October 24, 2021

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In journalism parlance, the ATP put out a press release Monday morning that buried the lede.

But the final two paragraphs confirmed that the men’s tennis tour is finally taking some action in investigating the allegations of abuse made by a former girlfriend against Germany’s Alexander Zverev.

Zverev, 24, is one of the biggest stars in the game, ranked No. 4 in the world.

He has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. And his attorneys have filed an injunction in Germany to prevent the publication and dissemination of the articles written about Olga Sharypova’s accusations.

The quote from ATP CEO Massimo Calvelli is as follows:

“The allegations raised against Alexander Zverev are serious and we have a responsibility to address them. We hope our investigation will allow us to establish the facts and determine appropriate follow-up action. We understand Zverev welcomes our investigation and acknowledge that he has denied all allegations. We will also be monitoring any further legal developments following the preliminary injunction obtained by Zverev in the German Courts.”

The announcement comes just as the tennis world (or most of it) gathers again, in the “tennis paradise” that is the California desert.

Which means that the players will once again be asked to weigh on it via the impersonal and awkward medium of Zoom conferences, since the ATP Tour continues to ban journalists from asking questions face-to-face, on site at their tournaments.

A statement issued by Zverev Monday wasn’t materially different from his earlier statements on the matter, all of which denied the accusations.

Only the Shanghai allegations to be investigated

Notably, the scope of the ATP’s investigation is very limited – only its own backyard will be examined.

It concerns only the incidents alleged to have occurred during its own tournament, the Masters 1000 event in Shanghai in 2019.

There are a number of other alleged instances of abuse detailed in articles by freelance journalist Ben Rothenberg in Racquet Magazine in Nov. 2020, with a follow-up in Slate Magazine shortly before this year’s US Open.

But the reported abuse that occurred at the 2019 US Open is not, technically, under the ATP’s jurisdiction as the US Open is run by the U.S. Tennis Association, under the general umbrella of the International Tennis Federation.

Other alleged instances occurred at the Laver Cup exhibition event in Geneva later that year.

The Laver Cup, while supported by the ATP on several levels, is owned by a consortium that includes Roger Federer’s management agency, Team 8, as well as the USTA and Tennis Australia.

In addition, the release makes no mention of the accusations of domestic violence against top-30 player Nikoloz Basilashvili by his ex-wife, which have been going through the courts in his native Georgia for nearly a year now.

And it also does not reference the most recent allegations against Brazil’s Thiago Seyboth Wild, made by his ex partner and laid out in great detail on her Instagram account.

Thayane Lima has filed a civil suit against her ex in Brazil. And the police reportedly are investigating her accusations of physical abuse.

Of course, neither of those situations occurred within the framework of an ATP Tour event.

A change in tone – 11 months later

It’s thin soup indeed. But it’s more than … nothing, which is what the ATP has done about the allegations since they were first detailed nearly a year ago.

It was extremely slow to react to any calls for action on its part, when the first story came out.

At the time – several weeks later – it issued this statement:

“In circumstances where allegations of violence or abuse are made against any member of the Tour, legal authorities investigate and due process is applied. We then review the outcome and decide the appropriate course of action. Otherwise, we are unable to comment further on specific allegations.”

In the interim, it has apparently realized that some of the alleged abuse occurred at its own tournament.

And has thus changed its tune.

“The ATP fully condemns any form of violence or abuse and will investigate such allegations related to conduct at an ATP member tournament,” Monday’s release says.

Notably, Sharypova has said she does not intend to pursue the matter legally.

Laver Cup whitewashes Geneva incidents

The just-completed fourth edition of the Laver Cup was a success financially, if not competitive in the least as Team Europe was just far too stacked.

Zverev didn’t exactly endear himself to Team World with his trash talking (even though he turned out to be right. But the fans on hand appeared oblivious to all of the controversy swirling around the German star off court.

The stands were full, despite the event in Boston having to be postponed a full year, and vaccine requirements instituted.

Zverev was warmly welcomed by the crowd at the TD Garden. And the event’s social media – managed by Tennis Australia, for whom the sky is always blue – went on as though the allegations against Zverev were a figment of someone’s imagination.

That, even though the follow-up story in Slate had appeared just weeks before.

Given that the majority of humanity is not on Twitter, there was very much a gap in perception between the ticket-buying fans on hand, and the tennis diehards on social media who have not let this story fade into the cyberspace abyss.

There were the Zverev defenders, and the Zverev accusers. And it was a testy space.

Reminding the Laver Cup of the accusations against Zverev on social media got you blocked last week on Twitter.

Mentioning it gets you blocked

The Laver Cup social media was besieged with reminders of what Zverev is accused of, every time it posted something lauding Zverev.

To be clear, the Laver Cup is largely an invitational event, and there was no obligation to invite Zverev to take part in the first place.

That said, several event sponsors are also Zverev sponsors. So with that crossover, it was tricky territory to navigate for an enterprise that still has not turned a profit after all the start-up investment).

Unfortunately – and unproductively –Tennis Australia’s strategy was to block any account that deigned to mention it. It only added more grist to the mill.

More pertinently, Sharypova’s accusations state that some of the abuse occurred at the event’s official hotel and that a Laver Cup official was involved, called upon for help.

It’s difficult to say how long that strategy can continue. And the same can be said for the USTA, as more of the alleged abuse detailed by Sharypova took place during the US Open in 2019.

“Independent Safeguarding Report” completed

In parallel to the announcement of the investigation under way against Zverev, the ATP announced that the report it commissioned six weeks ago has been completed.

That announcement was made just days before the second article about Sharypova’s accusations was published.

It was somewhat of a nod to the Zverev allegations – an examination of the Tour’s safeguarding practices when it comes to the safety of adults and minors “involved in professional tennis”.

No details were released. The ATP stated that the report “outlines a number of wide-ranging recommendations to ensure safeguarding is embedded across all aspects of ATP organizational activity” – which is a lot of word salad.

“Topics covered include prevention, reporting and investigation of abuse, disciplinary measures, policy statements, event safety, training, information sharing, collaboration with other bodies of tennis and the appointment of dedicated safeguarding leads.”

Those words imply that there somehow will be cooperation of some kind across all of the various tennis governing bodies. Which is a thing that doesn’t happen often – with the notable recent exception of the integrity unit set up to combat match-fixing and corruption in the game.

The next step?

“The ATP will now evaluate the recommendations to identify immediate next steps and develop a longer-term safeguarding strategy relating to all matters of abuse, including domestic violence.”

The quote from Calvelli:

“As an organization we recognize the need to be doing more to ensure everyone involved in professional tennis feels safe and protected. The recommendations of the Safeguarding Report will help us approach this in a robust way. We are committed to making meaningful steps forward and know this won’t be an overnight process.”

In other words, it’s going to take awhile.

As, most likely, will the Zverev investigation.