Monthly Archives: February 2010

Politics and Peer pressure in Dubai

A year on after the political tumult in 2009 caused by the refusal to admit Israeli Shahar Peer, even with the correct visa to enter the United Arab Emirates to compete in the Barclay’s Dubai Tennis Championships and the subsequent debate over whether to also exclude the men’s doubles player Andy Ram, both tournament and player overcame the political ‘Peer’ pressure to succeed in a continuing hostile political climate.

This year’s tournament played just a couple of hundred yards from the hotel where the senior Hamas figure Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was killed last month was still able to amass crowds of tennis fans to watch the WTA event and World number 22 Peer, showed extreme strength of character to reach the semi finals under the constant threat of violence on and off court, for she played her four singles and two doubles matches on an outside court at the insistence of the Dubai State Police for security reasons while all spectators were forced to pass through airport-like metal detectors before entering.

Peer insisted that ‘I’m not here to play politics’, but surely the mental effects from last year’s events must have fuelled her desire to perform well at this year’s tournament. She has won a huge amount of respect from her fellow competitors for her grit and determination earning $88,000 in beating the in-form Wozniaki convincingly en route to her semi final loss against Venus Williams, ironically the player who during her acceptance speech at last year’s final spoke passionately in defense of the Israeli, earning her an award from the Jewish community in New York.

Last year, tournament organizers defended their decision to exclude Peer from the tournament as they maintained Peer’s presence ‘would have antagonized our fans who have watched live television coverage of recent attacks in Gaza’ believing that ‘the entire tournament could have been boycotted by protesters’. This argument provoked a strong reaction, not only from Williams, Andy Roddick also famously refused to play the men’s event on moral grounds.

The lucrative tournament was nearly cancelled by the former chief executive of the WTA Tour, Larry Scott, who forcibly refused to concede that the effects of a three-week Israeli offensive in Gaza, which caused the death of 1,300 Palestinians allowed the organizers enough evidence to ban an Israeli from competing, which led to the tournament being fined a record $300,000, raising the issue of sport and politics to the foreground of much media debate.

Despite the media frenzy surrounding Peer’s reintroduction, Stacy Allaster, Scott’s successor insisted that ‘what happened last year is over and the chapter is most definitely closed’ and went on to say:

‘We will always stand by our insistence no host country can deny a player the right to compete at any event on the tour for which she has qualified by ranking. We took our stance by imposing the largest fine imposed in our history and requiring the tournament to put up a letter of credit for the prize money. We also insisted that any Israeli player would receive a visa well in advance of this year’s event. The tournament met all of those obligations and we are 100% happy with the way things have been.’

For Peer, who also suffered cruel jibes at the Australian Open, where anti-Israeli protestors held up placards of her in uniform with a Palestinian baby on her racket, the mental scars have clearly not healed. She revealed in an interview, ‘it hurt mentally and professionally, because I was playing very well. I was on a good run and I was ready for the tournament. It was a big tournament and I couldn’t go, so it really stopped my momentum. To be barred from a country is not a nice feeling. I think there’s no place for that in sport. I actually think that sport can make it better and help political situations, not make it worse.’

She also recently reflected before competing in this year’s event ‘it was a difficult time but sport should be outside of politics, so obviously I want to come and play here. We all need to be equal. I really wanted to win here, not only because of tennis, but because I want to make a statement that politics and sport should not be mixed.’

Can sport ever be truly separate from the political world climate? Can it, like Peer suggested, be a harmonizing force, making political situations better, rather than worse?

There have been numerous incidents across the sporting world where politics and sport have collided causing catastrophic effects, the most notorious being when terrorists attacked a bus carrying Sri Lanka’s cricket team in the Pakistani city of Lahore in 2009. It is a terrible shame that sport’s stars should sometimes live in fear of their lives while playing the sport they love, but unfortunately it is a reality that sport and politics will always be inextricably linked.

Melina Harris is a freelance sports writer, book editor, English tutor and PTR qualified tennis coach. For more information and contact details please visit and subscribe to her website and blog at http://www.thetenniswriter.wordpress.com and follow her twitter updates via http://www.twitter.com/thetenniswriter.   She is available for freelance writing, editing and one to one private teaching and coaching.  


Will a more balanced approach ensure success for youngster Melanie Oudin?

As I sat on the British table at the Professional Tennis Registry’s award ceremony last night at the Crowne Plaza, Hilton Head Island, we were informed that Brian de Villiers, coach of America’s new sweetheart, 18 year old Melanie Oudin could not accept his award for PTR Touring Coach of the Year due to his commitments in supporting his young protégé in France during her impressive run at the Open GDF Suez tournament in Paris, which came to an end after a gutsy semi final performance on Saturday against top seeded Elena Dementieva 4-6, 6-3, 6-3.

De Villiers had been awarded by the PTR for Oudin’s meteoric rise into America’s consciousness as their number three female player on the tour behind Serena and Venus Williams following her impressive run to the quarter finals at last year’s US Open, when she dispatched of Dementieva, Petrova and Sharapova no less. Her two victories over higher ranked players in the recent Fed Cup to give the United States a 4-1 win over France has not gone unnoticed by the American public desperate for someone to take over from the impressive Williams sisters, however the level headed star recently commented, ‘I know people are hoping I’m the next up-and-coming American but I don’t read any of that, the blogs, the press, what anyone says. I just focus on myself and I already have my own goals. That’s what I’m concentrating on.’

After the recent ‘burn outs’ of Rafael Nadal and Maria Sharapova in their early twenties with career threatening injuries, I began to wonder whether steps had been taken by De Villiers to ensure Oudin’s longevity in the game?

Unlike Sharapova, whose years of intensive training on the hard courts of the Nick Bollettieri  academy in Florida have caused the star to remodel her serve in order to recover from a recurrent shoulder injury and Nadal’s pounding on the Spanish clay as a junior causing widespread concern over his tendonitis, De Villiers has been careful not to overdo the training and instead has chosen to allow Oudin to also focus her attentions on academic pursuits. De Villiers is well known for encouraging his young players to keep a balanced perspective on and off court.  It has been documented that Oudin intends on studying for a medical degree in the future. Could this more balanced view be the key to her future success?

Indeed, the recent rise of American collegiate graduate John Isner to number 25 in the ATP world rankings has emphasized the idea that devoting too much time to tennis at a young age without consideration of a player’s personal and mental development outside of the game can be detrimental, while a more balanced approach to education can be more conducive to a lengthy and successful career.

The Williams sisters were notoriously held back from playing junior events by their father which could have been the predominating factor in their continued enthusiasm for the game, as well as their other pursuits such as Serena’s charity work and their fashion lines.

I think there has been a definite switch in opinion regarding the age at which players are expected to achieve success, confirmed by the notable come backs of Henin and Klijsters in their mid twenties following breaks from the game, when both players were allowed the time to shift their focus on personal development which has possibly given them an edge over their weary contemporaries such as Sharapova and Ivanovic whose years of focus and discipline have lead to mental and physical fatigue. Most players should be reaching their peak around the mid to late twenties mark, like the great Roger Federer, who many forget took 17 attempts at a Grand Slam title before winning one. However, in the past players have been written off as failures if they haven’t succeeded in their teens or early twenties, which with hindsight was ridiculous.

I really hope that young players such as Laura Robson and Melanie Oudin are given the time and space to develop at a more natural pace, with the inclusion of academic and social pursuits to ensure their love for the game, which can be lost like Andre Agassi admitted in his recent autobiography who went so far as to say he ‘hated’ the sport, but only began to truly love it aged 27 during his comeback which included several Grand Slam victories.

Number two seeded Melanie Oudin will face American qualifier Alexa Glatch in the first round of the Regions Morgan Keegan Championships in Memphis tomorrow. It will be interesting to see whether the level headed youngster, whose slogan ‘believe’ which she has emblazoned on her trainers and her coach’s balanced approach will create a fairy tale ending for her adoring American fans and become a future Grand Slam Champion.   

Melina Harris is a freelance sports writer, book editor, English tutor and PTR qualified tennis coach from London. For more information and contact details please visit and subscribe to her website and blog at http://www.thetenniswriter.wordpress.com and follow her twitter updates via http://www.twitter.com/thetenniswriter.   She is available for freelance writing, editing and one to one private teaching and coaching.  


Melina Harris analyses the link between sex appeal and success on court and asks whether the WTA’s appeal relies more on sex appeal than talent?

Hey guys, we’re suffering from yet another bitingly cold snap in London and I thought to myself as I sat down to write my column today; what topic in tennis could serve to warm me up? I couldn’t help but be magnetically drawn for some strange reason to Feliciano Lopez discussing his first ATP tour victory on YouTube while researching for inspiration and it lead me to thinking about the inextricable link between sex appeal, attractiveness and success on court. I began to ponder, being an individual sport, how much does your image affect your success on court? Does it give you a psychological advantage over your opponent? Is image everything, as the Nike slogan once suggested?  

Andre Agassi recently admitted in his autobiography ‘Open’ to wearing a hair piece during matches as ‘every morning (he) would wake up to find another piece of (his) identity on the pillow’. He revealed that the thought of losing his hair piece, which had mysteriously gone walkies off his infamous head during a shower on the morning of a French Open final and had to thus be pinned to his head, was of more importance than losing the actual match, which he did. The world pondered the technical reasons for his loss, when really it was the psychological fear of losing his sex appeal that caused his failure. Indeed, Agassi’s hair was part of his whole identity on and off court; he admitted with hindsight that the hair piece was a ‘chain’ holding him back and it wasn’t until Brooke Shields suggested he shave his head that he began to feel differently. Agassi’s hairpiece is undoubtedly symbolic of the huge impact of sex appeal on a player’s performance and earning potential.

Although Lopez dispelled the ‘looker’s curse’ by winning his first ATP tournament last week, scorcher, Anna Kournikova (one of the most searched for sports stars on the internet) was unable to prove her critics wrong by failing to ever win a WTA title, but she sure as hell helped raise the profile of women’s tennis and her earnings through endorsements must have softened the blow a little. In an interview for the Times in 2002, she seemed jaded by the constant questions regarding her super model looks. After a first round loss at Wimbledon (when all the press was concerned with was her outfit) she was famously rattled by a journalist asking ‘how hurtful is the perception that you are all style and no substance?’ and whether she should consider playing at a lower level. Reflecting on that experience she commented to the nervous journalist, ‘Hey, there is nothing I can do to change people’s minds. If they want to see me that way, they will. Sometimes, when I do great, it’s, ‘Oh, after all she can play’. Or ‘Finally she shows more than her looks’. I mean, please! I really don’t pay much attention to that. I have a million other things to worry about.’ Could that pressure and constant focus on her looks have hampered her career? Or was she simply not good enough? But more importantly, did the WTA care as millions of men tuned in and paid for tickets to watch the blonde bombshell bend over?

What particularly annoys me is how I doubt Lopez has ever been asked after yet another disappointing loss; do you think it’s due to your six pack and beautiful eyes? Does looking in the mirror put you off your game so much, that like Narcissus you are so entranced by your own beauty that without realising it, your opponent has passed you down the line? 

I doubt it very much and let’s be honest; I’d be researching until next winter to find such a quote! I found it intriguing how the WTA seemed to be more proud about three of their stars, Maria Kirilenko, Daniella Hantuchova and Tatiana Golovin appearing in swimsuits in Sports Illustrated last year than say the successes of the Williams sisters on court. Although the WTA didn’t actually organise the shoot, the day the issue was released the tour sent e-mails to the media about their appearance and posted the release on their website along with a scantily clad photo of the three players. CEO and Chairman Larry Scott commented, ‘We were proud of what happened with Sports Illustrated and our girls being in there…over time that has become a sought-after opportunity by a lot of celebrities and a lot of athletes. Making it into the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue is sort of a litmus test of your popularity.’ He even went so far as to say, ‘we had three players in there, not necessarily three of our biggest current stars, and it made an important statement about women’s tennis, and the popularity and the attractiveness of our athletes. From that perspective, we were proud of that and promoted it.’ Perhaps the girls’ charity work could have featured more highly Mr Scott?

What kind of image are the WTA promoting to aspiring young female players? Don’t worry; as long as you’re hot enough to appear in Sports Illustrated then we’ll be proud? It’s interesting that the players they chose to appear in the magazine have had nowhere near the success of say Venus Williams or Justine Henin on court. I wonder if Mr Scott personally chose Venus’s nude coloured knickers for the Australian Open for this year’s ‘proud moment’?

Perhaps they’d allow them to feature in the proposed Tennis World Cup but only on the condition that they play in their bikinis?

However, I doubt we’d all be upset if say Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal or Feliciano Lopez were to strip for Men’s Health magazine but I’d be very surprised if the ATP posted this on their website as the proudest moment of the men’s game.

Melina Harris is a freelance sports writer, book editor, English tutor and PTR qualified tennis coach from London. For more information and contact details please visit and subscribe to her website and blog at http://www.thetenniswriter.wordpress.com and follow her twitter updates via http://www.twitter.com/thetenniswriter.   She is available for freelance writing, editing and one to one private teaching and coaching.  


Just been promoted on Miami Tennis News website :)

I’ve just noticed a sudden influx of new readers thanks to a plug on http://www.miamitennisnews.com I’m really excited that people are starting to notice my writing and supporting what I do! I’m off to promote myself at the Professional Tennis Registry’s International Tennis Coaching Symposium at the Van Der Meer Academy in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina on Feb 11th and can’t wait to network with hundreds of tennis professionals from all over the world. I have just finished and ordered a new set of cute business cards to hand out with links to twitter, my blog, the tennisgrandstand website I write a column for and my facebook account! What happened to plain old calling?

The world has become a much smaller place with social media and a much more exciting prospect careerwise. Social media has allowed me to get my writing out to a far bigger audience than ever before and I would encourage anyone who has a talent to just go for it! 

I’ve also got my photo shoot this Thursday and am hoping to do a little bit of redesigning of the blog/website. I’m looking to add coaching videos, product demonstration and much much more in the coming weeks, so watch this space!!! 

Anyway, bye for now,

Melina xoxo


Negative press will halt the progress of Murray and Robson after both fall at the last hurdle in Melbourne

Hello everybody, welcome to my new weekly column for Tennis Grandstand, where I will be giving my thoughts on the tennis world surrounded by the inevitable warmth and sunshine of both the weather and the British press in England (well, now and again maybe during Wimbledon when Andy wins!).

I write these words on an unusually sunny morning in a coffee bar overlooking a serene and sparkling Ramsgate harbour in the garden of England, Kent, the location and inspiration for such literary greats as Charles Dickens, T.S Eliot and the master painter Turner. On Sunday, the British public held their breath and the world watched eagerly as two great artists walked onto the tennis world stage in the first Grand Slam final of the year in Melbourne, Australia.

Contesting his 22nd career Grand Slam singles final, world number one Roger Federer played the role of the old master, Turner, creating the final in exactly the way he wanted, wowing the crowds with his honed style and grace, while our British hopeful Andy Murray sprayed the court with touches of his potential brilliance like urban graffiti artist Banksy’s iconic and unmistakable political images on randomly selected walls across London.

However, like a Banksy original crudely painted over by a council worker, Murray’s brilliance was eclipsed and wiped out by the magestic beauty of Federer at his best. The 28 year old Swiss master dispatched of the young Scot in a closely contested straight set victory, 6-3, 6-4, 7-6(11) to land his 16th major title, leaving our gutsy boy choking back the tears in his post match interview (mirroring the feelings of our nation, impatient for an end to our ‘150 thousand’ (Federer) years of hurt) as he tried to sum up his performance in front of the Aussie crowd.  

I haven’t yet taken a look at the back pages of the numerous British newspapers for fear of reading phrases such as ‘Scottish choker’ and the ominous rhetorical question, ‘Is Murray yet another Henman?” For a majority of the British public who know very little about tennis, let alone the extreme lengths it takes to achieve Murray and Henman’s obvious greatness, they view what these players have achieved thus far as failure. I can’t count the number of times over the years I’ve heard conversations in pubs, restaurants and coffee bars about how Tim Henman was a ‘rubbish’ player, even though he was consistently amongst the top ten players in the world and Murray, now number three in the world, a sour and miserable Scottish loser whom they hated with a passion (his comments about not supporting the English football team will never be forgotten it seems).

 As a player myself, I know just how hard it is to progress through the ranks in British tennis and would like to take this opportunity to praise Tim and Andy for their hard work and determination in the face of such negative press (we are notorious as a nation in building sports stars up just for the pleasure in bringing them back down again). I would urge my international readers to just take a look at the recent John Terry debacle (our English football (soccer) captain, who previous to his extra marital affair was hailed as a hero who has now become the new hate figure in sport) let alone the David Beckham red card affair in the World Cup, where pictures of a replica figure of him hung from a tree engulfed in flames like something from the Salem Witchcraft trials was featured regularly in the press, when he had previously been hailed a national hero.

 Of course it would genuinely be fantastic for British tennis if Andy were to go on and win a Grand Slam title, especially at Wimbledon, however why can’t the British public celebrate his performance over the last two weeks and look positively to the future, with rising star Laura Robson posing the mouth watering potential of a female Grand Slam champion instead of always publicly pulling our sports stars to shreds in coffee shops, pubs and most lethally in the British press.

For instance, Robson, who unfortunately lost to Russian Karolina Pliskova in the girls singles final in Melbourne, couldn’t escape the damaging British press as she was criticized and labeled a moody teenage loser by a Times journalist, who commented  damagingly, ‘I saw a future champion on Saturday. I also saw a loser. I saw someone with exquisite talent and the temperament to go with it. I also saw a player who was error-prone and too flaky to live.  Of course, they were the same person. This was Laura Robson in the final of the junior girls’ singles at the Australian Open in Melbourne.’

I only hope that Laura takes the advice of Cheryl Cole (our nation’s pop star sweetheart and omnipresent judge of the X factor) and never ever buy a British newspaper or nonchalantly google herself, because all she will discover are a bunch of sad old journalists picking out the negatives, predicting failure and gloom; a recipe for disaster if the philosophy of ‘The Secret’ is to be believed, that positive thinking attracts positive results, whereas a whole nation of negative thinking will simply mean the continuation of the misery and failure so many Brits seem to revel in. Perhaps this is the point?

So Murray and Robson may have fallen at the final hurdle in Melbourne, but I urge the British public to stay positive, eradicate the negativity and maybe just maybe we might get the champions we so clearly deserve. To be honest, I think Fred Perry is more likely to rise from the dead and win Wimbledon this year than this actually becoming a reality, however I’m one hundred percent sure that Andy and Laura will make them eat their words by the end of the year and I cannot personally wait to applaud them in my new weekly column at tennis grandstand! Bring it on!

Melina Harris is a freelance sports writer, book editor, English tutor and PTR qualified tennis coach from London. For more information and contact details please visit and subscribe to her website and blog at http://www.thetenniswriter.wordpress.com and follow her twitter updates via http://www.twitter.com/thetenniswriter.   She is available for freelance writing, editing and one to one private teaching and coaching.