Sunday, July 5, 2009

Winners and Losers

In February, in a story that did not get much attention, a talented Israeli tennis player named Shahar Peer was denied a visa to enter Dubai and play in the ATP Dubai Tennis Championships.

The government of Dubai, those well-moneyed moderates in the United Arab Emirates much loved by the U.S., never got around to a coherent explanation of their decision, save the fact they suggested that Peer night have a "security problem" if she played tennis in their cute little country.

The American tennis establishment and the sanctioning organizations collapsed into irate letter-writing and rhetorical chin-pulling over the insult. There was even a fine of $300,000 levied against Dubai tennis poohbahs. But Peer kept quiet, the press was disinterested and most everyone seemed to think it was a situation that required a good leaving alone.

A number of American players characterized the denial of the visa as "unfortunate," but Venus Williams apparently spoke for many of the players when she said she wasn't interested in "rocking the boat."

Andy Roddick stayed home.

The defending champion in the $2.2 million Dubai event, Roddick saw the situation with a moral and ethical clarity that seemed to escape, well, just about everyone else. He had just won a tournament in Memphis and he did not make the trip to Dubai.

"I think a big part if it is I didn't really agree with what went on over there," Roddick said at the time.

Roddick, an affable 26-year-old with no history of political activism, was alone in his protest. The two best male players in the world, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, had timely injuries and nothing to say. Tennis professionals from all over the world - not just the U.S. - did nothing in support of Peer.

There were some moments. The cable Tennis Channel chose not to cover the event and the Wall Street Journal dropped its partial sponsorship. But commerce prevailed. Venus Williams won the women's event. Novak Djokovic of Serbia won the men's title.

Roddick sought no credit or praise for his protest of the egregious harm done to Peer (a woman he had never met at the time). Nor did he earn much praise or attention for his clear-eyed and singular courage.

You can draw your own conclusions as to what would have happened if, say, the Dubai government had decided that Venus Williams had "a security problem" and could not enter the country. The "what ifs" run off into geopolitics, but the story is long gone.

On Sunday, Andy Roddick, the boat-rocker, lost an epic five-set Wimbledon men's final to Roger Federer. The fifth set was 16-14, if you're counting.

The Swiss wizard now has 15 Gtand Slam titles and Roddick has just one, the 2003 U.S. Open. But from where I sit, nobody in tennis had a better year than Andy Roddick.

1 comment:

  1. Bravo to Roddick and Bravo to you for drawing attention to this.