Wimbledon 2019: Post-match media conferences are an ordeal, and Johanna Konta, Nick Kyrgios, Novak Djokovic prove it
Johanna Konta, Novak Djokovic and Nick Kyrgios have had heated exchanges with members of the media over the course of two weeks at Wimbledon. Is it fair to grill them and judge them on the basis of it?
Quite a few players have had a tense interaction with the media over the course of the two weeks at Wimbledon
Konta, Djokovic, Kyrgios have all but snapped at the members of the press for the line of questioning
Venus Williams was asked 12 questions following her first round defeat and produced a grand total of 155 words or just about 13 words a question
Over the course of the fortnight, fans paid witness to enthralling tennis at the All England Club. It has ranged from Rafael Nadal's second-round match against Nick Kyrgios to the rematch of the 2008 epic between the Spaniard and Roger Federer before finishing with Novak Djokovic vs Federer in a match that had nervous tension throughout but may not be categorised as a 'classic'. On the women's side, Alison Riske was at the heart of two great matches - against Serena Williams and Ashleigh Barty. But away from the action on the court, things got heavy and heated in the press room for some players.
Britain's No 1 Johanna Konta was beaten in the quarter-finals by Barbora Strycova. One wouldn't usually bet on Konta being beaten by Strycova, lesser so in two sets, who is known more for her exploits in the doubles field than in the singles department. But with her foray into the semi-finals, Strycova, at 33, became the oldest first-time finalist at a Grand Slam. She was eventually stopped by Serena Williams in the semi-finals. For Konta, semi-finalist two years ago, the news revolved around her press conference than about the loss itself. Although the press conference circled around her loss and the way forward. The Briton carried bigger hopes than usual considering she was coming into the grass court major having made the last-four at Roland Garros.
Konta made a staggering 33 unforced errors in the 6-7, 1-6 defeat. In the press conference, mandatory affairs on the ATP and WTA Tour for high profile names at the risk of a $1000 fine, she was presented with instances in the match where things were dire. It included a missed smash, two forehand errors, backhand mistake, and a double fault. Additionally, from a dominant serving effort in the previous rounds, her statistic on first serve points won dropped to a miserable 51 percent. When queried if she perhaps could have dealt better on big points, she replied: "Is that in your professional tennis opinion?" before saying the questioning was "disrespectful and patronising".
"I don't think you need to pick on me in a harsh way. I think I'm very open with you guys and I say how I feel out there and if you don't want to accept that answer or you don't agree with it then that's fine. But I still believe in the tennis I play and still believe in the way I competed and I don't much have else to say to your question," she said.
"Please don't patronise me. In the way you are asking your question you are being quite disrespectful and you are patronising me. I am a professional competitor who did her best today and that's all there is to that," she went on to add.
The mantra of crediting the opponent is all well and good unless you're leading 4-1 in a set and throw it away. Or squandering three set point chances - as she did against eventual finalist Marketa Vondrousova in Paris.
This is not the first time Konta has turned on to the media. Last year, after exiting the French Open for the fourth straight time in the first round, she extended an analogy to call journalists as "bastards" and suggested they made her job difficult.
With such reactions in a post-match press conference, which happen practically a few minutes after players have had their dreams dashed, it highlights the tricky aspect of life in professional sport. Having battled it all and not come through, it gets increasingly frustrating for players. To miff the players further, they are probed on mistakes, problems and crucial points in the match which, in all likelihood, are being replayed in their heads to different outcomes. A defeated player comes out re-imagining points and how they could have played it differently.
Another testy exchange saw Djokovic, president of the ATP player council, be questioned about his relationship with former ATP board member Justin Gimelstob. The former American tennis player had pleaded "no contest", equal to an admission of guilt, on assault charges for attacking a venture capitalist in front of his wife and children.
With four people resigning from the council, the door was left open for Gimelstob to return thus portraying a poor look for men's tennis.
The 32-year-old maestro Djokovic claimed he hadn't read victim statements in what he perceived to be 'an attack' from a journalist.
"I haven’t read it. I’ve spoken to Justin. He has explained to me that he still is going through the process, the legal process. He’s not done yet on the court. Obviously, I know only his side of the story. I’ve had, as I mentioned before, really good relationship with Justin. I think he is away from our sport at the moment for a reason. I think he needs to take time to deal with this serious matter," said the Serb.
"I will go through the documents. I can speak to you next time. There is no reason for you to attack me," he went on to add.
The conduct of players in the press conference reveals plenty about them. And yet it shouldn't be psychoanalysed. Bear in mind, the line of questioning for players remains the same, more or less, whether they're youngsters, teenagers or experienced pros. The person in the eye of the media may not be fluent in the language of the interaction either - as is the case with many players. The trouble in the relationship between professional athletes and the media is on the reaction of both.
Most of the athletes now are expertly media trained that their answers have no personality, no flair and lie on the boundary of being 'non-answer' answers. On the other hand, if the player is outspoken, as is the case with Nick Kyrgios, for example, the responses are twisted and made into gossip. To be fair, both need to come forward and meet halfway. The beauty of the sport - any sport - lies in its story. Tell that story well, you do justice to the people at the heart of the story. Take the example of Cori Gauff.
Gauff, the darling of Wimbledon in the last two weeks, has been commended for the way she has carried herself on the court and in the media room. Making her first grand slam main draw, she wasn't grilled as many others are but she spoke eloquently and gave every question a decent thought before answering. In a sign of tennis moving to a new age, she recalled the last crying through Avengers Endgame following the win over Venus Williams; spoke about 'And I Oop' as her favourite meme and a message from Tina Knowles - Beyonce's mom - as her most unexpected congratulatory message.
In contrast to Gauff, Venus, a much senior player on the tour, is not big on press conferences. On the court, she is expressive and full of smiles in the post-match interactions but take things to confines of the media room and it all changes. She was asked 12 questions following her first-round defeat to Gauff and it produced a grand total of 155 words or just about 13 words a question.
Then there is Kyrgios with a love-hate relationship with the media. Or just about with most people in the tennis world. After his defeat to Nadal, the controversial Aussie was straight up questioned about his preparation for the match amid social media reports of a late night visit to a local bar. "You look way too excited to ask that question. You must have a really boring life," he shot back to the probing question.
A few moments later he had the press room in splits having spotted a member of the media who was also at the pub the night before. In another awkward exchange, Kyrgios slammed the media for their differing expectations and reporting of his play. In the match, Kyrgios served two underarm serves and received opposite responses on both.
Fair to say not all players react and behave similarly in defeat or in victory and it can hold true for youngsters and experienced players alike. To hold them accountable for their actions, to judge their career on a piece of quote is unfair and they deserve a bit more leeway than it is afforded at the moment. It is necessary to acknowledge, for the media, that most of the players display great bit of patience in doing the post-match interactions. A lot of it is to avoid being fined and has civility associated with it. It can be fun, if the player enjoys it, like Roger Federer, but mostly, it is not.
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World number one Djokovic rallied past 99th-ranked Brooksby 1-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 to book a quarter-final encounter with Italian sixth seed Matteo Berrettini in a rematch of July's Wimbledon final.
"Relief. I was glad it was over," Djokovic said about his feelings in the moments after the defeat.