- Peter Bodo, Tennis
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Every once in a while, somebody doesn't just shoot himself in the foot with a ghastly comment or act -- he blows off an entire leg and maybe more.
Meet Rogers Cup (Montreal) tournament director Eugene Lapierre, marksman extraordinaire. It all started weeks ago, when Lapierre chose not to grant Ana Ivanovic's request for a wild card into the tournament, even though Ivanovic is a huge drawing card, a recent No. 1 and had generated a lot of buzz for Montreal when she won the event back in 2006.
Lapierre said he denied Ivanovic's request because he felt obliged to offer the card to a Canadian player. In this case, innocent bystander Stephanie Dubois, a 23-year-old fan of Celine Dion (who isn't in Quebec?) ranked No. 133 and without a single WTA singles or doubles tour level title to her name.
Ivanovic was disappointed, but she moved on. Not long thereafter, Lapierre told the Montreal Gazette that "[Ivanovic] has a lot of charisma. Everyone likes her. But the fact is that she hasn't demonstrated that she deserves a wild card."
That hurt Ivanovic, especially because it had nothing to do with the original (and only) reason Lapierre gave for denying Ivanovic. Lapierre might just as well have come out and said, "Ana stinks now, who wants to waste a wild card on her? Let's spare her feelings and come up with some cockamamie story about Canadian players."
Can you blame Ivanovic for feeling slighted?
And in a final twist that took the bizarre over the border to the absurd, Lapierre bounced back after all this and ... offered Ivanovic the wild card. It turns out that Dubois had secured her place as Canada's No. 2, so she had less to gain from the largesse of Lapierre. Ivanovic reacted predictably, basically saying, Take your wild card and shove it.
OK. I know the competition for wild cards can be fierce. And they are doled out at the discretion of the tournament director. You or I could be given one, and it would be nobody's business but our own, and the TD's. Generally, though, wild cards are offered to promising local juniors, players whose agents have extorted ... whoops ... negotiated for them with some good old-fashioned horse-trading, and marquee names coming back from injury or a hiatus. Sometimes they're given to players who have represented the sport well and could use a break.
Ivanovic is a former No. 1 who's been struggling. She's a former Grand Slam champion, much loved by the tennis public, and she has a history of loyalty to Montreal. Sure it's great to give a hard-working local player her Warhol-mandated 15 minutes, but when it comes to service rendered to the game and the potential to make an impact at a tournament, this one's a no-brainer.
But look on the bright side. The controversy seems to have set a fire under the much-remarked-upon tushie of Ivanovic. The other night, she won a brutal two-hour-plus war with an in-form Victoria Azarenka -- her best win in months.
Care to load another round, Mr. Lapierre? You've still got that other leg.