A press conference in the world of tennis serves as a critical forum for players and coaches to engage in a dialogue with members of the media, providing them with valuable insight into the match and their own performance.
In essence, the purpose of a tennis press conference is twofold: it allows players to share their unique perspectives on the match, on broader tennis topics in general, plus, provides an opportunity for journalists to pose questions that generate exclusive content for their respective publications.
Moreover, press conferences afford players the chance to engage directly with their fan base, forging a deeper connection with those who follow the sport most passionately.
Through their remarks, players can offer a more nuanced glimpse into their approach to the game, and mindset on the court. By generating heightened fan engagement and support, press conferences can bolster player popularity and the sport as a whole.
An additional significant function of a tennis press conference is to serve as a promotional vehicle for the tournament and the wider sport as a whole. These events offer a platform for players to address the media and the public, raising awareness and excitement around the tournament, leading to increased ticket sales, sponsorship opportunities, and greater overall interest in tennis.
However, despite their importance, why do press conferences often come across as tedious affairs?? And why, if a player decides they’ve had enough of answering the same questions ad-nauseum, do we become upset? The question then arises: how can we make them more informative and interesting for players, journalists, and fans alike?
Consider the recent Emma Raducanu press conference for instance. It garnered mild attention when Emma seemingly wasn’t interested in wasting words. In fact, the headline read…’16 questions, 58 words: How curt Raducanu snubbed Mail Sport’.
While it is apparent that Raducanu entered the press conference with a closed disposition, a review of the interview transcript reveals that the journalist's line of questioning could have been more engaging.
The majority of the questions posed to her were binary, meaning, yes or no answers. By offering a convenient escape route, Raducanu took the easy out, and we now understand why, given her withdrawal from the Madrid event a mere twenty-four hours later.
Coincidentally (or not), the Madrid tournament chose not to upload the interview to their social media platforms.
In this instance, do we blame the player or journalist? To be fair, in this instance, maybe a little of both.
While players tend to remain too courteous to express it, fans on social media are not so kind. The lines of questioning journalists will often go down, repeatedly, doesn’t generally make for a high quality presser.
There have also been examples of journalists forgetting player names (just this year, Thanasi Kokkinakis was called Nick at a press conference), being unaware of the result of the match they were supposedly covering, and in 2019, a journalist in a Rafael Nadal press conference even fell asleep!
Earlier this year, a journalist asked Karen Khachanov a completely disrespectful question, questioning why he had a girl's name. This type of behaviour is unacceptable and undermines the integrity of the profession. It's important to note that Karen's name is of Armenian origin, and any insinuation otherwise is just plain ignorant.
However, we can’t put this all on the media. On the flip side, players aren’t always friendly and engaging either. There are numerous examples of players giving one word answers, or acting rather surly at particular lines of questioning. Even the coolest and calmest players can go off the rails when sitting in front of the microphones after a rough loss.
Players can become surly and uncooperative, particularly when they're feeling the sting of a tough loss. However, there are also players who have a knack for injecting some levity into these often-dull affairs.
Andy Murray is renowned for his dry wit, and even some of the more serious players like Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams have been known to drop a clever one-liner or two. Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev have also recently provided fans with some entertaining moments with their honesty and wry humour.
Nick Kyrgios is a unique player in many ways, and his press conferences are no exception. They can be wildly entertaining or absolute disasters, but one thing is for sure: you always know where Nick stands. He's not afraid to speak his mind or call out rubbish questions, which can be both refreshing and challenging for journalists.
Some players will use the press conferences to send a message or make a statement. One such player who did just that was Naomi Osaka, who famously donned masks emblazoned with the names of Black victims of police brutality during the US Open press conferences.
Her subsequent emotional breakdown during a presser highlighted the immense mental strain she was under. Such instances serve to underscore the need for more quality press conferences, a sentiment shared by tennis fans.
So is anyone to blame for the lack of engagement often seen? How can the sport as a whole, do a better job of drawing the gold from a player during a post-match, or pre-tournament presser?
While many high-quality tennis journalists exist in the field, there are those who do not conduct adequate research or even deliberately mislead their social media followers. Although it may be unreasonable to expect journalists to know everything about every player, mastering the basics would be a good start.
Furthermore, is it reasonable to expect every player to have a sufficient grasp of English to conduct a press conference? Anyone who has learned a second or third language will understand the comfort that comes with speaking in one's native tongue.
Therefore, it may be beneficial to allow players to speak in their language of choice, as this could make them more at ease and forthcoming. This was the case with Rafael Nadal, who took years to become comfortable with speaking English, but transformed into a different personality once the Spanish questions started.
Finally, promoting general interaction between players and media could be beneficial in creating a more familiar and amiable environment for press conferences. A proposed "media day" could bring all players together on the day before the tournament commences, allowing journalists to interact with them on a deeper, and more relaxed level.
The benefit this might have, is players and journalists are more recognizable to each other, more personable, and, over time, journalists may get to know the athlete away from the tennis court.
This may result in players feeling more comfortable and relaxed during press conferences, as demonstrated by Naomi Osaka's admission of being an introvert who gets nervous and anxious when speaking to large groups of people.
Would that change if she knew the majority of people in the room? Maybe.
Something that would definitely make a huge difference to the fan experience, and in turn, the player experience, would be to have every press conference livestreamed, and have fan engagement. To be able to dial in live to your favourite player’s presser every time he or she plays, would be a wonderful initiative. Each tournament could easily assign a social media manager, who solicits questions from fans, and poses them to the player. If we just spent 5 minutes on each press conference, fielding questions from the fans, imagine how different they might feel.
One thing’s for certain, we wouldn’t have the issue poor Hubert Hurkacz had in 2021. At Monte Carlo he turned up for a press conference in front of a bunch of journalists, and not a single question was asked. Embarrassing for him, and the sport.
Tennis players are more than just athletes; they are characters with diverse cultures, races, and religions, which makes them fascinating to follow. It is essential to allow players to express themselves while giving journalists the freedom to uncover the stories that make tennis such an intriguing sport.
Maintaining this delicate balance is crucial to ensuring that the sport remains relevant and engaging for years to come.