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There's Thanksgiving, and there's the thing that happens right before it: the turkey shoot. I'm thankful for a lot of things in tennis, but today I'm going in the opposite direction. It's time to recall five things I could have lived without in 2012.
The equal-pay debate: This retrograde argument seemingly had been settled at the majors until Gilles Simon raised it again in his first interview after being elected to the ATP Player Council. The Frenchman said that because the men play more sets at the Slams, they should be paid more. Let's put aside the fact that tennis players aren't paid by the set or by the hour; they're paid to win matches. The point is, if you want to make a case for why the men should get raises, you can do better than saying that the women, your co-workers and co-talents, should get less than you no matter what. Simon's position seemed to evolve over time, but it was picked up by others and became a theme of the season.
Ion Tiriac: My first reaction to his blue clay in Madrid was negative. It looked like just another hard court to me as well as a sponsor-driven gimmick foisted on the game by a hubristic maverick. But I came around to the blue look, and I wouldn't mind seeing it again, as long as it was done correctly. And that, in the end, was the problem. Tiriac the visionary didn't dot his I's and cross his T's -- he didn't make sure the surface was up to professional standards, so he has to go back to red like everyone else. Now blue seems less like a gimmick and more like an opportunity, at least for the moment, lost.
IMG: In the latest example of the conflicts that have always ensnarled tennis and kept it running in circles, IMG, the game's longtime corporate overlord, was reportedly behind the ATP's veto of a proposed prize-money increase at Indian Wells. IMG, of course, owns the rival tournament to Indian Wells, the Sony Open in Key Biscayne. Just when the players' new unity was producing results, and more money from the majors, the sport reverted to its old conflicted form.
The USTA and Taylor Townsend: The USTA told Townsend, the world's top junior at 16, that she needed to get fitter if she wanted the organization to pay for her trip to the U.S. Open. The story got too -- pardon the pun -- big too fast and became something in the public eye that it probably wasn't originally: a body-type issue. Townsend herself admitted that she needed to improve her conditioning. Still, the USTA denying funding for a young, already-accomplished African-American tennis prospect was a PR nightmare.
The shriekers: This was the year that the WTA finally came down on what can euphemistically be called "grunting" among its players -- in the future, that is. The tour claimed it could do nothing about today's noisemakers, but that it would work on taming the tongues of the next generation. This was welcome news to noted Decibelles Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova, who compared trying to moderate her shriek to trying to change her grip in the middle of her career. Which might make sense if any of the grunters practiced with different grip than the ones they use in matches. Because if you've ever seen them on a practice court, you know that they can hit their screaming groundstrokes quite well in silence.