Justin Gimelstob rarely sleeps more than a couple of hours at a time. His mind never shuts off, constantly churning like a blender trying to crush ice. It often prompts him to rise at 1, 2 or 3 in the morning to unburden his thoughts in extended emails and text messages.
“I view my lack of sleep as an opportunity to get more work done, since the day never seems to be enough,” Gimelstob wrote recently in a 3:30 a.m. text message from his home in Brentwood, Calif., where his 5-year-old son, Brandon, was sleeping. “Plus, it’s quiet. I find it allows me to filter out the noise and distractions.”
There have been plenty of distractions in Gimelstob’s life. One of the busiest men in professional tennis, he has been a Tennis Channel commentator, a member of the ATP board of directors and a coach for a top American player, John Isner. And for the last four years, he has been tangled in court cases over a contentious divorce, a child custody dispute and a felony battery charge. That has not only cost him more than $4 million in legal fees, he said, but it has also put his career in jeopardy.
In a Los Angeles courtroom on Monday, Gimelstobpleaded no contest to felony batteryfor his part in a physical altercation with Randall Kaplan as they trick-or-treated with their families on Halloween night last year. The judge reduced the charge to a misdemeanor and sentenced Gimelstob to three years’ probation and 60 days of community labor.
Gimelstob, 42, did not deny that the altercation had taken place or that Kaplan, an acquaintance, had taken the brunt of the hits. But he maintained that this was not the first time the two had scuffled and that he did not attack Kaplan from behind as he was accused of doing. Rather, he said, he reacted when Kaplan made derogatory remarks about Gimelstob’s father less than 48 hours after his funeral. Kaplan has denied making such comments.
Gimelstob admitted that instead of walking away, he sent his son off to safety with a friend before returning and hitting Kaplan in front of Kaplan’s wife and 2-year-old daughter.
“I’m not saying that I am perfect or that I shouldn’t have handled that night differently,” Gimelstob said in an interview last month. “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.”
For several years, Gimelstob, a two-time Grand Slam mixed doubles champion with Venus Williams, has been considered one of the most influential men in tennis. He has also been mentioned as a possible successor to the ATP president, Chris Kermode, whose contract was not extended after a vote by the board in March.
Despite Gimelstob’s legal troubles, he is still held in high regard by top players and television executives. The ATP board, for which he is one of three player representatives,did not remove himwhen it had the chance in December.
Gimelstob also has his detractors. They include Kermode; the coach and commentator Roger Rasheed, who was recently ousted by the board; and Lleyton Hewitt, a former world No. 1 and two-time Grand Slam champion. After the felony battery charge was filed against Gimelstob in November, Hewitttweeted that the ATP, the governing body for men’s tennis, “must lead by example and do something about this.”
In a statement Tuesday, the ATP said of Gimelstob’s status: “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 in Rome, and his fate is in the hands of 10 players, including top-ranked Novak Djokovic, the player council president; its vice president, Kevin Anderson; and two American players, Isner and Sam Querrey. Opposing candidates have until April 30 to come forward.
“It’s a tricky and nuanced situation,” Anderson said before Gimelstob’s criminal case was settled. “He definitely has the expertise, the experience and the passion. No one can match that. He’s been very effective, fights for the players and has their best interests at heart. But as he would self-admit, the way he does so can be polarizing.”
After Gimelstob’s arrest in November, he was granted a leave of absence from Tennis Channel, though he said he would be back on the air as soon as his case was resolved.
“Because of his position in the game, Justin brings a level of depth of analysis, of precision, of firsthand immediate relevance as to what’s going on in the game today,” Tennis Channel’s chief executive, Ken Solomon, said. “He is incredibly bright, incredibly insightful and obsessive about his homework.”
This season Gimelstob has appeared courtside at Isner’s matches, but now serves as an unpaid adviser rather than as a coach. Isner reached the top 10 and his first Grand Slam semifinal last yearwith Gimelstob on his coaching team.
In an interview in late March, Isner described Gimelstob as “a misunderstood character.”
“He’s going through a tough time on a lot of fronts,” Isner said. “But he’s a very loyal guy, and he goes up against the tournament representatives and goes to bat for us players. He’s stubborn and tenacious. That’s the reason he’s been in the position he’s been in for quite some time.”
Those considering Gimelstob’s future must grapple with victim impact statements by Kaplan and his wife, Madison, in court on Monday. Kaplan described being repeatedly punched in the head while on the ground and Gimelstob threatening to kill him. He said he was still suffering the effects of a concussion and a shoulder injury, and his wife, who was pregnant at the time of the attack, had a miscarriage weeks later.
The episode with Kaplan was not the first time Gimelstob had been accused of violence.
His ex-wife, Cary Sinnott, has been seeking full custody of Brandon since the couple split in 2015. She and Gimelstob have accused each other of domestic violence, and they have restraining orders against each other.
Gimelstob has also been accused of getting into a fight with a friend of Sinnott’s at a restaurant in 2016 and of threatening an opponent during a paddle tennis tournament in October 2017. In both cases, Gimelstob produced affidavits from witnesses claiming that he was the victim and not the perpetrator.
Gimelstob, who retired as a player in 2007, became a member of the ATP board the next year. He is one of three player representatives on the board. There are also three tournament representatives, with whom the player representatives are often at odds over prize money and pensions.
Gimelstob said he lobbied to be on the board because he had seen how underrepresented the players were on important financial issues.
He has a theory on why he has maintained his position at the ATP despite legal problems.
“This sounds horrible, but I’m very good at what I do,” he said in the interview last month. “And that upsets people in our structure. The players know how good I am, especially in terms of improving prize money for them, and that pisses off the tournaments. It annoys them that, even in a compromised state, I’ve been able to outwit, outmaneuver, outstrategize and outmobilize them.”
Gimelstob was reportedly among those against Kermode’s contract renewal. His term is up at the end of this year. Gimelstob has made no secret of the fact that he would like Kermode’s job.
“Everyone knows how ambitious I am,” he said. “I’m the most obvious person in the sport. I have never walked through the back door of a place in my life.”
But even if he is re-elected to the board on May 14, Gimelstob will have a much tougher time becoming chief executive, especially in light of recent events.
“Candidates for C.E.O. have to be more neutral,” Anderson said. “The style that has favored Justin with the players would work against him with the tournaments.”
One tennis governing body acted against Gimelstob on Tuesday. The All England Lawn Tennis Club, which hosts Wimbledon, said he would not be asked to play in the invitational doubles tournament or to sit in the royal box.
Gimelstob is acutely aware that what happened last Halloween could forever impact his career.
He is required to attend anger management classes as part of his sentence in the Kaplan case. He said that he had been in therapy since an hour after his father died of a heart arrhythmia on Oct. 26 and that it was helping him learn to accept his flaws and take responsibility for his actions.
What if he learns that he has become more of a liability to tennis than an asset?
“It would fall under the bucket of consequences and being a man and taking responsibility for it,” Gimelstob said. “I want the same for the council, for the greater good. But I wouldn’t be the first person who’s had a major issue, extenuating circumstances and ascended to tremendous positions of responsibility, power and leadership. I could turn it around, and I think that would be one of my greatest, most proud accomplishments.”