by Maud Watson
In a field that contained among others the fastest man in the world, an international soccer star, and a 7’0” German NBA power forward, it was Novak Djokovic who took home the top honor as he was named the Laureus World Sportsman of the Year. The award represented hard-earned recognition for the outstanding season he had in 2011, and it also marked the sixth time in eight years that the prestigious award went to a male tennis player. Djokovic’s win has brought more favorable press to the sport, and with the men’s game in particular looking stronger than ever, this can only be great for the future of tennis. Well done to the current No. 1, and with his title in Australia, it may not be too premature to suggest he’s building a case to repeat for the award in 2013.
Between an epic Aussie Open final, growing buzz about the Olympics, and that ever popular topic of “grunting” in women’s tennis, Yannick Noah’s unfounded accusatory remarks regarding alleged Spanish doping were all but forgotten. At least they were, until French television channel Canal+ aired an episode of Les Guignols (The Puppets) featuring a life-size puppet Nadal relieving himself into his gas tank, which allowed him to break speed limits before finally being stopped by cops. A message then appeared on screen that all but blatantly stated Spanish athletes only succeed in sports because they cheat. The skit is clearly coming out now, because Spanish cyclist Alberto Contador has been handed a two-year ban and stripped of his 2010 Tour de France title for doping. Les Guignols is also a satirical program, so ordinarily such an episode might have been begrudgingly laughed off by Spaniards. But in the wake of Noah’s comments, the Spanish Tennis Federation, whose logo also appeared in the skit, is taking legal action. Subsequent similar-themed skits have also prompted the government of Spain to look into taking legal action. Ironically, the ones who might be the worse for wear in all of this are the French sporting organizations and athletes, such as the French Tennis Federation and French players, who hopefully won’t be left where they were after Noah’s remarks – holding the bag and offering apologies.
A Total Farce
Not surprisingly, we’re starting to see some of the game’s top stars sign up for Davis and Fed Cup duty, and it’s not because they’re feeling a strong patriotic calling. It’s 2012, and it’s an Olympic year. It really is a joke watching players suddenly become available, which is why the ITF should either look at abolishing the requirements altogether, or maybe the Olympics should return to just being for amateurs. After all, it’s not as though these tennis players don’t already compete at the highest levels of international competition week in and week out, with their successes indirectly benefiting their home countries. A change to the current system would also help alleviate potential politics from being played. Sure, there isn’t much grumbling when Federer or Murray answer their country’s call, as they’re from nations that most likely won’t be in a position to field a full Olympic roster. But then there are countries like the United States where talk of including both Williams Sisters on the Olympic team has already sparked talk of a potentially ugly situation if what some consider a more deserving candidate gets left off the roster. The Olympic qualification system is flawed no matter how you slice it, and the ITF should revisit it along with the Davis and Fed Cup formats.
No official announcement has been made, but news that well-known tennis coach Nick Bollettieri won’t be among the Hall of Fame Class of 2012 has spread fast. Personally, I’m not a fan of the Hall of Fame’s classification system. It’s possible to recognize contributors without putting them on the same plane as players, and the Masters Category should only be used for those whose careers coincided with the “Americans only” induction rule that wasn’t abolished until 1975 (if a player’s career achievements aren’t good enough to get them inducted within 20 years of retirement, why are they suddenly sufficient 21+ years later?). But all that aside, under the Hall of Fame’s current system, it seems ludicrous to not have Bollettieri as part of the mix. Then again, there have been plenty of other questionable inductions in the past (Chang getting the nod the same year Bruguera and Stich did not comes to mind), so Bollettieri shouldn’t be too broken up about it. People know what he’s contributed, even if the Hall of Fame voters fail to recognize it.
Former Spanish tennis player Arantxa Sanchez Vicario may have just one-upped Andre Agassi when it comes to shocking book revelations. News broke that the former No. 1 is estranged from her family, that she is basically broke, and is accusing her parents of mismanaging her funds. It paints a very different picture from the loving family we saw when she was inducted into the Hall of Fame almost five years ago. There are two sides to every story, and it appears that these revelations may only get uglier. Hopefully they will be able to reconcile their differences, not only because it would be a shame to see anything serve as a deterrent to Arantxa and her brothers continuing to serve the sport, but most importantly because given the state of her father’s health, it’s what that family needs most.