Foot Fault!

Calling all the lines of professional tennis

Rafa flexes his muscles on and off-court in Chile

Yesterday saw the much-awaited return of Rafael Nadal in Vina Del Mar after seven months out, as he and Juan Monaco took to court for their doubles match and brushed aside second seeds Frantisek Cermak and Lukas Dlouhy 6-3 6-2 with consummate ease. In what will come as the least surprising piece of information ever written, Nadal afterwards fielded questions on the condition of his knee.

“It was a great feeling to play again and I’m very happy for doing it with a friend like Monaco in a great atmosphere that we had on the court. I’m very grateful for everything that has happened since I arrived.”

“I said the first day in the press conference when I arrived and I’ll say it again. Doctors say (the knee) is okay, in terms of image the tendon is fine, no risk of breaking. Some days it still hurts, and I said that for me the fact of playing is a joy and progression to the right path, towards being one hundred percent” he added.

“I need weeks of tennis in the circuit, the knee is stronger, more comfortable playing at the highest level. I will not talk more about the knee.”

More interestingly, however, the tournament had apparently initially scheduled Nadal’s matches during prime-time in order satisfy the sponsors and, of course, earn back the obscene appearance fee he undoubtedly received. His match was to be played at 22:30, but Nadal refused due to the colder conditions possibly affecting his knee or else leading to other injuries. The two camps allegedly entered into intense meetings until the tournament finally succumbed and were forced to schedule his matches for 6 PM.

It’s understandable in this instance that Rafa would want to ensure that the conditions are perfect for his singles return, but this is also a regular occurrence for him and other players in tennis. It immediately took me back to Lindsay Davenport’s comments during her Sports Illustrated podcast last month. She spoke about how terrible it is, as a former player who too benefited from preferential treatment, that the top players hold such power in the scheduling of their matches. Not only would such a thing never happen in other sports (see: MCILROY, Rory), it’s a completely unfair advantage the top players - or rather the top players with influence and power - hold over the rest of the field, amongst countless others.

The Austrian Tennis Federation may be just a tiny bit upset with Tamira Paszek….

It has already been a talking point this year in Davis Cup with the likes of Federer, Del Potro, seemingly every single Spanish professional tennis player on the face of planet Earth, and many others either explicitly dropping out or else excusing themselves with injuries ranging from questionable to downright laughable, in order to focus on their individual season. None, however, have quite received the backlash that Tamira Paszek is currently on the receiving-end of by Austrian Tennis Federation President, Ronnie Leitgeb, after the 22 year-old decided to against competing for the Austrian Fed Cup team before blaming the decision on her coach:

“The Fed Cup this week is actually dominated by the disappointment of the tennis federation, but also my personal disappointment. Last year Tamira promised help us [...] so Austria can leave the second division. She has denied this with a rather embarrassing excuse again this year - and at the end of the day I have to conclude from this that there is not a great deal of patriotic well-meaning.”

Their anger is understandable, particularly considering it was Leitgeb and Fed Cup captain Jürgen Waber who apparently intervened and sent the ITF a written statement which allowed Paszek to compete at the Olympics despite her patchy Fed Cup record, but still. Ouch.

An Few Questions.

It’s strange to think that just a few months ago, about the only real coverage or mere mention of doping in tennis came via the long-standing website Tennis Has A Steroid Problem. Though I certainly didn’t agree with everything in it, the site was a must-read because it asked the questions that desperately needed to be asked and discussed what needed to be discussed.

Suddenly, in this unfamiliar post-Armstrong and post-Fuentes world, such questions and discussion on doping have conversely become difficult to avoid. Most recently in the form of an interesting article which touches on an unnamed female Croatian player or resident banned from the tour:

Doctor Luis Garcia del Moral is best known for setting up the doping system for the US Postal cycling team, he also had more than a decade of guiding tennis players at the Spanish TenisVal Academy. A tennis player my former company managed went to train at TenisVal some years ago – breaking her contract to do so. She returned to Croatia leaner, stronger and with notable skin irritations. It came as no surprise that a random drugs test found her to have taken anabolic steroids, amongst other banned drugs. She received a 6 month ban and went back on tour. The governing body of tennis, the ITF, were informed fully of what had happened, yet in the 6 years that have passed nothing has happened.

Naturally, I automatically put on my imaginary detective hat and began perusing t’Internet for Croatian players absent from the tour somewhere around mid-2006 or 2007. The only 2006 year-end top 500 player to fall into this category was actually the one whose name immediately sprung to mind due to the 10 month (initially estimated 6 months) injury break she took in April 2007; everyone’s favourite ball-pummeler (and Marcos Baghdatis’ wife), Karolina Sprem. Still, there is no available information that links Sprem to the TennisVal academy or Moore’s old company, so the player in question could possibly be a non-Croatian national.

Of course, the identity of the player in question is largely irrelevant. What is interesting is that this article touches on a female professional player failing a drugs test, being banned for six months and the ITF being aware of the case. Despite that fact, no Croatian player or resident has been publicly banned in or around this period. It certainly doesn’t appear on their anti-doping page. Who is this player and why hasn’t the ITF released this information?

Agnes Szavay Ponders Retirement

After nearly five years of chronic back issues, it appears the sad career of 24 year-old Agnes Szavay will likely be coming to an end as she makes the final decision between risky surgery or retirement. So says the Hungarian media:

According to the news Szavay will decide within days: she’ll choose to either continue her career (despite) the risks associated with surgery or a more relaxed and pain-free life. True, for the time being she cannot even imagine what to do with his life without the sport (she has played) since the age of five.

The timeline of Szavay’s career - if her brief cameo on the WTA can even be called such a thing - is borderline depressing. It was 2007 that she broke through on the WTA as a bright 18 year old with huge talent and even huger, flowing swings with a penchant for delicate variety. She announced herself as even a possible slam champion after that meteoric rise from outside of the top 200 in January 2007 to number 20 by year’s end, reaching a slam quarterfinal and capturing one-and-a-half (the half being her retirement to Kuznetsova whilst a set up in the New Haven final) Tier II titles plus a further lower WTA title in the process.

Already by 2008 she was forced to re-work and shorten her service motion due to the emergence of these back issues, robbing her of one of her prime weapons. After continued back pain in the years that followed, it was in 2011 that she broke down in tears whilst explaining to reporters that the vertebral stress fractures in her back had been discovered too late. Since then, her only presence on the WTA has been only a couple of failed comeback attempts - most recently last year between the London Olympics and US Open. The option of surgery has been on the table since 2011 but she was rightfully hesitant and has since attempted just about every other possible avenue of recovery.

Now it seems surgery is the only option. Despite the great loss her presence and beautiful style of tennis is to the WTA, I personally hope she decides to hang up her racket if there is any possibility that the surgery could worsen her back and have repercussions in her regular life. But, hey, my name isn’t Agnes Szavay. We’ll soon see which decision she comes to.

Bernard Tomic Loses License, Remains An Endless Source Of Entertainment

Everyone’s favourite future greatest player of all time-slash-adrenaline junkie has once again been caught up with the law, this time losing his license after speeding whilst on probation. Not sure which is funnier - that it took him barely over a month after being placed on probation to land himself back in trouble; the fact that he made such a big deal over selling his obnoxiously orange BMW, only to replace it with an even more obnoxious yellow Ferrari with a ‘Sincity’ number plate; or else his tear-stained pleas to a reporter upon the arrival of the media: “I represent you guys. I play for this country. Yet you pick on me.” Keep on keepin’ on, Bernie T.

Quotable Quotes of the day: Dimitrov’s Date With Federer, Petkovic update, Djokovic’s turning point

Grigor Dimitrov on Federer comparisions:

“We recently had lunch together in Australia. We spoke a lot about this issue and straightened it out. The good thing was that we agree.”

David Nalbandian indirectly referencing Delpo’s DC absence

“When you have to represent the country, we must try to be. I played with 20 or more partners, with five captains, and was always available to represent the country, more than anything”

Andrea Petkovic on her knee surgery and (fourth) comeback:

“I was now just one week at Klaus Eder in Regensburg to rehab and have already made ​​great progress. I have hardly any pain and you almost can’t that I had surgery - except for a little swelling. [the swelling] needs to reduce more before I return to the court, but I’m patient. [...] I hope my good progress [will allow a] return in Indian Wells and Miami. If I’m back in shape sooner, I might even play a smaller tournament before on the ITF Pro Circuit!”

Novak Djokovic and Marian Vajda describing the Serb’s 2010 Roland Garros loss to Melzer from two sets and a break up as the turning point in his career:

“Even after he came back to me I wanted to work more and he was sometimes escaping. But then when we came to the court, he was focused, he was winning the important points, basically he was a fighter, he would never give up any ball. And then, after he lost to Melzer from two sets up in 2010, he looked at himself. Since then, he has had the momentum.”

“I lost that match and then from Wimbledon on, in the second part of the year, I started playing much better and being more confident on the court. I felt I got a huge relief mentally rather than anything else. My serve was coming back, and then the Davis Cup title came at the right moment for myself and my country and all of my colleagues, because that’s when I got a strong wind in my back, and it switched momentum.

John Isner on watching the Australian Open whilst injured:

“I haven’t watched any of it. Not one second. I normally don’t watch too much tennis to begin with. But when I’m home during a Slam, I just can’t watch. I know I should be there because I’ve earned my spot. I’ve worked and got my game to a certain level, and sitting home is tough to swallow.”

Video Vault: The Mouratoglou Tennis Academy, Starring Serena Williams

Last week, the Mouratoglou academy’s Mauritius feature premièred on French Eurosport. Finally (as in three days ago now), it has made its way to youtube, and the short documentary makes for interesting and entertaining viewing. A few thoughts:

- The entire video puts into perspective the massive change Serena has undertaken since that fateful French Open match, and it’s truly astonishing. For most top players and champions, once they reach a certain age a stubbornness sets in. It becomes about preserving what is left rather than making changes that could possibly hasten their decline - why would they change a system that has reaped so many past rewards?

Then you think about Serena’s upbringing, the much-discussed “us against the world” mentality Richard instilled in her and Venus from so little. Though both have worked with many coaches in the past, it was always Richard, the family and later the sisters who retained autonomy. Again, for her to cede so much power to this new academy - not to mention one completely alien to the rigours and needs of a top favourite for every slam either tour - was retrospectively such a bold and shocking move. Evidently, it worked out fairly well.

- I should probably learn how to spell ‘Mouratoglou’ sometime soon.

- There will never come a time when I don’t get a kick out of seeing a WTA player owning an ATP player, as Serena did during her hit with Jeremy Chardy. Sorry. Suddenly, Chardy’s quote on their time training together makes sense:

- I see you Nastia, Dasha and Yulia

- Serena and Martina reminiscing together on the golden years. Is there anything on the entire planet more perfect? I think not.


Foot Fault of The Week: Davis Cup, Paris, Pattaya, Eliat, Burnie, and Futures

Davis Cup
World Group:
Canada v Spain
Italy v Croatia
Belgium v Serbia
USA v Brazil
France v Israel
Argentina v Germany
Kazakhstan v Austria
Switzerland v Czech Republic

Group I
Group II

WTA Paris

Category: Premier
Prize Money: $680k
Draws: Main, Doubles, Qualies, OOP
Notable Players: Petra Kvitova, Sara Errani, Marion Bartoli, Dominika Cibulkova, Lucie Safarova, Julia Goerges, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

WTA Pattaya City

Category: International
Prize Money: $220k
Draws: Main, Doubles, Qualies, OOP
Notable Players: Ana Ivanovic, Maria Kirilenko, Sorana Cirstea, Sabine Lisicki, Daniela Hantuchova


Eilat Challenger

Category: ITF Women’s $75k Challenger
Draws: ITF, TF
Notable Players: Yulia Putintseva, Elina Svotlina, Michelle Larcher De Brito, Alla Kudryavtseva

Burnie Challenger

Category: Mixed ATP and ITF Women’s Challenger
Prize Money: $50k Men, $25k Women
Men’s Draws: Main, Doubles, Qualies, OOP, MTF
Women’s Draws: Main, Doubles, Qualies, OOP, TF
Notable Players: James Duckworth, James Ward, Olivia Rogowska, Anett Kontaveit

Futures and Satellites

Tijuana, Mexico $15k
Category: Mexico F2 Futures
Draws: ATP, ITF, MTF
Notable Players:

Germany, Nussloch $15k
Category: Germany F4 Futures
Draws: ATP, ITF, MTF
Notable Players:

Palm Coast, FL, USA
Category: USA F4 Futures
Draws: ATP, ITF, MTF
Notable Players:

Feucherolles, France $10k+H
Category: France F3 Futures
Draws: ATP, ITF, MTF,
Notable Players:

Sheffield, England $10k
Category: Great Britain F3 Futures
Draws: ATP, ITF, MTF
Notable Players:

Eilat, Israel $10k
Category: Israel F3 Futures
Draws: ATP, ITF, MTF
Notable Players:

Antalya, Turkey $10k
Category: Turkey F4 Futures
Draws: ATP, ITF, MTF
Notable Players:

Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt
Category: Women’s $10k
Draws: ITF, TF
Notable Players:

Antalya, Turkey
Category: Women’s $10k
Draws: ITF, TF
Notable Players:

Quotable Quotes: Three Ankle Sprains Too Many For Serena

Over the past week, it has been stressed so often that the only thing standing in the path of Serena and her sixth Australian Open is herself and injury. So, in a way it should come as no surprise that injury is exactly what has struck. And not just any old injury, but an eerily similar ankle sprain to the one that wrecked her entire Australian season last year. Though she eventually continued and hilariously managed to inflict a double-bagel on Edina Gallovits-Hall despite the injury, it is still certainly still a large concern, as she later stressed.

Q. The fact you came in with no crutches on is a good start for us. How is the leg?
SERENA WILLIAMS: I haven’t had enough time to assess it yet. Saw the doctor again. We’re just gonna see how it is in a few hours from now.

Q. So Thursday is too early to call, whether you can play Thursday?
SERENA WILLIAMS: Oh, I’ll be out there. I mean, unless something fatal happens to me, there’s no way I’m not going to be competing.

I’m alive. My heart’s beating. I’ll be fine.

Q. When you went over, did it remind you of Brisbane last year?
SERENA WILLIAMS: Absolutely. It reminded me a lot of Brisbane. I thought, Oh, not again. But, you know, I’ve had such a good year that I don’t think it’s anything negative. I just think that I was definitely a little bit in shock and I was thinking, I hope it’s not as serious, because it was really serious last year.

Q. Is there any pain or swelling there now?
SERENA WILLIAMS: Obviously there’s pain. Obviously there’s swelling. So it’s going to be really important to see how the next few hours unfold.

It reminded me a lot of Brisbane. I thought, Oh, not again. But, you know, I’ve had such a good year that I don’t think it’s anything negative. I just think that I was definitely

It’s easy to forget that Serena also sprained her ankle during doubles at the US Open last year which also threw that title campaign into doubt. That’s three sprained ankles in essentially one year. If there is ever a time for Serena’s team to ensure that her own footwork or movement isn’t heightening the likelihood of these ankle sprains, now is probably it.

However, if one thing is certain, it’s that without the extensive taping on Serena’s ankle, the injury would have been dramatically worse. Why don’t more players protect themselves by protecting their ankles?

Video Vault: A Disgusted Pam Shriver Dispatches On Yulia Putintseva

I’ve been shouting it out from the rooftops for years now. Whilst many knickers have been in a twist over Azarenka, Serena, Maria and anyone else with just an ounce of attitude, there has been a player by the name of Yulia Putintseva slowly appearing on the horizon. A player who threatens to usurp and destroy everything we know and love. She’s angry, she’s mean and she eats little children for breakfast. This is all factual information.

This week she finally arrived, qualifying for the Australian Open main draw before taking American sweetheart Christina McHale as her first victim. Aunt Pammy was on-hand to cover the final games of their contest, and the utter repulsion and disgust in the tone of her voice whilst recounting but a few of Putintseva’s innumerable antics is incredible, hilarious and only a sign of things to come. Don’t ever say I didn’t warn you, tennis world.


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