Where do we even begin? The fact that Maria Sharapova, who failed a drugs test at Melbourne Park two years ago and served a 15-month ban for doping, was chosen to represent the sport by strutting out onto Rod Laver Arena with the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup? What about parts of the draw being embarrassingly revealed by fans and journalists inside the stadium a good 30 minutes before they were officially unveiled? The cringe-worthy mispronunciation of names and blatant mistakes by the hosts and former players as they discussed the draw? Or the painstakingly exorbitant amount of time (complete with pointless and mundane analysis of select players that fans already know about) it actually took for the draw to be broadcast?
I have no hesitation in declaring that was the worst draw ceremony I’ve ever sat through. Let’s start with Sharapova. I totally get that the Australian Open has a long-running tradition of former champions helping with the draw, and that only two previous winners are in the women’s draw - and Angelique Kerber is still playing in Sydney, leaving Sharapova as the only choice. That much can be acknowledged. But is granting the honour to a player who is a convicted doper - who tested positive at this very venue at Melbourne Park two years ago - really worth upholding tradition for in favour of say the No. 1 or No. 2 seeds Simona Halep and Caroline Wozniacki, who are both in Melbourne and would have been available?
Tennis for too long has turned a blind eye to anti-doping issues and this was another blatant attempt of completely ignoring a serious stain on the sport and casually tip-toeing past the fact that we were in the presence of a doping offender. Hell, most casual fans probably don’t even know or have forgotten that Sharapova tested positive for a banned substance - and that’s exactly the way tennis wants it, swept under the rug and never to be mentioned again.
Channel 7 interviewer Hamish McLachlan certainly did his best to adhere to the aforementioned protocol, repeatedly referring to Sharapova’s drugs suspension as a “time out”, while the Russian herself described her 15-month absence from the sport as a “period of time”.
“What benefited you the most during your time out, the mind or the body” McLachlan asked Sharapova.
Sharapova then responded with the following:
“I took a couple of months off of not training and not playing, which for me was just so unreal because since the age of four that’s really all I did.
“I think the maximum of time that I would take off, apart from having shoulder surgery a few years back, was maybe just a couple of weeks at a time.
“So maybe, having that period of time, just for my mind, I was able to do other things in my life and study. I was able to do some internships and what may people would say was a normal life, which I’ve never actually gotten to experience so to have that — even though it wasn’t in the way that I wanted it to — it did bring a lot of normalcy into my life and to be able to share things and holidays and to actually be there with my friends and family.
“Those are things I miss when I’m on the tour for 10 months out of the year.”
The end-product of that exchange is Sharapova trying to obtain sympathy from viewers because she finally got to live a ‘normal life’ as a result of her drugs ban. What message does this send? No worries if you are suspended for doping, just take a short break, complete a few internships and before you know it the red carpet will be rolled out everywhere you go and you will received unlimited wildcards back into the sport and eventually act as the face and sole representative of your field at a Grand Slam draw ceremony? It’s so wrong and embarrassing, but sadly not surprising in the slightest. If you’re a big enough superstar who generates substantial revenue and interest, you will be welcomed back with open arms in tennis. If you’re a ‘small fish’ with no real star-power or luring value, you will be buried for the rest of your career and never seen again. Money talks and this is unfortunately the world we live in.
Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley did his best to justify the decision.
“In fairness to Maria, the adjudication (on a 15-month ban) has occurred on that. She’s a former champion at the Australian Open, 10 years ago,” he said.
“Like it’s the 30-year anniversary of this great Melbourne Park, and Billie Jean King arrived this morning. It is [50 years] since she won. Maria deserved the opportunity.”
Now, onto the fashion the draw was conducted.
I’m not a fan of this method at all. There’s absolutely no excitement whatsoever in a big screen all of a sudden throwing an entire quarter of names right in your face. Where’s the anticipation? And I’m certainly not saying anything dodgy is happening, but it’s not the best look when organisers already know the draw before the public. We want to see the names being drawn as it happens live.
The draw already being conducted also directly led to another embarrassing moment for tournament officials. A fan account on Twitter was literally revealing parts of the draw 30 minutes before it was unveiled to everyone in the stadium, taking photos of a monitor in front of Craig Tiley that was displaying names and sections and posting it to social media, tagging journalists so it quickly reached the newsfeed of every tennis fan on Twitter within seconds.
While Hamish McLachlan, Todd Woodbridge and co bored everyone to death with their half-hearted analysis and build-up and teased that the Australian Open draws ‘were not far away’ after going to countless ad-breaks, every tennis fan on Twitter already knew who the majority of big names were playing in the first round and who was in each section.
And this may not sound like a big deal, but it’s yet another example of lead broadcasters not really knowing their tennis, with McLachlan messing up the pronunciation of American player Tim Smyczek on multiple occasions, while Woodbridge - who has no excuses - declared that David Ferrer had never made a Grand Slam final, when he obviously made that stage at the French Open in 2013.
By the time both the men’s and women’s draws were fully (or officially) revealed, it was almost 8.00pm local time - an hour after the ceremony commenced. And this was with pre-determined draws. It literally could have been done in less than 10 minutes. With a sport that is now seemingly intent on promoting shorter and faster brands of tennis (Fast4, Tiebreak Tens, increased discussion of eliminating best of five sets), organisers and officials sure had no problem in indulging themselves for well over an hour in order to extend the broadcast as long as possible, ensuring more TV time and thus more money. The 2018 Australian Open draw was a complete farce, an embarrassment to everyone involved and we can only pray that they’ve learned from their mistakes so this doesn’t happen again in the future.
I have to wholeheartedly agree with the person that wrote this article. Sharapova should not have been there.
I'm also disappointed that the Australian Open decided not to rename Margaret Court Arena.
Naming a place carries with it a certain honor, that Court clearly doesn't deserve. Yes she may deserve it on the sport achievement level as per the Australian Open's argument.
But that honor extends beyond individual achievement of said sport, it includes being an example of respect on and off the court.
And she has clearly shown the opposite of that. So I hope the organizers wise up, and change it in the near future.