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Allegations against Zverev should be ATP’s abuse policy wake-up call
It would be in the interests of everyone in this dual-gender sport, including its male players, not to continue to lag behind other leagues when it comes to reacting to abuse allegations.
November 06, 2020
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Alexander Zverev beat Stan Wawrinka, 6-3, 7-6 (1), in the quarterfinals of the Paris Masters in Bercy on Friday. It was his 11th straight victory with new coach David Ferrer, and it set him up for a high-profile semifinal against Rafael Nadal on Saturday.
Left unsaid in that good on-court news, yet hanging in the air in Bercy nonetheless, is what has been happening with Zverev away from the court over the last few weeks. He recently found out that his ex-girlfriend Brenda Patea is pregnant with his child. And he has been accused by another ex, Olga Sharypova (familiarly known as Olya), of physically and emotionally abusing her during their 13-month relationship in 2018 and 2019
The accusations, which Zverev has denied, are serious. In a detailed article that appeared in Racquet Magazine yesterday, Sharypova told Ben Rothenberg that Zverev hit her head into a wall on one occasion; “took a pillow, and then sat on my face,” causing her to struggle to breathe, at the 2019 US Open; and punched her during a fight in Geneva. “It’s really hard to talk about this,” Sharypova told Rothenberg, “because it really was a hell.” In the case of the US Open incident, she has supporting accounts from friends, and contemporaneous text messages.
“I very much regret that she makes such statements,” Zverev responded in an Instagram post. “Because the accusations are simply not true.”
Sharypova says she doesn’t want to press criminal or civil charges; she wants “the truth,” and to help others in similar situations. For now, that leaves many of us not knowing what to think about an athlete we watch virtually every week of the season, and whose profile is sure to rise further in the near future. The next logical step would seem to be for the ATP to open an investigation, the way that U.S. sports leagues like the NBA or NFL do when one of their players faces similar allegations.
But as Jon Wertheim pointed out in his Mailbag column for Sports Illustrated this week, the ATP doesn’t have a collectively bargained agreement concerning domestic-violence policies and protocols, as those leagues do. In May, Nikoloz Basilashvili was charged and released on bail in a domestic-violence case involving his ex-wife, but he returned to the tour in New York this summer after the lockdowns, and before his October court date. (Basilashvili has denied the accusations.)
An ATP spokesperson did point Rothenberg to a codicil in the tour rulebook that states that players have an obligation “to refrain from engaging in conduct contrary to the integrity of the game of tennis.” Wertheim believes an investigation by the ATP is merited.
“In a “read-the-room” kind of way,” he writes, “do you really want to ignore an alleged act of domestic violence, committed (allegedly) by a top player…during a tournament…in a tournament hotel?”
To put it another way, does the ATP want to meet these accusations with silence? The situation should be a wake-up call for the tour that it needs to put in place a set of policies covering abuse cases. It would be in the interests of everyone in this dual-gender sport, including its male players, not to continue to lag behind other leagues when it comes to reacting to abuse allegations; they may happen less frequently in tennis, but we’ve seen two cases among players in the Top 30 in 2020. If Zverev is innocent, as he says, an investigation might help him clear his name, or at the very least give his side of the story.
On court, Zverev seems to have blocked out the swirl of news surrounding him. He has found success with Ferrer immediately. He has followed his runner-up finish at the Open with two titles in Cologne, and he looks set to give Nadal a challenge in the semis in Bercy on Saturday. Which is all the more reason for the ATP not to let the silence that’s currently surrounding him become deafening.