The Murmur

We have some very interesting off-the-court tennis news that probably helps clarify what’s going on on-the-court.

In the event that some wonder how I am dealing with Nadal’s rediscovered “formidable form,” I am humored, no longer at all discouraged that more people can’t come to question how this guy’s form and “confidence” are so unstable. Suddenly he’s the favorite at RG, according to the peanut gallery. I hope he wins RG. Such a mess he makes of this sport. It’s embarrassing. So, let’s do it: go all the way to the top, Fraudal. Who’s stopping you? This is pure mystery, pure fiction.

Today it was announced that Nadal has filed his defamation suit against the French Minister, Roselyne Bachelot since “he needs to defend his integrity and image as an athlete.” Okay. If that process is like anything American, the multi-million dollar athlete should come-out on top there. Go gettem, Nadal. As you continue to win these matches, reinventing your dominant self, the case against you is cemented. Keep it up. I will be here keeping pace with your frenetic, schizophrenic tennis.

Of course, last week or so we had Novak Djokovic and his now infamous: “If There’s No Proof Tennis Is Not Clean, Then Tennis Is Clean!”  The most worrisome point here is the exclamation mark, which I hope is the help of another and not Novak awkwardly and so vehemently making such an ignorant statement. There is recent proof and has been in the last few years despite goofball technicalities and so forth. There are drugs in virtually every other major sport in the world. Why would tennis be exempt? And yes the echos of Lance Armstrong in Novak’s words, as well as in my reasoning should make us all a little uneasy. The entire front of the peloton is getting busted, but Armstrong was clean? Didn’t make sense. Same analogy with the professional sports landscape. There are drugs through out, but tennis is not involved in that science, is somehow unaffected by this trend?

What I found pretty interesting was the talk among some seemingly knowledgeable tennis fans (who had been fairly supportive of Novak) who have begun to question his innocence. I have had a reader or two question Novak here in my comments, but I have refrained from suggesting Novak is involved in this sort of scandal.

In the end, there is no reason to think that anyone is above doping, especially with its sophisticated science, the fact that some “supplements” are permitted, but could be reclassified as banned substances later on. Clearly, there is a fine line between good and bad science and nutrition. As I have said, the top of the sport is in a very different world from you and me. Peter Bodo says the same thing in this 2006 post:

When it comes to the players, nobody, but nobody, is above suspicion; this doesn’t mean that I suspect everyone—or, for that matter, anyone. It just means that I don’t believe anyone is immune to the temptation of dabbling in performance-enhancing drugs. Top pro athletes, like fabulously wealthy venture capitalists, exist in a different world. They are playing for much higher stakes, with much deeper pockets, which opens up possibilities unimaginable to many of us. I’ll never forget Boris Becker, a close friend, telling me about the transfusions of calf blood he took as part of his drive to remain “fresh” for the game (it was not illegal) when he was making a big push for the No. 1 ranking. Boris was very matter-of-fact and blasé about it; he had to do what he had to do. But it struck me as pure science fiction.

So, as far as I’m concerned, everyone from Roger Federer on down to the most desperate journeyman is a potential doper. It just wouldn’t be fair to look at it any other way. In this regard, some readers accused me of “protecting” Andre Agassi while planting suspicions about Rafael Nadal when I analyzed their withdrawals from the Australian Open yesterday.

The fact is that up-and-coming champs and aging ones are vastly different, and driven by vastly different priorities. I’m not going to rehash the details, but I’ll say that in ways related strictly to his career and family life, it makes a lot of sense, in lots of different ways, for Agassi to skip the Australian Open and start his year a full two months after his younger rivals.

By contrast, the upcoming Grand Slam event offers Nadal his best shot at winning a major on a surface other than clay, and moving one step closer to challenging Federer’s ascendancy—something Agassi is unlikely to do in the foreseeable future.

Given the amount of time he’s had off and the fact that Nadal’s own doctor said in an official ATP press release that his foot is healed, I find his withdrawal from an event that will be without the defending champ, Safin, or Agassi, baffling.

Whether or not there’s anything more to this story, I can’t say. But I’m going to make a point in Australia to pin down some folks on some of the more compelling issues—like whether or not it’s possible to duck out-of-competition testing by simply not answering the door when the testers come around.

How about this article about the Monte Carlo final, an interview of Monfils. Trying to describe the match, he says this toward the end:

When I was down 3-Love, double break, with a champion like him, he was in control. It was too difficult for me. Physically he abused me, so it was partly physical. When he started hitting hard down the line, I had to chip the ball, whereas previously I was able to hit a good forehand in those cases. So he was very good.

6-Love is a bad score, but I had an opponent that became a lot stronger suddenly.

And the comments from Andy Murray got a lot of this conversation going, which coincidentally found a little more footing following his defeat to Nadal in the MC SF. Essentially, he wonders why some players “don’t go away,” seem not to get tired, etc. Sure I have been critical of Murray, a lot, but these are good conversations to have. Having Becker and Novak so vehemently try to discourage such dialogue is a head-scratcher.

Ultimately, these discussions are healthy. No question about that.

PS

Like I said in another post, there’s a lot to see in this list below. The tennis narrative, the plot twists and turns on and off the court, will continue to shed light.

All Time Masters 1000 Titles
1) Novak Djokovic 28
2) Rafael Nadal 28
3) Roger Federer 24
4) Andre Agassi 17
5) Andy Murray 11
5) Pete Sampras 11

What say you?