Andy Murray in a Fitness Race as Juan Martin del Potro Visits the Pope — The Friday Five

By Maud Watson

Fitness Race

It seems that all of the chatter about Nadal’s seeding for Roland Garros may have been for nothing, as the Spaniard may be guaranteed the No. 4 seed even if he fails to win the title in Rome. Unfortunately, his potential guarantee of a top four seed may come at the expense of Andy Murray. The Scot, currently ranked No. 2, was forced to retire in his opening clash with Granollers at the Foro Italico and afterwards announced he would be surprised if he’s able to compete in Paris. The culprit behind Murray’s misfortune is a bad back that has plagued him since the end of 2011 and reacts particularly bad during the clay court season. Though players ultimately don’t want to have to miss any event, especially a slam, skipping Paris may be one of the best things Murray can do for himself right now. It’s his worst major, and he has a lot to defend over the course of the summer. There’s little sense in risking it all for Paris.

Bad to Worse

Not surprisingly, the Tomic Family saga is far from over, and sadly, it’s continuing to have a major impact Bernard Tomic’s season. John Tomic’s trial in Madrid for allegedly head-butting his son’s hitting partner has been postponed until October, but that doesn’t mean he’s free to travel the circuit in the interim with both the ITF and the ATP suspending his credentials. Unfortunately, it seems Tomic Sr. has also taken this to mean that his son can’t compete in any ATP-sanctioned events either. Tomic withdrew from Rome earlier this week citing personal reasons, and there are conflicting reports about his participation in Paris, with his father saying he won’t play and Woodbridge insisting his participation in the year’s second major is likely to go on as scheduled. It’s a sorry situation no matter how you slice it. Given Bernard Tomic’s young age, it will likely be that much harder to break away from his father’s grip, especially if he can’t get access to people like Woodbridge, Rafter and others who want to help support him. It also doesn’t help that when John Tomic was asked by the media if his son’s potential withdrawal from the French Open would be due to lack of a mental fitness, John Tomic replied that if that were indeed the case, it would be on the media’s head for creating this nasty situation. His failure to own up to what he’s done and the detrimental effect it’s had on his son is appalling and creates yet another barrier to getting Bernard Tomic out from under his father’s thumb and allowing him to realize his full potential.

New Direction

Like Laura Robson, another promising up-and-comer has opted for a coaching change as Milos Raonic made a mutual decision with his previous coach, Gala Blanco, to part ways after his loss in Madrid. Raonic was very complimentary of Blanco, thanking him for bringing him so far and wished him all the best. The Canadian will now embark on a search for a new coach who can hopefully take him to that next level. One of the candidates now confirmed on the short list for that job is Ivan Ljubicic, who was spotted in Raonic’s box in Rome. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a happy first outing with Raonic suffering a loss in his opening match, but that’s hardly a deal breaker. Known as a “poor man’s Federer,” Ljubicic was a man who knew how to maximize his talent and was a real student of the game. He could certainly impart come pearls of wisdom to Raonic, so, with any luck, perhaps we’re on the verge of seeing a new and exciting pairing that will spell great things for Raonic in the future.

Juan Martin del Potro pays a visit to the Pope in Rome

When In Rome

When in the Italian capital, why not pay the pope a visit? That’s what Juan Martin del Potro did when he was in town for the Rome Masters. It was a memorable moment for the Argentine, who was undoubtedly surprised and delighted when Pope Francis I recognized him in the crowd and gave him the thumbs up. Del Potro also relished the opportunity to meet the new pope, a fellow Argentine and the first pope from South America, and present him with one of the racquets from his 2009 US Open title run. It’s too bad for Delpo, however, that despite the visit to the Vatican, there was no divine intervention on his behalf – he was upset by Paire in straight sets on Thursday. Maybe his fortunes will improve in Paris.

New Partnership

Like Wimbledon in 2011, the USTA has worked out an extended contract with ESPN to assume sole broadcasting rights in the United States to air the US Open from 2015-2025. CBS, which currently airs the women’s and men’s singles finals, has enjoyed significant broadcasting rights of the season’s last major since the Open Era began in 1968. But in spite of CBS’s years of service, opting to go exclusively with ESPN was a wise move from the USTA. The network has a number of additional platforms for providing coverage and hopes to soon be able to provide live feed from all 17 courts at Flushing Meadows. Equally important, ESPN, which bills itself as the “worldwide leader in sports,” is certainly at the center of American sports culture. That means airing the US Open on the various ESPN platforms should result in greater exposure for the game. In short, this change should translate into better ratings and potential growth in the sport. It’s a win-win for everyone (with the possible exception of CBS).