What is it with professional tennis players and their displays of bad-tempered, boorish behaviour?
Just in the past few days at the Australian Open in Melbourne, we have seen Alexander Zverev reduce his racket to a mangled heap during a defeat by Milos Raonic. Zverev, seemingly with all the stroppiness he could muster, smashed his racket on the ground nine times at a second-set changeover. He was doubtless frustrated by his own abject performance in those two opening sets, but was it really necessary to behave in such a crassly immature manner? The German goes by the nickname of Sascha, but maybe Smasher would be more appropriate.
And then there was Spain’s Pablo Carreno Busta, who hurled his kit bag across the court and then started screaming at the umpire just after the end of a five-setter – and a contentious line call in the deciding tie-break that didn’t go his way – against Kei Nishikori. Certainly, it was conduct that was uncharacteristic of the Spaniard, but he didn’t half look like a spoilt brat throwing his toys around.
So, that was “Smasher and Buster”. But how about Maria Sharapova, who couldn’t have put on a more striking display of sulking, surly petulance if she had tried when she haughtily refused to answer two perfectly reasonable questions that were put to her in a post-match press conference after her defeat by Australia’s Ashleigh Barty?
When asked what she thought of the crowd’s booing when she returned from a SEVEN-minute comfort break after losing the second set 6-1, the crotchety Russian said: “What do you want me to say to that question?” The journalist replied: “I don’t know. Just the truth, I guess.” To which Sharapova crabbily responded: “I think that’s a silly question to ask.” Mmm, do you, Maria?
Sharapova, who served a 15-month ban for testing positive for meldonium following a drugs test at the 2016 Australian Open, was then asked by another journalist: “Maria, you took meldonium legally for 10 years to deal with your health problems. I wonder, just now that it’s banned and you can no longer take it – is it a struggle physically to deal with the demands of a grand slam fortnight?” To which Sharapova replied in the most supercilious manner imaginable: “Is there another question?”
Perhaps more often on the court than off it, tennis has a repetitive history of nauseating behaviour in the not-so-distant past – from Messrs McEnroe, Nastase and Connors a generation ago to more recent meltdown merchants like Jeff Tarango, Viktor Troicki, Nick Kyrgios and Serena Williams. Even Roger Federer had his moments in his younger days.
Rather than burying their heads in the sand or giving players a slap on the wrist via a warning or meaningless fine – or the occasional docking of a point or a game – maybe the tennis authorities should start banning those players who bring their sport into utter disrepute by behaving like spoilt brats. That may finally teach the miscreants about what’s acceptable.