Martina and The Snowballs (Watercooler)

Friday, January 04, 2008 /by

Phpzaszdepm

Housekeeping note: Make sure you tune in tomorrow morning for an important, happy announcement that is sure to bring a smile to many of your faces! - Pete

As most of you already know, the ITF independent Anti-Doping Tribunal handed down its decision in the case against Martina Hingis yesterday. The Tribunal categorically rejected Hingis's appeal. Hingis, the 3,456th consecutive athlete who, after testing positive, vociferously denied the charge and proclaimed her innocence, has been suspended for two years - which has become a moot point given that Hingis also announced her retirement shortly after the original doping charge was made public.

I urge you to read the entire report of the Tribunal. I found that some parts of it read like the script of a Monty Python movie. There's this whole thing about the doping control officer being "Mr Snowball" (his wife, Mrs. Snowball, was the one who actually supervised the urine-sample delivery process). And how about that bit (paragraph 36) about how Mr. Snowball thought it "strange" when the Firekitten gave Mrs. Bosanquet a kiss. Anyway. . .

I'd be the last person to advocate lynching people who have used or even just tried cocaine (among other things it would make me a horrible hypocrite, wink-wink), but the recreational drug is a prohibited substance and, at the end of the day, either you have rules or you don't. (Excuse me, I need to run to the men's for a moment!). Many people will think it a shame that this positive drug test will become part of the Hingis legacy, but something that came up while Pete Sampras and I were working on his book has led me to re-consider that (Back in a sec, where the hail is that danged Kleenex?).

You may remember that Petr Korda won the 1998 Australian Open (it was his only Grand Slam singles title, and in winning it he prevented Marcelo Rios from taking one) and rose as high as No. 2 in the world rankings.  Months thereafter, after a drug test administered at Wimbledon, he became the first high-profile tennis player busted under doping rules that finally acquired teeth when tennis became an Olympic sport again (in order to be an Olympic sport, tennis must embrace the stringent drug-testing policies of the International Olympic Committee). Korda tested positive for nandrolone, which is to dopers what a Big Mac is to fans of fast food. Banned for a year, Korda (like Hingis) basically said "To hail with it", and left the tour.Korda

Now here's the funny part. In 1997, Korda hung a surprising loss on Sampras at the US Open of 1997. This was one of the strangest matches in Pete's career, and it played out under ugly conditions, including at least one rain delay. Korda hung in there to win the match in a fifth-set tiebreaker - it was one of the few times in Pete's career that he had a match under control and let a guy come back to win. But in light of the Korda bust of a few months later, its perfectly acceptable to speculate on what role doping might have played in that win by Korda. After all, one of the things doping can increase your strength and stamina - two critical areas for the human pencil,  Korda.

Pete will re-visit this issue in his book, and it wouldn't be right of me to publish his thoughts here. But here are mine:  Korda was a player who gave Pete fits on more than one occasion. The guy was a brilliant shotmaker who seemed to play his best when he had nothing to lose. He was also a weird dude - he defaulted from the US Open after beating Pete that year, on the grounds that he was "sick" (it was an incident reminiscent of the Gasquet default at the US Open; in fact, there are a number of similarities between Korda and Gasquet). Still, if you connect the dots, even Korda's upset of Sampras is tainted.

The funny thing, now, is that nobody made that big a deal out of the Korda suspension and fine back when it happened. And while Korda lost all his appeals and had to return over half-a-million dollars in prize-money, it's fair to ask if that was sufficient punishment for a guy who won over $10 million in his career - plus earned hefty sums in appearance feels, exhibitions and endorsement fees.

I'm not sure that's sufficient punishment, and it isn't because of how I feel about Petr Korda. It's because how I feel about Marcelo Rios.

Rios was denied his one and only major, and it may have been because his opponent had the benefit of doping. I wonder how Rios felt after Wimbledon in '98, seeing that the guy who beat him in Melbourne had been found guilty of doping. I think that the ITF should have stripped Korda of his Australian Open title and awarded it to Rios.

Of course, the ITF has no such protocol in place. So I would suggest that the ITF adopt a policy of awarding all the matches won by a convicted doper for a specific interval (three months? six months? a year?). I mean, dopers presumably benefit from their illicit actions, at least in some cases (nandrolone, as opposed to cocaine) for some time before they're busted. So why not let the record show that?

Here's something else to consider, if you don't think that a doper here or a doper there can really influence the game very much. The record that may very well be the foundation of Pete Sampras's legacy is his six consecutive years as the year-end No. 1 player. Pete sealed that record in 1999, tying Jimmy Connors in '98. Guess who was really pushing him, near the end of the year, and threatening to actually make Pete have to play him in the year-end championships in order to secure the top spot?

Correctamundo. Marcelo Rios.

Now, imagine if Rios had the added benefit of winner's ranking points at the Australian Open. That could have given him enough of a cushion to finish as the year-end No. 1, with a major to boot. This become critically important because Rios pulled out of some events at the end of the year, which helped enable Sampras to catch and surpass him in the rankings.

Personally, I'm not sure you could re-adjust things like ranking points in order to mete out justice to dopers. That gets awfully complicated. And who knows what Sampras himself would have done, if Rios had won in Melbourne? You certainly can't take Pete's No. 1 ranking away, because Korda was a doper and you had to make restitution to Rios.

To me, the key thing is the titles anyway. So I would urge the ITF and other Lords of Tennis to agree that in addition to the usual punishment,  dopers be stripped of any victories or titles they won for a specified time before their positive test. Give the Ws, if not the ranking points, to the guys they beat. In my mind, Rios is the 1998 Australian Open champion and Petr Korda is the doper who never won a major legitimately.

This rant began as a speculation on Hingis's legacy, so let's bring it full circle. Korda, who to my mind committed a far worse offense than Hingis, is happily playing on the senior tour, acknowledged as a Grand Slam champ, and (presumably) livin' large. Even Pete Sampras bears him no ill will, which speaks well for Sampras. I've always felt that it's much easier to forgive than to forget, but in tennis, people seem to forget with equal facility.

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