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Scenes from the front — tennis media observations in modern times

Tennis Accent Staff

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Jayne Kamin-Oncea, USA TODAY Sports

There is so much to talk about in tennis these days. We at Tennis With An Accent are trying to evolve in step with the times. We have decided to try to conduct a lot more short interviews with our own contributors and other notable figures in tennis, so that you get more insights each week, beyond Saqib Ali’s podcast. That podcast is released every Tuesday at Radio Influence (provided the schedule lines up for our guests).

As the first of many articles taken from Saqib’s interviews, we stayed in-house for this topic. Over the weekend, Saqib asked Andrew Burton and Mert Ertunga, two of our contributors, for insights on a range of topics. One topic which came up was the larger inclination of many journalists and media outlets at tennis tournaments — partly in relationship to Nick Kyrgios, partly in relationship to players on a more general level.

Here is what Andrew and Mert had to say.

A note: These conversations did occur in a particular context, so some of this material will be seen later in the week in relationship to other topics we will present. In other words, this is not “one-time” content but something which will be seen in other contexts.

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Here is Andrew Burton on the media’s relationship to Nick Kyrgios, viewed through the prism of last year’s Cincinnati tournament, which Andrew covered for us at TWAA:

When I was in Cincinnati you could hear many of the journalists talk about him – I called him the most talked-about player, not the MVP but the most talked-about player in the tournament. They were almost like teachers at a school who have a gifted pupil, who they think if only he will buckle down, if only he will study harder, and if only he’ll be more disciplined, the sky’s the limit. In the press conferences, they would phrase questions to Kyrgios along those lines.

Here is Andrew discussing some of the tension points involved in tennis journalism as practiced by working journalists on site at a tennis tournament:

Many journalists are on deadline. They like stories that write themselves. Being able to provoke a contretemps between two players. “Nick, did you hear what Rafa said about you, do you want to say something about it?” That helps you to fill up copy. Having tennis’s bad boy provokes the crowd again – that sets up some copy. The narrative around Kyrgios right now is: talented but obstreperous. I thought he came across a little bit like a professional wrestler who is now delighted to play the villain’s role. There are stories that write themselves there.

Mert Ertunga had this to say about tennis players’ reactions to press conferences at tennis tournaments:

A lot of times in chasing the one-liner narrative or the one-headline narrative, press members focus on narrative-oriented questions. I always found that disconcerting myself. One of the most important aspects of good communication, period, is to show interest in the other’s position or status, thus showing the willingness to have some tolerance or build some tolerance by putting yourself in the other person’s shoes, and thus be able to do so after that.

I don’t believe a lot of times when people enter the press room and plan on questioning the players, they put themselves in their shoes.

I have no doubt that players get insulted sometimes by the fact that they come off the court and enter the press room and receive no questions about the match they just played. It’s called a postmatch conference, right?

I know players who come from lower rankings and have that one big tournament where they all of a sudden have to enter an actual press room, not a one-on-one with one or two journalists that may be interested in them from their country, but they actually advance in a big tournament, so they enter a press conference room with many journalists ready to ask questions. They come off afterwards, saying, “I don’t understand what just happened. Nobody asked me a question about the match I just played.”

A great example of that is Nick. He rarely gets a question about the tennis that he just played, or the match that he just played, or what happened in the match in terms of tactical patterns. Instead he gets these questions that are supposed to provoke one-liner headlines.

The Tennis With An Accent staff produces roundtable articles and other articles with group input during the tennis season. Staff articles belong to the TWAA family of writers and contributors, as opposed to any individual commentator. Our staff produces roundtables every week of the tennis season, so that you will always know what the TWAA staff thinks about the important tennis topics of the times.

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