CW: This article discusses domestic abuse. Please refer to the end of the article for on- and off-campus resources. Please refer to thehoya.com for on-and-off-campus resources.
Despite facing an unresolved domestic abuse investigation, which has been all but forgotten by sports media outlets, current world No. 3 Alexander Zverev is dialed in on catching up to Novak Djokovic in the FedEx ATP rankings.
Zverev’s continued presence on the ATP Tour makes it clear that the organization and professional tennis in general are apathetic towards abuse allegations against pros. The sport’s governing bodies need to align disciplinary policies with one another in order to show a commitment to denouncing abuse.
The ATP Tour has yet to identify a course of action in handling the allegations of emotional and physical abuse levied against Zverev. The tennis world is growing impatient with the stagnation of the ongoing investigation, as it has been more than a year and a half since Olga Sharypova, Zverev’s former girlfriend, shared her story.
In a two-hour November 2020 interview with Ben Rothenberg, Sharypova opened up about the emotional and physical abuse she experienced in her second relationship with Zverev, which lasted 13 months.
“I was always blamed as the reason he competed badly, it was because of me,” Sharypova told Racquet. “I was the reason for all his losses.”
Before the 2021 U.S. Open, Zverev denied all of the accusations and filed a preliminary injunction in a German court against Rothenberg and Slate Magazine under the pretense of defamation and spreading false information. The court concluded that there was not enough substantial evidence to declare Zverev guilty.
The ATP acknowledged the severity of the allegations in a public statement and agreed to create a more structured domestic abuse policy. Its current policy simply mandates that ATP players avoid behaving in ways that could be perceived as unbecoming, which could include criminal charges or simply behaving in “a manner severely damaging to the reputation of the sport.”
The ATP has a history of getting involved after the conclusion of criminal proceedings, which can stretch on indefinitely. For example, in May 2020 former world No. 16 Nikoloz Basilashvili of Georgia was arrested on charges of domestic abuse. Due to the ongoing nature of the court case, the ATP has taken no action. In 2021, Basilashvili won two titles.
The structure of professional tennis makes uniform policies difficult. Not only does competition occur across different countries with varying laws, but seven independent organizations run the sport. Still, professional tennis has no excuse for its almost nonexistent domestic abuse policy, particularly when considering the resources and influence associated with the sport.
Now seven months into ATP’s so-called investigation, we have as much information as when we started. Other players and tournament bosses have mostly kept quiet about the controversy and in doing so are further damaging the sport’s reputation. During the 2021 Laver Cup, two years after Sharypova’s suicide attempt in Geneva during the same event in 2019, the exhibition event’s account blocked Twitter users who mentioned the allegations against Zverev.
World No. 1 Novak Djokovic expressed sympathy for Zverev in a concerning Tweet, placing the importance of Zverev’s tennis prowess at the forefront of the conversation and blatantly ignoring the severity of the allegations.
“Best wishes in what awaits you on and off the court,” Djokovic wrote in the Nov. 20, 2020 Tweet. “Stay strong.”
As reported by tennis journalist George Bellshaw, the locker room environment hasn’t changed for Zverev since the allegations.
“Other players? They’ve been fine to me,” Zverev told Bellshaw. “That won’t change, they know what’s going on.”
ATP players are brushing off the issue in a troubling one-sided consensus, treating Zverev as a victim. From the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), only former world No. 20 Daria Gavrilova expressed her support for Sharypova, while two other WTA players defended Zverev’s character. Ironically, this character didn’t come across as too charming when Zverev was suspended a few weeks ago in Acapulco for repeatedly smashing his racket against the chair umpire’s ladder.
At the risk of losing all respect, the sport perhaps most in need of reinvention is angering its viewers who will no longer tolerate discrimination and injustice. Much worse, tennis’ inaction actively harms survivors of abuse by dismissing their experiences in favor of upholding a false image of the sport’s glamor. The media, fans and players must demand the ATP conduct a thorough investigation of the allegations against Zverev and make a commitment to holding abusers accountable.
Robbie Werdiger is a sophomore in the College. Causing a Racquet appears online and in print every other week.
On-campus resources include Health Education Services (202-687-8949) and Counseling and Psychiatric Service (202-687-6985); additional off-campus resources include the D.C. Rape Crisis Center (202-333-7273) and the D.C. Forensic Nurse Examiner Washington Hospital Center (844-443-5732). If you or anyone you know would like to receive a sexual assault forensic examination or other medical care — including emergency contraception — call the Network for Victim Recovery of D.C. (202-742-1727). To report sexual misconduct, you can contact Georgetown’s Title IX coordinator (202-687-9183) or file an online report here. Emergency contraception is available at the CVS located at 1403 Wisconsin Ave NW and through H*yas for Choice. For more information, visit sexualassault.georgetown.edu.