The ATP copped a barrage of criticism this week for their pathetic response to Alexander Zverev’s behaviour at the Mexican Open in Acapulco two weeks prior.
And rightfully so.
After losing a second-round doubles match with Brazilian Marcelo Melo, Zverev took his frustration out on chair umpire Alessandro Germani for what he believed to be an errant decision that went against the pair on the penultimate point of the match.
Zverev verbally abused Germani and repeatedly smashed his racquet into the umpire's chair just inches from Germani himself in what was one of, if not most flagrant examples of umpire abuse ever seen.
For his efforts, Zverev received was immediately withdrawn, stripped of his ranking points and prize money from the event, and received a maximum USD $40,000 fine for “aggravated behaviour” with a further review to be conducted.
Aggravated behaviour was one phrase for Zverev’s actions. Abuse or assault would be other alternatives.
Following his outburst, Zverev issued a profuse apology via social media while the rest of the tennis world remained in disbelief. His actions were inexcusable.
On Tuesday, the ATP announced their review was complete and Zverev was issued a suspended sentence comprising an eight-week ban and a USD $25,000 fine. That being approximately 0.8% of Zverev’s career earnings.
Whether Zverev actually receives this additional punishment is contingent upon good behaviour over the next twelve months. If he behaves as he should, it will never amount to anything.
In this day and age, in almost any other sport, umpire abuse of this kind would likely warrant a near record-setting suspension.
In tennis, however, this was yet another example of a half-hearted response where the governing body both fails to regulate its players' on-court behaviour and protect its officials.
As tweeted by prominent tennis journalist Ben Rothenberg, “if violently slashing your racquet at an official as a weapon while staring them down and screaming obscenities is not a suspension, what would cross the line?”
Similarly, Pam Shriver pondered: “name another sport that would not protect its officials who have been physically attacked and intimidated by a competitor, by serving a probation vs a suspension? What am I missing?”
The ATP’s decision stinks of prioritizing its commercial interests above all else. The ATP likely figure they need Zverev to remain on tour with Federer and Djokovic largely absent and Nadal – while playing wonderfully – is no stranger to elongated time off the court.
Rather than protecting the right of umpires to have a safe work environment, the ATP has essentially told its players that it’s okay to abuse an umpire, as long as you only do it once and say sorry afterwards.
This has become a worrying trend in our sport. With suspended sentences becoming the norm for abusing or assaulting officials. One can only wonder how Mr Germani would feel.
Poignantly, Serena Williams told ESPN this week she felt she’d “literally go to jail” if she’d done the same thing.
Nick Kyrgios too would undoubtedly have a strong opinion after receiving double the punishment for an arguably lesser offence in 2019.
What’s more, is that Zverev’s aggressive and abusive behaviour serves as a stark reminder of the domestic violence allegations that have been hanging over Zverev since 2020.
Ironically, the ATP’s reaction to those allegations appears equally as superficial as their punishment of Zverev this week.
While the allegations against Zverev were first detailed in 2020 by his ex-girlfriend Olga Sharypova, the ATP took nearly a year to announce the commencement of its “investigation” into these claims.
In that year, a follow-up interview was conducted where Sharypova further detailed her claims and Zverev attempted to have the article removed from the internet via the German judicial system.
However as recently as one month ago – some five months after the ATP announced their investigation – Sharypova revealed she has still not been contacted by the ATP.
Zverev is one of three current players facing domestic violence allegations against them. Not that the ATP would tell you that. They have become masters in the art of appearing busy while doing nothing.
Juxtaposed to the ATP’s consistent failure to regulate its players, is the WTA’s powerful stance in the ongoing Peng Shaui saga.
Since Peng made allegations of sexual assault against the former Chinese Vice-Premier, the WTA has maintained a consistent hard-line stance against the Chinese Government and demanded a full investigation into the 35-year-old’s claims.
Steve Simon, the WTA’s Chairman, even followed through on threats to pull all events from China in a move that – while universally praised – cost the WTA up to $1.4bn.
By comparison, to the frustration of many, the ATP elected to take a weaker position despite its financial stake in China being lesser than the WTA’s meaning they have less to lose by making the same point.
However, to date, the ATP’s only response was to release a statement that the ATP would “continue to consult with [their] members and monitor any developments as this issue evolves”.
In the words of Andy Roddick, the statement was a lesson in “how to say a lot of words and say nothing”.
Following this, the ATP’s concerns over Peng Shaui’s safety must have been resolved as the tour released its schedule for the latter half of the year that includes four premier events in China.
A more cynical view would suggest that the ATP was never going to seriously address the Peng Shuai issue as one of the ATP’s Board of Directors includes Charles Humphrey Smith who – outside of his duties as a board member - is the Managing Director of Juss Event, China’s largest sports/events management company which stages the Rolex Shanghai Masters and China’s Formula 1 race. A blatant conflict of interest.
A less venomous view would be that the ATP are too money-conscious to give up the riches that tennis in China can provide.
Both are equally unsatisfying.
Conversely, for its brave and principled stance, the WTA was recently rewarded with their largest ever global sponsorship via American medical device maker Hologic.
In its press release, Hologic stated that the WTA’s stance on Peng Shuai was a “catalyst [for] the conversation” to begin and that “[Hologic] are proud to stand with the WTA in its commitment to the highest integrity and values”.
Which isn’t a sentence you’d ever hear about the ATP.