Sports are my safe place. They’re where I go when the rest of the world is just too big, too scary too complicated. Tennis is my favorite sport. There are rules. There are consequences for breaking the rules. There’s a beginning and an end. There’s a winner and a loser. There’s hope, there’s heartache, there’s anxiety, there’s ecstasy, and there’s always another day.
In the realm of my real life, I’m a cynic. A realist. I don’t often get the feeling of butterflies and fireworks and floating on clouds. There’s always a pit in my stomach. I’m always waiting for the other shoe to drop. But sports are a space where I still can believe in magic. Where miracles still occur.
Tennis is my escape. Or at least it used to be.
Everyone in tennis is talking about doping these days. Richard Gasquet and Jo Wilfried Tsonga think there should be more blood testing. Roger Federer thinks he’s being tested less and less as time goes on. James Blake is certain that there are people in tennis who are doping. A tennis academy in Valencia where many players in the ATP and WTA tour train has ties to one of the most prominent doctors in the Lance Armstrong scandal, Dr. Luis Garcia del Moral. (Read this to further understand that connection.)
I don’t feel so safe anymore.
I used to believe that there was plenty of testing in tennis. I thought that the fact that testers would wake players up at 6 AM a few times a year meant that there was accountability. I thought the fact that there weren’t many negative tests meant that the sport was clean. I also used to stay up way past my bed-time to watch Sammy Sosa and Mark McGuire hit homeruns, thinking it was the most exciting thing I’d ever seen. I used to have a poster of Marion Jones on my wall. I used to wear a Livestrong bracelet.
I want to be an optimist when it comes to tennis. I want to believe that Sara Errani’s ascent to from journeywoman to the WTA Championships was because of a racket change and confidence boost. I want to believe that getting rid of gluten and improving his fitness turned Novak Djokovic into a legend. I want to believe that the extended time out for Rafael Nadal’s recovery is just for his knee, that Serena Williams was really hiding in her panic room at 6 AM because she was afraid of being robbed, and that Roger Federer is still playing top-level tennis at 31 because he’s just that awesome.
I don’t mention all of these people with the desire to single anyone out. I mention them because right now the amount of blood tests and out-of-competition tests in tennis is an absolute joke. I mention them because until that changes there is a cloud hanging over every single player. I mention them because I want to be an optimist, but I do not want to be a fool.
How am I supposed to believe a system is effective when there are so many unanswered questions? What exactly happened in the Wayne Odesnik case? What exactly did the ITF discover in their investigation into del Moral? Why aren’t testing results reported on a more regular basis? There can be no faith the system is working as long as there is no transparency.
I keep hearing that money is an issue and that there just aren’t enough resources to expand the doping program. I don’t care. The money is going to be a lot bigger of an issue if a scandal breaks and destroys the sport. Find the money before it’s too late. Ask Larry Ellison. Start a Kickstarter. Do whatever it takes. The integrity and the future of the sport is at stake. The ATP is in a golden era right now. The WTA is blossoming again after a rough few years. Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, and Novak Djokovic are some of the biggest sports stars in the world right now. All of them won Grand Slams last year. There is a lot to lose. The truth will come out.
“Because I love tennis,” Andy Murray said to journalists as he talked about the Armstrong scandal, “(I) would hate for anything like that to happen to (my) own sport.”
I would hate it too. Fans and journalists have started to speak up. People are asking questions. And now, finally, so am I. But why aren’t the leaders of the sport asking the hard questions? Where is the action? Where is the panic? What are we hiding? Who are we protecting? I would hate for the tennis world to sit idly by as the sport is compromised. I would hate for this wonderful sport to be forever tainted.
I’m not naive enough (anymore) to think that all sports are completely clean, or that it’s even a possibility for that to happen. There are always going to be people looking to get ahead in malicious ways. But the magic of sports, the thing that makes them so popular, is that they are grounded in reality. That these are real people doing extraordinary things. If I wanted manufactured greatness I would watch a movie. Or wrestling. I want to believe in heroes, not cheats. I want to believe in miracles, not drugs. I want to marvel, not doubt.
I want my safe place back.