12 for '12: Feuds of the Year
Peter Bodo continues his year-end awards—12 in all, for 2012—with the Feuds of the Year. You can see rest of his selections as well as the upcoming awards at the end of this article.
Men’s: Serbia’s Janko Tipsarevic takes it to the court of public opinion after surviving a five-set war against the Czech Republic’s Radek Stepanek.
Tipsarevic probably felt like vomiting when he saw that Stepanek emerged as the hero of the 2012 Davis Cup competition, clinching the Cup for his nation with a win over Nicolas Almagro in a decisive fifth rubber in November.
Just months earlier, Tipsarevic had to be restrained from charging Stepanek with clenched fists shortly after the Serb tied their Davis Cup tie at one match apiece with a rousing, five-hour and seven-minute triumph, 9-7 in the fifth—one in which Tipsarevic shunted aside three match points.
Afterward, Tipsarevic denounced Stepanek in a brutal screed, alleging that the Czech had offered him a quick middle finger and vile expletive as a prelude to their post-match handshake. What makes this feud worthy of selection as the year’s best is that Tipsarevic not only broke with tradition, he shattered it when he held nothing back in his denigration of the 33-year-old ATP No. 31.
Players customarily are tight-lipped when it comes to the issues they have with their peers, minimizing or outright dismissing ugly encounters or feelings in the interest of avoiding controversy. After all, they may have to change or shower alongside the guy at the next tournament. And at the end of the day, all of them know that revenge is a dish best served cold—with a nice garnish in the shape of a W.
Not Tipsarevic. Ever thoughtful and polite—and let me add here that he’s a pleasure to work with—he began his remarks with: “I would just like all of you to know what kind of person is Radek Stepanek. . .”
And he went on from there.
Sample: “After five hours and 10 minutes instead of shaking my hand, he gave me the middle finger and told me I am stinking—something bad, it’s a swear word. [I] can understand that somebody like him can be angry after losing a match, especially after having so many chances [Stepanek had three match points]. But doing this?
“Not that I would ever invent something like this. Unbelievable. I never, ever, ever, thought that I would experience this, especially because of my behavior on court. I’m not saying I’m a golden boy, the Stefan Edberg of men’s tennis, but at least I know what is right and what is not right. There is just one word for this: it is ‘pathetic.’ Nothing else.”
Stepanek shrugged off the attack, claiming there were no harsh words or gestures offered during a “normal” handshake. Of course, this strains credibility, not so much because Stepanek marches to the beat of his own drummer as the fact that Tipsarevic won the match. Why would he manufacture such a controversy and say things that make others avert their eyes in embarrassment when he could have been basking in the glory of his epic win?
Despite Tipsarevic’s heroic effort, Stepanek’s teammate, Tomas Berdych, clinched the tie for the Czechs with a fourth-rubber win, and the rest is history, to be continued—Stepanek and Tipsarevic have not met on court since that incident.
Honorable Mention: Almagro drills Berdych in Melbourne; Berdych calls Almagro ‘weak link’ in Prague.
It all began when Berdych, steamed after he was hit with a ball near the net in their fourth-round encounter at the Australian Open, refused to shake hands with Almagro after the match. Berdych was roundly booed by the Oz fans—after all, Almagro had apologized for striking him, and Berdych did win the match.
Did that incident have anything to do with Berdych’s description, almost a year later, of Almagro as the “weak link” on Spain’s Davis Cup team during the week of the final, and the man around whom the Czechs could “build” a final-round victory? We’ll never know. What we do know is that those feisty Czechs ultimately came out on top in that Davis Cup tie, too.
Women’s: Victoria Azarenka punishes her former BFF Agnieszka Radwanska, again. . . and again. . . and again.
For a while there, it looked like WTA toughie Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova were going to pursue one of those classic tennis tiffs. Remember when Sharapova snidely asked the umpire if Azarenka’s name was “Jankovic” while the Belarussan was in the midst of a medical timeout? (You have to hand it to Sharapova, she’s got a great sense of humor.) Or the time Vika called Maria the “B” word in Rome?
But then along came Agneiszka Radwanska to open a new front in the kitty wars, even though the annals of journalism were recently full of warm and fuzzy paeans to the great friendship shared by Azarenka, Radwanska and Caroline Wozniacki. If you didn’t know better, you’d think that Caro was borrowing Vika’s tube tops and Aga was loaning her pumps to either one who asked.
But all the cute stuff went ka-boom as far as Azarenka and Radwanska went last February in Dubai, although the Pole had already fired a shot across the bow of her pal in Australia by coming out against grunting. She didn’t mention Azarenka by name when she made her remarks, but in Dubai, it became personal.
Radwanska was so put off by the way WTA No. 1 Azarenka was hobbling and wincing between rallies in their semifinal encounter (won by Azarenka, 6-2, 6-4) that she took her case to the press.
“Well, to be honest, I don’t think this is worth a comment,” then-No. 6 Radwanska said, before going on to comment. “But I think after this match. . . just lost a lot of respect. . . Yeah, I was angry because I don’t think this is the great image for the women’s tennis, what was going on there.”
Radwanska wasn’t the first—by any means—to question the severity or authenticity of the injuries that have led Azarenka to pull out of numerous tournaments, either before or during the event. But Vika, predictably, has always insisted on her right to pull out of events if she felt she was jeopardizing her long-term fitness and health. She’s a pioneer of today’s “preventative” walkover, but that’s a discussion for another time.
Presumably in response to Radwanska’s criticism, Azarenka took to Twitter: “just laughing out loud….thats it what i can say….its getting more and more funny…have a good week and enjoy girls.”
In keeping with the “revenge is a dish best served cold” theme (established in the men’s portion above), it’s hard to ignore that starting in Dubai, Azarenka has absolutely—and gleefully, I imagine—crushed Radwanska in each of their last four meetings. Radwanska didn’t win a set or even get to a tiebreaker in any of those matches—even though she didn’t lose a completed tennis match to anyone but Azarenka in 2012 until late May. And by that time, Radwanska had risen all the way to No. 3.
My advice to Aga: Wipe your blood off the blade of that hatchet and find a way to bury it, if you have any intention of reversing that 1-9 record you've compiled in your 10 most recent matches with Vika. Maria isn’t the only “Queen B” on the tour these days!
12 for '12: Year-End Awards
- Wednesday, November 28: Coaches of the Year
- Thursday, November 29: Doubles Performances of the Year
- Friday, November 30: Tournaments of the Year
- Saturday, December 1: Upsets of the Year
- Sunday, December 2: Quotes of the Year
- Monday, December 3: Feuds of the Year
- Tuesday, December 4: Newcomers of the Year
- Wednesday, December 5: Most Improved Players
- Thursday, December 6: Biggest Disappointments
- Friday, December 7: Comebacks of the Year
- Saturday, December 8: Runner-Ups of the Year
- Sunday, December 9: Stories of the Year