by M. L. Liu
Word has come that "(Boris) Becker is the lone nominee in the Recent Player Category" on the 2003 Tennis Hall of Fame ballot. (See here).
This was rather startling news. I had long assumed that Stefan Edberg, who retired in 1996, would be a shoo-in for the nomination and induction, as soon as he became eligible, which happens to be this year. And I am not alone in making this bold assumption: Among Edberg fans there has been talks of making arrangements to attend the induction ceremony next year. And at an exhibition event held in Cape Cod this past July, Brett Haber -- the emcee -- introduced Edberg as a "future Hall of Famer."
To be perfectly frank, I personally don't give a rat's care about Halls of Fame. I had never paid any attention to them, in any sport. And it didn't escape my attention that when Mats Wilander was inducted into the Tennis Hall of Fame this year, hardly anyone noticed.
But the announcement that Becker rather than Edberg is this year's nominee is jarring, as it amounts to a slight on Stefan Edberg.
And it is rather baffling. This is what is posted on the Hall's web site:
Players are elected based on their records of competitive achievement, with ancillary consideration given to sportsmanship and character.
Individuals are elected in one of three categories:
Let's consider the foremost criterion for the consideration: Records of competitive achievement. I think it is generally agreed that Edberg and Becker have comparable records in this regard - equal number of grand slam titles (six), and similar counts in tournament titles (Becker: 49 singles and 15 doubles titles, Edberg: 42 singles and 19 doubles titles.) The fact is that the careers of these two great players were entwined from the days when they were juniors, and their friendly rivalry at the Wimbledon is remembered by many fondly. On this account, they both deserve to be honored.
Consider the "ancillary consideration" of sportsmanship and character then. Need I remind anyone that Edberg is the namesake of the ATP Sportsman of the Year Award? And does anyone who witnessed his 1992 U.S. Open victory have doubts about Edberg's character?
But the strangest thing about Becker's nomination is that he should not even be eligible yet. To repeat the Hall of Fame's own edict: "Recent Players - are those who were active as competitors within the last 20 years, but have not been a significant factor in competition tennis during the previous five years." If you check the official records (see http://www.itftennis.com/fl_index.html"), Becker played through June 1999 and won a few matches that year, reaching final in Hong Kong in April that year.) Do you agree with me that it's a real stretch to say that Becker "has not been a significant factor in competition tennis during the previous five years"? And even if somehow an argument can be made that Becker does meet that criterion, then don't you agree that, by the same token, Edberg should have been considered at least three years ago?
Incidentally , a poster on rec.sport.tennis pointed out that the announcement even made a mistake about Becker?s records, stating that he was number one ranked for 109 weeks, which is wrong ? Bjorn Borg holds that record. Becker occupied the number one rank for twelve weeks.
The whole thing is perplexing and smacks of favoritism. What in the world can the reason be behind the rush to nominate Boris Becker while Stefan Edberg is ignored? I have my theories. Here they go:
In any case, to me, this nomination has made a mockery of the so-called Hall of Fame. I just assume that Edberg stay away from it. I plan to.
postscript: On August 31 I received a response from Kat Anderson (email@example.com) of the Hall of Fame, as follows:
International Tennis Hall of Fame