Tsonga On Racism: ‘A Tragedy … That Makes You Want To Shout Louder’

WASHINGTON, June 3, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

At the beginning, France’s Jo-Wilfried Tsonga recalled, it started with little nicknames. Then, little insults. In an interview with Franceinfo (francetvinfo.fr) published Tuesday, the 34-year-old Tsonga discussed how racism translated into his childhood.

“Afterwards, I remember being the victim of, let’s say, abusive checks, especially identity checks on the street when my friends were never checked. I was refused in establishments, while sometimes I arrived with my friends. They said to me: ‘You, you can’t get it, but you can.’ It was difficult to also see my father from time to time in the eyes of others. It was painful for me,” Tsonga recalled.

Tsonga, born in Le Mans, France, drew strength from his Congolese father, Didier, and kindness from his French mother, Évelyne, both teachers. His nickname “Ali” is derived from a facial resemblance to boxing great Muhammad Ali.

“At the start of my career, certain sports media called me out like: ‘Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, son of a Congolese father.’ And I didn’t understand why it was so important, when I was French,” he said. “We already had ‘Yannick (Noah), the Franco-Cameroonian’, but strangely we never heard ‘Pioline, the Franco-Romanian’. You don’t have to be a genius to know where the error is. There are things that left an indelible mark on me and will last a lifetime. I met people on the street who would hide their bags and it hurt me a lot.”

Tsonga continued: “As a half-breed, this kind of behavior is unbearable to me and I feel that it should be for everyone. It’s just a tragedy to many that makes you want to shout louder.”

Over the weekend, the 49th-ranked Tsonga joined fellow Frenchman Gaël Monfils, Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka and Coco Gauff, among many, in the “Racquets down, Hands up” video initiative created by American Frances Tiafoe to raise awareness of systemic racism.

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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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To read the complete Franceinfo interview, see: francetvinfo.fr

#BlackOutTuesday

On Tuesday, the US Open wrote on Twitter: “We stand unwaveringly against racism and injustice of any kind. It is time to listen to and stand in solidarity with our Black colleagues and the entire Black community.”

A day earlier, on the US Open website, the U.S. Tennis Association (USTA) issued a statement on current events:

Tennis is a sport that embraces all players, regardless of age, race or religion, gender and sexual orientation or nationality. It is a sport that is built on respect—respect for one another, and for the game itself. It is a sport with a long history of striving for equality and a proven record of trying to level the playing field of opportunity.

At the USTA, we challenge ourselves daily to embody the core values of inclusion and respect, and we challenge all Americans to do the same. The African-American community is an integral part of our tennis family, and the USTA stands unwaveringly against racism and injustice of any kind. We know that African-Americans have faced extraordinary hardships during our country’s history, and we are extremely disappointed, angry, and heartbroken that this community—and other communities of color—still face these agonizing and inexcusable hardships and dangers.

With an overwhelming sense of sorrow, we recognize this as unjust. Generations of tennis players have been inspired by the examples set by Althea Gibson, Arthur Ashe, Billie Jean King and many more, who were instrumental in removing barriers to fairness and justice by epitomizing tolerance, inclusion and respect.

The USTA encourages all of us to reflect on the message and legacy of the exemplars of our sport to listen to the African-American community; and together seek answers that heal our communities. It is time to engage with our friends and colleagues of color, and to stand in solidarity with them. We know that these efforts are simply not enough, but as we consider our humanity and the humanity of all, we hope it is a strong beginning.

Behind The Racquet – Bethanie Mattek-Sands

Bethanie Mattek-Sands of the United States grew up with the idea winning tennis matches prioritized over everything else in her life, that people would love her more if she came away with first-prize trophies. However, as she soon realized, those moments were fleeting. A horrific knee injury suffered at the 2017 Wimbledon Championships sidelined her the rest of the season and into 2018. At the time, she and Lucie Safarova were ranked World No. 1 in doubles. Now, Mattek-Sands is ranked No. 359 in singles and No. 20 in doubles, mostly playing with Sofia Kenin.

In a first-person essay written for the Instagram series Behind The Racquet last August, Mattek-Sands realized “That the minor satisfaction the people around me felt would only last so long. That I wouldn’t receive the same feeling as if I played for only myself. To break this habit took ongoing, conscious effort.”

Mattek-Sands, who has been a face for the WTA during the tennis lockdown due to the coronavirus by hosting numerous Instagram Live chats and co-hosting Tennis United with ATP player Vasek Pospisil, is easily recognized for her spiky hair hair and colorful attire as well as a versatile, all-court style of play that combines speed and determination. Her skill and agility around the net is one reason she reached doubles World No. 1 with Safarova in January 2017, captured  27 career doubles titles and won 392 career doubles matches.

“Tennis puts this stigma on losing to the point that only the winners receive the platform to speak,” wrote Mattek-Sands. “It’s truly sad that losers are barely acknowledged in a sport where defeat is an every week occurrence. We need to change the idea that losing equals failure, rather than something that takes place every week. 

“I got to a point where I figured out that the match was the bonus. I was able to play the way that I wanted to, the style I wanted to. Once I understood these key factors I began to play more freely than ever. I found a love for playing how I wanted to without worrying about what other people wanted for me. The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do wasn’t learning how to walk or run again, it was learning how to be truthful to myself.”

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”I grew up with this idea that winning was prioritized over everything else. That somehow if I came away with a first place trophy, that the people around me would love me more. I soon realized that these moments were fleeting. That the minor satisfaction the people around me felt would only last so long. That I wouldn’t receive the same feeling as if I played for only myself. To break this habit took ongoing, conscious effort. Tennis puts this stigma on losing to the point that only the winners receive the platform to speak. It’s truly sad that losers are barely acknowledged in a sport where defeat is an every week occurrence. We need to change the idea that losing equals failure, rather than something that takes place every week. I got to a point where I figured out that the match was the bonus. I was able to play the way that I wanted to, the style I wanted to. Once I understood these key factors I began to play more freely than ever. I found a love for playing how I wanted to without worrying about what other people wanted for me. The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do wasn’t learning how to walk or run again, it was learning how to be truthful to myself. I spoke in a positive manner for so long but for a period of time I wasn’t sure if this was because it sounded nice or what I thought people wanted to hear. I then got to a point that I had the ability to call myself out on my own bulls**t. It was extremely refreshing to be able to understand when I wasn’t being truthful. For the longest time I wasted energy dwelling on certain moments that I couldn’t change. I would actually engage in full conversations with myself to try to overcome this issue. I have had so many injuries but this was a turning point for me. The day after I had my big knee injury at Wimbledon, I made a song with Lucie Safarova. For a quick second after the injury I wanted to be pissed off at the event but I didn’t allow myself to get there and I wanted to live by the words that I started to believe. I wanted to prove to myself that this new mentality was for me and no one else. I didn’t want to let the negativity of what just happened dictate the way I felt and acted.”

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What they’re saying 

Rafael Nadal“What a good time I have spent answering the questions of the children and youth of my foundation @frnadal! And hopefully, soon we can meet face to face 😉”

What they’re writing 

Christopher Clarey, tennis correspondent for The New York Times, from “The U.S. Open Could Go On, With a 2-Tournament Bubble in New York”:

In an unusual attempt to save two of the top events in American tennis during the coronavirus pandemic, the United States Tennis Association has proposed staging a doubleheader in New York by moving a tournament that leads into the United States Open at the U.S.T.A. Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

The move, under consideration by the men’s and women’s tours, could allow foreign players to remain in one place for the duration of their stay in the United States, and establish a safer bubble for competitors similar to proposals by the N.B.A. And other sporting leagues.

The proposal would move the Western & Southern Open, a combined men’s and women’s event near Cincinnati, to New York but keep its general window on the calendar, leading into the U.S. Open at the same venue. The Western & Southern Open is currently scheduled for Aug. 17 to 23 while the main draw of the U.S. Open is slated for Aug. 31 to Sept. 13.

It is far from certain that either tournament can be played this year, but the maneuver is designed to help draw the needed support of government and public health officials as they manage the outbreak, travel and the economy. It is also unclear, especially given quarantine guidelines, whether enough players would be prepared to travel to New York, one of the disease’s epicenters. Many players have gone without income as both the men’s and women’s tours have been shut down since mid-March and scores of tournaments have been postponed or canceled.

What they’re sharing on social media

Billie Jean King / I stand in solidarity … 

Kim Clijsters / These past few days …

Roland Garros / Chatting with Daniela … and two-time French Open champion Jim Courier