SBD/Issue 245/Sports Media

Tennis Players Taking Offense To Criticism From Commentators

Roddick Told Analyst
To Stop Being So Critical

As the U.S. Open heads into its second week, there is a "feud brewing on the courts: player versus commentator," according to Hannah Karp of the WALL STREET JOURNAL. With Tennis Channel and ESPN "only covering the U.S. Open for the second year, the number of talking heads has mushroomed at the Grand Slams lately, and they're not announcing matches in the hushed, respectful whispers still favored by British tennis fans and golf enthusiasts." Many announcers are "taking a chattier, more irreverent and in some cases just plain louder approach, and their commentary is zooming back to the players ... thanks to text messaging and social-networking tools like Facebook and Twitter." That chatter is "rankling some of the tour's more sensitive players, like Maria Sharapova and Andy Roddick, not to mention purist fans accustomed to watching points in silence." Roddick told Tennis Channel analyst Justin Gimelstob to "stop hammering his forehand." Roddick this week sent Gimelstob a text message while watching his analysis on TV, saying, "I'm enjoying watching you sweat all over yourself." Similarly, Sharapova "recently became so sick of the relentless criticism and dissection of her serve on the air that [her] coach, Michael Joyce, begged the ESPN crew to lay off." Karp notes the tension "came to a head earlier this summer when James Blake heard ESPN commentator and former pro Pam Shriver criticizing his play from the sidelines at Wimbledon." ESPN's Chris Fowler noted that he "offended one top player recently with a comment that he was 'in denial' about the state of his career." The player subsequently told Fowler in an interview, "By the way, I am not in denial about anything" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 9/3).

GIVE 'EM SOMETHING TO TALK ABOUT: SI.com's Jon Wertheim wrote ESPN "got burned by its conflicts of interest" while covering Roddick's second-round loss on Wednesday, during which he got into a heated argument with the chair umpire. The notion of ESPN analyst John McEnroe "offering measured analysis of a player-official conflict is absurd," and he "turns it into a self-referential joke instead." Patrick McEnroe, who "owes much of his Davis Cup success to Roddick, was in a compromised position," as was analyst Brad Gilbert, Roddick's former coach. Instead of "criticism or a suggestion that this ugly behavior is beneath Roddick, the discussion veered awkwardly into a ruminations on whether the challenge system should exist for foot faults" (SI.com, 9/2).

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