I found out the hard way what happens when
you cross the tight-knit Australian tennis community thanks to a story I didn’t
even write.

In April 1990, a group of top Australian
players finished a Davis Cup tie against New Zealand in Brisbane then
headed off to South Africa for exhibition matches, neatly ducking the
Apartheid-inspired ban
on that country by the wider tennis world. Hey, there was good money on
offer
and we all know tennis players don’t make much money as it stands,
right?

For a year after that, the players involved
refused to speak to me. Mid-reign as World No 1, Steffi Graf had personally
sought me out in a back corridor of Melbourne Park to argue about a yarn of mine that
she didn’t like, but that was not apparently the Australian way.

Instead their tactic was a classic pre-teen schoolyard
freeze-out. Nobody actually told me they weren’t talking to me. I just got cold
stares, monosyllabic answers and the clear sense that if the regular tennis
writers and players were having a beer somewhere together, I certainly wasn’t.
Several of the other Australian journos assured me regularly that the players
were being like this with everybody. In fact, it was just me and they knew it,
but it suited their purposes to have one of the leading daily newspaper’s
tennis writers out in the cold.

Almost a year later, an Australian player
who dared to walk his own path told me the truth. The players had singled me out for the freeze treatment because they thought I’d
written the story about them heading off to South Africa.

Which is where it got funny – because I
hadn’t even written the piece. If they’d bothered to check the byline,
I wasn’t
on it – which, at the time, had mortified me because I couldn’t believe
I’d
missed the story. Other journos at the Davis Cup tie apparently had
known the
players were sneaking off to South Africa, told over beers, but hadn’t
written about it (see Path A).

So I was frozen out for a yarn I hadn’t
written but with the strange consolation that I would have written it had I
been onto it, so maybe it all worked out in the end.