Archive for the ‘Tennis’ Category

“Tennis should be safe. That it should be humane should not even be up for discussion.”

Thursday, January 16th, 2014

WillisBy Alexandra Willis in Melbourne

“Does Wimbledon have an extreme heat policy?”

It was a perfectly innocent question. But if you’ve ever been to Wimbledon, you will understand why it was an amusing one.

Rain delays, rather than heat delays, are a fact of SW19 life. The skies darken, the clouds let rip, the court coverers hurry on, the players grab rackets and bags and hurry off, and the umpire announces that play is suspended. You sit around gloomily clutching cups of tea. Lather, rinse, repeat.

And so, rather than an extreme heat policy, Wimbledon has a wet weather policy, which is largely (boringly but necessarily) about defining when the public are entitled to refunds.

The introduction of the Centre Court roof, when it is closed, when it is opened and why, has been the subject of as much debate as the heat policy here with regards to the logistics of when it is implemented, how it is measured and why. The Centre Court roof protocol is almost as obfuscating and vague as the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature. No governing body or committee or organisation is perfect.

But the reason for all these protocols is because of the need for a delay in play that is based on concerns for safety. The events of Wimbledon 2013 merely confirmed the perils of what can happen on wet grass, as players slipped and slid and injured themselves. Whatever the combination of reasons behind all of that was, it is very much acknowledged that if it’s raining, it is dangerous to play on grass.

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So, if it starts to rain, at the discretion of the referee, play is stopped. The same is true at other tournaments. If it is raining, or thundering, or lightning, and the weather is considered dangerous, again, at the discretion of the referee, play is stopped.

Which begs the question, why should heat be any different?

As Andy Murray rightly said, these decisions are not easy to make.

“I think it’s tough.  I think it’s tough for everybody.  It’s tough for the referees, tournament director.  It’s hard for the players.  I mean, the medical staff.  It’s very, very difficult,” Murray said.

“It’s very hard for the fans, the people watching.  I mean, sitting there.  Line judges, umpires.  It’s not a good place to be in because, the heat is bearable just.  It’s weighing out whether or not it’s kind of worth playing like that and it’s worth it for the fans and everyone.”

Whether the heat policy was activated early enough or not, the inconsistency is this. It states that once it has been enacted, at the discretion of the referee, any matches in progress will continue until the end of the set in progress before being suspended or the roof closed.

This might be ok on Rod Laver Arena and Hisense Arena, where at least there is some shade at each end of the court, although the extra 40 minutes that Maria Sharapova and Karin Knapp were subjected to were almost painful to watch. But on the outside courts, it is worse. There is nowhere to hide.

Which comes back to the same argument: if the conditions are dangerous enough for the policy to be put into effect, why not just stop?

The point has been made that players have been through this and far worse in years gone by, so why treat today’s players any differently, why change something that has worked for years?

“We evolved on the high plains of Africa chasing antelope for eight hours under these conditions,” Chief Medical Officer Tim Wood told the BBC.

But, with all due respect to players past (and those who chased antelope for eight hours), that was tennis of a different type. It has been said many times, by pundits, by press that today’s tennis, with technological advancements in rackets, balls, conditioning, is a different, more physical, more demanding beast.

And so, arguably, playing tennis in extreme conditions is more dangerous than it used to be, because the tennis is more extreme too.

“There will be some players who complain and no-one is saying it is terribly comfortable to play out there, but, from a medical perspective, we know that man is well adapted to exercising in the heat. Whether it is humane or not is a whole other issue,” Wood added.

No one thinks playing tennis should be easy. Any player would struggle to tell you the last time they felt ‘comfortable’ – they have niggles, pains, blisters, sores, aches, tweaks, tears… all around the world and back.

So  the sport should be as safe as is manageable. That it should be humane should not even be up for discussion.

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Murrayball: how to gatecrash tennis’s golden era and become a Wimbledon contender

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013

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Andy Murray’s obsession with self-improvement has propelled him from promising Scottish kid to one of the best tennis players in the world. In Hugh MacDonald‘s long-form essay Murrayball: how to gatecrash the golden era’we learn about his commitment to ‘marginal gains’, which is the process by which an athlete makes small improvements in many different areas to close the gap on rivals. Via diet, fitness, psychology, coaching, we learn how Murray stops at nothing to extract the most from his awesome natural talent. Here is an extract from MacDonald’s 90-minute short, available to buy in full here for your Kindle for 99p.

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Hugh MacBy Hugh MacDonald

2 July 2013

The DVD

The words were spoken without malice. “Maybe this is as good as he is. Maybe this is his level,” said the English journalist as we rushed to file on yet another Murray disappointment in a major. Marin Cilic had just beaten Murray in straight sets in the fourth round of the US Open on a blisteringly hot New York afternoon in September 2009.

“It’s the worst disappointment of my career,” said Murray. The depression he feels after a defeat in a major kicks in immediately. The impact of Cilic’s facile victory was also felt by those who had watched the Scot come up short in Grand Slams and were predicting that 2009 might just be his year at Flushing Meadows. Instead, it was the year of Juan Martin del Potro, the Argentine who is a year younger than the Scot, who beat Roger Federer in the final.

The retreat from New York was routinely painful, not helped by an injured left wrist. But if seasoned observers were asking questions about Murray – most specifically about his ability to win at the very highest level – what was the interior monologue in the tennis player’s mind?

What if the surge to fitness meant that Murray could compete with the best but not win the Grand Slams? What if there was something in his mind or in his game that condemned him to being at best a silver medallist when the big prizes were handed out? What if, despite all the work and all the psychological struggle, this was as good as it gets?

Murray was by then a top four player, having risen briefly to No2, and was a serial winner of Masters tournaments, but what if that benighted laurel of The Best Player Never to Win a Major was to be his?

The personal pain of Murray can only be imagined, but there are objects that point to his progression in dealing with defeat. These include a pizza box and a DVD.

Murrayball“I love winning,” Murray told me, eyes blazing, in 2007. It was the routine expression of the motivation of a sportsman. It is what makes them run after a yellow ball in a glorified gym hall when they are multimillionaires, have no need of prize money and less for the demands of tiresome fame. Yet something in their psyche compels these sometimes highly intelligent human beings to believe that where and how a little ball bounces is the most important facet of their lives at that moment.

“What you have to remember about Andy,” says someone who has known Murray since he was a child, “is that he doesn’t care how people view him on court. He doesn’t care if people are outraged or scandalised by his outbursts. He is trying to win a match. He doesn’t care about anything else. He isn’t trying to be rude, he isn’t trying to be macho, he’s trying to solve the problem of how to win and sometimes he gets frustrated. The criticism of that behaviour just does not impact on him.”

But Murray is dented by defeat. The flip side to the extraordinary joy of victory is a deadening depression. One of the motifs of Murray’s career, perhaps the defining one, is that he comes back. He takes a defeat and finally, and painfully, turns it into a marginal gain.

It is a curious alchemy and it is one that is helped by time, a DVD and a pizza.

The DVD comes into play in July 2008. Murray has just been thrashed in three sets by Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon. The Scot is inconsolable. His misery will not be lifted by any references to his tiredness after a sensational comeback from being two sets down to the wondrously talented Richard Gasquet in the previous round. He is driven back to his then home in Wandsworth. He takes to his bed. Time passes. The hours become days. Then Murray emerges to ask of his mother: “Where is the DVD?”

The record of the defeat by Nadal is produced. Murray watches it closely and continuously. He wants to know precisely how and why he lost. He finds enough in the film evidence to propel him forward, to decide that his serve must be more stable, more powerful, that his conditioning has to improve, that there must be a focus on every point if the greats are to be beaten. The rehabilitation has begun.

The next severe setback was in Melbourne in January 2011. His friend and contemporary Novak Djokovic beat him in three dispiriting sets in the final of the Australian Open. “I want to get away from the court,” Murray said afterwards. His return to it was, frankly, awful. He was beaten by Marcos Baghdatis in Rotterdam, Donald Young at Indian Wells, Alex Bogomolov Jr in Miami and Thomaz Belluci in Madrid. He later spoke of how low he had been after Melbourne and the results could not have lifted his spirits.

But he persevered. It is what he does. He battled through injury to face Rafael Nadal in the semi-final of the French Open. Murray was beaten in straight sets by the Spaniard, who was destined to win his sixth title at Roland Garros, but the gloom was lifted. He had overcome the crushing disappointment, he fought on through injury and it was no disgrace to fall to the greatest clay-court player of all time.

It was noticeable in the post-match press conference that this was a defeat that Murray could rationalise, one which could even encourage the Scot to believe that Grand Slam glory was within his grasp. He had to wait more than a year for the US Open final to fulfil that ambition, but in between came the Wimbledon final and a pizza.

Murray’s marginal gain can be measured in his rueful observation that at least he had won his first set in a Grand Slam final when defeated by Roger Federer in four sets at Wimbledon 2012, but the aftermath was brighter, by the normally gloomy standards that accompany Murray setbacks. His coach, Ivan Lendl, was positive in defeat, stating that Murray would never play under such pressure again.

Murray was photographed with an understandably downbeat expression as he waited with his partner, Kim Sears, for a lift back to Surrey. He was obviously disappointed but not crushed. He ordered in a pizza. It was a rare break from his strict diet and it appears he has not had a slice since. The comfort food may have provided some consolation and he soon had Olympic gold and silver medals and a US Open title for afters.

The small steps, sometimes taken painfully and with deliberation, produced a Grand Slam victory. The DVD of the final lies in Surrey, the evidence of Murray’s finest moments. The Scot celebrated in New York with sushi. The days of pain and pizza had been forgotten.

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Hugh MacDonald, a veteran sports writer with The Herald, is the author of Murrayball: How to gatecrash the golden era, available at a special-offer price of 99p on the digital-only sports imprint 90 Minutes from www.backpagepress.co.uk, exclusively through the Kindle store for Kindle devices or for the Kindle app. 

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Fixing, doping, whistle-blowing: secrets that tennis prefers not to discuss

Monday, June 24th, 2013

By Nick Harris

24 June 2013

As tennis’s most prestigious grass court tournament begins at Wimbledon today, the presence of one particular American qualifier in the men’s singles draw highlights the sport’s deeply complex relationship with match-fixing, doping and whistle-blowing.

OdesnikWayne Odesnik, 27, is the world No107 and has previously been ranked inside the world’s top 100.

An extensive investigation by Sportingintelligence has unearthed extraordinary new information about how Odesnik did a deal to allow him to return early from a drugs conviction and after being investigated for involvement in a suspicious match at Wimbledon.

The findings raise serious questions over the lack of transparency in the way tennis tackles fixing and doping – and whether fans should have faith in the matches they are watching.

In 2009, Odesnik was investigated by the Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU) following a first-round match at Wimbledon when around £1m was wagered on him to lose to Austria’s Jurgen Melzer. Hundreds of thousands of pounds were gambled specifically on the 3-0 score line. Odesnik duly lost 3-0. The TIU has never confirmed it investigated Odesnik but multiple sources have now confirmed it to Sportingintelligence, and official documents, of which this website has knowledge, prove it.

In early 2010, Australian customs officials found Odesnik in possession of human growth hormone (HGH), a banned performance-enhancing anabolic agent, and other ‘medical paraphernalia’ including syringes. He was fined by the Australian courts, then charged by the tennis authorities for a violation of the anti-doping rules and banned from playing for two years.

The same year, 2010, he cut a deal with tennis’s global governing body, the ITF, to turn whistle-blower on drugs and match-fixing. It was widely and erroneously reported his ban was shortened for information only on drugs. Sources say the deal was done was thrashed out by Odesnik and lawyers, including a lawyer working for the ITF, Jonathan Taylor. The head of the TIU at the time, Jeff Rees, later met Odesnik in Miami to continue mining for information.

At the end of 2010, the ITF confirmed Odesnik would be free to return to competition that month. Given that he had played until April 2010, and was free to return in December, he was actually out of action for nine months of his two-year ban.

In January 2011, some of Odesnik’s whistle-blowing information was used as the basis for corruption charges laid against an Austrian player, Daniel Kollerer. In written and oral testimony in a case that saw Kollerer banned for life in 2011, Odesnik described how the Kollerer case was just “a small part” of the whistle-blowing that got his own ban halved, more of which later.

Astonishingly, Odesnik was described in the secret Kollerer ruling as a “wholly unreliable witness” and yet neither the TIU nor ITF can explain how his whistle-blower’s amnesty remained in place. Both bodies declined to anwer questions relating to fixing, doping and whistle-blowing.

Sources in early 2011 told Sportingintelligence that Odesnik could always have the suspended year of his ban re-imposed at a later date if he turned out to be an unreliable whistle-blower or was ever proved to be involved in other doping or fixing himself.

Odesnik spent most of 2011 trying to move back up the rankings, post-ban. He played in 23 tournaments, mostly on the Challenger circuit, taking in events in the USA, Colombia, Panama, Slovakia, Italy, Germany, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Ecuador. He was gathering information along the way to pass to the authorities – but then so do quite a lot of other players, sources say.

The TIU’s staff spend much of the year traveling to events, interviewing suspects, persuading players to pass on information about others. It is unknown how many suspected fixes they investigate each year: no details are made public. Charges are not made public, only outcomes with no specific details. Hearings are held in secret.

It is known the TIU speak to dozens of players each year, perhaps many more, seeking information on ‘suspicious’ events. Sportingintelligence estimates that least 14 players in this year’s men’s singles draw alone at Wimbledon have spoken to the TIU in relation to suspicious matches. Not all of them will be implicated in fixing but it is impossible to know.

The TIU is funded by the “tennis family” – the ITF, ATP, WTA and the Slams – and operates a “no comment” policy on all operational matters. Thus it is not known how many deals the ITF and / or TIU have done with players to allow them to continue playing after breaking tennis rules, in exchange for information.

One senior betting integrity expert recently voiced concerns that tennis is clamping down on minor, obscure players while letting ‘bigger’ stars off the hook, publicly at least. ”There were certainly elements within the ruling bodies, who fund the TIU, that wanted stuff swept under the carpet,” the integrity expert said. “But to do the job to the full extent, you need to tackle the higher profile  people involved and not just the lesser players. If you don’t want a problem [with bigger players], don’t look for it. And if you want to look for it, be aware that it won’t smell sweet.”

By summer last year, Odesnik was back at Wimbledon, playing in the main draw. He was something of a pariah because of the perception among fellow professionals that he was a drug cheat who had got off lightly for informing on others. Odesnik’s compatriots Andy Roddick and James Blake were among those who wanted him banned, while Andy Murray, who alluded to Odesnik as a ‘snitch’, said: ‘You want to make sure that people who are fined and suspended aren’t let off because they are telling on other players.’

Murray’s point, misconstrued in some quarters, was not that there is anything wrong with the authorities pursuing drug cheats by whatever means, but that leniency should not be offered to cheats.

In this corresponding week a year ago, Odesnik sat in Wimbledon’s press conference room and unequivocally denied being a “snitch”.

He said: ”I think one thing I would like each and every single one of you to jot this down in capital letters: I would 100 percent never say anything bad about a player or do something that I was a spy or something of that sort. That is utterly 100 percent false. I don’t know where you guys started this rumor or where you heard it from, but I think that needs to be clarified.”

This was not true: Odesnik had entered a whistle-blowing pact and had been feeding the authorities all kinds of information.

This he confirmed in his own words as he gave video link evidence from Florida in April 2011 to a corruption hearing in Britain. Here, Odesnik is being quizzed on his whistle-blowing:

Q: “Did you give them [the authorities] information about anyone apart from Mr Kollerer?”

Odesnik: “I had given information on a few other players.”

Q: “About what subjects? Match fixing, doping or what?”

Odesnik: “I had given information on both matters.”

Q: “What proportion was about Mr Kollerer? Just a little part or was it mainly him?”

Odesnik: “He was a small part of it.”

Q: “So the reduction that you got from two years to one year was not just in return for information about Mr Kollerer?”

Odesnik: “Correct. It was not just about Kollerer.”

What is not known are the precise terms of Odesnik’s ban amnesty.

The apparent randomness of the system is highlighted by the fact that even as he prepares to play at Wimbledon tomorrow, when the least he can expect is a £23,000 cheque for being a first-round loser, he is under scrutiny again because his name appears multiple times in the hand-written records of a Miami clinic at the centre of a huge developing doping scandal in American sport.

The clinic’s founder, Tony Bosch, is being investigated for allegedly supplying banned drugs to scores of big-name stars, mainly from baseball and boxing. Odesnik’s name appears in the records in 2009, 2010 and 2011.

Odesnik has denied ever being a client of Bosch and has said: “I have never purchased HGH, nor any other illegal/banned substances from any person.”

His US-based lawyer, Chris Lyons, says Odesnik declines to comment further.

Stuart Miller, the anti-doping manager for the ITF,  said the ITF is following up new information on Odesnik and an ITF spokesman says: “We are not in a position to make any further comment.”

The Daniel Kollerer case, to cite just one example in detail, throws some light on the extent to which players believe corruption is happening, and the secrecy under which tennis operates in its ‘trials’, punishments and deals.

Kollerer, an Austrian, long had a ‘bad boy’ image, and he was notorious on the circuit for outrageous on-court antics. He first fell foul of the anti-corruption unit when he was prosecuted because his manager did a partnership deal with a betting firm to promote a bookmaking firm via Kollerer’s website. There was no suggestion he was fixing.

The fixing charges came in 2011, five of them, with three eventually upheld and later ratified by the Court for Arbitration in Sport, which ruled tennis was within its rights to have a low evidence threshold in disciplinary matters.

What has never been revealed before now is what those charges were, or the evidence with which they were ‘proved’ or thrown out. The CAS ruling (linked here) provides only a redacted version of the charges. These are the redacted charges:

Story continues below, with actual charges and evidence

 

Charges v Kollerer

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The details of actual charges were (additional notes in blue):

1) In October 2009, that Kollerer requested that former world No13 (and current world No37) Jarkko Nieminen deliberately lose their meeting that week in Vienna. Nieminen lost the match in question but insisted he lost it fairly and did not throw it. He reported Kollerer’s ‘approach’ after his defeat, days after the approach.

2) During the same tournament in Vienna, Wayne Odesnik said Nieminen had been offered money by Kollerer to fix that Kollerer-Nieminen match, and that Kollerer had told Odesnik that if he was interested in fixing matches himself, then he, Kollerer, was the man to speak to. Odesnik was not believed.

3) That Kollerer asked a fellow Austrian player, Martin Slanar, in June 2010, if he was interested in making cash out of fixing. Slanar was not believed.

4) and 5) That Kollerer called a Spanish player he did not know well, Daniel Munoz de la Nava (the current world No146), on two occasions on consecutive weeks in June and July 2010 and asked him if he was interested in making money from throwing matches. Munoz de la Nava was believed.

 

Without going into the minutiae of the charges and evidence, charges 1, 4 and 5 were upheld, while 2 and 3 were dismissed because the ‘judge’ in the case, Tim Kerr, QC, did not think Odesnik and Slanar were credible but thought Nieminen and Munoz de la Nava were more credible than Kollerer, even in the absence of any ‘physical’ evidence.

There was no suggestion at any stage that Kollerer had actually managed to fix any of the matches in question. There was no betting evidence, no phone record evidence and Kerr stressed in his ruling that if he had not used the lowest possible evidence threshold (which is dictated by tennis rules should be used) he would have found it hard to convict Kollerer on any of the charges. As it transpired, Kollerer was banned for life.

Technically speaking, several of the witnesses in the Kollerer case, and others in other cases, had broken tennis rules by knowing about fixing allegations and failing to report them. Deals have been done to not prosecute in exchange for information.

The sheer scale of the information gathering, whistle-blowing, deal-making and prosecution process is hinted at by the cast in the Kollerer case. At his ‘trial’ he was accompanied by his own lawyer, Herbert Heigl and manager, Manfred Narayka. Jeff Rees was there as the head of the TIU, as well as his chief investigator, Nigel Willerton (who has since taken over as the head of the TIU). Bill Babcock of the Slams was there, and Gayle David Bradshaw of the ATP, as well as Stuart Miller and an assortment of solicitors and counsel.

Witnesses in person or via video included Munoz De La Nava, Austrian players Martin Fischer, Philipp Oswald,  Andreas Haider-Maurer and Slanar, Jarkko Nieminen and his mum, Leena. This case and others also cited names of players implicated in suspicious matches.

Slanar and Odesnik, two players labelled as unreliable, were also the two players in the Kollerer case who said they were not surprised at frequent suggestions of wrong-doing in tennis. Slanar said: ”These stories [allegations of corruption in tennis] I hear almost every day or two, not just about betting but that a player did this or that.”

Odesnik was quizzed on why he was not shocked that one player would openly ask him whether another would be open to fixing.

Q: “Isn’t it quite shocking for a player to ask another player about would so and so be willing to fix a match?”

Odesnik: “It is not the strangest thing I’ve heard on tour.”

Q: “Is it not?”

Odesnik: “No.”

 

Wayne Odesnik is due to play his first-round match in the men’s singles on Tuesday against Jimmy Wang of Taiwan.

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Murray’s Brisbane win sets up a shot at an unprecedented Slam feat

Sunday, January 6th, 2013

By Nick Harris

SJA Internet Sports Writer of the Year

6 January 2013

Andy Murray won his first title of 2013 by retaining the Brisbane International on Sunday but will need to achieve an unprecedented feat in the Open era of tennis if he is to add the Australian Open title this month.

The 25-year-old Scot won his first Grand Slam singles title at the US Open in 2012, having earlier won the Olympic singles title in his finest season to date.

But no male first-time Slam winner in the Open era has ever added a second Slam of their career in the next Slam event.

Murray can make history with a win in Melbourne but his task is put in perspective by the fact nobody has done it in the 44 years of Open tennis since 1968. John Newcombe, just before the Open era, did it at Wimbledon and the US Open in 1967.

(Before that, the last time any man followed up a first Slam win with his second in the next Slam was in 1956 when Lew Hoad won the Australian Open and then the French Open. But that was at a time when all the Australian Open competitors were Australian except four).

Up to and including Murray, there have been 49 different first-time Grand Slam winners in the Open era.

Of the 48 before Murray, 25 of them have gone on to win multiple Slam titles, and 23 have won only one title.

Of those multiple Slam winners, the average wait between the first Slam title and the second has been six Slam events.

Even Roger Federer, winner of 17 Slam titles to date, had to wait for two tournaments between his first Slam win at Wimbledon in 2003 and his second at the Australian Open of 2004.

Pete Sampras, with 14 Slams in his career, had to wait 11 Slams between his first at the US Open of 1990 and his second, at Wimbledon in 1993.

Bjorn Borg waited four tournaments between his first and second Slam, the same as Rafa Nadal. Novak Djokovic waited 12 Slams.

The longest wait for a second Slam was by Marat Safin after his 2000 US Open win; it was 17 Slams later at the 2005 Australian Open that he lifted another.

The first graphic shows all the Open era multi-Slam winners and their waits between their first and second Slams:

Article continues below

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The list of one-Slam wonders in the Open era below contains names as illustrious as Andy Roddick and Goran Ivanisevic, whose near misses both included three Wimbledon runners-up spots as well as their sole Slam titles, respectively at the US Open and Wimbledon.

Article continues below

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Newcombe aside, the small brigade of multiple Slam winners who followed a first Slam win with a second in the next Slam – at any time in the history of four Slams a year since 1905 – achieved that feat between 1925 and 1956.

The first man to do it was Rene Lacoste by winning the French Open then Wimbledon in 1925.

Fred Perry was the next man to do it, winning the US Open in 1933 and then the Australian Open of 1934.

Famously, or infamously, Perry was the last British man before Murray to win a Slam singles title – in 1936.

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Openly gay Olympians won six times as many golds as their peers. Why?

Thursday, August 23rd, 2012

By Nick Harris

SJA Internet Sports Writer of the Year

22 August 2012

There were 23 openly gay athletes across all sports at the London 2012 Olympic Games according to observers who monitor such trends closely, notably Outsports.com.

Ten of them won medals (43 per cent) and seven of them won gold medals (30.4 per cent), including the British equestrian rider Carl Hester, in the team dressage. Hester was the only openly gay athlete among the 451 men and women in Team GB.

By definition, 23 people is a small sample size, but the fact that it’s so small is part of the story. The success rates of those athletes puts the success rates of London Olympians overall in the shade.

Of the 10,820 athletes across all sports, Sportingintelligence has calculated that 595 separate individuals won a gold medal.

There were 302 gold medal events but in many of those events multiple people helped to win the gold, for example in all the team sports, in the non-solo rowing crews and in all the relay squads in athletics and swimming.

With 595 people going home with gold, that means one in 18 of London’s Olympians went home with gold (or 5.5 per cent).

Among the openly gay athletes – 20 of who were women and three were men – one in three went home with gold (or 30.43 per cent).

Openly gay Olympians in London therefore won six times as many gold medals per head as the total athletic population at the Games.

They also won more than twice as many medals per head of all colours than average. Around 1,800 individuals won medals of one colour or another (or 16.6 per cent of all athletes), whereas 43.4 per cent of the openly gay athletes won medals.

Are gay athletes better at sport? Almost certainly not, but we’ll come back to that shortly.

“It’s an absurdly low number,” said Jim Buzinski, the co-founder of Outsports, of the 23 openly gay Olympians. He was quoted in an Associated Press report carried by ESPN and the Huffington Post among others.

Estimates of the percentage of gay people vary widely but even at the low end of those estimates (1.5 per cent of people), one might expect around 160 gay athletes among the 10,820 participating at London 2012, or seven times as many as the 23 known to be gay.

Buzinski points out that considering the small ratio of openly gay sports people when set against, say, the ratio of openly gay people in the arts, politics or business, then “sports is still the final closet in society.”

What is staggering, statistically speaking, is the success of those 23 openly gay Olympians in London.

It is notable that the three men appeared in two sports – dressage and diving – that are anecdotally “gay friendly”. A spokeswoman for British Dressage, for example, said having gay riders “is the norm. Don’t get me wrong, there are straight riders too, but whether someone is gay or not in our sport is simply not an issue.”

In alphabetical order, the 23 openly gay London 2012 Olympians:

  • Marilyn Agliotti, Carlien Dirkse van den Heuvel, Kim Lammers and Maartje Paumen, all members of the Dutch women’s hockey team who won gold.
  • Judith Arndt, a German cyclist who won silver in London in the time trial.
  • Seimone Augustus, an American who won basketball gold.
  • Natalie Cook, an Australian beach volleyball player.
  • Lisa Dahlkvist, Jessica Landström and Hedvig Lindahl, all Swedish football players who reached the quarter-finals.
  • Imke Duplitzer, a German fencer who was part of a team coming fifth in the women’s team epee.
  • Edward Gal, a Dutchman who won bronze in the team dressage.
  • Jessica Harrison and Carole Péon, French triathletes who finished ninth and 29th respectively in London.
  • Carl Hester, a Briton who won dressage team gold.
  • Karen Hultzer, a South African archer.
  • Alexandra Lacrabére, a French handball player who reached the quarter-finals.
  • Matthew Mitcham, an Australian 10m platform diver who was the only openly gay male Olympian in Beijing, where he won gold. In London he reached the semi-final.
  • Mayssa Pessoa, a Brazilian handball player.
  • Megan Rapinoe, an American who won football gold.
  • Lisa Raymond, American tennis player who won bronze in the mixed doubles.
  • Rikke Skov, a Danish handball player.
  • Ina-Yoko Teutenberg, a German cyclist who missed bronze in the road race by 0.25seconds.

A person’s sexuality is, of course, of no relevance in terms of how they do their job, or live their life. Or rather it shouldn’t be.

Yet while being openly gay in many areas of public life (be it politics, the police, the arts, the clergy, banking, whatever) in many countries is no issue, gay people – at least openly gay – remain hugely under-represented in many professional sports, and that’s even in ‘liberal’ countries across Europe and North America.

Whether you think this matters or not possibly depends on whether you think there is a wider social significance of societies being open and free. In large parts of the world, same-sex sexual activity is an offence punishable by years in prison, and in seven countries the death penalty remains in force for active homosexuality. See country by country laws for details.

In sport, particularly in football, openly gay professional players are rare. In British football they are non-existent in the men’s game since Justin Fashanu.

The Football Association’s only openly gay councillor, Peter Clayton, has said gay players have been told to stay in the closet or risk damaging their clubs’ commercial interests. Publicist Max Clifford has admitted that he has advised gay Premier League clients to keep their sexuality secret.

Evidently this is one area where sport, particularly football, needs to evolve.

One of a very small number of experts who have studied and researched sexuality in sport in any detail is Professor Eric Anderson, an American who is a professor of sports studies at the University of Winchester in England. In his work as a sociologist he has studied why gay men and women pursue professional sport (or not) and cites a large-scale study of tens of thousands of college students in the USA that found “gay men are more likely [than straight men] to drop out of competitive sport, and follow other pursuits instead.”

Those that don’t drop out, Anderson says, often find themselves in an environment that does not encourage them to come out. “Cultural homophobia is dropping at a rapid rate, so this isn’t an issue with the fans,” he says, citing a study of British football supporters where 93 per cent (of 3,500 surveyed) said they would have no problem with a player coming out.

Neither, he says, is a player being gay an issue with team-mates, although gay players might fear coming out because a coach or manager, who will often holds a player’s career in their hands, may react adversely.

Rather, Anderson contests, it is the “gate keepers” of sport, or “alpha males” who hold key roles in governing bodies and commercial entities around sport, that create an atmosphere not conducive to coming out. “Homophobic men like Sepp Blatter,” he says, a reference to Blatter’s infamous statement that gay fans daunted at going to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar (where homosexuality is illegal) might refrain from sex while there.

As to why the openly gay Olympians won proportionately so many medals, Anderson is in no doubt that “openly” is the operative word, and that many times as many gay athletes took part, quite possibly winning no more or less than the overall London 2012 population.

His reseach has also shown, he says, that “gay male athletes are more likely to come out of the closet when they are good” and that “they have the sporting capital to negate the problems they encounter.”

Or in other words, a gay sportsman is much more likely be open about it when they know they’re got a great chance of winning – leaving little room for questions – from homophobes - over whether they should be involved in the first place.

So 10 medals, seven of them gold, among 23 gay Olympians in 2012 isn’t so anomalous – or rather it wouldn’t seem so if only one could see the whole picture.

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London 2012: Better for Great Britain than 1908 despite fewer gold medals

Monday, August 13th, 2012

By Nick Harris

SJA Internet Sports Writer of the Year

13 August 2012

The past few days we’ve heard that Great Britain has enjoyed its best Olympic medal haul since 1908 but in relative terms London 2012 was much better for the hosts.

In 1908, there were only 2,008 competitors from 22 nations competing, and Britain provided a third of those by herself.

So one might reasonably have expected Britain to win a lot of the 110 gold medals on offer, on home turf and in home water, in events as varied as tug of war and motorboat racing.

Britain did indeed win lots of golds, 56 of them, or just more than half on offer. So that’s 51 per cent of golds with 34 per cent of the athletes, so Britain did 151 per cent as well as she should have done.

Here’s another way of thinking about it. If the 110 medals had been split fairly between all the 2,008 competitors, then each nation should have won 5.48 golds for each 100 athletes. Which means Britain, with 676 athletes, should have won 37 gold medals. Instead GB won 51 medals – again, that’s 151 per cent of what would be expected.

At London 2012, when the size of the competition is factored in, Great Britain thrashed that performance by doing 192 per cent as well as should be expected.

Sportingintelligence has analysed the host nations’ performances at all 27 Summer Games to date.

We consider:

1: the number of golds on offer.

2: the amount of athletes at the Games from all nations.

3: how many golds each nation should have won per 100 athletes if divided equally. Golds available per athlete have got harder and harder to win. There were 18 golds per 100 people in Athens in 1896 and now that figure is fewer than three golds per 100 competitiors.

4: how many competitors the host nation had, and how many golds they won.

5: the percentage performance rating.

The graphic below – click to enlarge – includes every host at every Games since the first modern Olympic in Greece in 1896 and allows us to see at a glance how times have changed.

The key columns are the amount of golds the host should expect (given the size of their teams) against the amount they got, and the ratio.

(Article continues below)

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Great Britain’s performance at London 2012 rates as the sixth best host nation performance at any Summer Games by these measures (see blue column on the right-hand side above for rankings 1-27 of the 27 Games).

The five better performers were the USA (1984), Soviet Union (1980), Germany (1936), China (2008) and the USA (1996) and the first four of those can arguably be seen as political and / or propaganda Games, where huge tallies for the host were influenced by one or more of boycotts, state backing for political reasons or other interference.

At the other end of the scale, Canada in 1976 remain the only hosts never to win a gold medal at their own Games, while London in 1948 saw Britain perform 23 per cent as well as she should have done if the medals had been dished out fairly.

There is a twist in this tale of Britain at the Games, however.

London 2012 was much better than the first-glance glory of 1908 but has not been Britain’s most successful Games to date, relatively. That was in 2008, when GB performed 221 per cent as well as expected.

This was because Team GB had ‘only’ 311 competitors in Beijing, against the army of 541 in London, an increase of 230 in four years.

The graphic below shows how Britain has performed in the 27 Games to date, ranking those performances.

Only eight times has Britain done as well as should be expected, and 19 times has failed to hit 100 per cent of a ‘fair share’ gold.

It is no accident that the last four Games, since Sydney in 2000, all fall within Britain’s six best Games by relative performance.

Money talks, and Lottery cash investment in British sport came on line ahead of Sydney 2000.

Home advantage – a well documented effect of hosting a Games – also helped to boost Britain this past fortnight.

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As Kaka hits 10m followers: the world’s 20 most popular sportsmen on Twitter

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

By Sportingintelligence 

25 April 2012

Kaka has become the first sportsman in the world to amass 10 million followers on the micro-blogging website Twitter.

As this report from the Associated Press detailed when the Real Madrid footballer passed the landmark, he tweeted: ‘Thank youuuuu. To celebrate I’ll make a twitcam’.

Whatever that means.

Love it or hate it, Twitter has soared into the media mainstream in the past year and is routinely used by millions of people as a primary source of breaking news, as well as a platform for promotion.

Sportingintelligence has compiled a list of the world’s 20 most followed sportsmen on Twitter (and they are all men aside from the athlete in 20th place, Serena Williams). See graphic below for details.

Eleven of the top 20 are footballers, which is indicative of what most people already know – that the beautiful game is the world’s most popular sport.

Basketball players (5) are next best represented, which is apt given that basketball is football’s closest challenger in team sports, primarily thanks to the NBA.

One cyclist, one NFL star, one boxer and Serena Williams make up the 20.

Six of the 11 footballers are from two clubs in Spain: Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo in the No1 and No2 slots are from Real Madrid, while four others are from Barcelona.

Manchester United contribute two players, Wayne Rooney in sixth place and Rio Ferdinand at No19.

Globally iconic figures of sport who are bubbling under this list with between 2m and 2.5m followers include Sachin Tendulkar, Tiger Woods and Mike Tyson, while Uruguayan footballer Diego Forlan is among those just outside the top 20.

As with all social media, things can change extremely rapidly.

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EXCLUSIVE: Djokovic, Nadal, Federer – as close to perfection as tennis has ever been

Monday, February 13th, 2012

By Nick Harris

SJA Internet Sports Writer of the Year

13 February 2012

The three-way rivalry in men’s tennis between Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer is the closest to perfection the sport has ever seen, according to new analysis by Sportingintelligence of every result in the 175 men’s singles Grand Slam tournaments of the Open era since 1968.

A simple Grand Slam title count indicates the current era is special: Federer, Nadal and Djokovic have won 27 of the last 28 Slam singles titles between them.

But in order to obtain an objective idea of how this era compares with others, every Slam player of the past 54 years has been assessed and assigned a rating to show his ‘quality’ at any point in time.

The precise methodology, explained below, is based on a rolling period like the tennis rankings but focuses solely on the most important tournaments: the Slams.

The research found that at the completion of the 2012 Australian Open, where Djokovic beat Nadal in the longest final in Slam history, and Federer was a losing semi-finalist, the combined ‘quality’ of the three men had reached an all-time peak for the sport of any three players at one time, or 3,000 ‘rating points’.

This tally, with Nadal currently on 1,192 points, Federer on 1,008 and the upcoming Djokovic on 800, means the trio are collectively 83.71 per cent as perfect as they can possibly be at the moment.

Perfection be would that the three of them have won every Slam in the past four years between them (of 16), filled all the runners-up spots between them (of 16) and also filled one of the semi-final berths at each of those 16 Slams. In fact they have won 15 of the last 16 Slams, filled nine of the 16 runners-up berths, and had a further 11 semi-final appearances between them.

It might not be of much comfort to Britain’s Andy Murray to know he is competing in the greatest era men’s tennis has known but the analysis shows unequivocally how dominant the current ‘big three’ have been.

The research found that the next most high-quality era of the game peaked at the Australian Open of 1990, when winner Ivan Lendl, runner-up Stefan Edberg and semi-finalist Mats Wilander had a combined rating of 2,416 points or 67.41 per cent of perfect.

Prior to that, the next best was the Borg-Connors-McEnroe era, peaking at the US Open final of 1981 when the trio had a combined rating of 2,264 points, or 63.17 per cent of perfect.

The rolling career rankings of the top three and how they have pursued perfection are in the graphic here.

(Article continues below the graphics with best individual streaks, and best-quality rivalries)

 

Methodology

1: Sportingintelligence looked at every Grand Slam singles tournament since 1968, awarding 128 points to the winner (in a 128-man draw), 64 points to the runner-up, 32 to the semi-finalists, 16 to the quarter-finalists and eight points to those reaching the fourth round (or, typically, the second week, which is what marks the Slams out from all other events). No points were awarded before the fourth round, nor would they make any substantive difference to the results.

2: We elected to use a four-year period to measure each player’s rolling ‘quality’ as: a) It seemed a reasonable time over which a player has his ‘peak’ years. b) We modeled data over three years and five years and came up with broadly similar results anyway. c) The most Slams any man has won is 16, and the shortest time in which these could have been won, given ‘perfection’, is four years.

3: On a rolling basis, every player at any point in time is assigned a ‘quality’ rating. This could be a maximum of 2,048 for a single player, or 16 x 128 points for winning 16 straight Slams. In fact, Roger Federer’s best ever peak was 1,632 points, after the 2009 French Open and 2009 Wimbledon. See below.

4: The most perfect two-man ‘rivalry’ possible would be 3,072 points, or two players sharing the titles and runners-up slots at 16 consecutive Slams. In fact the best rivalry peak to date was Federer and Nadal’s combined tally of 2,536 points after the 2009 Australian Open.

5: The best three-man points tally possible is 3,584 at any given point in time. Djokovic, Nadal and Federer currently have 3,000 points, the highest ever.

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Roger Federer is the player who has come closest to perfect in Grand Slam tennis, according to the research, as the graphic below shows.

Rafa Nadal, currently, has the second-highest quality rating aside from Federer, while three other players – Borg, Lendl and Sampras – remarkably all shared ‘peak’ totals of 1,176 points during their respective best four years in their careers.

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The 10 highest-quality rivalries in men’s tennis (Open Era), peaked as follows.

NB: These peaks represent the combined ratings tallies of the two at the time of the peak

Nadal and Federer Peaked at Australian Open final 2009, with 2,536 points combined.

Djokovic and Nadal Peaked at Australian Open final 2012, with 1,992 points combined.

Lendl and Wilander Peaked at US Open final 1988, with 1,832 points combined.

4 McEnroe and Borg Peaked at US Open final 1981, with 1,800 points combined.

Lendl and Edberg Peaked at Australian Open final 1990, with 1,782 points combined.

6= Sampras and Agassi Peaked at US Open final 1995, with 1,584 points combined.

6= Becker and Lendl Peaked at Australian Open final 1991, with 1,584 points combined.

8= Connors and Borg Peaked at US Open final 1978, with 1,496 points combined.

8= McEnroe and Connors Peaked at Wimbledon final 1984 finals, 1,496 points combined.

10 Lendl and McEnroe Peaked at US Open 1985 final, 1,432 points combined.

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Serena Williams tops ‘bad girls’ fines list as secret sanctions revealed

Monday, January 23rd, 2012

By Sportingintelligence

23 January 2012

SERENA Williams, eliminated from the Australian Open on Monday after losing her fourth-round match against Ekaterina Makarova in straight sets, has today been revealed at the most heavily fined player in women’s tennis.

The 30-year-old American, who has won 13 Grand Slam singles titles (five Australian Opens, one French Open, four Wimbledons and three US Opens) has been fined $104,500 for eight separate behaviour violations on court at Slams since 2008 according to official International Tennis Federation figures provided to TheTennisSpace, which carries full details today.

Williams’ fines are more than double the total handed out to the next nine most-fined women on the circuit combined, as TheTennisSpace details in its article here. Full details of fines are not generally made public.

Infamously at the 2009 US Open, Serena told a line judge: “I swear to God, I’m f—— going to take this f—— ball and shove it down your f——throat, you hear that? I swear to God.”

For that she was initially fined $10,000, which was supplemented by another $85,000 for it being deemed a major offence.

The other seven violations in recent times:

2011 US Open Fined $2,000 for verbal outburst at umpire including: ‘You’re totally out of control, you’re a hater and you’re just unattractive inside.’

2010 Wimbedon Fined $4000 for skipping a press conference.

2009 US Open Fined $500 for racket abuse.

2009 Australian Open Fined $1000 for an audible obscenity.

2008 Wimbedon Fined $500 for swearing.

2008 Australian Open Fined $1000 for swearing, $500 for racket abuse.

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Tennis players underpaid? Why Djokovic beats Barca and Kvitova is Manchester United

Monday, January 9th, 2012

By Nick Harris

SJA Internet Sports Writer of the Year

9 January 2012 

The most lucrative Grand Slam in tennis history is nigh, with the Australian Open singles winners due to collect Aus$2.3m each (£1.49m), which is more than any Slam singles winners to date.

For triumphing in the doubles, the winning couples will split Aus$454,500 (£296,000), also a record. The mixed doubles winners will split Aus$135,000 (£88,000).

To put that in context, each half of the winning mixed pair will earn more from that one tournament than the average Australian does in a year. Plus expenses for local travel, accommodation and food.

The singles winners – Federer or Djokovic or Murray or whoever, and Serena Williams or Kvitova or Clijsters or whoever – will make about 40 years’ pay for a ordinary person. Plus expenses.

And yet it is inevitable that at some stage this year a debate will rage within the sport over whether tennis players are underpaid.

Are they?

Given that it’s easy to make quick, emphatic cases for “Yes, of course they’re underpaid” and “Not at all underpaid”, I’d have to conclude they’re pretty much paid about the right amount.

Certainly it’s tough to make a case that the very best tennis players are underpaid when the on-court-earnings alone of the top tennis stars soar above the average first-team earnings at the best-paid clubs in global sport.

And as the graphic below stresses, for most top-100 tennis players, their on-court earnings are a minority of their income, whereas for most players of team sports, their club salaries are a majority of their income.

Novak Djokovic made $12.6m in 2011 in on-court winnings, which dwarfs the most recent figure of $7.9m first-team average pay at Barcelona, the world’s best-paid sports team by average pay. (For more on the Global Sports Salaries Survey, click here).

Similarly, the world’s No1 on-court earner in the women’s game in 2011 was Petra Kvitova, whose $5.15m put her just ahead of the average first-team pay at Manchester United, who came in at No16 in the world’s best-paid teams in the 2011 GSSS.

WHICH TENNIS STAR IS WHICH TEAM?

The graphic is self explanatory and shows how Serena Williams is comparable to the Nashville Predators and how Andreas Seppi is like the New York Red Bulls and how the 100th best-paid on-court women’s tennis player of 2011 is like Hibernian of the SPL.

(Article continues below).

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We can argue, however, that tennis players are underpaid because typically the total prize funds at Grand Slams (the biggest, richest and most profitable events) are around 12 to 13 per cent of those tournaments’ income.

Let’s consider Wimbledon 2011, where the total prize fund (including per diem expenses) was £14.6m. Prizes ranged from £1.1m for the singles winners down to £11,500 for first-round singles losers, and as much as £1,750 for losers in the first round of qualifying.

Exact Wimbledon income is not publicly declared but I estimate it was around £120m, with c.£25m of that from ticket sales, c.£35m from suppliers and sponsors, and c.£60m from broadcasting companies. That means the £14.6m prize fund falls between the 12 and 13 per cent of income, and it is similar across the Slams.

Compared to some of the world’s other major sports, a 12-13 per cent cut of income for the players might be considered derisory.

Within English Premier League football, first-team players collectively typically take home about 50 per cent of a clubs’ total income, although in some cases it’s often a much higher percentage than that.

In NFL American football, the players take a 48 per cent split of revenues. In NBA basketball, the players used to take 57 percent but following a pay dispute that led to the cancellation of the first part of the 2011-12 season, that’s down to 51 per cent – or around four times what tennis players get at Slams.

Wimbledon could certainly afford – in theory – to pay the players more. The summer’s big English tournament typically makes a ‘surplus’ (profit) of around £30m, or around twice the prize fund. So theoretically prize money at Wimbledon could be trebled across the board and the event would still be in the black.

But that doesn’t happen and won’t happen. That ‘surplus’ goes into tennis development. And it isn’t guaranteed in any case; it won’t necessarily persist. And frankly, why pay players even more than the big sums on offer when nobody is staying away for financial reasons? It would make no sense.

Most tournaments, of course, don’t make anything like the profits that the Slams can make. Many events at less glamourous levels actually run at a loss, subsidised by national or regional associations or other benefactors. Even modest prize money could be argued to be too high to be sustainable at such events.

This is where it starts to become easier to argue that, in fact, tennis players are not underpaid at all.

In team sports, a club will – generally speaking – have a fairly fixed income over a season from ticket sales, commercial revenues and television money, and its single biggest expense will be player salaries, and most clubs know they’ll have a stable audience level.

But in individual sports, certainly at sub-Major level in the two most global ‘solo’ sports of tennis and golf, tournament organisers must should all kinds of costs and risks to stage an event while lacking certainty of income. Often a stellar name or two can make all the difference to ticket sales, sponsorship, media interest – and hence income.

And what’s the best way to guarantee a big name? Pay a big, fat appearance fee, a common but largely unspoken source of significant secondary income for tennis players after prize money. Rafael Nadal will skip the Wimbledon warm-up at Queen’s in 2012 for an appearance fee in Halle, Germany, reportedly worth £750,000. That’s about seven times as much as Philipp Kohlschreiber picked up for winning at Halle in 2011! Large six-figure appearance fees are not unusual for the leading names.

In fact for many tennis players, certainly inside the top 100, prize money will routinely be a minority part of total income. Appearance money, racket and kit endorsements and other off-court commercial sponsorships can dwarf on-court earnings.

Maria Sharapova made $2.9m (£1.88m) in on-court winnings in 2011 – of an estimated total of $25m (£16.2m) in total, most of which was commercial income.

Five women made more on the court: from Kvitova’s $5.1m, via Wozniacki, Azarenka, Na Li to Stosur’s $3.5m, and each will have made millions more from other sources.

If we assume the world’s tennis fans have an appetite for around 100 top players of each sex at any one time (enough to fill a Slam singles draw, leaving room for absences and wild cards), then I don’t think the No100 ranked players in the world can argue they’re doing too badly for cash.

In 2011, the men’s 100th best male on-court earner was Simone Bolelli of Italy ($299,021 before appearance money, kit deals, endorsements and any personal sponsorship) and the world’s 100th best female earner was Laura Pous-Tio of Spain ($206,222).

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A version of this article was produced for publication today on a new tennis website, TheTennisSpace.

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