“I can’t wait to become a father”: Viktor Troicki on Family Life

When I sat down with Viktor Troicki in Indian Wells, he had already lost in the singles competition.  But he and Djoković were still alive in the doubles draw, so we had plenty to discuss, including the upcoming Davis Cup tie with Spain and Serbia’s fresh start under playing captain Nenad Zimonjić.

It was also the first time I’d seen the Serbian #2 since he and model-actress Aleksandra Djordjević wed in his hometown, Belgrade.  So, I was especially curious to hear how Troicki is viewing the new chapter in front of him.

AM: You’re expecting your first child, which will be a new experience for you as both a person and a professional.  How challenging do you think balancing your family life and work is going to be?

VT: Luckily, I found the best woman in the world who understands everything and helps me in everything.  Above all, I think I made the right choice—in terms of both a wife and a mother for my child.  She won’t be doing it all herself, of course, but she understands that I’m often traveling to play tournaments and she’ll be the one spending most of the time with the baby, especially in the beginning.

She’ll have as much support as she needs from both my parents in Belgrade and hers in Paraćin [central Serbia]—and I’ll do my best, whenever I’m with them, to help as much as I can.  I’m truly overjoyed about it.  Being a parent is something that everyone looks forward to: it’s sacred, the biggest thing that can happen to a person.  I can’t wait to become a father.

AM: When is the baby due?

VT: Soon—in a few months.

AM: Do you think you’ll take an extended break?

VT: I doubt it.  It’ll probably be between Roland Garros and Wimbledon and the tournaments on grass suit me.  So, I’ll of course come to see my wife and baby when it all happens, but I won’t be able to stay for long.

AM: Novak, Nenad, & Janko all have kids.  Have you talked to them about family life on tour?  Will yours travel with you?

VT: Not at first, while the baby’s small.  Definitely not for the first six months—there’s no need to torment them like that!  But later, when the baby gets bigger and stronger, of course they’ll come with me.

AM: Do you have a list of names?

VT: Yes, but…

AM: No, I didn’t mean to suggest that you tell me—I’m just asking to see how prepared you are!  In any case, your wife has already traveled with you quite a bit, right?

Salt Bae nam posolio bebicu 😀🐂🍽🤰🏻😍 #saltbae #nusret

A post shared by Aleksandra Troicki (@aleksandratroicki) on

VT: Yes, all over—even to Asia.  She said she wanted to see everything once, to find out what she likes.  So, now that she knows, she’ll pick and choose among those places.

AM: Is she still working?

VT: Not right now.  Lately, she’s dedicated herself to me and to our life together.  But she plans to return to work when the child grows up a bit and she has more time for herself.

AM: You were an only child.  Did you like that?

VT: Well, I didn’t know any other way.  But I’d like to have more.

Lesson 2: Admit There Are Things You Don’t Know

“Well, I am certainly wiser than this man.  It is only too likely that neither of us has any knowledge to boast of; but he thinks that he knows something which he does not know, whereas I am quite conscious of my ignorance.  At any rate, it seems that I am wiser than he is to this small extent, that I do not think that I know what I do not know.”                                                                                  —Plato, Apology

Rest assured: recognizing the existence of uncertainty or confessing to lack knowledge on a given subject doesn’t make one’s position any weaker.  One could do worse, after all, than take the lead from Socrates, who posited that awareness of one’s ignorance is a step along the path of learning.

In that spirit, here’s some stuff I don’t know:
●    What actually happened that day: what the relevant parties said, thought, felt, or did (beyond what is represented in the IADT & CAS reports).
●    If Viktor Troicki has ever used PEDs or was doping in April 2013.  (Some will argue that this is the only thing that matters & since Troicki didn’t submit blood for testing that day, he himself forestalled further discussion of the case.  Obviously, I disagree with that position.)
●    Whether Troicki &/or the DCO deliberately misrepresented anything (to anyone) on the days in question or in their subsequent testimony.
●    Anything about the DCO involved other than what’s contained in (and can be deduced from) the two decisions.
●    What was in the written statements submitted on behalf of the parties or the oral testimony of witnesses at either hearing, unless it was quoted in the case summaries.
●    What I would have done in the position of any of those concerned.
●    Many, many other things—for instance, what’s in appendices two, three, five, or six of this rather lengthy TADP document.

However, since the end of last July, when Troicki’s suspension was first announced, I’ve filled in a few gaps in my knowledge.  At this point, I should probably note that while my blog’s name is a reference to Lucy van Pelt’s sideline offering psychiatric advice, I am neither a medical doctor nor a psychologist.  Luckily, one doesn’t have to be a board-certified MD or a licensed mental-health provider to enter the phrase “needle phobia” into an internet search engine.  Here’s what I learned in a matter of minutes, thanks to Google.

●    “Needle phobia” is the common name for a specific phobia of the “blood-injection-injury” type.  Specialists estimate that between 4-10% of the population suffer from it.
●    A specific phobia—called that because it is an “unwarranted fear of specific objects or situations”—is, in turn, a subset of the broader category anxiety disorder.  As probably goes without saying, both the specific blood-injection-injury phobia and anxiety disorders are medically-recognized conditions, the criteria for which are outlined in professional guides such as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
●    Blood-injection-injury phobias (BIP) are marked by “a strong, persistent fear that is excessive or unreasonable,” and can be triggered by not only a present object (e.g., a needle) but also an expected procedure.  Whatever the specific stimulus, the response is anxiety, with physical discomfort and distress that can be severe—that is, a panic attack &/or loss of consciousness.  According to one clinician’s guide, “A person who must face one of these feared activities or objects will immediately begin to feel nervous or panicky, a condition known as anticipatory anxiety…. When it causes a patient to avoid feared situations, anticipatory anxiety can be a major inconvenience; it can even interfere with working” (259).  That the person may be aware his/her fear is “out of proportion to the actual danger or threat in the situation” doesn’t mean he/she has the power to control his/her response to it (6).
●    The condition—aspects of which can be genetically inherited, as well as learned—is a “neglected diagnosis,” in part because people who suffer from it “typically avoid medical care.”
●    Physiological symptoms associated with BIP include: sweat, muscle tension, trembling, heart palpitations, numbness, nausea, dizziness, lightheadedness, pallor, and difficulty breathing.  (While I consulted more authoritative sources than Wikipedia, much of the essential information is on that site.)
●    Significantly, BIP is also the only variety of specific phobia associated with vasovagal response, a type of neuro-cardiac episode involving decreased heart rate &/or blood pressure which can result in fainting.  Even if he/she doesn’t faint, a person suffering from a vasovagal episode “may experience an almost indescribable sensation of weakness or impending doom” (9).
●    As scientific studies have observed, BIPs “can be so severe that they interfere with receiving necessary medical care.”  Also, unlike patients with other kinds of phobia, those who suffer from BIP “are typically less responsive to relaxation techniques, which in fact may be counterproductive.”
●    Because BIP can cause fainting, falls, & associated trauma, it’s important that those drawing blood from a needle-phobic patient be aware of the condition and have ready assistance.

With this information at hand, let’s return to Pete Bodo’s assessment: “Personally, I have some trouble buying the idea that a strapping, 6’3” professional athlete in the full bloom of health is so squeamish that he can’t give blood.”  In concluding his post, Bodo observes, “The reality is that not you, not I, not even the great former No. 1 and six-time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic, really knows the truth about how and why Troicki decided to skip that blood test.”  He’s not entirely wrong, is he?  We don’t know the whole truth: after all, none of us were in the room or, more importantly, in Troicki’s body that day.  But here are a few things someone even minimally curious about blood-injection-injury phobia does know: that it’s not about being “squeamish” (consider both the imprecision and connotation of that word choice, if you will); that one of the three basic criteria of the condition is avoiding needle procedures altogether or, when unavoidable, enduring them with considerable distress; and that, yes, a professional athlete—whether “strapping” or not—can suffer from it.  That’s the thing about such medical disorders, which (in Troicki’s and some 75% of needle-phobes’ cases) have both inherited physiological and learned psychological components: they don’t discriminate.  And they don’t cease to exist or cause real difficulty in people’s personal and professional lives because some unaffected others are resistant to “buying the idea.”

While Bodo is certainly not the only tennis expert to establish himself as something less than that when it comes to needle phobia, his invocation of Troicki’s size, strength, and line of work in expressing his skepticism does considerably more harm than others’ inaccuracy or silence on the subject.  For starters, Bodo is among the most accomplished and respected of anglophone tennis writers; so, his word carries more weight than it might if he had a lesser reputation or smaller platform.  Next, he perpetuates ignorance and incuriosity about a mental-health condition by displaying his own—if not proudly, then certainly without hint of self-consciousness.  Further, he reinforces the stigma associated with the condition by implying it’s a kind of weakness.  (Although Bodo didn’t go the extra step of telling the Serb to “toughen up,” plenty of others suggested precisely this as a solution; one example is in the first reader question to which Tignor responds here.)  Not merely privately doubting but publicly questioning if Troicki—neither a tennis aesthete nor one of the WTA’s “tear-stained drama queens” but, let’s face it, a manly man—really suffers from an occasionally debilitating anxiety disorder speaks volumes about Bodo’s assumptions about physical ability, gender, mental health, and the relationship between them.  More than that, it speaks to the freedom people feel to judge and dismiss things they don’t understand.

This sort of attitude wouldn’t be so troubling if it weren’t so common.  That it is, unfortunately, so can be seen in many pop-cultural spheres, though sports appears to be lagging behind other parts of the entertainment industry when it comes to mental-health awareness.  Not incidentally, one of the best pieces of sports writing I read last year is “Man Up,” an essay Brian Phillips wrote on masculinity and mental health in response to a bullying scandal in the National Football League.  Tennis is not the NFL, and the mere fact that the former is an international, individual sport in which women and men compete alongside one another—on the same courts and, often, for equal prize money—means that there is more awareness of and sensitivity to difference than there might otherwise be.  But, as I’ll discuss in the next lesson, tennis is hardly ahead of the athletic pack when it comes to tackling mental-health issues among its ranks.

That Viktor Troicki suffers from a needle phobia—as opposed to being a person who simply “doesn’t like giving blood” or “didn’t want to provide a sample that day for his own personal reasons,” per Richard Ings’ characterizations—is abundantly clear from the IADT summary.  And if one doesn’t want to take Troicki’s word for it that “the giving of blood is something that he faces with trepidation and that induces feelings of panic,” that he has fainted during the procedure in the past, and “that he feels unwell for the rest of the day after” the process, there’s the testimony of Professor Slobodanka Djukić.  A specialist in microbiology and immunology who has treated Troicki in Belgrade, Professor Djukić confirmed that he “reported dizziness with vertigo, nausea and chest pain following the taking of blood samples” (B9I).  We might know even more about his condition had the IADT or CAS quoted from the statement the FFT’s Dr. Bernard Montalvan submitted on Troicki’s behalf.

Since neither the original decision nor the appeal went into much detail about how Troicki has responded to previous needle procedures as an ITF athlete undergoing required anti-doping tests or a human being seeking routine medical care, I decided to look into it myself.  Taking a bit more time than in my initial Google search, I gathered the following information about the condition.

●    Blood-injection-injury phobia—in part because it was only added to the DSM in 1994 and in part because people wrongly assume it’s “a simple issue”—is poorly understood and often dismissed, even by health-care professionals.  Still, as this clinical psychologist notes, “Good management of needle phobia can literally save lives.”
●    One of the challenges of researching BIP is that “the physical body is studied ‘in pieces’ in a number of different disciplines…. This is very apparent when reviewing the quantitative literature in and around needle phobia.  Classification as a specific phobia places needle phobia within the realm of psychology and psychiatry… and yet this is a fear that is accompanied by wide ranging physiological responses” (21).  In other words, while BIP isn’t “all in your head,” it is often regarded as the exclusive concern of proverbial “head-shrinkers.”  Several of the pieces I read indicated that needle-phobes are actually (even if not consciously) afraid of vasovagal syncope, not needles or blood—that is, of their body’s response, not the procedure in question.
●    Though many who suffer from BIP simply try to avoid triggering stimuli (e.g., by staying away from doctor’s offices), the condition can also be managed through alternative injection methods; with medication, from topical anesthetics & anti-anxiety drugs to sedation; and in therapy, particularly of the cognitive-behavioral variety.  Matthews notes that stories about treatment suggest “therapy, at best, needs to be highly individualized and is both very time consuming, expensive, and has variable success” (13).
●    Specific tips for managing phobias can be found here.  It bears repeating that trying to get someone who is needle-phobic to relax may well be the wrong thing to do, as it can actually increase the possibility of fainting.
●    A cognitive-behavioral psychologist I consulted recommended this title from the self-help aisle (and I can attest it makes perfectly decent airplane reading): Overcoming Medical Phobias: How to Conquer Fear of Blood, Needles, Doctors, and Dentists.
●    Unfortunately, “doctors, nurses, and other people tasked with administering vaccinations and drawing blood are not typically properly educated about needle phobia.  They’re accustomed to patients who dislike needles and may reassure them with promises that the puncture won’t hurt or will only take a minute.  But with a true needle phobic, these reassurances don’t work.”
●    As I wish went without saying, “the behaviour, skill and care afforded by health practitioners makes a significant difference in both preventing the development of needle phobia in children… and in lessening the phobic response and reported fear of adults” (13).  Chapter six of Matthews’ study offers recommendations for clinical practice, “in terms of [both] caring for patients with needle phobia and supporting and assisting nurses to provide expert technical and pathic care” (96).  Perhaps someone who works for the ITF &/or IDTM should read it.
●    Some evidence to support the claim that everything’s on YouTube: video tips for medical professionals who deal with patients’ fear of needles during the phlebotomy process.  Of course, not all such fears meet the diagnostic criteria for BIP.
●    Last, but not least, more needle-free procedures may soon be in our future.

What I take away from all of this is that there was nothing in the least unusual about Troicki’s seeking to avoid a needle procedure on that April day—or, for that matter, on any other.  Ings is no doubt correct when he observes, “seeking a pass that day was not necessary.”  At the same time, a statement like this fails to take the nature of the phobia into account.  Although it may not have been medically necessary “to skip it this time,” it clearly felt necessary to Troicki; in his words, he was “not able” to give blood (3.15C).  People with untreated BIP never want to give blood; they’d always prefer to bypass needle procedures—such is the condition.  In a case like this, where occasional blood testing is one of his professional obligations, Troicki has to cope with his condition better than he did that day.  This might be easier for him to do if he sought treatment (for all I know, he has done so over the past year).  In all likelihood, his condition would also be easier to manage if Viktor felt confident that the BCOs with whom he interacts on the job had been trained to deal with the challenges to the routine process someone like him poses.

There are so many “what if…?” questions we could ask about how the circumstances and outcome of that encounter might have been different.  What if Troicki had only been selected to give a urine sample that day?  What if he weren’t already feeling physically ill?  What if he’d encountered a DCO less inclined to be sympathetic and accommodating (this is not my view but, rather, how both Troicki and the CAS interpreted her behavior; see 9.12-14 and 9.28C) and more inclined to speak in authoritative, unequivocal terms about the seriousness of the situation?  I’m sure anyone reading this can think of other such questions.  The hypothetical question I think is most important (because it has implications far greater than Troicki’s one-year suspension) is this: what if the ITF recognized that needle phobia is a psychological disability that needs to be accommodated—for example, by modifying sample-collection procedures, as the International Standard for Testing, adopted by WADA signatories, allows for other forms of disability (see Appendix Four, section 5.4 and Annex B)?  I’ll return to the issue of disability in sports in lesson 4.

As I said at the outset, I don’t blame the DCO for not having been better prepared to handle the predicament last April.  It’s not her fault that “this was the first time [in 15 years of anti-doping work] that [she] found herself in the precise situation which she faced with Mr Troicki” (29aI).  (For that matter, we don’t even know if “the precise situation” refers to dealing with a player who’s requesting to get out of or delay giving a sample, dealing with a needle-phobic player, or both.)  Going forward, however, I will blame the ITF if they do little to learn from what transpired that day.  That writers weighing in on the subject, or other players and fans opining on it, could also stand to learn a bit more is fairly obvious from responses to Troicki’s case.  But the stakes of their not knowing relevant things—and, in many cases, seeming not to be aware they don’t know—are much lower.  Regardless, all those responding, whether formally or informally, would benefit from practicing empathy, the focus of lesson 3.  (Return to the discussion overview here.)

Davis Cup Diaries

The Davis Cup semifinal between Serbia and Argentina in September 2011 was the first sporting event I attended with credentials allowing behind-the-scenes access.  Knowing Serbia as I do, I suspected their tennis federation’s communications representative wouldn’t care that I wasn’t a journalist but an academic visiting to do research for a project conceived just over a month before.  At the time, I thought it was a one-off: a fun way to pass the time during a short stint between teaching jobs.  Little did I know that this was the beginning of an adventure lasting two years (and counting) and taking me to tournaments across the US and in three other countries.

Most people reading this won’t need a reminder of the kind of 2011 Novak Djoković was having.  (If you’d like to refresh your memory, Brian Phillips’ pieces about the final two matches of the Serb’s US Open run or Jon Wertheim’s nomination of him for SI’s Sportsman of the Year are good ways to do so.)  He returned home, just days after winning his third Slam of the season, with an almost unthinkable 64-2 record.  Though much has been written about his year, two things that sometimes get overlooked in reviews of his accomplishments are the fact that Novak wasn’t in great shape when he arrived in Belgrade and would be in even worse condition by the end of the Davis Cup weekend.  During the US Open final against Nadal, he received treatment on his back and was clearly hobbled in the fourth set, serving at well below his average speeds.  Add to this the mental fatigue of a long year and the physical exhaustion of jet lag (never mind the whirlwind media tour that preceded his flight from New York), and it makes sense that Djoković didn’t play in the first singles match of the tie.

But with his team down 1-2 entering the third day of competition, Nole opted to enter the fray.  It was a no-win situation.  On the one hand, he had to play—both because his team, the defending champions, would almost certainly lose otherwise and because his home fans expected it.  On the other hand, he couldn’t really play—he simply wasn’t physically fit enough for a five-set match against one of the best players in the world.  Despite this, he put up a brave fight in the first set, eventually losing to Juan Martin del Potro in a tiebreaker.  While it was obvious to anyone watching closely that he wasn’t 100%, no one expected him to fall to the ground three games into the second set.  Given that the DJ opted to play Goran Bregović’s rousing “Kalašnjikov” at that moment, I’m confident I wasn’t the only one in the Belgrade Arena who had no idea what had happened—perhaps, I thought, he’d merely lost his footing and would bounce back after being evaluated.

Despite the warning signs (grimaces and awkward stretches during the first set and a medical time-out before the second), Djoković’s retirement was still somehow a surprise.  In his press conference after the final rubber, Janko Tipsarević noted that while he was disappointed by the loss, he had a “full heart” due to the risk his teammate had taken for them.  Only later, when Novak missed six weeks of play with a torn rib muscle, was the extent of his sacrifice clear.  Although he returned for the last three events of 2011, one could say that Djoković’s season really ended there, with thousands of his compatriots looking on in shock and sorrow as he was helped off court, towel over his head.

***

I’ve been back to Belgrade twice since that fall: for the Serbia Open in 2012 and the Davis Cup semifinal in 2013.  Because the project I’m working on aims to explain something about Serbia itself (not just Serbian tennis) to non-natives, I tried to capture a bit of the city’s scenery during my frequent walks downtown.  First-time visitors to Belgrade will get a history lesson by observing the architecture.  The mix of styles and degrees of dilapidation make it fairly easy to identify different periods: from Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian influences to the more decadent designs of the turn of the twentieth century, from the massive slabs of Communist-era concrete to postmodern structures of glass and steel (either from the 1980s or the first decade of the new millennium).  While many buildings of historic significance have been refurbished, plenty of evidence of both war and economic hardship remains.

Marked on the above map are the primary locations of the photos that follow: the temple of St. Sava (near my home-base in the Vračar district), the Arena (across the river in “New Belgrade”), Tennis Center Novak (venue for the now-defunct Serbia Open), Kalemegdan fortress, and Republic Square (the heart of the old city).  Since buildings, flowers, and food were my most frequent subjects, I have no choice but to share photos of some of them.  Taking far too many pictures of inanimate objects is, I think, one of the lesser-known hazards of traveling alone.  Other things I’ve learned: trying to take action shots with a pocket camera is not advisable.

In the spring of 2012, my visit coincided with the run-up to a parliamentary election, so I was able to observe that process in various ways—by watching tv, reading the local papers, and documenting political speech in public spaces, from graffiti to official campaign posters.  Soon, I’ll offer more analysis of the intersection of sports and politics in Serbia.  For now, suffice it to say that there were rumors that then-president Boris Tadić had deliberately called the election to coincide with the final day of the Serbia Open, so he could be photographed handing the trophy to the most popular person in the country.  As it turned out, Nole pulled out of his home tournament, due in large part to the death of his grandfather some ten days earlier—and Tadić lost the election (though I’m sure there’s no causal relationship between these two events).

In the fall of 2013, Serbian media covering Davis Cup were focused on three stories.  The most sensational of these concerned Viktor Troicki, who, because he is serving an eighteen-month suspension for an ITF anti-doping rule violation, was not allowed to attend the tie.  Contrary to comments from the understandably emotional Troicki and his loyal team members, there was nothing out of the ordinary—and certainly nothing personal— about this prohibition.  He was not being treated like a “terrorist” or “murderer,” per Djoković’s hyperbole, but like a suspended player.  The second story centered on members of the visiting team: three Canadians have strong ties to the former Yugoslavia, with Daniel Nestor and Miloš Raonić born in the region.  Needless to say, the locals were particularly interested in what the guests made of their one-time home, whether they speak the language, and which elements of the cuisine they enjoy.  The third story was really a question: how would Novak rebound from losing in the US Open final earlier in the week?  It was partially answered by his straight-set handling of Vasek Pospisil on the tie’s opening night.  As in 2010, the Serbs came from behind to win the semifinal, with Tipsarević once again scoring the decisive point.  But unlike 2011, the team’s top player got through the weekend unscathed.

(Most of the images marked with asterisks are the work of Srdjan Stevanović.)

Citi Open Players Respond to Doping Allegations

Update: Since I posted this in August, there have been a number of developments, including the release of a decision in the Čilić case and statements from both the Troicki camp and the ITF.  Troicki will have his appeal heard at the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne next week, while the ITF is apparently considering changes to its anti-doping protocols—in response to issues “highlighted” by the Serb’s case.

***

Late last week, the tennis world was hit with two surprising and confusing stories concerning players accused of violating the International Tennis Federation’s anti-doping rules.  First came the news that Serbia’s Viktor Troicki had been suspended for eighteen months after failing to provide a blood sample “without compelling justification” in Monte Carlo this spring.  Following his second-round loss to Tommy Robredo in Umag on Thursday, a “destroyed and exhausted” Troicki shared his version of events.  By the time the ITF released a 25-page report on the decision the next morning, it was clear the circumstances of the violation were even more complicated than the initial news brief suggested.  The same day, Croatian media reported that their top player, Marin Čilić, had tested positive for a banned substance in Munich and was already serving a suspension.

  • Tennis Is Served’s Zafar offers a close reading of key aspects of the ITF report and raises important questions about their anti-doping procedures.

Those of us at the Citi Open this week have been eager to hear players’ responses to the news.  While players have ranged in terms of familiarity with the details of the two cases or how directly they were willing to address them, almost all of those asked had opinions on the larger topic of the sports’ anti-doping efforts.

The first players asked about it this week were those with close ties to Troicki.  In a Monday conversation, Nenad Zimonjić said he thought his Davis Cup teammate’s “very unusual” case “came down to a big misunderstanding” between Troicki and the Doping Control Officer and called the 18-month suspension an “extremely strict and heavy” penalty.  (My full interview with Zimonjić, in which he noted that last week’s news has been quite difficult for the whole Serbian team, was published by B92; the English translation is here.)

Unsurprisingly, Andrea Petković was also outspoken in press.

Romi Cvitković: Have you been in touch with Viktor or Marin since the doping allegations came out?

AP: I just know the Viktor story. . . and I really don’t think it’s right. Because I know it from Viktor and I know how he is and I know that he falls–how do you say…? He faints every time when they take blood. So, he was just playing a match and he wasn’t feeling well; he gave the blood sample the next day and he gave his urine—both were negative. To me, [the sanction is] ridiculous.

RC: Do you think something needs to be done with the system, that it’s not quite working well, or what?

AP: Yeah, well. . . I think it’s good that the rules are strict because obviously we all want to fight doping. I think tennis was always a clean sport, so far, and there were just very rare cases of doping. That was always really nice about it. And I’m also one that says doping doesn’t really help you in tennis, because you can be the fittest guy in the world and you can lift 200 kilos in weightlifting, but that doesn’t make you a better tennis player. It doesn’t give you the overlook of the court, it doesn’t give you the feeling, it doesn’t give you the placement. So, for me, I’m the best example: I’m not the fastest player—when I run against most of the girls, I would lose in sprinting. But I see the ball quite early and then it seems as if I’m very fast on court, but I’m really not.

I think it’s good that the rules are strict. But in cases like Viktor’s, you have to be able to look past the rules and you have to be able to make decisions that are maybe. . . personally indicated on [the individual]. And as I know Viktor, and everybody who knows him very well (we’re close friends—I’ve known him since we were ten, I think), I know that every time he gets injections he was fainting and shivering before he had to have them. So, that’s a kind of thing that’s not fair.

***

Australia’s Bernard Tomić was a bit less specific.

Ana Mitrić: There have been a couple of news stories in the last week with players having possible anti-doping violations. Is that the kind of thing that you hear about online or in the locker-room—is it on your radar, or are you mostly focused on your own game?

BT: Yeah, I did see that. I did see that. It’s very interesting—and very weird as well. It’s strange, but, you know, it’s obviously their issue. Um, I mean, I can’t say a lot about it, since it’s not my issue; but, you know, it’s pretty strange how it can happen. Being a player myself, you come to realize that things are out there… Like I said, it’s not my issue, but it’s sometimes really weird and strange to see stuff happen like that.

***

After Steve Tignor’s piece about how the Čilić case may illuminate questionable ITF procedures and Simon Cambers’ interview with Bob Brett were published on Tuesday, we could get into further detail.

Romi Cvitković: Have you been tracking any of the recent doping allegations that have been going on with Troicki…? Is there anything in the system that you feel like needs to be worked on or are they handling it the right way? Are the players talking about it at all?

Grigor Dimitrov: I’m in the loop, of course, of what’s happening. I hear here and there. For now, I haven’t had any problem with any of these things. I think as far away as you stay from the conflicts and everything is better for you. Because, at the end of the day, we are here to focus on one thing—and that’s tennis, of course. So, I think it’s kind of unfortunate what happened. But I don’t think there’s any problem with the system; or, if there might be, then people need to talk about it and that’s how you solve things.

AM: Bob Brett, Marin Čilić’s ex-coach, was interviewed for a piece in the Guardian today and he said that he felt players did not get enough education about some of these things—the policies, the rules, the procedures. I happen to know that the ITF’s document is 273 pages long, so I’m assuming you haven’t read that. But, do you have a specific memory of getting information about these policies?

GD: Yeah, I remember… [Asks ATP PR and Marketing Manager Fabrizio Sestini when he completed the ATP orientation; they guess about two years ago.] A lot of players were doing this ATP University, and there, everything is kind of compact and just the most important things. I think there is where you need to pay a lot of attention and focus on what’s been happening in the ATP throughout all the years. And they give you the exact, specific [information]—whether it’s doping or betting—a bunch of things that are really important are all listed there.

We actually have a 24-hour phone that you can call for doping. Anytime, you can call and say, “Hey, listen, I have a problem with this—do you think that’s fine if I take it?” and they give you all the banned substances and all that. So, I think there is one of the times that everyone has to pay attention and be aware of what’s been happening. I think the most information that I got was back then. Now, of course, every day there’s something—not every day, but something is coming up; so, we try to keep [informed about] all that. I understand how everyone wants to just open this thing and look at it. Of course, sometimes you fall into these errors—and that’s no fun.

***

AM: There’s been a fair bit of talk on the media side this week about doping, anti-doping violations, and so on. I’m curious how aware of that you are, if there’s been much talk in the locker-room, and also whether you feel that you have good access to information about those issues?

John Isner: Yeah, I’m aware of, I guess, two incidents currently going on and I’ve read about it; but that’s all I know. As far as talk in the locker-room, there actually hasn’t been much at all. With the Americans, it’s more just talk about fantasy baseball—and, believe it or not, how I’m in ninth place. It is what it is, I think. Those situations are unfortunate and I don’t know what to think of it.

But. . . as far as hearing that the ATP or WADA don’t educate us enough, I don’t think that’s the case. For me, in particular, any time I take something, I do check it out. I don’t try to buy many supplements outside of that. So, I think the ATP actually does a good job with informing us about what we can and cannot take. I don’t know if these players intentionally did it or not; but I would side on their side, actually. But they’re two cases that are unfortunate, so we’ll see how they play out.

Lindsay Gibbs: In that same vein, there’s been a lot of talk about doping and making tennis a cleaner sport, even though there hasn’t been a big scandal—hopefully, preventing that. Do you have any thoughts on blood tests and moving toward the biological passport?

JI: I’m a huge fan of the biological passport. I just know from the Lance Armstrong case that he sort of got into trouble because of that. So, I think that if the testing can improve, and you still have those samples, absolutely go back and test that out.

But I really do think tennis, compared to other sports and other team sports, I feel like we get tested quite a bit. We get tested a lot during competition. I know I, in particular, get tested a lot out of competition and that’s not just urine—that’s blood as well. One time, I even got tested twice in one morning, within thirty minutes of each other. So, I think tennis does a good job with their testing—just from my personal experience, I’ve been tested a lot. As a whole, I really do feel that our sport is clean. These two situations are kind of a coincidence, in my opinion. As long as the tests keep improving, I would hope that they would keep implementing that. Especially the biological passport—I think that’d be great.

***

Lindsay Gibbs: Obviously, doping’s been in the news a lot lately, with the Troicki and Čilić cases. Do you have any thoughts on that and on the direction tennis is going?

Mardy Fish: Our doping system is extremely tough, I know that. I know that I have to give an hour every single day of my life to doping. So, yeah, it’s been in the news, we’ve heard some stories. I don’t know what’s going to happen with Viktor’s thing or Čilić’s thing. I don’t know—I haven’t really looked at it. But, it’s not something I have to concern myself with; I don’t need to worry about it.

AM: Related to that, you’re obviously a veteran; so, it’s probably been a while since you did your ATP University orientation. Do you remember much about that program, particularly information that you got about things like anti-doping rules & policies? Is that the kind of thing where you get an update every now and then?

MF: I don’t remember much—ATP University was a long, long time ago. It could have been fifteen years ago now. But, we do get updates, yes. We get notifications. . . There’s things constantly coming through your e-mail: updates on player regulations, whether it’s the size of your logo for who’s sponsoring your shirt or anti-doping things [Sestini chimes in with “prohibited lists”]. We have updated versions at all times.

AM: So, if you heard, for instance, Bob Brett saying that he doesn’t think players are sufficiently educated on some of these things and that maybe there needs to be more done on that side, would that not quite jell with your experience?

MF: It wouldn’t be my experience, no. I mean, I would like to take that pretty seriously. Again, I don’t have to worry about anything. But, in Čilić’s case, he took something that maybe. . . You know, sometimes you get can really sick and it takes some sort of medication to make you feel better, and you feel extremely ill and there’s only one thing that makes you feel better, but you can’t take it, and sometimes guys take a chance, I’m sure. I don’t know—I’ve never been in that situation before, but there’s a lot of things we can’t take that we don’t really understand, but that might mask something or whatever.

But in my experience, no. In my experience, my trainer and I take it very seriously and I ask him about every single thing that goes into some sort of pill form or cream form that we’re using and make sure that something like that would never, ever happen.

***

On Wednesday, Cambers followed up with further excerpts from his conversation with Bob Brett, after which I posed related questions to a few more players.

AM: Assuming you’ve heard the news coming out of late last week about Viktor Troicki and Marin Čilić regarding possible violations of anti-doping rules, any comment on things that are going on with rules, procedures, & enforcement?

Miloš Raonić: I don’t know their situations specifically—I don’t know exactly what’s gone on with them.  But, I think as far as it goes between how we’re being tested and how often we’re being tested, sometimes, obviously, it can be frustrating.  You just lose a match and they’re asking you for time right away—so, it can be frustrating, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it.

***

AM: You’ve been around for a while.  Have you noticed a change or any shifts in terms of how the tennis community is talking about or dealing with doping issues and anti-doping prevention, testing, that kind of thing, in recent years?

Tommy Haas: Well, it’s always such a tough thing to talk about, really.  You know, you want to make sure everything is clean, you want to make sure this is a clean sport, and you want to be tested as much as possible—which I’m all for.  Urine, blood, whatever it is: do whatever you need to do in order to find out if I’m taking something or not; I’ve got no problem with that.  Our sport has been very clean over many, many years, in some ways.  I think it’s sort of something to look for in sports, in general—if you look at other sports, how many things are going on there.  So, it’s a tough subject to deal with and, obviously, recently we’ve heard of a couple of players; who knows what’s going on there.  I don’t know if they’re going to go to court, if lawyers are involved—who knows?  We’ve had a few issues in the past, so we’ll see what happens.

***

AM: There’s been a lot of talk about doping across different sports, with cycling, baseball, and running.  But recently, in tennis, there’s been more talk about that, with the shift to the blood passport and then last week’s news about Troicki and Čilić.  Have you been hearing much talk about that and are those policies and procedures things that you talk with your trainer about to make sure you know everything that’s going on?

Juan Martin del Potro: Yeah, well, the anti-doping are very hard with us—they’re very strict in the tests and we know everything.  But, in those two cases it’s difficult to say something.  I mean, I think Troicki’s going to appeal in the next weeks and Marin Čilić is not official yet, so we have to wait.  Of course, we talk about that in the locker-rooms, but nobody wants to say anything before the official information.

AM: Do you think it’s a sign that the ITF is trying to take things even more seriously?

JMDP: I don’t know.  We have tests during all the year, within competition—and off-court, also—and all the players know that.  It’s for all the players the same rule.  But we have to wait in these two cases [to see] what’s going to happen and then we will have more information to explain.

***

AM: Obviously, we all know you were kidding about the vials earlier [asked about Tommy Haas’s longevity and the increased number of players traveling with trainers or physiotherapists, Tursunov joked that he sees the German “carrying vials all the time”], but the topic of doping and anti-doping initiatives has been in the news a lot, especially last week, with Marin Čilić and Viktor Troicki.  So, I’m wondering what your thoughts are on ITF efforts—specifically, whether they seem to be stepping up and trying to take those things more seriously and also whether you feel you get good information about the issues (for example, updated lists) and if that’s something you and your trainer talk about as well.

Dmitry Tursunov: Well, the thing with the list is that. . . we’re aware of the list—I mean, we have all the information.  The problem is that we don’t have a portable chemical lab; we can’t take a Gatorade and see what’s contained in that.  And quite a few factories process a lot of the things that are allowed and some of the things that are not allowed; so, if that somehow gets mixed in, it’s still our responsibility.  Essentially, we would have to test everything we put into our bodies to make sure that we don’t test positive.  So, it’s our responsibility in the end.  Sometimes it happens, like in the case with Marin Čilić: from what I understood, they found that  whatever he took contained [something that] was prohibited; but, in the end, he still gets fined. . .  I mean, I understand that ITF would have to take some sort of measures, because it would be very hard to explain why they can’t take the measures, but I think it’s a tough call.  ITF has to do something about it; but, at the same time, in these cases, if a player took something by accident, he didn’t mean to take it, he wasn’t trying to take that, yet he’s still sidelined.

So, the best suggestion that we can get is, “Don’t take anything that you’re not sure about.”  But, to be honest, how sure are you that Gatorade doesn’t have anything?  And then, we go anywhere and try to get something to eat—if that has something that’s prohibited, it’s our fault.  So, it’s a tough balance of taking something just so you can survive—at least, taking a Flintstones [vitamin], but even Flintstones could potentially contain something prohibited.  It’s a tough topic.  I mean, we can’t eat organic all the time; you can’t go to Whole Foods in Umag, Croatia, so you have to just try to be smart about it.  But, at the same time, we cannot compete at this level, playing for three hours in this weather, and not take any supplements.  We cannot eat enough food or drink enough Gatorade to replenish what we’re losing.  So, we have to take something extra—and not necessarily something prohibited; a lot of times, people who test positive are not trying to do it.  If someone is doing it on purpose, then that’s another story.