(AFP) – Jan 23, 2008
MELBOURNE (AFP) — Maria Sharapova's father Thursday escaped punishment for a throat-slitting gesture at the Australian Open, but the "gutter behaviour" cemented his place in the club of infamous tennis parents.
Yuri Sharapov has been a fixture courtside at the season-opening Grand Slam, often unshaven, wearing dark glasses and with the hood pulled up on his camouflage army-print sweatshirt.
Even his glamorous daughter said he looked like "an assassin".
But when television cameras caught him dragging a finger across his throat as Maria was blowing kisses to the crowd after her stunning victory over world number one Justine Henin this week, the floodgates of criticism opened.
"What, exactly, is Yuri Sharapov's problem?," asked the Herald Sun Thursday.
"He is yet to comprehend the world is interested in his daughter. Not him.
"He has become a Melbourne Park clown; a distraction and unworthy of his screeching daughter's excellence.
"His throat-slitting gesture was gutter behaviour, but not unexpected from a man who has compiled a string of infractions now worthy of officialdom's scrutiny."
The Melbourne Age was equally damning in its coverage.
"Sharapov's belligerence, captured by a camera he knew was in his face, belongs in a professional wrestling ring not beside a tennis court," it said.
"Even the American National Football League, the world's most violent football code, banned the throat-slashing gesture eight years ago which some players had called "the OJ", a reference to O.J Simpson.
Yet the WTA, which governs the women's tour, dismissed it as "a joke".
"I have spoken to Maria?s camp and I am satisfied that this was an inside joke between Maria and her father related to his sweatshirt," said WTA chief Larry Scott in an emailed reaction to AFP.
Asked about the gesture, Sharapova, who stormed into the Australian Open final on Thursday with a straight sets demolition of Serbia's Jelena Jankovic, attempted to play it down.
"God, you guys notice so many things," she said. "I saw him do that, because he was so excited."
Former Grand Slam champion Tracy Austin, writing in The Australian, called Sharapov "a poor role model".
"That was a highly inappropriate gesture and was totally unnecessary. It's bad manners and has no place in sport," said the American.
"It's one thing to celebrate in a positive way, but it's another to taunt a world-class champion like Henin."
Regardless of whether the WTA changes tack and decides to take a harder line, Sharapov seems destined to take his place alongside other notorious tennis parents, including Jim Pierce and Damir Dokic.
Pierce is best known for once shouting during a match for his daughter Mary to "kill the bitch". The French star eventually took a restraining order out against him.
In that case, the WTA acted, banning him from tournaments in 1993 although it lifted the embargo several years later.
Dokic, father of Jelena, took it to a new extreme.
The Serbian first sprung to attention when he was ejected from the US Open in 2000 for abusing staff about the price of a salmon lunch.
He then alleged that the draw for the 2001 Australian Open had been rigged against his daughter.
And when Jelena switched allegiance to Australia, he claimed Australian authorities, "with the help of Croatia and the Vatican have brainwashed my daughter".
He even threatened to "kill an Australian in revenge".
He too was banned by the WTA.
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