these issues because you’re out there alone. You’re an individual and the pressure is on you the entire time. I hope people begin to realize that we’re human beings, as well as athletes, and there are issues we deal with like everyone else. People forget we aren’t robots. People see this fantasy world and guess that everything is kind of perfect. There are true struggles, that each and every player deal with that are far more important than winning or losing.”

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#LegendaryBTR- “I’m not generally someone who’s extremely expressive, my wife will tell you that. She said we had two daughters because I needed to be softened up. It’s kind of a joke amongst my friends that I got what I deserved with a household of females. When my dad passed, having my friends, my mom still around and my brother there, was so instrumental. My whole family wanted to pick me up and just let me know it’s okay. I was never someone that was a big crier, or truly emotional, but they let me know it was okay to be emotional in times like this. I then became physically sick. This was my first recognition that my psychology can have a huge effect on me physically, because of the immense amount of stress. The stress of my dad passing away led to the development of symptoms that affected my facial nerves. I’d always thought of myself as someone that was relatively laid back, but it all just seemed too much. For me at that time the stress wore me down. I also wasn’t sleeping, which just added to my physical sickness. All of this kept me off tour for quite a while, and I couldn’t be more upset. I was 24 years old and I felt like this is my time to play some really great tennis and continue improving but it ended up being a time where I was off tour for eight months. Since I was forced to be home with my friends, I became a better person and a better friend. I began to realize how much life there was outside of tennis after spending time with friends that I had known since middle school. After all of this I learned more about them, in this short period of time just because I was in their lives day to day. Normally I couldn’t be there for them because of my training but this was completely different. A different world for me. I was so hyper-focused on what I was doing that I didn’t have the time to just be a good friend. I became a better friend for people that were always there for me. I’ve got people that care about me whether I win or lose a tennis match, and that made the rest of my life better, not just my tennis career…” James Blake Read full story at behindtheracquet.com (link in bio @behindtheracquet )

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What they’re saying

Tennis Channel insider Jon Wertheim: “Tennis has a history of activism – Martina Navratilova, Billie Jean King and Arthur Ashe. It is great to see that continue (with Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka and Coco Gauff). I urge people to think about the different challenges that athletes in an individual sport faces. There’s no team to hide behind. So, when tennis players like Frances take a stand, the dimensions are much different from someone who is in a team and league environment.”

What they’re writing

Carole Bouchard, TennisMajors.com tennis writer, from “Carla Suárez Navarro Leaves the Door Open for a 2021 Return”:

Spain’s Carla Suárez Navarro didn’t expect her final professional season to go like this. The 31-year-old had planned on making her final Roland-Garros appearance this week, but thanks to the coronavirus pandemic she instead found herself lending a helping hand to those in need as she worked at a local food bank in Las Palmas in the Gran Canaria Island for the last six weeks.

With Roland Garros moved to September, and the rest of the 2020 season still very much in jeopardy, the former world no. 6 has not given up hope on a grand farewell. She is leaving the door open when it comes to her final season as a pro.

“I’ll see how things go during the next few months to decide about my future,” she said in an exclusive for Tennis Majors.

What they’re sharing on social media

Amanda Anisimova / Change needs to happen …

ITF / Happy 38th Birthday Justine Henin 

Coco Gauff / Happy Pride Month