Rafael Nadal Happy and in Charge — The Friday Five

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By Maud Watson

Happy Returns

Rafael Nadal’s comeback officially commenced earlier this week in Chile, and it’s already been a success with the Spaniard winning both his opening doubles and single matches by identical score lines of 6-3 and 6-2. There were a few anxious moments at the start of his singles match. Nadal had to shake off rust and nerves to bounce back after falling down an early break, but he quickly found his footing. It wasn’t his most dominant outing, but after seven months out of the game, only a fool would have expected him to put on a clinic. The important thing is that he got the win, and he’s moving beautifully. The only negative for Nadal this week is his own insistence, and even more so his Uncle Toni’s, on discussing the knees in too much detail. The narrative changed from the knees being 100% before the Aussie Open to now being a potential liability through the end of February. It’s the classic strategy of the Nadal camp to downplay his chances and lay the groundwork to explain away a loss, and it’s getting old and completely unnecessary. Few will be surprised if he suffers an odd loss in the initial stages of his comeback. Just once it would be nice if they would let Nadal’s tennis do the talking. He’s too talented and accomplished of a player to continually use such tactics.

Leading the Charge

Murray probably didn’t make too many friends in the locker room, but you have to applaud his willingness to take the helm regarding tennis and PEDs. The Scot has been very outspoken about keeping the sport clean and recently suggested players should consider donating some of their prize money to help the cause. Presumably he was referring to having the prize purses reduced in order to allow the ATP to provide additional funding to cover more frequent and various types of testing. Though it’s easy for a top player like Murray to make such a suggestion, it’s unlikely his line of thinking will be popular with his peers, especially the lower-ranked players who don’t rake in the big bucks. But Murray is right to keep the issue in the spotlight and demand greater efforts be made to keep the sport clean. The fallout from the Lance Armstrong scandal cannot be ignored, it’s naïve to think that such a thing could never happen (or isn’t ongoing?) in tennis.

Historic First

For the first time in its history, Canada has reached the quarterfinals of the Davis Cup, and the Raonic-led Canadian squad did so by knocking out powerhouse Spain. The win is much bigger on paper than in reality. Spain was missing many of its top players, but as the saying goes, you can only beat who’s in front of you. It’s a tremendous accomplishment for the boys from Canada. They’ll face Italy in the quarterfinals, which means they’re in with a real opportunity to keep the momentum going. Davis Cup also has a history of acting as a springboard for young talents, so perhaps the success from last weekend will help Raonic begin to realize his full potential and post better results.

Downward Spiral

John Isner continues to endure woes in 2013, with his latest coming in the form of a five-set loss to Belucci in the Davis Cup this past weekend. Querrey stepped in to save the US from embarrassment by coming through in the fifth and deciding rubber, but the victory must have felt a little hollow to teammate Isner. Not only did he fail to close out the tie, but his loss to Belucci marked his six consecutive five-set loss. Isner only made his situation worse when he complained about the Brazilian fans. He’s entitled to his opinion, and it’s refreshing when a player is honest. But really? It’s Davis Cup for crying out loud. There were undoubtedly plenty of American fans yelling and disrupting the Brazilian players, and even Bob Bryan got a little overzealous and upset the Brazilian bench. Isner’s complaints came off as nothing more than sour grapes. His issue is between the ears and lack of a return game. Until he addresses those two liabilities, it’s going to be an uphill battle.

It’s On!

The Indian Wells event and ATP are once again butting heads over a potential prize money increase, and this time, the folks at Indian Wells have issued an ultimatum – if the ATP doesn’t approve the desert tournament’s proposed increase, it will revert back to 2011 levels. The issue was previously voted on last December by the ATP Board of Directors, and it resulted in a deadlock 3-3 with ATP CEO Drewett opting to abstain. Not surprisingly, it’s the three tournament directors who voted against the increase, and Indian Wells Tournament CEO Raymond Moore has had less than kind words to say about those directors. In defense of the tournament directors, however, you can see where they’re coming from. Some tournaments could definitely afford to be more generous with the prize purses, but many don’t have access to the same kind of money that’s backing Indian Wells and never will. It’s only natural to want to avoid seeing one event substantially outdistance the rest of the non-majors. But if the players want it, Indian Wells is willing to pay, and the WTA Board also approved the increase, the ATP Board of Directors should seriously consider falling in line. They’re apt to have a bigger mess on their hands if prize money at the year’s first Masters event reverts to prize money levels lower than in 2012. We haven’t heard the last of this, and it’s likely to only get uglier before it’s resolved.

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