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Keeping Tabs, Melbourne: Jan. 23

Wednesday, January 23, 2013 /by

MELBOURNE—The Lance Armstrong doping revelations continue to have their effects, obvious and subtle, on tennis. Last week Andy Murray reacted defensively when it was suggested that he had gained muscle in his upper body. On Tuesday it was Novak Djokovic’s turn to field questions from persistent and semi-skeptical reporters about how he had recovered so thoroughly from a five-hour match two nights earlier. 

Djokovic was asked for the specifics of his recovery routine. He was told that French player Gilles Simon had played four hours last week and “could barely move.” He was reminded that early in his career he “had a reputation for pulling out of matches because of injury.” And he was asked to view his story from the other side: “As a sports fan, could you understand how [your recovery] could be surprising for people to see?"  

Finally, the No. 1 player in the world felt the need to come out and say, “I’m doing everything that is legal, that is correct, that is natural that I possibly can in my power, and it’s working well.”

For the moment, the general assumption that tennis was a clean sport and that we were in a golden age has been turned on its head. The assumption of the moment, in the wake of Lance, is to question the extraordinary. Unfortunately, that’s a positive development, one that has to happen to bring more urgency to anti-doping efforts. 

In Djokovic’s case, I will say that his opponent last night, Tomas Berdych, and his trainer, didn’t expect him to be anything less than ready. One part of that assumption was the day of rest that he had in between matches, something that the players only get at Grand Slams, and which can make these events physically less stressful than one-week, play-every-day tournaments. Yesterday both Li Na and Agniezska Radwanska made reference to that. Li said she felt “fitter” than when she had played Aga in Sydney, because she had a day of recovery here. For her part, Radwanska said that, yes, she had played a lot of matches this season, but that she felt fine after her own rest day. 

Last night Djokovic was asked, “What is [your recovery] routine?” He responded, as he usually does, “I can’t say that. Sorry. Have to keep it private.” No one expects him to list every element of his regimen, but that answer will only lead to more questions down the road, especially if this post-Lance moment continues.

Moving along...


Catching Up with Fuentes (Not Daisy)

Well, we can’t move along just yet, sadly. The Daily Telegraph reports today on Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes of Spain, the famous doping doctor who was caught in Operation Puerto in 2006 and is scheduled to go on trial on Monday for “public health offenses.” As Nick Hoult writes, the proceedings are “expected to last two months,” and “cycling’s rampant culture of drug use will be exposed again.”

More interesting, though, is the fact that Fuentes has “freely admitted to working with professional footballers and tennis players,” but “Spanish authorities have ruled that the case will only cover his involvement in cycling.”

This has led to accusations over the years that Spain’s government is covering up its athletes involvement in drugs (Fuentes worked with people from other countries as well, including U.S. and German cyclists.) We had heard that story before; what I hadn’t heard before was David Howman, the normally circumspect director of WADA and a former tennis player, sounding like this: “We have been banging our heads against a brick wall to get access to all the evidence that was gathered. It’s not only frustrating and disappointing, but it also means that many athletes who might be dirty have been allowed to compete.”



On Tuesday, Neil Harman of the Times of London reported that “an overwhelming majority of players on the men’s tour are threatening to walk out of this year’s U.S. Open unless its prize money is improved considerably and the decision to move the final to a Monday night reconsidered.”

Apparently, the players forgot to tell their No. 3, Andy Murray.

“Since the player meeting [last weekend],” Murray said, “I haven’t discussed with any of the players what was said there, what the plans are.”


More is Less?

In other ATP-needs-to-change-everything-right-now news, player representative Kevin Anderson is pushing for an end to extra innings at the majors: “Is it time to eliminate long fifth sets from all Grand Slams? I feel it is.”

This comes in the wake of lengthy matches in Australia that led to medical treatment for Gilles Simon and Blaz Kavcic, and kept Djokovic and Wawrinka running into the early morning hours on Monday. (Fifth-set tiebreakers, as I wrote the other day, are indeed the way to go, for fans as well.)

As part of this discussion, The Australian reprinted a quote that Tommy Haas had given them at the Hopman Cup three weeks ago, about the possibility of making men's matches at majors even shorter:

“The funny thing is,” Haas said, “last year in Shanghai we had a players' meeting and we were saying, ‘Anybody interested in just playing best of three in Grand Slams?’ and I was the only one that raised my hand.”

What was the 34-year-old Tommy’s reasoning? It was, as he admitted, purely selfish. “I still feel like if I’m on fire or playing well over best of three, it would give me a chance to beat the Top 10 players. Best of five? It’s too tough.”

Old man Haas’s wishes aside, it doesn’t sound like best-of-three is an option for the men at the majors. Which means that, in the wake of situations where Djokovic and Warwrinka play to 12-10 in the fifth set in the same tournament that Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova march to the semifinals while dropping less then 10 games, it’s easy to imagine more calls for a return to unequal prize money at the Grand Slams.


Fed Up

Murray Camp Fumes as Open rolls out THE FED CARPET

Murray forced to play in the sun again as row breaks out over favoritism towards Federer


Forget doping, nothing in tennis can hold a candle to an old-fashioned court-scheduling skirmish. As the Daily Mail reported yesterday, it seems that, while “row” may be a bit of an embellishment, Andy Murray and his people have expressed their displeasure about the court assignments at this year’s tourmament.

By the end of today, Murray’s presumed semifinal opponent, Roger Federer, will have played his last four matches at night in Rod Laver Arena, while Murray won’t have played any night matches at all on that court. If they do make it to the semis, that match will be played on Laver at night, which means Muzz will be the one doing the adjusting. 

It’s assumed that Channel 7 here has had a big hand in the scheduling. Federer was just voted the most popular athlete in Australia, and the ratings for his prime-time match with Bernard Tomic were very good. Murray’s defenders also note that while Federer is Federer, their man is the U.S. Open champion and should have been given a showcase match at some point.

They’re right, Murray did deserve at least one night match, and you don’t want one player to have that much of an advantage as far as the conditions go in a semifinal. At the same time, this tournament has had extenuating circumstances. Federer-Tomic was always going to be at night. Federer-Raonic was, on paper at least, a better matchup than Murray versus an exhausted Gilles Simon (though Raonic ended up being hurt and putting up little resistance himself). And again, tonight, Federer-Tsonga has more marquee value than Murray vs. Jeremy Chardy.

Looking back, knowing what Federer had coming, the tournament might not have scheduled his second round with Nikolay Davydenko at night. Though even then, would the Murray-Sousa second-rounder have been a better option?

Tournament director Craig Tiley said yesterday that he thought “we do a pretty good job of being fair,” but that you can't make everyone happy. He cited the case of Victoria Azarenka, the women’s top seed who has spent the tournament as the 11:00 A.M. opening act on Laver, but has gotten on with it anyway. Still, Tiley probably didn’t ease Murray’s mind when he added, “You have to look at all of the variables, such as broadcast requests...” 

(It has also been rumored that Tiley, as he walked out of the room, concluded with a mysterious, partly muffled final word: "[Cough, cough] weenies [cough, cough]")

On a round by round basis, it’s hard to fault the tournament. But Murray and company weren’t wrong to complain.


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