Michael Mewshaw, a veteran newspaperman and PhD from the University of Virginia, has written an expose of the men's professional tennis tour in a book entitled "Short Circuit."
For those who have even the slightest interest in the men's pro tour, Mewshaw's book is must reading. I received my copy from a friend who happens to be frequently mentioned (unfavorably) in the book. He noted to me, "This book will outrage you. But, sadly, much of it is true!"
Mewshaw set out to write his book by spending six months interviewing all the characters involved--players, wives, agents, coaches, tournament directors, umpires, promoters, media members, players union officials and administrators. He names names and quotes people freely. His writing style evokes an image of Bill Buckley transcribing Mike Wallace interviews.
Four major points are made.
* Guarantees or appearance fees are rampant among players in the top 30 by tournament promoters;
* Strong arguments can be made that umpires are "instructed" by tournament directors to go easy when enforcing rules on top players;
* Players frequently "throw" doubles matches and, occasionally, a singles match;
* Officials are quite aware of these wrongdoings but have not tried very hard to rectify them.
Mewshaw is on the money regarding guarantees. They are rampant and threaten to unravel the already fragile credibility of the men's circuit. Guillermo Vilas is presently facing a possible one-year suspension in the Volvo Grand Prix for allegedly accepting $60,000 in under-the-table payments from a Grand Prix event at Rotterdam last winter. Though Vilas says he is innocent and is appealing the ruling, the Men's International Professional Tennis Council, which governs the Grand Prix, says it has all the evidence it needs regarding Vilas.
Mewshaw's second point is a pet peeve of mine. I firmly believe (but cannot prove) that at some events two sets of standards apply: one for the top players and another for the lesser players. I have watched too many matches involving top players who break rules of conduct on the court (especially those involving obscenities) that go unpenalized.
Regarding doubles competition, which Mewshaw reports is often taken lightly by players who sometimes orchestrate sets, it should be noted only 20 percent of total prize money at Grand Prix events is allocated to doubles. Lesser players who have lost in singles have very little incentive to "stick it out" in the doubles. They want to get to the next event to qualify or practice their singles play. Who can blame them?
Mewshaw also goes to great lengths in criticizing "fixed" exhibition matches. He reports that some years ago Stan Smith and I played an exhibition before an American Basketball Association game in Greensboro, N.C. Smith and I had to complete our match by game time, and I told Mewshaw that. Although we were playing for $6,500 prize money, players just don't view exhibitions the same as tournament matches. Exhibitions are entertainment and should be viewed as such. They are not competitive tests.
Having been a player representative on the council for four years, I can attest to the serious efforts at rule enforcement. Mewshaw unfairly criticizes Marshall Happer, council administrator, for not doing a better job. The answer is simply a matter of priorities and budgeting Happer's time. With only one assistant, Happer has to pick his spots.
This book should have been done five or six years ago but not by Mewshaw. It is impossible for him in just six months to be aware of all the relevant nuances that exist on the tour. To an insider, Mewshaw comes off like a flaming ideologue. Though he eagerly points out the human frailties in a six-month period, a full year on the tour might just have forced him to alter his you-guys-are-all-crooked literary tone.