In the midst of one of the most scandalous years in tennis, a few Ecuadorian players provide a beacon of hope.
A 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit the region of Ecuador about 250 miles south of Quito. The quake and powerful aftershocks claimed the lives of more than 650 and injured thousands.
Former ATP World Tour players Andres Gomez, Luis Adrian Morejon, Raul Antonio Viver, Nicolas Lapentti and Giovanni Lapentti worked with the Ecuadorian Federation of Tennis (FET) to help centralize humanitarian efforts. They also helped spread the word about where to make donations.
Nicolas Lapentti, who reached a career-high No. 6 ranking in November 1999, told the ATP Tour staff that the efforts makes him proud to be an Ecuadorian:
After this tragedy in my country, I feel even more proud to be Ecuadorian and see how the whole community has rallied to help all victims and families affected after the earthquake. I wanted to contribute and, through the local Tennis Federation and the tennis community, help the victims, leaving instructions for people to make donations in this place and trying to alleviate this difficult time.
Meanwhile, Ecuadorian-born Irina Falconi started a GoFundMe account for victims. Falconi, who plays for the U.S., was competing in the Claro Open in Bogota, Colombia, and on her way to capturing her first WTA Tour title when Portoviejo, the town where she was born, was hit hard by the earthquake.
Although Falconi left Ecuador when she was four, she still has family there. Last year, the city of Portoviejo recognized her as the highest-ranking female player from Ecuador in the WTA's history.
After winning the Claro Open, tears fell from Falconi's eyes as she tried to explain her mixed emotions in an interview with the Associated Press (via Tennis.com). “It has definitely been an emotional couple of days,” she said. “How am I supposed to feel? It’s awful. It’s tough to really say, ‘Oh my gosh, I won a WTA title,’ when there’s people dying. So it really puts it in perspective.”
Tennis players helping others is nothing new. However, the charitable acts by these players come at a time when the sport could use some positive news.
While fans and journalists were trying to sort through the Sharapova meldonium mess, Raymond Moore, then-CEO of the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, insulted female players during a media breakfast. Before Moore resigned, Novak Djokovic weighed in on the comments and ended up apologizing for his remarks.
Last week, while Sharapova's pending hearing brought meldonium back in the news, Djokovic and Andy Murray got into a debate about the depth of the drug problem in tennis, as relayed by the Guardian. Djokovic thinks tennis is doing a fine job of keeping the sport clean. Murray disagrees.
Regardless of who's right or wrong, tennis and doping made the headlines. Again.
Match-fixing, drugs and misogyny? Ugh, Ugh, Ugh.
Besides coverage of actual tennis, few things concerning the sport have been more uplifting than the efforts of these players from Ecuador. What they are doing is welcome relief to those in need. It's also a pleasant break from the barrage of bad news in tennis this year.
Their generosity reminds us of the positive impact that professional athletes can have in a community. When they use their recognition to bring attention to a crisis or to offer hope to the hopeless, they encourage us.
Scandals sometimes overshadow a sport. Kudos to the players from Ecuador and others who do good deeds. Helping others is never as sensational as a doping scandal, but it's far more appreciated.