Even Court Agrees He's 'World's Worst Tennis Pro'
Robert Dee knows he's not the world's best pro tennis player, but when a London newspaper wrote that he's the worst, he wanted the world to know it wasn't true.
So he took it to the courts to prove what kind of player he is. Not the tennis courts, where he doesn't do so well. The courtroom. And now, a British judge has made it official:
Dee is, in fact, the world's worst pro tennis player.
"There is nothing ... of which the claimant actually complains that cannot be justified," the Hon. Mrs Justice Sharp ruled. "And the facts are sufficient to justify any defamatory meaning the words complained of are capable of bearing."
The facts? It was only an opinion when The Daily Telegraph wrote a story with the headline, "World's worst tennis pro wins at last."
But the judge ruled, basically, that the facts proved it.
You'd think some things don't have an objective measure. Like when you say this is the worst pizza you've ever had, the worst haircut, the most boring TV show.
Oh yeah? Prove it.
Dee, according to the Guardian newspaper, argued that the Telegraph's coverage suggested that he "unreasonably and unrealistically persists in a career as a professional tennis player which is an expensive waste of money and doomed to failure."
The judge: Uh huh.
Dee had tied the record of Diego Beltranena of Guatemala, having lost 54 consecutive matches on the international pro tennis circuit. In 2008, Dee got his first career victory at that level.
He had been blown out in Iran, pounded in Venezuela, humiliated in Mexico, Sudan, Senegal, Rwanda. It was 0-108 in sets, too.
If at first you don't succeed, fail, fail again.
In 2008, Dee, who is from England but now lives in Spain, did beat unranked 17-year old American Arzhang Derakshani 6-4, 6-3 in a low-level event near Barcelona.
That's what led to the Daily Telegraph coverage. Other papers, websites and wire services picked up the story, and in a great example of modern media, it spread across the world just like that.
Dee was the world's worst.
Truth is, that's not fair. He has won professional matches, but on the Spanish tour, which is independent of the International Tennis Federation, and doesn't factor into the ATP rankings.
He said the stories about him exposed him to ridicule -- as if his backhand weren't enough -- and would make it difficult to get coaching jobs in the future.
It gets a little confusing, but Dee, or his attorney, apparently went to the news agencies for corrections and apologies. At least 30 gave in, and some even wrote a check for damages, figuring that was easier and cheaper than fighting a libel case.
The Daily Telegraph kept fighting, and the judge ruled that the Spanish tournaments, basically, didn't count against the record of 54 straight losses, and the paper had "no additional obligation," to prove that Dee "is objectively the worst professional tennis player in the world, in terms of his playing skills."
Dee is listed as 23 on his bio page on the ATP Tour website, but where the bios list a player as right- or left-handed, it says "Unknown."
On Dee's own website, he posts copies of all the media apologies, and, in some cases, their canceled checks. He talks about leaving Kent at 16 to pursue his tennis dream, moving to Florida to learn from Nick Bollettieri.
His first experience as a pro, he said, "wasn't as hard a match as I would have expected."
He lost 6-1, 6-0.
The tour site lists only 14 of his matches, and doesn't include the Spanish tour. If I have it right, it lists only main-draw matches, not matches used to qualify. That's where his other 40 losses came during the streak. It's also where his win came. Does that count?
Anyway, in the 14 matches, he lost 21 of 28 sets by 6-0 or 6-1.
You know, the judge ruled that the label of world's worst wouldn't hurt his chances at a coaching career, but I think people are missing his real potential.
This could give Dee cult-figure status. Meanwhile, former major leaguer Bob Uecker is having heart surgery this week, and the news reminded me about how funny he was after his playing career and talking about what a bad player he had been.
Couldn't Dee do that?
"Baseball hasn't forgotten me," Uecker once said. "I go to a lot of Old Timers games and I haven't lost a thing. I sit in the bullpen and let people throw things at me. Just like old times."
Or this: "I hit a grand slam off Ron Herbel and when his manager, Herman Franks, came out to get him, he was bringing Herbel's suitcase."
How about this: "I knew when my career was over. In 1965 my baseball card came out with no picture."
In Dee's ATP bio, by the way, there is no picture.