It's Valentine's Day, but the world’s second and third best players haven't been feeling a lot of love from the media world lately. First Rafael Nadal was portrayed as a syringe-wielding monster on a French cartoon show. Then Roger Federer was briefly quoted bashing his Swiss doubles partner Stan Wawrinka, before it was discovered that a key part of the quote was actually a misquote (though you can clearly see from the picture at right that he was considering punching Stan in the face at one point). My favorite part of either quasi-scandal was Nadal’s response to his cartoon self: “It’s the kind of humor that for one day is fine, but if it’s repeated over and over it’s not right.” I guess Rafa got a chuckle out of it, too.
Let’s see what else the sport's chattering class—i.e., the Tennis Twitterati—were saying about those two players and other topics recently.
United We Fall?
Sticking with Rafa, English journalist Alexandra Willis wrote a column for Sporting Intelligence questioning the wisdom of Nadal’s public defense of suspended Spanish cyclist Alberto Contador.
“Should Nadal,” Willis writes, “really have Tweeted his support for Contador, convicted by the Court of Arbitration for Sport for drug abuse … and banned for two years, saying he believed he was innocent? … In defending someone convicted, Nadal is in danger of looking ever so slightly blind to the truth.”
Willis ends on an ambiguous note about the strong Spanish reaction to France's campaign against their athletes.
“A quiet defense effectively mounted," she writes, "invariably has more impact than a big hullabaloo. But then, perhaps that deep-rooted loyalty is why Spanish athletes have achieved what they have. And therein lies the catch.”
Maybe that's a little too ambiguous: How has their loyalty to each other led to their achievements, exactly?
The Nole Machine
Basketball writer Eric Freeman put up this column at The Classical website about the Aussie Open final. It mostly concerns Djokovic, how he fits somewhere between Federer and Nadal in style of play, and how he can be tough to appreciate because he goes about winning points in such a "logical" manner.
“He wins like a specially engineered victory machine,” Freeman writes, “ruthlessly pulverizing his opponents until they submit. It’s neither a defensive or offensive style, but some unholy hybrid of the two. If his game has a weakness, I haven’t seen it. He’s so good, in fact, that his victories can seem perfunctory, his structural advantage so apparent from the get-go that the rest of the match becomes a slightly more formal version of tennis garbage time.”
What’s odd, and interesting, is that at the Aussie Open it took Djokovic time to let the machine function smoothly. He had to get his mind out of the way of his game before it could do its pulverizing. In general, though, I find Djokovic to be a more stylish and less mechanical player than Freeman does (or a lot of other writers do, for that matter). If Federer is elegant, Djokovic is sleek.
Thinking Longer Term
Kamakshi Tandon is back at ESPN.com to do some more number crunching. She looks at what the rankings would be if the men listened to Rafael Nadal and went to a two-year system. Rafa, actually, somehow, someway, would still be No. 1 and Djokovic No. 2. Which makes sense if you consider that the two players have split the last eight Grand Slams and own roughly the same number of Masters titles over that span of time.
Nadal’s reasoning is that with less immediate pressure to defend points, players’ careers would be lengthened. And it does turn out to be true that someone who is injured doesn’t drop as far—the sidelined Robin Soderling would still be No. 7 instead of No. 14; Sam Querrey at 31 instead of 89. Querrey’s two-year ranking in particular seems much fairer than what he has now. On the other hand, it would make it harder for injured players to rise in the rankings once they do come back—Juan Martin del Potro would No. 27 right now instead of No. 10. In that case, it’s the single-year rank that seems right, and which makes more sense when it comes to doing the seedings at tournaments.
I’ve been tentatively in favor of a two-year system in the past, for the reasons Nadal cites. But the deal-breaker for me is that, as Kamakshi points out (and Roger Federer has pointed out), it would make it tougher for us to see new faces rise up in the rankings and get better seedings. Milos Raonic would be at 48 instead of 28, while Bernard Tomic would be 67 instead of 34. Conversely, slumping established players are given a longer cushion—Fernando Verdasco would still be No. 11 as of now, rather than the more reasonable 24.
As we’ve seen in recent years, it’s already tough enough for young guys to make their mark and for fans to get a mix of players to watch. I wouldn’t want to make it tougher.
Striking a Poser
An American can learn something new every day reading the Daily Mail:
MURRAY’S POSER OVER EXTRA DAVIS CUP DUTY AS CAPTAIN SMITH SEEKS ANSWER FROM ANDY
So what’s a poser? Whatever it is, Murray will be asked whether he can join Great Britain’s Davis Cup team for their next round in April. If you think about Murray’s situation, together with what happened this past weekend, you have the best reason for condensing the Davis Cup format. Djokovic, Nadal, and Murray didn’t play, and even though Federer did, it was his first World Group main-draw appearance in eight years. Not that it did much good; the Spanish, Serbs, and Brits all won, while the Swiss went out to the U.S.
In other, more obscure Davis Cup-complaint news, Simon Cambers of the Tennis Space, following up on a Tweet by fellow Brit journalist Richard Evans, points out that it’s unfair for the men to receive ATP ranking points only at the World Group level. While John Isner moved up in the rankings because of his win this weekend, Great Britain’s Dan Evans, who clinched his team’s tie at the zonal level, got no extra bump.
"Not About a Little Car"
Wondering what happened to the orange-mobile that Bernie Tomic liked to rev so much? Not a lot so far. Bernie and his father, John, who are apparently “moving overseas,” tried and failed to auction it for $200,000. It claimed only $146,000. Stick around to see Dad’s somewhat peeved reaction below.