Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The perversion of recreational tennis

Every month TENNIS magazine runs a column/feature called "The Tennis Life" that is usually written by a recreational player and highlights his/her history with the game--shining moments, embarrassing tales, etc. In general, I find it a good addition to the magazine, one that highlights the publication's commitment to promoting the game as one for everybody. You feel a little better about yourself as a player when reading the narratives, especially after being regaled for pages upon pages of the feats of Roger Federer, Maria Sharapova, Serena Williams, etc.
This month's Tennis Life though is a little different and quite disturbing. The writer, Tom Stein, is a recreational player but he writes about a man named William Wu who captains USTA league teams in the San Francisco Bay area. He is a player as well but is well-known--infamous is more fitting as you will see--for his captaining tactics. For those unfamiliar with a captain's role, he or she is in charge of putting together the rosters detailing who will play each match and in what position and for the general logistics like making sure everyone knows who, where, and what time they are playing.
William Wu relishes his position as captain. Usually this would be a good thing since being captain is sometimes a dreaded position--lots of drama about who gets to play the most, in what position, with which partner, and on and on. Wu though takes captaining to the extreme. He scouts other teams, takes notes on players and knows nearly everyone's strengths and weaknesses and develops his line-ups accordingly. Not much wrong with that. It seems more on the level of what a collegiate coach might do, but hey, if you've got the time to do it--more power to you.
Unfortunately Wu comes dangerously close to breaking rules and he has certainly violated the spirit of USTA leagues by, for example. signing up (including paying league fees) players--aka ringers--who has seen around that he wants to play for him without even telling them first! He can bring them into the line-up whenever he wants or needs them that way. (You're allowed to play on multiple teams so long as you sign up and pay for each opportunity.)
At Nationals one year players who were signed up for Wu's team as well as others, played against his team. When some lost in the early rounds with other teams they just moved over to play for him. [The USTA nipped this in the bud with the "William Wu amendment" which states that players signed up on multiple teams have to commit to one team prior to playoffs.]
He'll kick players off his team if they lose.
The author refers to him as "the Machiavelli of the Bay Area tennis community" yet admires Wu. And this is what I find so disturbing. While it's true that Wu hasn't broken any rules, he has put winning above everything else. Stein paints him as a narcissistic middle-aged rich guy yet applauds him for grilling chicken for his team after matches. I can't imagine that playing in that kind of atmosphere is fun or rewarding or conducive to development.
Last month, the magazine reported on another team captain who had broken the rules by doctoring rosters including making a player compete under someone else's name. Having just won my first match of summer season last weekend I can say that winning is nice. But this is recreational tennis. In some respects--by the standards of the sportocratic culture in which we live--we have already failed as tennis players, as athletes, because we aren't superstars. I don't see how being so obsessed with league tennis that you break the rules, or come darn close to doing so, is really worth all the emotional and physical effort.


Jen said...

do you by any chance have a copy of this article online? i have the hardcopy but would like to forward it to some of my teammates..

any help would greatly be appreciated!

ken said...

Sorry, Jennifer, I couldn't find one. I checked out tennis.com but it didn't appear to be there, though it is a difficult site to navigate so maybe if you do some more searching...