Monday, January 31, 2022

Weekend Tennis Roundup

I have to admit, I completely ignored the Australian Open final yesterday. (Not a fan of either player.) But when a friend of mine wrote a lengthy post on Facebook about Rafael Nadal's win, making a point of saying "No asterisk needed," I felt like I had no choice but to respond: 

Yes, Nadal -- who got a grand total of eight games from Djokovic in the 2019 Australian Open final and hasn't beaten his Serbian foe on a hard court since 2013(!) -- won the title after Australia reneged on Djokovic's medical exemption. No asterisk needed there! lol 

Bitchy? Of course. But come on: He's the one who brought up the asterisk. (The Rafa fan doth protest too much, methinks.) I immediately deleted it, having promised myself no more fights on social media. My friend's smart and rational, but you can never trust those pesky friends-of-friends to behave in kind. Still, there was a reason for my momentary lapse in disengagement.

Keep reading BELOW.

  For the past six years, everyday life has been tainted by the rising sea of rightwing disinformation that has ripped our already divided nation apart. And then two years ago, a global pandemic further drove a wedge between people living in reality and those whose belief systems I cannot even begin fathom. During this often depressing time, my greatest escape has been tennis -- a sport I began following in 1977 shortly after my 10th birthday. Whether Ronald Reagan was ignoring the AIDS crisis, Oliver North was committing perjury, H.W. was pardoning every last criminal in his predecessor's inner circle, GOP lawmakers were vindictively impeaching Bill Clinton, the Supreme Court was throwing an election to the Republican candidate, the Tea Party coincidentally formed out of concern about "the deficit" the second a black man became president, or a known lowlife cum reality star conspired his way into office, tennis was always been my cherished sanctuary to which I could run to get away from it all. But then that got ripped away from me. The Covid-19 pandemic -- which had already robbed me of a wedding ceremony that would include my aging parents -- suddenly began to trickle into my tennis world via my favorite player. At first Novak Djokovic seemed incredibly kind when he suggested higher-ranked players donate some of their earnings to the lower-ranked ones so they could stay afloat as tournaments were being canceled due to the virus. 

But when his famous peers balked at the idea, it then became disconcerting that he decided to host a series of events -- again, to help the struggling ranks -- as the pandemic raged out of control. While his reputation took a hit, life eventually went on and 2021 saw him one match short of a calendar Grand Slam, something his Big Three peers never came anywhere close to accomplishing. My escape was intact. But as '21 turned to '22, it became clear that his firmly stated belief that no one should be "forced" to be vaccinated was going to be put to the test -- and I was dreading it. Would he really be stubborn enough to jeopardize his legacy, especially going into his most successful major? Then suddenly on Jan. 4, he announced -- as many expected -- that he had been granted an exemption to play in the year's Australian Open, and I breathed a huge sigh of relief,. I began counting the days to see if he could defend his title he has won nine times before, and become the winningest man in tennis history. 

Instead, the past 26 days have been a colossal nightmare, with disinformation, conspiracy theories, political posturing and finger-pointing -- the things I turn to tennis to escape from -- all being dragged into my safe space. At the same time, the scandal has further damaged the reputation of a sport already smarting from misguided musings by admirers of Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka who weren't actually fans of tennis. And once again, everyone who knows nothing about tennis has the loudest opinions about l'affaire Djokovic. Of course it was ultimately Djokovic's fault that he wasn't allowed to compete -- he'd have had no problem getting into Australia had he been vaccinated. But that doesn't soften the blow much for a fan, who with each new revelation at first felt somewhat akin to a person stumbling upon a boyfriend's internet history and discovering he's a bit of an online troll. The more I thought about it, though, how surprised was I that a Balkan is a tad crazy? And with 30 percent of my fellow Americans running around unvaccinated and even more unmasked, was he really such an outlier? More importantly, no other sport -- including the 2022 Beijing Olympics -- requires that its athletes be vaccinated. 

And need I remind you that HE GOT THE MEDICAL EXEMPTION BUT WASN'T ALLOWED TO PLAY! (Prime Minister Scott Morrison's re-election campaign was apparently more important than the integrity of his nation’s most prestigious sporting event,) So while it's nice that tennis is getting some "good" headlines from the outcome on Sunday, it by no means changes the fact that these events have now irrevocably altered tennis history books, which were already sullied by the cancelation of Wimbledon in 2020 and by an unintentional incident with a drama-queen lineswoman at the 2020 U.S. Open. (Sorry, but does anyone believe Dominic Thiem would have won had that not happened?) Obviously the ball is in Nole's court (pun allowed). Still I'm curious to know if the tennis world is really OK with his being erased from the sport moving forward should the pandemic -- and corresponding visa rules --- persist as fiercely as his obstinance. Kobe Bryant was accused of rape and was never vilified this much. I could live with my guy being dethroned on his home court by a top rival -- the way Djokovic did the King of Clay at last year's French Open. But something about this just isn't kosher. 

Rafael Nadal edged Daniil Medvedev in the men's final, 2-6 6-7 6-4 6-4 7-5, to capture his 21st* major title. 

UPDATE: Two things that are in the comments that I thought would be helpful to add here.

1. Worth noting that the same people who say there are no asterisks in tennis -- “you can only beat who you play”; “there’s no guarantee the favorite would have won had they been there” -- have never missed an opportunity to tell me -- the president of the Steffi Graf Fan Club -- how there's a giant asterisk next to the number of Fraulein Forehand's majors.

2. To all the Nadal fans out there: Would you be comfortable with his winning more majors -- even the Grand Slam -- this year if Djokovic isn't permitted to play in the other three events because of his refusal to get vaccinated? Would there ever be an asterisk? I'd really like to know. 

This probably feels like something we don't want to think about -- raining on Nadal's feel-good moment -- but the next major is just three months away.

On Saturday, top-ranked Ash Barty defeated American Danielle Collins -- 6-3, 7-6(2) -- to become the first Australian to win the Grand Slam singles title there since 1978. “I’m so proud to be an Aussie,” she said afterward. (Embarrassingly, it wasn't trophy presenter Evonne Goolagong Cawley who last won the continent's major, but unheralded Chris O'Neil, who never had another notable success but captured the crown when the top players didn't bother playing Down Under.) 

Nick Kyrgios -- now doing a full-on Jonah From Tonga impersonation -- and Thanasi Kokkinakis won the men's doubles title as wild cards, beating fellow Aussie duo Matt Ebden and Max Purcell 7-5, 6-4. The longtime friends became the first homegrown pairing to win the men's doubles title in Australia since Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde, aka the Woodies, in 1997.

No.1 seeds Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova claimed their fourth Grand Slam women's doubles title as a team, grinding past the unseeded duo of Anna Danilina and Beatriz Haddad Maia, 6-7(3), 6-4, 6-4.

Kristina Mladenovic and Ivan Dodig defeated wildcards Jaimee Fourlis and Jason Kubler 6-3, 6-4 in Friday's Australian Open mixed doubles championship.

Elsewhere around the net ...

History for Vasek Pospisil in Quimper! 🏆 The first Canadian to win 10 singles titles in #ATPChallenger history. Champion at @opendequimper.

Sir Richard Branson has found a "job" for Vasek ... as have I

Liam Broady took in a hockey game(!) in Cleveland(!).

Guido Andreozzi flaunts it

After a nice run at the Aussie Open, Taylor Fritz visited the Beverly Hills Tennis Club

Can't hardly blame David Hernandez for getting handsy with Albano Olivetti, after the pair claimed their first team title in Quimper

Is it lunch yet? I could go for a Noah Rubin 

Vroom! Vroom!

Tracy Austin's son Brandon is on a roll

lorenzo musetti looking fit for this week's Maharashtra Open

Jamie Murray's ass doesn't just happen / Watch HERE.

Who's your friend, Sam? 


Mask4Masc: Marcel Granollers

Versus Dominic Thiem

Versus Robert Farah

Versus Juan Bettancourt

Cute pic featuring the infamous Chris O'Neil!

Mulletless J.J. Wolf and another of his hot friends

This photo would be so much hotter with anyone but Nick on the right


Jay Clarke works it out

I like where this is going between Robert Farah and Alejandro Gonzalez

Your weekly reminder that Jiri Vesely is 6-6

Matt Ebden's shirt was the big winner Down Under

Jaime Pulgar plus 1/2

I'm just (Pea)nuts for Filip Krajinovic

Has Pedja Krstin traded in Borna Coric for  Мarko Djokovic?

Lloyd Glasspool: Woof!

God, why do I feel an embarrassing marriage proposal is imminent from Tommy Paul?

Pretty boy Christian Harrison 

Insert dad joke here

Holger Rune readies for the Cordoba Open

Looks like we've lost Jackson Withrow to the heterosexual lifestyle


All the warming up in the world couldn't keep Matteo Berrettini from going cold against Nadal

Still, the Italian stallion rises to No. 6 in the rankings, making him the second-highest Italian ever only behind Bjorn Borg nemesis Adriano Panatta, who reached No. 4 back in 1976.

In addition to the early exit Down Under, now Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic have been roped into the world of crypto bullshit 

Trophy wife in training Dominic Thiem

Gym time with Marton Fucsovics

Putting the kook in Kokkinakis

Joe Salisbury in flight

Zlatan Dzumhur

… whose brother Damir is about as disgruntled as I am -- strikes a pose

Boss man Matteo

Karen with another underachieving Russian

Erstwhile tennis player and current cutie Kyle Edmund

Who's the lucky guy who knocked up Guido Pella?

Gianluca Mager spreads 'em

If this is what it means to be a senior, then sign me up: Mark Philippoussis and Pat Rafter kicked off men's legends doubles action with a 6-3 6-4 win over Wayne Ferreira and Sam Groth

Daniel Masur spreads 'em for Lars Uebel

Ever-lost Karen

Question: Do you think it's time for me to give up on tennis and turn to pickle ball?

(With newswires.) 


Don said...

We can't have nice things. The entropy of the universe is always going to find a way in. Just today there's an article in the Times about how the quaint village of Lake Placid keeps the "true spirit" of the Olympics alive. But the Olympics? I want to love the Olympics, and as a kid I did, but I don't know how many reports HBO's "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel" has done over the years on the utter ridiculousness of the IOC and all the cheating and corruption and politics around the Olympics. The story of the tragic fates of the '70s East German womens' swimming teams, whose bodies were destroyed with steriods, left me in tears.

World Cup soccer stadiums built with slave labor, the NFL turning a blind eye to concussions that turn former players into homicidal maniacs, baseball cheaters like Alex Rodriguez transformed into visionary entrepreneurs.... you know what I mean.

What can you do but watch Roger or Rafa and say, wow, that was an incredible five sets. Then turn of the TV and take a long hike in the woods to contemplate the shapes of the leaves.

John said...

Or you could have posted something about how he won because Novak tried to get away with cheating.

(You might want to search out the latest BBC reporting about the irregularities with his test, which may confirm what we already know: the “test” was bogus.)

Jeffery said...

I know you are very into tennis. I have never been into any sport. Never felt like I have missed anything.

Harry Turner & Brian Keil said...

This asterisk stuff is ridiculous. There were slams that Novak won where both Roger and Rafa weren’t playing. Should they be asterisked as well? Where do we draw the line? It’s a really big assumption that Novak would have won the AUS Open, especially with all of the controversy.

On this, I agree with Don. It was an incredible final filled with amazing tennis. Nothing more needs to be said.

Kenneth M. Walsh said...

@Harry: I'm the president of the Steffi Graf Fan Club, and for 29 years I have had every single tennis fan I have ever encountered remind me that there's an asterisk next to the number of majors she won -- so there most definitely is one on this, as well as any other vaccine-related exclusions. That's where I draw the line, apparently. Cheers!

Games & Rings said...

Agree with previous comment - should we asterisk *any* Grand Slam that was won where one of top three didn't play? Whether or not Djokovic was out through injury or circumstance...the field is what it is, and at end of day, Nadal has 21 titles. The tournament was great.

Djokovic is a conundrum out of his own making. Always, just when one is (thinking about) warming to him, something happens. Adria Tour a good example...wanting to support lower-paid colleagues* = great! vs holding a fully public event at height of pandemic = not great!

*p.s. that being the reason for the Adria Tour sounds a bit like revisionist p.r. history. And hard to swallow when Zverev, Rublev, Thiem, Dmitrov, and himself are in the draw.

Kenneth M. Walsh said...

@Games & Rings: But Djokovic was granted an exemption to play, he wasn't injured as was the case with previous Big 3 absences. The "field is what it is" or "was what it was" only because up-for-reelection PM Scott Morrison saw an opportunity to score points as tough on borders after having already allowed another player who supposedly didn't meet the criteria in. (He then had her deported to cover his tracks.) Djokovic never would have flown there if he'd known he wasn't allowed to play.

Your comment about his motives for the Adria Tour only fuel the notion that there's a bias against him: Of course you have to have stars to attract crowds. But a simple Google search would reveal that virtual unknowns like Petrovic, Serdarusi and Krstin were afforded the opportunity to play, which is what I was referring to, as well as people who aren't exactly superstars like Troicki and Krajinovic.

You may have thought the tournament was great, but that doesn't mean I did.

Kenneth M. Walsh said...

@John: I did refer to his Serbian ways and that's kind of my point -- whether it was bogus or not, I'm not convinced that it's right to disallow him from playing for not getting vaccinated. (Thirty percent of Americans are unvaccinated and not every one of them has lost his/her job as a result.) And I'm alarmed that because he isn't beloved like Federer (my first) and Nadal (my partner's love), people are gleefully willing to toss him in the trash using the "moral" stance that he wouldn't follow the rules -- so it's his own fault -- when really they're just seizing the opportunity to grab titles from him.

P.S. Thank you for helping me reiterate my point that tennis is no longer a sanctuary from all this misery.