The Worst Tennis Parents of All Time

Jake Curtis@jakecurtis53Featured ColumnistAugust 10, 2013

The Worst Tennis Parents of All Time

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    Choosing the worst tennis parents is a challenge in a sport where players' mothers and fathers have gained notoriety for their repulsive and exploitative behavior.

    Three of the 10 people mentioned in ESPN's list of "sports' most harmful relatives" were the fathers of tennis players.

    Our list includes parents whose actions either created a negative public image for themselves or made things difficult for their tennis-playing children. Often it was both.

    Andre Agassi's father and Martina Hingis' mother were among those who played ambiguous roles in their children's careers. They were considered, but did not make the cut for our list of the 10 worst tennis parents.

Alexandra Stevenson's Mother

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    Samantha Stevenson could be seen as a supportive single parent doing whatever she could to help the career of her daughter, Alexandra.

    But her daughter's life became a lot more difficult soon after Alexandra reached the Wimbledon semifinals in 1999 at the age of 18.

    After it was revealed in 1999 that Julius Erving was Alexandra's father, Samantha gained media attention and stirred controversy by making a number of accusations.

    The Sydney Morning Herald said she was a self-described "power-mum" who claimed she was trying to protect her daughter from the "pushy b**ches" in the locker room. She said she needed to chaperone her daughter to protect her from the lesbian tendencies of other players.

    She made other public complaints as well.

    Lindsay Davenport, Alexandra's semifinal opponent in the 1999 Wimbledon tournament, suggested Samantha's assertions "sound crazy," according to an Associated Press report. Davenport sympathized with Alexandra.

    "She's obviously enjoying the whole Wimbledon experience, played great and ... all of this stuff has kind of come on her because of her mom," Davenport said, according to the AP report. "You can't help but feel sorry for her because when you talk to her she's nice."

    Stevenson's ranking got as high as No. 18 in 2002. She is still on the tour at age 32 and is ranked 363rd.

Christophe Fauviau

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    Although Christophe Fauviau's son and daughter have not become world-class players, he deserves to be mentioned on this list.

    Fauviau doped the drinks of at least 27 players during matches against his son and daughter between 2000 and 2003, and he was sentenced to jail in 2006 on a conviction of manslaughter after one of the players died in a car crash after being drugged, the BBC reported.

    He said he had become obsessed with the tennis careers of his children while they played in junior tournaments in France.

    Although only one drugged player died, others collapsed or became ill during matches, according to the BBC report. One was 11 years old.

Bernard Tomic's Father

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    A telling part of the relationship between Bernard Tomic and his father, John, came when Bernard asked the umpire whether he could remove his father from the stands during a 2012 match in Miami, according to The Daily Mail.

    Bernard is overheard telling the umpire, "He's annoying. I know he's my father but he's annoying me. I want him to leave but how's that possible?"

    He was not removed, but after the umpire issued a code violation for coaching, Bernard said, "Thanks."

    Here is a video of that incident.

    That was small potatoes compared to what occurred earlier this year, when John Tomic was charged with assault. He allegedly broke the nose of Bernard's playing partner when John head-butted him, according to The Daily Mail. In that article, the playing partner, Thomas Drouet, claimed John Tomic once punched his son, leaving him in tears.

    Following the incident, John Tomic was banned from attending ATP events, according to a USA Today report. Bernard appealed the decision.

    John Tomic attended his son's match at Queen's Club as a paying customer, but he was not allowed on the grounds at Wimbledon.

Michael Chang's Mother

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    John Feinstein, in his book Hard Courts, called Michael Chang's mother Betty "the ultimate tennis mother," according to the Los Angeles Times account by Mike Penner. She dislikes the media and is "disdainful of everyone."

    Feinstein's book noted that, in an unofficial poll of ATP Tour personnel, Betty and Joe Chang were voted the least liked people on the men's tour.

    One story told in the Los Angeles Times article relates an embarrassing moment after one of Michael's Junior Davis Cup workouts. While talking with friends, Michael tried to tell his mother he did not need to immediately shower and change clothes as she had suggested. Betty then reached into his shorts, touched his underwear and proclaimed, they're "wet."

Jennifer Capriati's Father

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    Whether it was deserved or not, Stefano Capriati was blamed for many of the problems his daughter, Jennifer Capriati, had in her career and life.

    The media charged him with treating Jennifer as his meal ticket, pushing her into the forefront at an early age. She turned pro at 13 and was getting major endorsement deals at 14.

    The Los Angeles Times' Penner recounts one of those incidents:

    Jennifer Capriati is pulled out of her junior high school classes, flown to Europe, told at 14 to endorse a skin-moisturizing cream because her father wants to wrinkle a few thousand-dollar bills and then prohibited from giving interviews until, her father decrees, "my deals are done."

    According to the Los Angeles Times article, John Feinstein, in his book Hard Courts, recounts the time Jennifer lost a match, and an angered Stefano pushed her agent away, pulled his wife away from a reporter and stormed off, leaving no one for Jennifer to look to in the stands in her time of need.

    Capriati left the tour at age 18, was later cited for shoplifting and arrested for marijuana possession, according to an article. She entered a drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility.

    Jennifer once told her father, "Leave me alone, you're screwing up my life," according to Oliver Irish of The Guardian.

    She made a comeback and won three Grand Slam singles titles

Steffi Graf's Father

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    Peter Graf controlled nearly every aspect of the career of his daughter, Steffi Graf. It helped her become one of the greatest players in tennis history. But there were drawbacks.

    He was called "Papa Merciless" for how hard he pushed his daughter, according to an article by the Australian Broadcasting Company (ABC). He sometimes forced her to practice immediately before and after long flights.

    He was charged with withholding $7.4 million from tax authorities, and in 1997, he was sentenced to three years and nine months in prison, according to the ABC report.

    A 22-year-old Playboy model filed a paternity suit against Peter Graf, and she claimed he paid her and a boxing promoter $424,000 to drop the suit, according to that ABC account.

    Immediately after she won the U.S. Open to complete her Grand Slam in 1988, Graf was dragged aboard a plane to return to Germany by Peter Graf. She called it "the worst day of my life," according to a Los Angeles Times report.

    "Stefano [Capriati] is No. 1," John Feinstein said of his list of evil parents in his book Hard Courts, according to the Los Angeles Times, "Although when Peter Graf was in his prime, he was the all-timer. He was Laver."

Mirjana Lucic's Father

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    Marinko Lucic, father of Mirjana Lucic, was voted the worst tennis father ever in a 2003 poll by a British newspaper, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

    He was accused of being physically and mentally abusive, and Mirjana Lucic eventually fled to the United States to escape.

    "Beatings ... there have been more of them than anyone can imagine,'' Lucic, then 16, told a Zagreb newspaper, Slobodna Dalmacija, according to Associated Press. "Sometimes it was because of the lost game, in other cases for the lost set or badly played trainings. I don't want to even say what happened after the matches I lost.''

    Her father's response, according to Mark Hodgkinson of The Telegraph“I never used excessive force, and if I did give her the occasional slap, it was because of her behaviour; I did what I believed what was best for the child.”

    A 1999 New York Times article by Robin Finn reported, "According to [Mirjana] Lucic, the pressure inflicted on her by her father was so crippling it rendered her little more than a listless puppet on the tennis court."

    A year after leaving her father, 17-year-old Mirjana Lucic got to the semifinals of Wimbledon in 1999, losing to Steffi Graf in three sets.

    Now 31, Lucic is still on the tour, ranked 118th. She lost in the second round at Wimbledon this year.

Jelena Dokic's Father

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    Jelena Dokic pulled off one of the biggest upsets in Wimbledon history when, at age 16, she beat No. 1 Martina Hingis 6-2, 6-0 in 1999.

    However, she is remembered more for the behavior of her father, Damir Dokic.

    He was abusive to her, to officials and to other players.

    He was thrown out of a tournament for calling club members Nazis, according to an article. He was tossed at Wimbledon for smashing a journalist's phone and ejected at the Australian Open when he accused organizers of fixing the draw, according to the Brisbane Courier-Mail. He was thrown out of the U.S. Open for a tantrum regarding salmon.

    He was barred from all tournaments for a six-month span.

    Jelena refused her parents admittance at one tournament and eventually dismissed her father as her coach.

    Damir later threatened the Australian ambassador to Belgrade and was jailed, as the Courier-Mail reported.

    Jelena accused her father of physically abusing her in a 2009 article in Sports & Style, a magazine produced by the Sydney Morning Herald. 

    "I've been through a lot worse than anybody on the (professional tennis) tour. I can say that with confidence," she said in the Sports & Style report by Jessica Halloran. "There was a period where there was nothing that could make me happy. I wanted somebody else's life."

Mary Pierce's Father

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    Mary Pierce was 18 years old when she had to hire body guards, take out a restraining order and check into hotels under assumed names to protect herself from her father, Jim Pierce, according to a Sports Illustrated story.

    Jim Pierce was a convicted felon who spent time in the psychiatric ward, according to the Sports Illustrated account. He was abusive to Mary and frequently hit her.

    While filing the restraining order, according to Jim Sarni of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, she said Jim threatened her life and once told her, "If you think there was a nut in Waco, Texas, you haven't seen anything yet."

    He frequently berated her during and after matches, sometimes leaving her in tears.

    The Women's Tennis Council barred Jim from tournaments in 1993 because of his behavior at the 1992 French Open, when he punched out two French fans during one of his daughter's matches.

    "They were making fun of Mary and I told then to shut up," Pierce said, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. "One guy grabbed me and jerked me around, so I drilled him. Two of them went down and I was still standing."

    Mary Pierce won the Australian Open in 1995 and the French Open in 2000.