Reporting from the U.S. Open for my column in FoxSports.com
Rafael Nadal not looking happy in the rain
NEW YORK – It doesn’t look good when super-rich athletes who travel the world for work, with supermodel wives or girlfriends, are complaining about working conditions, publicly talking about the need for a union because they were expected to compete when it was misting outside.
I mean, boo hoo.
But Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and Andy Roddick went into the US Open tournament referee’s office Wednesday to stand side by side and complain after they had been forced to play. And despite appearances, this was important.
“They know it’s a lot of money, and we are just part of the show,” Nadal said later, on ESPN. “They are working for that (show), not for us.”
The thing is, the players were right. And it’s a much bigger issue than the player mini-revolt suggested. It might be a turning-point moment in tennis.
It might be, but I doubt it. That would take untangling the world’s biggest ball of yarn first.
Novak Djokovic reaches his first Wimbledon final, moves to No. 1
Rafael Nadal vs. Novak Djokovic. The best two players on the best court in the best moment. For tennis, The New Rivalry gets its big day Sunday in the Wimbledon final. Sure, Nadal already beat Djokovic in the U.S. Open final in September, and that will count when people tally up this rivalry years later. But Djokovic wasn’t at Nadal’s level yet. He still might not be, to be honest, but here’s his chance.
This moment could be to Djokovic what Nadal’s classic win over Federer in the 2008 Wimbledon final meant to him. On the other hand, if Nadal wins, he will be the champ of five of the past six majors, and on one of the most dominant runs in tennis history.
Amazing how one match can change things so much. How perfect that it will happen at Centre Court, Wimbledon. It is the ideal way to build interest in the game, too, among Average Joe sports fans who aren’t into tennis otherwise.
Both players won their semifinal matches Friday. Djokovic beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 7-6 (7-4), 6-2, 6-7 (11-9), 6-3, and Nadal beat Andy Murray 5-7, 6-2, 6-2, 6-4.
Whoever wins Sunday is the best player in the world, even though Djokovic will move to No. 1 no matter what. That’s right, even if No. 1 Nadal beats No. 2 Djokovic, the next day the rankings will read 1 Djokovic, 2 Nadal.
Novak Djokovic and Maria Sharapova on the Wimbledon practice courts
It’s the middle Sunday at Wimbledon, and everyone takes the day off. I decided to follow their example. But if you want to know that the place is like, here’s what I wrote from the practice courts on the middle Sunday last year, where the world’s best players either worked hard or messed around. It was like a tennis playground for superstars. This column ran in AOL FanHouse on June 27, 2010:
WIMBLEDON, England — Just two guys out playing tennis at the All England Club Sunday. Sure, their names happened to be Novak Djokovic and Robin Soderling, and it’s very possible that seven days from now, those two won’t be on practice court No. 1, but instead a few hundred yards away, on Centre Court, playing in the Wimbledon final in the most important tennis match of the year.
But not today.
“I’m so nervous,” Djokovic said, teasing Soderling, who was about to serve. “It’s unbelievable.”
Soderling served, and then ran Djokovic around the court, back and forth, until Soderling finally crushed a forehand winner. When the ball got past Djokovic, who was on a full-out run, he wound up and threw his racquet all the way across the open court next to them.
“I mean, come on,” he said. “Really.”
The second Monday at Wimbledon, tomorrow, is the most exciting day of the year for tennis, with only the U.S. Open’s Super Saturday as competition. But on Monday, all of the final 16 men and 16 women will be playing. So the order of play includes Sharapova vs. Serena Williams, Henin vs. Clijsters, and also Federer, Nadal, Murray, Roddick.
Roger Federer is going to beat Novak Djokovic Friday in the French Open semifinals.
The washed-up old guy is going to end the never-ending streak, beat the unbeatable player. He is going to ruin the coronation that everyone thought this tournament was all about, and remind people that he’s still here, still on the mountaintop.
This is Fab Friday at Roland Garros, as the world’s top four men’s players are meeting up. First, it’s Rafael Nadal against Andy Murray. Murray has been playing on a sore ankle, and Nadal finally found his mojo in the quarterfinals. I’ll take Nadal.
But why Federer, when Djokovic has surpassed him and keeps looking stronger and stronger while Federer is starting to show age? Well, to me, everything is lining up perfectly for Federer. Every Federer flaw is negated, every strength enhanced. The predicted heavy winds, the new Babolat ball, the buildup, the slow clay. It all adds up on Federer’s side. Plus, Djokovic has to lose sometime. Plus, Federer has won the French before. Plus. . .
There is still the chance that Djokovic will simply power Federer off the court, push him backward. I just don’t think that’s going to happen. Here are four reasons why: Continue reading
Sometimes when Andy Murray talks after a match, you think he just might fall asleep in the middle of an answer. But you aren’t sure if he ever really did it because, well, you were nodding off yourself. So you just wish he would open up a little, say something. Anything.
“I’m not one of those sportsmen who practices a strict policy of sexual abstinence before playing,’’ he said.
“I remember a world heavyweight whose trainer banned him from sex six weeks before a fight to save energy. We play every week so, with a boxer’s mentality, we’d always be saying `No.’ ’’
Murray said this stuff the other day, setting off some highly entertaining headlines in the British tabloids, and any other place that saw it.
“Big match love ban? That’s not how I play it, says Andy.’’ That was in the Daily Mail.
“Game, Sex, Match for Andy Murray,’’ it said in the Sun.
Yahoo wrote: “No sex ban for Randy Andy Murray.’’
Too. Much. Information. I know I’ve wanted Murray to say something interesting, but, he must be nuts to have said this stuff.
Maybe something is a little off with Murray. He spent a decent part of the spring totally disinterested in tennis – where was his girlfriend? _ and crushed by players far beneath him. He arrived in Madrid this week with hair so wild, big and bushy that he can’t cut it. If he did, where would the mother bird and her babies go to live?
And now, he’s talking freely about sex with Spain’s El Mundo newspaper, leading to a publication called Mid Day writing this headline: “Sex before matches makes Andy Murray sizzle on court.’’
Then, Italy’s Francesca Schiavone reportedly told Metro website in England that “For a woman, sex before a match is not only allowed, it is fantastic. It raises your hormone levels and brings advantages to all of your points.’’
I can’t even believe this is a real issue. So I asked Marat Safin who said that, no, he would never have sex before. . . Continue reading
Andy Murray shows the muscles hes usually reluctant to use
When Andy Murray was booed in Monte Carlo Thursday, the irony was that it was the first time I hadn’t wanted to boo him in months. Ever since the Australian Open in January, Murray has floated around, losing to far lesser players without putting up a fight.
He needs to be more cutthroat, critics have said. So now he took advantage of an opponent’s sore spot and was booed for it?
If you didn’t see, Gilles Simon hurt his ankle and couldn’t run much anymore, so Murray started hitting dropshots. The crowd booed him for being merciless, I suppose, though Murray did exactly the right thing: See a weakness, attack a weakness.
What’s next, fans boo players for serving to John Isner’s backhand?
“I was doing what I had to do to win the match as quickly and efficiently as possible,’’ Murray said. “It worked. So I know every single player on the tour would have done exactly the same thing.’’
Simon said he would have done it, too.
If this was anything for Murray, it was the start of something big. A killer instinct. I’m guessing, though, that it was nothing more than Murray seeing an opportunity to deploy another strategy. Continue reading
My column, reporting from Australia, for AOL Fanhouse
MELBOURNE, Australia — First off, Andy Murray needs to stop looking over to his mommy. He’s 23, not a kid. God bless any grown man this close to his parents, but this is embarrassing.
Also, telling. You’re trying to win the Australian Open final, and tennis is about standing on the field of battle alone. Plenty of players look to their coaches, which is embarrassing enough. Judy Murray (pictured below), who is a coach, has the added element of being Murray’s mommy.
Cut the cord, Andy. Or, cut it, Judy. You can’t fly for him.
We spend all our time and thoughts on the big winner in sports, which makes sense. Novak Djokovic won the Australia Open, beating Murray and climbing onto the same platform with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
But in this case, the loser was just such a colossal loss. It was newsworthy. It might have been one of the biggest losses ever among athletes who were entrenched at the top of their sport. Murray was The Biggest Loser, and not just because he lost a tennis match.
He lost his credibility. He lost his name. He lost his mind. He lost his image as a young up-and-comer.
And now, he needs to lose his Mommy, at least from the player’s box during matches. Continue reading
My column, reporting from Australia for AOL Fanhouse
MELBOURNE, Australia — We knew the final of the Australian Open was going to be Novak Djokovic against Andy Murray, of course. But when they introduced the players before the match Sunday, it seemed as if the wrong guys came out of the tunnel.
You go to a play to see the big stars, and are told that they won’t be there tonight. Instead, you get the understudies. It’s hard not to feel that something is missing. In this case: Roger Federerand Rafael Nadal.
In the end, Djokovic crushed Murray, 6-4, 6-2, 6-3, and then, in his typical colorful way, went nuts. Djokovic threw his racket into the stands, and then took off his wristbands and threw them up, too. He walked across the court, pointed at the fans with Serbian flags, the ones who had been singing and chanting all night, and took off his shirt and threw it up to them.
Then, back to the other side of the court, the shoes came off, and he threw them up, too.
OK, stop right there, Novak. He was running out of things to take off. What fun, though.
Djokovic might have gone into this tournament as the understudy with the quirky personality, the perpetual backup. But he doesn’t come out that way. Continue reading
MELBOURNE, Australia — The best transitions in sports happen naturally, and by process. A star player gets old, and the next guy slowly overtakes him and becomes the top dog. It happens with teams, too.
And fans have a chance to adjust, get used to the new order.
Tennis is in a transition stage, too. But on Wednesday, it wasn’t. Things are happening a little too fast for tennis’ own good.
“From a personal point of view,” Andy Murray said, “I would rather be in the final than watching Roger and Rafa at home, playing again.”
Murray had just beaten David Ferrer 4-6, 7-6 (7-2), 6-1, 7-6 (7-2) Friday to advance to the final of the Australian Open. He’ll play Novak Djokovic on Sunday for the year’s first major.
Roger and Rafa — Federer and Nadal — is your regularly scheduled program for major finals. At least one of them, anyway. And this is part of the change.
Just 48 hours ago, the Federer-Nadal rivalry was as solid as ever. Federer had re-established himself over the past few months on that top tier. Nadal was going for the Rafa Slam, winning all four majors in a row.
Greg Couch is an award-winning sports columnist based in Chicago. He covers college football for BleacherReport.com, NFL for RollingStone.com and freelances at several other places, including The New York Times. Lots of tennis, mostly here. He has traveled the world covering tennis and is a member of the International Tennis Writers Association. A former sports columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times, his tennis writing has been in the book "The Best American Sportswriting."