A ten-time winner at any tournament is rare; to pull it off at two tournaments in a fortnight is almost certainly — you can look it up — unprecedented. But Rafael Nadal — the 30-year-old tennis genius from Manacor, Spain — pulled it off yesterday, when he swept past Dominic Thiem of Lichtenworth, Austria, to take home the trophy at Barcelona seven days almost to the hour (same time zone) he took the one at Monte Carlo.
The king of clay, by all evidence, is back. Following some tough breaks on the injury front that took him from competition for long stretches, the former world No. 1 (currently No. 5) is reasserting his dominance of the crushed-stone surface. Will he get the upcoming Madrid and Rome Masters? Even if he falls short, his fortnight has done wonders for this stretch of the tennis tour, which will end with the finals at the French Open at Paris’s Roland-Garros stadium in June.
Roger Federer — who beat his friend and rival in the final at the Australian Open last January, then beat him at the Indian Wells Masters, and then beat him at the Miami Open Masters final a few weeks later (thus completing the Sunshine Double) — has been having a good tour, too, so the announcement that he has decided to compete in Paris adds to the reasons for cheering on Nadal. These two dominated the men’s tour in the mid-oughts, so it looks like old times, unless the other two top players, Andy Murray (currently No. 1) and Novak Djokovic (No. 2), can snap from their slumps.
Federer reportedly planned to sit out the entire clay season, but something made him change his mind. No one knows. Some things, no one knows.
Meanwhile, the women’s tour has been shaken up a bit by the withdrawal from the tour of Serena Williams, winner at the Australian Open last January, due to forthcoming maternity (congrats to the young couple, Serena and Alexis). Concurrently, Maria Sharapova, former No. 1 and holder of a career Grand Slam, is back after serving a 15-month suspension for infringing the controlled-substances rules. She reached the semis at Stuttgart’s Porsche Tennis Grand Prix but lost to Kristina Mladenovic, who was beaten in the final by wild-card entry Laura Siegemund.
Wild cards are given to players who do not qualify by virtue of their ranking but whom the tournament organizers want to invite. As it happens, Sharapova was there by way of wild card, her ranking having taken a dive during her suspension. Usually, wild carders are either players who are painstakingly working up, like Miss Siegemund, or young hot shots whom tournament directors want to encourage. The Australian, French, and U.S. Opens have reciprocity deals wherein you invite x players from country y and z in return for the same number of yours getting in the other way. You can call this unfair to countries that do not host slams. Or you can deal with it.
There is some controversy about Maria Sharapova getting a wild card to Stuttgart, as it suggests the price of crime has gone down, and what is the point of a punishment if it does not set a firm example to the young? My grand-daughter recently was caught shoplifting, and we said this was a no-no, though I admit the punishment was soft. But she’s two. Maria Sharapova is 30 and rich — very rich. She is cognizant of good and evil or should be.
Also, my granddaughter is gorgeously cute, and Miss S. is pretty. A cute two-year-old is excused whereas a pretty 30-year-old is made into the anti-heroine of a noir movie or, I guess, a tennis tournament. However, many tennis observers of high caliber and long memory argued that this was good for tennis, given Miss Sharapova’s fame, popularity, and excellence.
So, this is the tennis news for now, except to mention that someone commented in the New York Post about the mean comment Ilie Nastase, the Romanian great, made about Serena Williams as well as vulgarities directed at the British Fed Cub team during a recent tie against the Romanian team. The unsportsmanlike verbal conduct got him bounced from tennis, at age 70, meaning he cannot come to tournaments, let alone keep his current job, which is coach of the Romanian Fed Cub team.
Maybe, like Miss S., he will end up on appeal with a relatively lenient sentence. The comment, however, was that Serena, or her sister Venus, ought to have said something about the case of the reporter who was bounced from his job as ESPN for saying something he did not say about Venus. In this case, there was a severe punishment — not a suspension; the man lost his job and may never get a job in sports broadcasting again — for saying something the Post says he did not say.
The sentiment is fair. But it is not necessarily, as the Post implied, a case of the Williamses applying a double standard — cry hurt when they are the victims; say nothing when someone else in a case involving one of them.
There is no reason to think Venus has followed the case. She reacted at the time (with her characteristic dignity), when the allegation of insult was made but has not reacted to the news that it was based on a New York Times tweet that was erroneous. (Which is a good reason for reporters to stay off those gadgets.)
But why should she react? Tennis pros live extremely disciplined, time-programmed lives. Jack Sock, for example, though he ran for president last year, had no time to campaign and admitted after the election he was too busy to vote. Moreover, the case is in the hands of lawyers now, and Venus, indeed anyone else in tennis, may have been advised to stay mum. If it is determined the ex-ESPN man was wrongfully fired on the basis of a social media slander by a New York Times reporter, there will be time to assess the meaning of it all. Until then, play fair.
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