By Maud Watson
Day 4 at Wimbledon saw one of the biggest upsets in Grand Slam history, as Czech Lukas Rosol not only became the lowest ranked player to defeat Nadal at a major, but handed the Spaniard his earliest loss in a Slam since 2005. Nadal didn’t play his A game, but it’s safe to say that his opponent was the main reason for that. Rosol served brilliantly and took his chances, which was all the more shocking given that he hadn’t won a tour-level match on grass until just a few weeks ago in Queens. He also avoided getting into long rallies as he teed off in attempt to get the short ball or hit the outright winner. Nadal never found his rhythm, and he remained clearly rattled throughout the encounter. He even uncharacteristically tried to reach his chair first on a changeover, and replays showed he may have bumped into Rosol in the process. He then argued with the chair umpire over Rosol’s bouncing around on the return, asking if the chair ump thought it was fair. (I don’t know Rafa…do you think it’s fair when you take 30+ seconds to serve on the big points or stall on your opponent’s serve?) In the end though, Nadal lost because he simply got outplayed by a guy who produced the match of his life. Patrick McEnroe is probably right in that this is just a hiccup in the overall picture for Nadal, but his loss does have a large impact on the overall tennis landscape. Andy Murray suddenly becomes the favorite in the bottom half of the draw. Roger Federer will at the very least come out of Wimbledon the No. 2 ranked player in the world. And if ever there was a time for Federer to grab another major and retake the No. 1 ranking, this might just be it. Suffice it to say, it’s already been a crazy Wimbledon.
The Farce Continues
Just when the “grunting” issue had finally sunk into the shadows, the WTA brings it to the forefront. This time they bring news that they’ve worked out an agreement with the Grand Slams and ITF to develop a device that would measure decibel levels to serve as an objective way of penalizing the more vocal players. Unfortunately, their future plans for using the device have only inflamed fans, and rightfully so. WTA CEO Stacey Allaster has already confirmed that such a device won’t impact the current generation of WTA players, which is ludicrous. Irrespective of when the WTA opts to put this device into use, there is always going to be that handful of top-talented juniors who play both the junior and WTA circuit. It’s hard to train the shrieking out of them when it’s allowed one place and not the other. Additionally, even if a junior player stops the shrieking, how is it fair to them to watch an opponent get by with it just because that opponent was already an established player on the WTA? Furthermore, the smugness from Sharapova and Azarenka when asked about their shrieking – which isn’t nearly as loud and at times almost non-existent when they practice – just begs for them to be disciplined. Players of a much smaller stature also manage to compete without making a peep, proving that the excess noise is just that – excessive and unnecessary. With more WTA players complaining about their louder fellow competitors, the WTA establishment owes it to the current generation of players and fans to grow a spine and bring the hammer down immediately and at all levels of competition. If the biggest offenders, currently ranked 1 and 2, can’t cut it without the shrieking, then they don’t deserve to be at the top in the first place.
Falling on the Knife
Earliest this week, freshly-elected ATP Player Council Representative Gilles Simon voiced what he claims to be an opinion shared by many fellow ATP players, which is that the women do not deserve equal prize money with the men at the dual events. While some fans and many WTA players reacted negatively to Simon’s comments, many were in agreement with the Frenchman. Personally, I applaud him for speaking up, because when you look at his arguments, he’s right. While he briefly alluded to the fact that the men will typically log more hours on court than the women at the majors strictly due to their best-of-five format, he also brought up valid points regarding the greater popularity and demand for men’s tennis when you look at ticket prices and television rights. You can see it at any dual event, where crowds tend to be sparser at the women’s matches than at the men’s. Over the last decade, the men have also offered a better product. They have produced more and higher quality rivalries, because the top men have not only delivered on a consistent basis, but they’ve played week-in and week-out on a consistent basis. So while the women have historically been right to fight for prize money more comparable to that of the men and understandably don’t want to take a pay cut, none has been able to put forth a solid response to refute Simon’s arguments. All credit to Simon for having the guts to say what needed to be said and generating a discussion that’s highly warranted.
The Olympics are a celebrated competition, and it’s an honor for its competitors to represent their respective nations. Unfortunately, the Olympic selection process has also generated a lot of ill will as far as tennis is concerned. The Indian Olympic fiasco continues, with Sania Mirza deservedly ripping the AITA for essentially offering her up as “bait” to appease Paes. Na Li has slammed the Chinese Federation for blindsiding her when they elected her to also play the doubles when she expressly stated she wished to solely focus on the singles, and we’ve been aware for quite some time of the drama between Marion Bartoli, the French Tennis Federation, and her being barred from competing in the Olympics. For sure, some countries made their selections with little fuss, others ultimately caved to reason, but with the amount of negativity the Olympic selection process has created, you have to question if the system doesn’t need tweaking or if tennis should just be removed from the Olympics altogether. At the end of the day, it’s just another tournament on the calendar. It’s a draw roughly the same the size as top tier events, featuring many of the same stars. Sure, some get a real kick out of representing their nation on that stage, but many are there more for the personal prestige. The Olympics were originally meant for the amateurs. Maybe it’s time to return to that.
Possible Swan Song
For the first time in her career, Venus Williams exited the Wimbledon singles competition in the opening round, prompting many to wonder if this was the last we’d see of the five-time Wimbledon champion in the singles competition. Though Venus insists she’ll be back, it’s easy to see her calling it quits at the conclusion of 2012. Her being diagnosed with Sjögren’s Syndrome has been discussed ad nauseam, but you have to seriously wonder how many of her recent results are due to her autoimmune disease and how much is just a lack of desire. Between dealing with the disease and other interests outside the sport, her head and heart may no longer be the game. She looked as though she’d rather be anywhere else than out on the court in her loss to Vesnina. She’s not able to put in the time off the court, and at age 32, the value of that off court preparation takes on even greater meaning. Couple that with the fact that most of the field has caught up in terms of power and movement, and that she can longer win matches in the locker room, and Venus is looking at an uphill battle to taste success on any of the grandest stages of the game. If she were to call it quits at the end of 2012, nobody would blame her.