Aug 27, 2018; New York, NY, USA; Rafael Nadal of Spain serves against David Ferrer of Spain (far court) in the first round on day one of the 2018 U.S. Open tennis tournament at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-US

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Block: US Open's On-Court Serve Clock A Distraction From Bigger Issues

USTA Turning A Blind Eye To Obvious Issues

Benjamin Block
August 28, 2018 - 10:32 am
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The USTA, which owns the US Open, hopes to further engage tennis fans with the introduction of a 25-second serve clock, as it once achieved with night matches and Hawkeye technology, but time is beyond expired on the breaches of integrity that continue to erode a sport run by people unwilling to adapt to change.

Managing Director of Corporate Communications for the USTA, Chris Widmaier, was emailed and asked if the on-court clock was — in any way — to aid in covering up tennis’ larger issues with integrity. Widmaier did not reply.

However, the USTA is not solely culpable for the darkness that penetrates the professional tennis circuit. All governing bodies play a role:  the allowance of match fixing, how players are paid, and most recently, how players can dress.

Wimbledon has long upheld their antiquated tradition that all players must wear all white, but surfacing this week was a disturbing report of what French Tennis Federation President Bernard Giudicelli told Tennis Magazine about Serena Williams’ catsuit-like outfit she wore at this year’s French Open.

“It will no longer be accepted,” Giudicelli said. He added, “One must respect the game and the place. 

Perhaps Giudicelli wasn’t aware that Williams wore that outfit for medical reasons to defend against blood clots, which the tennis star almost died from after giving birth, but his comments have not gone unnoticed.

MORE: No. 1 Seed Simona Halep Loses In 1st Round At US Open

Tennis ambassador Billie Jean King and former US Open men’s champion Andy Roddick both took to social media to condemn the French Federation President, even though Williams took the high road, telling reporters Saturday, “everything’s fine.”

The debate of equal pay is important, and also sad that it’s still being had in 2018, but a huge issue that is hardly ever talked about is the basis in which players on tour are paid. 

In short, if they don’t win, they don’t earn money. And factor in that professional tennis players are not salaried, nor is their travel, food or training costs covered, and it makes perfect sense why most players never break through. 

A relatively unknown player on tour — currently ranked outside the top-100 — once broke it down for me that in his first 12 months on tour his expenses, which were bankrolled by a faceless financier, totaled roughly $145,000, and his prize money topped out at about $130,000.

Tennis’ governing bodies want to promote an integrity about their game, but by not providing a salary to lower ranked players, or struggling players, a third and arguably the scariest issue facing the sport is match fixing. 

Organized crime and gamblers have infiltrated tennis because the hundreds of professional tennis players that can’t sustain a financial living on tour are easy targets. They throw the match in exchange for a guaranteed sum, which is likely much more than if they were to win the match, and everybody wins. 

Except tennis.

Just hours before the 2018 French Open, Nicolás Kicker (ranked 84th in the world at the time) was found guilty of match fixing by the Tennis Integrity Unit. And less than a month later at Wimbledon, doubles team David Marrero and Fernando Verdasco were reported to investigators because an hour before their match with with João Sousa and Leonardo Mayer, known suspicious gamblers began wagering so quickly and heavily, causing Sousa's and Mayer's chance of winning to rise from 56.5 percent to 69 percent.

So, if the USTA wants to dress up and smear lipstick on this pig in an effort to introduce more sellable inventory to the sport, that’s their prerogative.

As long as they, and the other governing bodies, turn a blind eye to the obvious and looming issues, tennis will remain on the outside looking in regarding successful sports leagues.

Time’s tickin’.

Follow Ben on Twitter at @benjaminblock21