By Maud Watson
Rafa Rebuttal – Last week I received a lot of feedback on my criticism of Rafael Nadal’s comments regarding the ATP schedule following his withdrawal from Barcelona. If the article came across as “Nadal bashing,” then that was my mistake, and I deserve to be called on it. Many of you rightly pointed out that players such as Roger Federer and Andy Roddick have also panned the current schedule, as well as pointing out that it’s wonderful that Nadal can use his stature in the sport as a voice to bring about change. I agree with both of these statements. I agree with Nadal that the schedule is too long, and it is a definite advantage he’s willing to speak his mind. Where I have an issue with his comments, however, is I don’t see as much effort on his part to make adjustments on his own end. First, and I’ll preface this statement by saying other players such as Federer, Roddick, Djokovic, etc. should also be held accountable to this one the same as Nadal, is choosing to play exhibitions. If I’m an ATP exec, I have trouble going to a tournament director, particularly of a big successful event, and telling that director I have to downsize their tournament or wipe them off the map completely to give the players a longer off season. I have trouble with that, because these same players are the ones who accept large appearance fees to play exhibitions in an already too-short off season or throughout the course of the season itself. Who’s to say they won’t play even more exhibitions if they have a few more weeks of free time on their hands?
My second issue with Nadal, however, is his scheduling, a topic which commentator Robbie Koenig noted during his commentary in Rome this week as an issue the Spaniard needs to address. Federer has always been excellent about planning his schedule to avoid overplaying, and Roddick has recently been doing the same. If they feel they need a rest, they forgo some of the 500 events, or they take advantage of the fact that an event like Monte Carlo is optional. (And for those who have suggested there’s an American bias when Indian Wells and Miami are back-to-back yet not optional, it’s worth noting they are also bigger tournaments that offer more prize money and have a larger overall financial commitment. For better or for worse, money talks.) These are also guys, along with other players such as Murray, who have based their decisions regarding Davis Cup around ensuring they are as rested and ready to go each week on the ATP Tour. This is a sticky topic, as you don’t want to discourage a player from representing his country, and Nadal’s decision to do so is admirable. Despite that, however, I personally think it better to force the ITF’s hand in revamping the Davis Cup format to better fit the ATP schedule than the other way around. Furthermore, even Novak Djokovic, who has criticized the length of the season, freely admitted to the fact that his fatigue was also due to his poor planning and over scheduling himself last year. This has historically been a problem for Nadal, and an issue that Uncle Toni is only now beginning to seriously address. And as a final word on the length of the season, I think blaming it for the increase in injuries over the years is simplifying the problem too much. The Williams sisters, who play as little as possible while still staying within the rules (something Serena freely admits to), always seem to have something taped up every time they come out to play a match. I firmly believe the changes in technology and what it has done to the game as far as making it more physical must also be pointed to as one of the main causes for the increase in injuries.
My final issue with Nadal is his stubbornness regarding his style of play. He’s obviously earned a lot of accolades with his grinding style, and I’m not suggesting he do a complete overhaul of what he’s been so successful with. But his physical brand of tennis should bear a large portion of the blame for his knee problems, and he’s going to continue to pay for it, particularly on a hard court. Roddick is a guy who went out and lost weight and is working on not falling into the habit of getting trapped behind the baseline on defense unless necessary. Djokovic has also been working on his fitness and his net game to shorten points. Instead of digging his heels in and being stubborn when asked by reporters about changing his game, Nadal should look at other options. Throughout matches, he has shown plenty of occasions where he’s capable of being more aggressive, and he’s certainly shown he has the talent to make the switch given the number of shots he’s added to his repertoire. If Justine Henin can do it, so can he.
This may just seem like more Nadal bashing, but I’ll stick by my stance. Yes, Nadal’s complaints about the season are valid. Yes, it is a great that he’s willing to speak out about it. But do I give his criticisms as much weight as others? No. Not until he takes more responsibility for things on his own end the way the others who are complaining about the season have done on theirs.
Gulbis the “Real Deal?” – Until recently, Latvian Ernests Gulbis looked as though he were on track to be one of the biggest underachievers the sport of tennis has ever seen. Having won a title in 2010 and putting together a nice run in Barcelona, Gulbis has shown he’s now ready to hang with the big boys and continue his climb up the rankings with an impressive win over Roger Federer this week in Rome. While he did stumble a bit at the finish line, getting broken when he first served for the match, I was impressed that he stuck with Federer, broke him again, and this time made no mistake as he successfully served it out. Gulbis may now be ready to finally fulfill his potential.
No Pain, No Gain – Justine Henin overcame the pain of a broken pinky finger on her left hand to secure a 7-6, 6-1 win over Julia Goerges in Stuttgart, her first official clay court match since coming back from sabbatical. Henin stated she was encouraged by the fact that the pain has lessened in the broken appendage and that she is adjusting to playing with the splint. She also admits she’s still trying to find the right balance in her game. As a fan, I’m holding my breath that the finger heals and she finds that balance. If so, we’re in for a real treat a few weeks from now in Paris.
Fitness Race – The other half of the Belgian duo, Kim Clijsters, is in a more serious fitness battle of her own. Clijsters fought through pain in her left foot to defeat Maret Ani in straights sets this past weekend in Fed Cup play. It was later discovered she has a tear in the muscle, and doctors are estimating she may very well need six weeks of recovery time. This puts her Roland Garros hopes in serious jeopardy, as the second major of the year is set to get underway in just four weeks. Ever the optimist, Clijsters hasn’t given up on competing in the French capital, stating she generally recovers quickly and feels she can do just that despite doctor’s concerns. We’re pulling for you, Kim!
Bad Day In Court – Brit Robert Dee struggles to win matches on the court, and now he’s apparently struggling to win them in court. He recently brought a libel suit against the Daily Telegraph for labeling him as far as professional tennis player go, the “world’s worst.” As Mrs. Justice Sharp, who presided over the case, stated however, the facts remain that Dee, who is a professional tennis player, did lose 54 consecutive matches (all in straight sets) in international play, equaling the world record for most consecutive losses in international competition. It has to be hard enough to go through that on the court, but utterly humilitating to have it explained to you and all present in a court of law. He’s already suffered enough of ‘em, so maybe it’s time to just cut his losses and call it a day.