The Austin Chronicle

https://www.austinchronicle.com/columns/2000-07-14/77897/

Coach's Corner

By Andy "Coach" Cotton, July 14, 2000, Columns

An ugly occurrence marred the final weekend of Wimbledon, graphically highlighting the worst of today's media excesses. It illustrated how anyone can say anything about anybody in the wired world and be taken seriously. Pat Cash -- a past Wimbledon winner attending the tournament in some sort of media capacity -- lobbed out the "story" that the Williams semifinal matchup was fixed. The worldwide media stumbled all over themselves seeing who could fall on this live grenade first.

Cash's comments were outrageous, unprecedented for the sport, and utterly irresponsible. I can't think of a more damaging, maliciously insulting comment a member of the media could possibly aim toward two competitors in one of sport's crown jewel events than to say the result was rigged. He said Richard Williams told his younger daughter Serena (who'd already won the U.S. Open) to tank her match with big sister Venus so Venus could have a turn winning her own major title. Just how Cash knew this was never asked or examined in the 24-hour media melee that followed. It just was. All the major media outlets, print and electronic, repeated Cash's tale as if it were true.

Everyone with any tennis credentials was asked their opinion ... was the match fixed? The absurd ramblings of a part-time Aussie journalist were repeated over and over until his irresponsible statement became, ex post facto, a supposed real occurrence.

How exactly was the Williams family supposed to respond to this accusation: that they participated and colluded in the most heinous crime a professional athlete could be accused of inside the lines of their sport? Talk about trying to disprove a negative! So instead of basking in a well-deserved glow of being in the finals at Wimbledon, having dispensed with the joyless task of having to beat a sibling to get there, Venus Williams had to defend herself against outrageous accusations she can't prove are wrong. After all, if I say you killed your mother yesterday, you can call me a damn liar and prove it by trotting out old mom. How do you prove your baby sister didn't let you win? A tad unfair, I think.

What competitive siblings do you know who would ever let the other win at anything, let alone the semis at Wimbledon? Why would the father of a teenager as enormously gifted as Venus Williams risk the trust of his kids (as well as certainly ruining any sense of accomplishment for his oldest daughter) by telling Serena to tank? It's idiotic.

No respectable journalist should report a story like this, because unless Richard told them, how could they possibly know? If you don't know it to be true, it's just mean-spirited character assassination. With professional ethics as out of date as a cavalry charge, none of this stopped the press from picking up a National Inquirer, "Martians abduct Hillary Clinton"-type tale and running the story into the ground.

While I'm in the mood, Chris Evert's repetitive racial stereotyping of the Williams sisters on NBC was stunning. As Venus Williams was stomping all over the No.1 player in the world -- yanking Martina Hingis around the court like a spastic puppet -- Evert repeatedly portrayed the very white Hingis as the intelligent, cagey, court-wise counterpuncher, while Williams was the big, strong, usually out of control "athlete," a polite way of saying black. As if those nasty slice serves pulling Hingis 20 feet off the court, followed by down-the-line kills into the open court, were somehow fortunate genetic gifts. Maybe Chris, a great player in her day, was seeing herself being pushed around the court by a bigger, faster, stronger, and just-as-smart opponent, and helpless (as Hingis was) to do anything about it. When Venus and Serena met the next day, Evert often cited the wonderful athletic ability of the sisters, while criticizing their "sloppy" play. Personally, I didn't think it was sloppy at all. This was great stuff. I've been watching tennis for 30 years, and I've never seen women play that way. The final against Davenport was more of the same. Lindsey -- smart/ clever/white -- against the athlete. Somehow Evert made it seem so damn unfair ... Venus picking on poor injured Lindsey (the most devastating ball striker on the woman's circuit) that way.

In politically correct America, I can't believe NBC missed this one. Evert might as well start discoursing on the Williams sisters' secret weapon: a diet of fried chicken and watermelon. Whatever. She better get used to seeing the Williams sisters, though. They're already the best female players in the world.

And speaking of idiots ... there's me! A couple of weeks back I went on about how Sampras and Agassi were at the end of the tennis road. "They'll be lucky," I pontificated, "to win one more Grand Slam between them." Righto, as the say in England. In the finals, The Pistol was magnificent against a worthy opponent, Patrick Rafter. His diamond-solid all-court game combined with that devastating serve may make him a grass-court threat at 40. Andre made it to the semis before succumbing to Rafter in five sets. Agassi's outstanding all-around game, allied with his extraordinary mental toughness and outstanding physical conditioning, make him a real threat as long as there are so many one-dimensional, unmotivated players out there.

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