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ATP Cup: Therapy Edition

By Giri Nathan

Hi! I’m Giri Nathan. For over three years I wrote at Deadspin, often on tennis—try a few of my favorites. But you won’t find any new blogs there, because Deadspin died around Halloween 2019 when our whole editorial staff quit amid flagrant mismanagement by idiot ownership. (Real bummer for us personally, another grim omen for journalism structurally.) Newly adrift, I stared at the horizon and spotted a gorgeously art-directed little ship called Racquet. Here I’ll be contributing to print, and writing newsletters with more compelling intros than this one. As this experiment proceeds, I welcome all questions, concerns, tirades, tips, and forehand slice highlights: girinathan24@gmail.com.

Like you, I am in the mood to watch some well-struck tennis balls, which are finally, blissfully, back on the monitors. History’s first ATP Cup snuck up on me, but here it is: a 10-day, 24-team tournament that braids national and individual incentives, jockeys with the Davis and Laver Cups for relevance, and, sadly, has bumped both the Hopman Cup off the calendar and the women’s matches to the outer courts of Brisbane. But it’s been pretty good television on the whole.

Some of the most gripping viewing has involved a pair of pink-faced and angsty lads, working through some daddy issues of varying severity on the courts of Australia. Alexander Zverev must have been happy to close the book on a rough 2019 season, which involved moonlighting as his own manager, secretary, and lawyer for a baffling stretch, per a recent Guardian profile. But so far 2020 has been no kinder to the tour’s boy prince.

Zverev has lost his first three matches and, apparently, his ability to serve a tennis ball. He’s faced tough contemporaries in Alex de Minaur, Denis Shapovalov, and Stefanos Tsitsipas, but it’s not clear how quality of opponent could render it this difficult to bat the ball into play.

Zverev has racked up 31 double faults in 33 service games, and has had his serve broken 12 times in that span, at times glumly rolling the ball in. Racquets have been spiked. Unsettling tirades have been launched at, or at least near, Germany coach Boris Becker. On one changeover: “I don’t understand it. I just can’t hit a proper serve. I just can’t. Tell me, what should I do? My ground strokes from the baseline are fine, everything else works solidly. But I just can’t hit a proper serve! Fuck me.” On another changeover: a whole mess of outrageously profane Russian that reduced dad/coach Alexander Sr. to tears. This is genuinely sad.

Stefanos Tsitsipas, who dealt Zverev a fifth-straight loss in their increasingly lopsided rivalry, took a less rhetorical and more literal swing at his own father during the Greece-Australia tie. Three tense tiebreak sets with Nick Kyrgios are likely to induce fits of rage in any player (and anyone watching), and Tsitsipas was no exception: At one juncture of the loss he began dismantling some of the on-court scenery with his racquet. One enthusiastic swing at an unsuspecting chair nipped the right elbow of dad/coach Apostolos, who fled for the safety of the team box. Stefanos’ mother, Julia, leaned over a railing to tell her son off; the umpire chimed in with a code violation for unsportsmanlike conduct. (Kyrgios, still on probation for last season’s antics, remained on his best behavior throughout the home-court win.) “Maybe, yeah, maybe I’ll stay in my room for three days, grounded by my father,” joked Tsitsipas, when asked if he would face any repercussions at home.

If not for the wildly wholesome sound bite from Coco and Corey Gauff during an Auckland changeover, this week would’ve been a unanimous case against this particular coaching setup. The life of a young tennis pro is emotionally vexed enough without employing your own dad, I think. Here’s to good tennis and good therapists in 2020.

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