WTA chief Steve Simon found the battle of celebrity versus sportmanship flattering: even the best players get caught up in the idea that what goes on between the lines is very special. “If you look at the heat of the moment when you’re making a lot of zeroes, it’s exciting,” Simon told The Huffington Post at the LG Open in Cincinnati. “No matter what you do, you’re in the limelight. Whether you’re on the court or your camera is running, it’s great.”
When Peng Shuai was upset in the semifinals at the Rogers Cup last week, she left the court and grabbed her racquet before returning to the middle of the match. She led 1-2 in the second set.
“You see [the WTA] announce P. Shuai’s actions immediately, but I wish she would have announced them moments earlier,” Simon said. “She doesn’t always win. It seems like that moment is a defining moment for her in the tournament, but that’s not always the case. And that’s why I do think as a game we need to always be careful because no matter what we do, we do get caught up in the moment.”
The WTA fined Peng Shuai $10,000 — but Simon doesn’t consider it just a fine. “We thought $10,000 was a fair response,” he said. “I think once you look at the tennis history of the game and you look at the evolution of the game, the game doesn’t take sides. We don’t look at stars. We don’t look at players. We don’t look at champions. We look at the sport of tennis.”
Simon said he gets requests for comments from Peng Shuai about the incident.
“She has been supportive,” Simon said. “She didn’t play the match exactly the way I wanted her to, but she’s very gracious. So has the player after she lost. So has the tournament director. She has been gracious about what happened. If you’ve seen her on TV, she’s very pleasant and she’s very fun and nice.”
Despite Peng Shuai’s appreciation of Simon’s criticism, Simon says the WTA doesn’t normally target players for verbal abuse. Simon, who in April was appointed to replace Larry Scott as the head of the WTA, previously worked in the MLB. In baseball, players would bicker over their opponents, or about their performance. “In any competitive sport, there are times and there are people that can make a splash, but we’re not looking to do that,” Simon said. “We’re always looking for a tennis moment, not a verbal moment.”
Simon, who is credited with turning the WTA’s fortunes around in recent years, says he’s not in a rush to further increase pay for tennis players. “I don’t think we should expect certain players to get a market share of the personal appearance money,” he said. “That doesn’t work in any professional sports. So we need to look at other ways to find revenue to give our players.”
Watch the full interview here.