Mornin' Tribe. This will by your new Locker Room OT post, where you can discuss anything you like, tennis related and otherwise. You also have the Day 10 Crisis Center to call and discuss today's matches. This link will bring a smile to your face: La Bamba may be the greatest feel-good fun song ever written (but it's that strange, underlying wistfulness that elevates it above the rest, or am I nuts?), and I can't help but crack a broad grin each time I watch Rafael Nadal singing it.
I am writing this in the Roland Garros pressroom, which is part of the Court Centrale (Chartrier) complex. I think of it as a "Cube Farm Sans Frontier", because the work stations are - mercifully - open-walled. So it's like sitting at any one in a grid of long tables with subtle partitions indicating your space. Each of us has a digital, wide-screen TV, headphones just in case we want to listen to the commentary, and some limited storage. As you glance down the row, you can watch 11 different television sets, most of them tuned to different courtsor channels. Every half-hour or so, a worker comes by toting a soft-sided cooler with bottles of Perrier or Vittel.
My neighbor to the left is here for, like, 10 minutes per day. My neighbor on my right is Frank van Roost, from the Belgian newspaper deep in the heart of Flemish Champagne Kimmy country Het Belang Van Limburg. Frank is the guy who found me the link above to all the French Open karaoki videos, and just in case you're wondering, those little gems have become on an extremely popular feature on a widely watched news and entertainment show.
Yesterday, Frank wrote an enterprising story. He watched the Player's Box very closely, and decided that Carlos Rodriguez was doing some off-court on-court coaching. So he sent a text message to his photographer on-court, and got him to take a series of pictures of Carlos that ran with a story in the Belang today. I saw the pictures, and while they certainly catch Carlos gesticulating dramatically, I had to wonder, to re-work that famous phrase about Freud and cigars: When is a clenched fist just a clenched fist? (Instead of a signal to serve to the backhand, come to net behind the third cross-court forehand, and sneak the backhand volley to the intersection of the service and sideline).
Yesterday, Guillermo Canas did not do a formal press conference in English (the transcript is a translation of the Spanish one). But I went back to talk with him a little later, when he was wrapping up his Spanish radio duties. He was surrounded by about a dozen Spanish radio guys, all of whom seemed head-over-heels with Willy. One dude asked him for an autograph (traditionally, a Cardinal sin for a journalist), and Willy wrote him what appeared to be a letter. Another guy leaned over and kissed him. Others shook his hand, patted his back. This definitely is a well-liked guy.
Willy was very accommodating to me; he'd just lost a three-hour match and spent close to an hour talking with the press, but he had a little more time for me. Willy made no excuses; he was well-rested coming into the tournament, but Davydenko ran him ragged. "I played good, Nikolay played better." Willy thought Kolya played the big points much better, and had a little of the luck that always makes winning easier.
I made some remark about Kolya being tougher than he gets credit for, and Willy said, "Yeah, I know, Maybe he doesn't sell himself like Nadal (although it's hard to visualize Kolya in pantaloons) or go with the press, but he is a very very good player. He gave me no chances today. His biggest weapon is that he is moving unbelievable, and he always fights. But the (service) return is very good, he has a good backhand, and he is just solid."
Canas certainly is a warm, sympathetic guy, which doesn't exactly square with the "doper" image. But regardless of anything else, sometimes good guys do bad - or perhaps dumb - things. The Spanish and South Americans have some interesting points of view on this, and I was somewhat surprised to know how closely some of them followed the debate at this weblog back in the Doping Argies days. Many in the Spanish-speaking press think doping is (or was) widespread, and ingrained the world tennis culture, but that the South Americans were singled out. They also have an interesting take and time-line on the Canas story, which helps explain why many of them seem less interested in the facts of Willy's guilt or innocence than some of the broader issues surrounding it.
Here at Roland Garros in 2002, Canas played Carlos Moya, Lleyton Hewitt and Albert Costa in succession (starting in the third round). The match with Moya was a five-set war, Hewitt a four-set grind, and against Costa, Canas ran out of steam and lost 6-0 in the fifth. The theme of that performance was that Canas ran out of gas, and lost his chance at the French Open title because he lacked strength and stamina. If memory serves, he was thin as a rail back in those days, but of course he was five years younger.The interpretation is intriguing: remember, that was the year Costa - a One Slam Wonder - grabbed the title, as heavy favorite Juan Carlos Ferrero froze on the occasion.
One of the more interesting aspects of Canas's profile is that in his interview yesterday, he conceded that while he plays well on clay and enjoys Roland Garros, he's at his best on hard courts. That makes sense if you accept that Canas isn't blessed with great natural stamina; the hard courts force the action a little more and allow him to win more quickly. In other words, Canas seemed the kind of player who could really benefit from the way PE drugs help in tennis - by adding muscle mass and increasing stamina and recovery.
As far as I'm concerned, though, the issue is closed. Canas served his suspension, presumably he's clean, and if his good name is clouded by the "doper" rap, what do you expect? That's what happens. The real debt you pay as a convicted cheat isn't the time you serve; that's just a down-payment. You keep paying after that with your name and reputation, until you - and they - move on, perhaps even forget.
It's a sad situation, of course. You can stand by Canas's claims of innocence or stand by the belief that justice has been served (in a conversation with Pete Sampras on this issue, he echoed - almost word for word - Roger Federer's hard-line stand, which is essentially that dopers always create a fog of doubt and confusion). Ironically, the concept of forgiveness probably provides the easiest and clearest path out of the jungle.