The recent "Malek Jaziri" affair, of the name of the Tunisian tennis player banned by his federation to play a match against his Israeli friend Amir Weintraub, reminds us that injuries aren’t the only things keeping players from entering the courts. There can be political, economic, religious or other very strange reasons. Top 10 of the big and small boycott stories in the history of tennis.
Wimbledon 73: The boycott
Yugoslav Number One, Nikola Pilic was feeling powerful in 1973. So when he had to make a choice between joining his Davis Cup by BNP Paribas team or play a more lucrative tournament in Las Vegas, he decided to head to Nevada. His federation didn’t appreciate it, arguing that the player would have said yes to the selection before withdrawing without warning. For non-compliance with his commitments, Pilic is sentenced to a suspension of 9 months. The very young ATP players union comes to his defence and threaten to boycott the next big tournament: Roland Garros. If an appeal and a review of the situation by the international authorities manage to save the Paris tournament, it's finally Wimbledon a few weeks later that suffers from a massive boycott: 79 of the 82 professional players of the era, including Stan Smith, Arthur Ashe and John Newcombe, are replaced by lucky losers and amateurs from the Eastern Bloc. In the final, the Czech Jan Kodes beats the Soviet Alex Metreveli.
The refusal of the South African apartheid
During the 1974 Davis Cup by BNP Paribas, the South African team is very strong and passes rounds one after the other. A disturbing situation, for a country that has been causing outrage in the international public opinion for its apartheid policy. Already in 1970, the South African tennis authorities made a very big mistake by forbidding the Afro-American Arthur Ashe to enrol in a tournament. Four years later, the Italian team Davis Cup by BNP Paribas almost boycott the competition because they wanted the semi-final against South Africa to take place in Italy and not in Johannesburg. Eventually played in South Africa, the local team won and had to face India in the final. But this time, the Indian team decided to go through with its threats and withdraws. Today, despite the controversy, South Africa is still seen as the winner of the 1974 Davis Cup by BNP Paribas.
Shahar Pe’er, the visa of discord
"Her participation could have cause a public outrage." When asked to justify the absence of Shahar Pe'er, then 48th World player in the world, at the Dubai WTA tournament of which he's the director, Salah Tahlak was definitely unconvincing. February 2009, the Israeli army has just pounded Gaza for 21 days, to the dismay of the international community. In the Middle East particularly, everybody's in shock. So when the customs of the UAE had to consider the case of the Israeli Shahar Pe'er, they simply refused to issue her a visa. The previous year already, the doubles players Andy Ram and Jonathan Erlich were denied access to the same tournament.
Andy Roddick, an act of solidarity
The Pe'er case caused the anger of some players on the professional tour. "This is unacceptable," said Amélie Mauresmo at the time, while Ana Ivanovic, Venus Williams and Elena Dementieva in particular decided to show public solidarity with the Israeli too. More than words, Andy Roddick even decided to boycott the Dubai Open, where he was defending champion. "I can't agree, (with the decision of the UAE authorities, ed.) you don't mix politics and sport” he said.
Two friends stuck in a political vortex
The Tunisian Malek Jaziri was forbidden to play a semi-final in Tashkent because the opponent was the Israeli Amir Weintraub. This is the most recent case and it's been particularly commented because the players are friends and train in the same club in Sarcelles, near Paris. Under the threat of a heavy suspension by the International Federation and ordered to explain, the Tunisian, 169th player in the world, provided a medical certificate to prove that he had a knee injury and wasn’t able to play. Not a boycott for political reasons then? Not so sure, another version, reported by his brother Amir Jaziri to a private Tunisian radio says that the player would have been pressurized by his national federation that ordered him, by mail, to withdraw.
You don’t mess with the Day of Atonement
You must be familiar with Yom Kippur, right? It's the Day of Atonement, considered as the holiest holiday in the Jewish calendar. A day where all practicing Jew shouldn't work or eat, including tennis players. The Israeli team of Davis Cup by BNP Paribas, was supposed to play against Belgium in Antwerp on Saturday 14th of September, and asked to postpone it of a day. The Belgians refuse and the international federation had to get involved. Verdict: one-day lag accepted (beginning of the matches on the Thursday instead of the Friday to rest on the Saturday) but a 10,000€ fine for the Israelis. "We are firmly and proudly standing before those who refuse to recognize the importance of Jewish tradition" said the president of the federation, a bit upset.
Never upset the Williams sisters!
BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells in 2001: Venus and Serena Williams were on top of the world and ended up one against the other in the semi-finals. But the confrontation expected by the public didn’t take place because the older withdrew, officially for medical reasons. Except that the American press was suspicious of an arrangement between the two sisters and their father. In the final, Serena won against Clijsters booed by her own crowd. Vexed, she and her sister accused racism and decided to never participate in the Californian tournament ever again. They kept their word and have never gone back since.
Damn blue court
"They can do what they want, I won't be there next year if they keep the courts blue. It’s a completely different surface, when we're preparing Roland Garros. It was a test and the test is a failure." In 2012 in Madrid, Novak Djokovic is angry. And he's not alone: his main competitor, Rafael Nadal also sees red (or rather blue) and threatens: "I'm sorry to admit that there will be one less tournament in my calendar next year." The prestigious Spanish tournament wanted to innovate with blue clay and had received the endorsement of the international federation, but not of the players who protested. Complaint upheld: the Madrid Masters 1000 took place on red clay courts this year. With Djoko and Nadal. Who won.
The despair of the non-grades
The Sunday Times had a scoop in the summer of 2012: the prestigious newspaper talked of a massive boycott threat hovering around the next edition of the Australian Open in January 2013. The tournament director Craig Tiley denied: "I’m absolutely convinced that we will see the players in Melbourne". Eric Butorac, representative of the players’ board confirmed the wrath of some of them. "We offer a great show that should be rewarded fairly". In fact, many players were fed up of only seeing Nadal, Federer and Djokovic win between them three one quarter of the prize money! A discussion on a better distribution of the prize money and the case was quickly buried.
India: power to the players
A better allowance distribution, changes in the coaching and medical staff and more power in decision-making. Here were the demands of the Indian team of Davis Cup by BNP Paribas’ players in February. And they were very clear: if their conditions weren’t heard, they would boycott the match scheduled a few days later against South Korea in the first round of the Asia/Oceania group. "We can't force anyone to play for India" said the president of the national federation, Hironmoy Chatterjee, before hearing the voice of reason. Negotiations managed to end the players' strike, but didn't prevent them from losing 1-4 against South Korea...