by Maud Watson
Pushing the Limits
In the movie Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Severus Snape once said, “Well, it may have escaped your notice, but life isn’t fair.” Of course, Professor Snape was saying that to the Boy Who Lived, but it pretty much sums up what Dubai tournament officials told No. 1 Arab player Malek Jaziri (ranked No. 104) and the press, as they attempted to justify giving a disputed wildcard to Marko Djokovic (younger brother of Novak and ranked 869) instead. The uproar caused by the decision is only partially justifiable, and it’s most likely strictly due to the fact it involved the younger brother of the current No. 1. The Djokovic family did nothing wrong, having submitted the wildcard request at least a month ago. And as for Novak’s part in getting his brother the wildcard, he’s not the first star player to use his leverage. Many top tier players use their elite status to rake in huge appearance fees, and some, such as Hewitt and Clijsters, have also used leverage to garner wildcards for younger siblings. It’s also not uncommon for tournaments to weigh other factors over actual merit when doling out wildcards. How many French, American, and Australian players have benefited from the reciprocal major wildcard agreement between their home governing bodies that competitors from non-Slam nations can only dream of? And don’t get me started on the number of undeserving British players that have been handed a free pass to play on the most hallowed grounds in the sport. The real fault lies in how poorly tournament officials handled the situation. They previously told Jaziri he wouldn’t have to play the qualifying event only to pull the rug out from under him in the 11th hour by giving the wildcard to the younger Djokovic. Had it been handled more professionally, Jaziri may not have been as disgruntled. And yes, the extremely low ranking of Marko Djokovic does suggest officials were pushing the limits. Then again, had it been awarded to a local Arab player of the same ranking, would this even be a topic of discussion? I think not.
New Day, New Clay
Come April, France will look to do what Switzerland could not – defeat the United States Davis Cup team on clay. This time it will be an outdoor clay court set in picturesque Monte Carlo. But while the venue will serve as a beautiful locale, it’s still a surprising decision. French No. 1 Tsonga has already stated clay is not his best surface. A quicker hard court would help shorten the long rallies in which Monfils frequently finds himself entangled, not to mention better suit Llodra’s attacking style. The long short of it is that, barring injuries, these are going to be two evenly matched teams no matter what the surface, and the French need to avoid falling into a false sense of security. Playing the U.S. on the red dirt doesn’t mean what it did a decade or so ago.
Own Worst Enemy
Be it counting backwards from 10, taking a few deep breaths, or taking a page out of Frank Costanza’s book and yelling “Serenity now!” (risking insanity later), Tomas Berdych needs to find some way of letting the little things go. On a breakpoint for Berdych to extend the second set into a tiebreak, a Murray serve was initially called out, only to have Hawkeye reverse the call. Mohamed Lahyani then awarded the point to Murray rather than replaying it, infuriating Berdych in the process. It’s understandable that Berdych would rue letting the break point go, especially since he’d already saved multiple match points. But while he got his racquet on the serve, Lahyani was correct in his ruling. The initial out call in no way affected Berdych’s play on it, and yet, the Czech was still ranting about it in his press conference. But this isn’t the first time Berdych has failed to understand the rules and etiquette of the game, and sadly it probably won’t be the last. He needs to learn to stop sweating the small stuff. It doesn’t help his game any, and it certainly won’t win him any fans. With a game as big as his – a game that is capable of earning him a major – it would just be a waste to see it not come to full fruition simply because he can’t get out of his own way.
She won’t get a ton of press, because she doesn’t have multiple majors to her name, nor is she known outside tennis circles. All of that aside, the undisputed feel-good story of the week is Alisa Kleybanova’s planned return to WTA competition. The young Russian announced last July that she had been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and would be undergoing treatment in Italy. She now says she’s finished her cancer treatment, the doctors are pleased with her health, and she’s anxious to return to action. Stories like this really drive home the point that tennis is just a game, and hopefully she’ll be an inspiration to others. One thing is for certain – win or lose when she returns to the court in Miami later this month, it will go down as a victory.
The worlds of sports and entertainment are never lacking for surprises, and this week was no exception. Who can honestly say that they saw the announcement that Martina Navratilova would be joining the Season 14 cast of Dancing with the Stars coming? There are players I’d love to see take to the dance floor, and others that I can see wanting to join the cast. Somehow the 18-time Grand Slam singles champion didn’t fit either mold. It’s hard to imagine her in a frilly ball gown. But she may just be full of surprises. She’s fit, and she also possesses the work ethic and commitment necessary for success. But it will be interesting to see how easily she takes direction from one of the show’s regular pros, Tony Dovolani, as well as criticism from the judges. Hopefully she proves adept at both. It’s just a fun TV show, but after the Seles debacle a few seasons ago, tennis could do with posting a respectable finish.