A Media Muddle

By The Way - Weekly Columns


A lot of us view tennis writers as a bridge between the players and us, bringing us behind the scenes news, as well as providing us with transcripts from the players' press conferences, but how do we know who we can trust? Do some journalists care more about providing sensationalist headlines and 'inside scoops' than actually getting factual information for us, the fans? We count on these writers to bring us the stories that we don't have the privilege of seeing on TV, or on our twitter feeds, even though some of the Grand Slams do provide greater access to player press conferences, but do they let their bias get in the way of their reporting?

We can't deny journalists having favourites, they are just human beings after all, but it isn't fair, nor is it professional to twist words and to try and paint one player as golden and the rest as inferior. It isn't right to make your favourite player seem like the only one with rational opinions on whatever issues are being discussed. I won't go out and say that I don't sometimes put on my rose-tinted glasses when looking at my favourite players' comments, but at the end of the day, I'm not getting paid to provide accurate accounts of what has happened behind the scenes, in situations where people aren't able to make up their own mind about the happenings.

As the drama usually occurs around Grand Slam time, let's look at some examples from last month's Australian Open; Before play had even started, the Daily Mail broke a story that Novak Djokovic had held a private player's meeting discussing how he wasn't happy with the prize money he was earning. More and more sources jumped on this story, each adding to it; whether trying to disprove it, or simply put their own spin on it. Before the end of the day, we were hearing that Novak was in fact leading a revolution and boycotting next year's Australian Open. Fascinating stuff, if it was in fact the truth. Eventually, Novak confirmed himself that he had held a player's meeting, but that any talk of a boycott or a revolution was complete nonsense and that the aim was to ensure fairer prize money for all players.

Reporters have got access to the players in a way that we can only dream of, and as such, are well situated to ask them the questions that we want answers to. Some reporters are FABULOUS for this, and I, as well as thousands of other tennis fans, are truly grateful for them. Looking again at the Australian Open, and the Tennys Sandgren fiasco. As pretty much everyone knows, there was some questionable goings-on on Sandgren's twitter account, and people wanted answers. Step in, British tennis writer, Simon Briggs. Briggs took the opportunity at Sandgren's press conference to ask him about his twitter account, as well as other accounts that he was interacting with. The question obviously gave Sandgren some food for thought, as he came to his next press conference with a pre-prepared speech which he thought would address the concerns. Sandgren did, afterwards, post an apology, of sorts on his twitter account, but like all of his other tweets, that has now been deleted.

Of course, the final day of the tournament couldn't pass by without yet more controversy. This time, it was because THE ROOF WAS CLOSED. Shock, horror. Naturally, with the roof being closed, those with a tendency to hate on Roger Federer discussed how this was advantageous to him and because of this, it was a blatant display of favouritism by the tournament directions. The roof was closed because the bulb temperature had exceeded the limit for outdoor play, and it had been closed from before the doubles final began. It has also been discussed that the fact that Simona Halep had to be treated for dehydration after the Ladies' final may have had a role to play in the decision. Again, it was incredibly difficult to find an accurate account of what had actually happened when the players were told that the roof would be closed, until the player press conferences were released. To the dismay of the conspiracy theorists, both players were given the same information about the possibility of the roof being closed leaving both of them the opportunity to practice where they seen fit.

Journalists put their own spin on how the players were told, and Christopher Clarey clarified the actual happenings after people had accused Roger Federer of pushing for the roof to be closed, as well as accusing the tournament for telling Federer first so he could practice indoors, whilst Cilic was left to practice outdoors. Of course, the argument went into overdrive when Cilic got off to a slow start, but lost a bit of its momentum as he did indeed take the match to a fifth set.

This was another way of looking at the controversy, Marin Cilic wasn't given an opinion on the roof being closed. When you look at the other side, was Federer given an opinion? Did he slip the tournament directors a fiver and tell them to say nothing to Cilic? It's an interesting argument to make, being as Cilic also fares well on a fast court, which would the category that an indoor hard court would fall into. Federer was apparently kept posted on the decisions being made about the roof, but was Cilic kept posted as well? If we look at what Clarey said, that Roger was told 30 minutes before going on that the roof was being closed, would keeping him posted have made any difference? Cilic confirmed in his own press conference that he was given the option to practice indoors, but he chose to practice outdoors, just as he had been doing all tournament. Federer simply chose the opposite.

In an attempt to put an end to all the discussions, Andrew Burton tweeted this after seeing both of the press conferences. Both players were given the same information and engaging in any nonsense considering otherwise is pointless. Of course, this didn't stop people from arguing that it was clear favouritism. Would the argument have taken off if it had been Cilic who won? It's not for me to go and point out who is right and who is wrong here, but it's easy to see that the same events can be reported differently.

Of course, the roof being closed was much more pleasant for all involved. There is an argument that the roof should've been closed for the Monfils-Djokovic match earlier in the tournament, and God only knows why it wasn't. I would also argue that it should've been closed for the Ladies' Final. In both these cases, it was clear to see the heat affecting the players, and the safest option is definitely for the roof to be closed when that is a possibility. Maybe the bulb temperature rules need updating?

Even as a Federer fan, I won't go out and say that it wouldn't have been better for Marin Cilic if he had practiced indoors, because obviously it would've been good for him to get used to the conditions that he would've been experiencing in the final. However, to speculate that there is some sort of favouritism going on, and that there's a conspiracy going on at every tournament to enable Roger Federer to win is wholly unprofessional at best. Professional journalists should prioritise the truth, and bring us the facts, especially in situations where things can so quickly become blurred. Obviously, when writing opinion pieces or the like, writers can throw in their opinions on players they like and dislike, and there will always be cases where writers genuinely perceive things differently, and will report as they have seen it. The differences in the cases above serve as a reminder for us to double check our sources before we take information as Gospel.