The Return of Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic Still on Top — The Friday Five

By Maud Watson

Rafael Nadal at the BNP Paribas practice courts

He’s Baaa-aack

Rafael Nadal couldn’t have asked for a better start in his return from injury. He picked up his second title in three tournaments with his win in Acapulco, and what an emphatic win it was, too. In his last two matches, he took out his fellow countrymen Almagro and Ferrer in straight sets, and the win over Ferrer in the final was particularly brutal. He was moving around the court like a jack rabbit, and, when the opportunity presented itself, appeared to be growing more and more confident in his ability to take the ball on and dictate the point. His impressive win in Mexico doesn’t suddenly make him the favorite for Roland Garros as some overzealous fans and analysts have suggested, but it’s clear by what we saw coming off his racquet last week that he’s already starting to resemble the Nadal of old. We’ll see how Nadal’s clay court success translates onto the hard courts at Indian Wells, but it’s safe to assume that even at this early stage in his comeback, he’s going to be a tough out on the dirt.

Status Quo

While Rafael Nadal was busy showing the tennis world he’s firmly in the thick of it, Novak Djokovic was busy showing everyone why he’s World No. 1 and has no intention of giving up his perch anytime soon. Playing in his first event since winning the Australian Open, Djokovic barely showed any signs of rust as he claimed his fourth Dubai title and second of 2013. He waltzed through the tournament without the loss of set, though he was pushed to a tiebreak on two occasions. His ability to raise his level just that little bit, however, is what separates him from the majority of the pack. He enters Indian Wells as the top favorite, and after bowing out last year to Isner in the semis, you can be certain he’s going to be extra hungry to reclaim that title and keep his perfect record for 2013 intact. It’s going to take something special to stop the Serb, because right now, he’s in a league of his own.

Moving Forward

Apparently the governing bodies of tennis are capable of coming to a unanimous decision as evidenced by the news that the ITF, ATP, WTA and the four Grand Slams are giving their full support to the new biological passport program that will take effect on both tours yet this year. The passport program also will come with more blood tests as well as an increased number of out-of-competition testing. This new endeavor will be made possible by the increased funding that all of the governing bodies have pledged to provide to the program. This will undoubtedly make the players happy as well as the fans. It’s important that tennis be able to back up the assumption that it is a clean sport, with the cheaters being more the exception than the norm. It’s encouraging to see how quickly everyone is moving on this, and with any luck, any nasty doping accusations leveled at the players will soon be a thing of the past.

Red Flag

Earlier this week, both Wozniacki and McIlroy, who have suffered some recent setbacks in their respective sports, came out to squelch rumors that they had ended their relationship. The takeaway from Wozniacki’s press conference, however, wasn’t her commentary regarding the status of her relationship with Rory, but rather her comments concerning where she is with her game. The Dane insisted that she wasn’t slumping due to the relationship and that she didn’t have a problem. She rationalized that “When you are No. 1, there is only one way and it’s down and you can’t go further up. I feel like I am playing well.” She’s living in a fantasy world if she thinks she’s playing well and that her trajectory as a former No. 1 is acceptable. She needs to take a look at players like Azarenka, Serena Williams, and Sharapova. All three women have been at t he top, but they continue to work to get back to the top and at least remain close to top to seize an opportunity to pounce when one is presented to them. They don’t frequently suffer shock losses and drop out of the Top 10 unless an injury or illness is the culprit. Someone needs to get a hold of Wozniacki and help her right the ship, because it’s clear she doesn’t have a realistic grasp of where she is with her game or her spot within the sport.

Head of the Class

Earlier this week, the International Tennis Hall of Fame named their incoming class for 2013, and it’s a pretty decent slate of inductees. The Class of 2013 is headed by the sole Recent Player Inductee, Martina Hingis. The Swiss Miss was one of the craftiest players to ever pick up a racquet. In addition to the numerous awards she received over the course of her career, she garnered 15 major titles. She still holds the record for being the youngest woman to ever win a major – winning the Wimbledon Ladies’ Doubles in 1996 just three months shy of her 16th birthday – and she was also the youngest woman to reach the No. 1 singles ranking at 16-and-a-half years of age. Furthermore, she was one of those rare top players that excelled in both singles and doubles and is one of only five female players to have simultaneously held the No. 1 ranking in both. Hingis will be joined by Master Player Inductee, the great Australian Thelma Coyne-Long, whose induction is long overdue. Rounding out this year’s class in the Contributor category are three former players who have continued to serve the sport through providing television commentary and tournament administration. They are Cliff Drysdale, Charlie Pasarell, and Ion Tiriac. It’s a well-rounded and deserving class, and they should make for an enjoyable induction ceremony later this summer.