Southern California tennis has had a few ugly missteps of late. In 2017 there was the arrest in San Diego of the father of Davis Cup champion and one-time Wimbledon finalist Mark Philippoussis. Accused of sexually assaulting two 9-year-old girls he taught while working as a private tennis instructor in North County, then 68-year-old Nikolaos Salvator Philippoussis pleaded not guilty to the charges and was held on $9.2 million bail. Before justice could be served, however, in late 2018 the accused allegedly suffered a stroke while in jail and was rendered incapacitated.
Although the sexual assault allegations made it to local mainstream media, tennis media was fairly quiet about the case.
Now there’s the Justin Gimelstob matter. Monday the former pro player turned Tennis Channel commentator pleaded no contest to felony battery stemming from a physical altercation with acquaintance Randall Kaplan as they trick-or-treated with their families on Halloween night last year in the Los Angeles area. According to a statement from Kaplan, the attack was vicious and unsolicited, with Gimelstob landing more than 50 punches. Kaplan’s wife, who was pregnant at the time, suffered a miscarriage due to the emotional stress caused by the incident, according to the statement.
With Gimelstob’s plea, the judge in the case reduced the felony charge to a misdemeanor and sentenced 42-year-old Gimelstob to three years’ probation and 60 days of community labor.
It wasn’t Gimelstob’s first brush with the law. In 2016, his former wife, Cary Sinnott, filed a domestic violence restraining order against her estranged husband, alleging he physically assaulted, harassed, verbally attacked and stole from her. Together, they have a son, Brandon, age 5, who was nearby during the Halloween attack.
Earlier this year, Gimelstob, who lives in the Los Angeles area, said on Facebook that he was being misrepresented in media reports about the case. He maintained his innocence but said he would consider a no contest plea. “To that end, we will continue to pursue a fair and just settlement agreement. If that proves to be impossible, I will fight the case to the end, confident that the truth will wholly vindicate me,” Gimelstob said.
The former pro was more conciliatory last month in a New York Times interview. “I’m not saying that I am perfect or that I shouldn’t have handled that night differently,” he said. “I should have. I would give anything to undo it. I’d give every dollar that I have to take that five minutes back. But I didn’t do what he said, and my whole life and my whole career and my relationship with my son should not be ended because of it.”
Once again, professional tennis has been largely silent. There wasn’t much ado when Gimelstob took a leave of absence in November from his broadcaster role at Santa Monica-based Tennis Channel. Now that the court case is over, the media company owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group is reportedly mulling its options with Gimelstob. It’s assumed his multi-year stint with Tennis Channel is over, although that’s not been said publicly. Instead, the only sign he’s through is that Tennis Channel has been wiped from his social media profiles.
Current American pro player John Isner, who’s presently ranked 10 in the world, had been coached by Gimelstob, dating back to 2014. In 2016 they publicly parted ways, but as recent as the 2019 season Gimelstob could be spotted in the Isner player box, acting in a limited coaching capacity. When news of the Halloween attack broke, Isner initially stood by Gimelstob saying on social media that he wanted to let the legal process proceed before making any judgement. Rene Moller and David Macpherson are currently listed on the Isner coaching team, and Isner has not publicly weighed in on the Gimelstob plea.
Another source of quiet is the ATP Tour, which is the governing body of the men’s professional tennis circuits. Gimelstob sits on the ATP board of directors as a player representative. He was elected to the post in 2008 and at press time remains in the position. Tuesday the ATP released a statement that said, “The decision was taken to let the judicial process run its course before any judgment was made on his future. So with that process complete, this is now subject for review by the Board and/or Player Council.”
Gimelstob is up for re-election on May 14. If he makes it that far, his fate is in the hands of 10 pro players, including his one-time charge John Isner.
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