So it seems that ATP politics have done what five-set finals, a five-year battle for No. 1 and a textured rivalry could not do: create a rift between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
The Australian Open kicked off Monday in Melbourne. But the most discussed clash was between Federer and Nadal. The subject was the state of the ATP. Though one senses there are broader critiques contained in their jousting.
Asked about Federer's remarks that players should be more temperate in their complaining about the Tour, Nadal shot back: "It's very easy for him. 'I say nothing, everything's positive, I stay a gentleman and the others can burn themselves.' " By Nadal's standards, them's fightin' words.
First, a little context: This has been brewing for months. Nadal has been lobbying for a ranking system based on two years of results. Federer publicly opposed this. Nadal was adamant that the next ATP CEO have a playing background and was firm in his backing of Richard Krajieck. Federer opposed this, acknowledging Krajicek's beautiful service motion but expressing concern about his lack of business experience. More generally, some in Nadal's camp believe Federer has been too cautious and conservative with his approach to the ATP, leaving it to others -- specifically Nadal and Andy Murray -- to make the statements and deal with the political fallout.
By Monday, Nadal had struck a more conciliatory tone. "Probably I am wrong telling that to [the media], especially because these things can stay, must stay in the locker room,''
Said Federer: "We can't always agree on everything. So far it's always been no problem really. Back in the day he [Nadal] used to say, 'Whatever Roger decides, I'm fine with.'
"Today he's much more grown up. He has a strong opinion himself, which I think is great.''
One of the endearing dimensions to the "Federal" rivalry is the sense that it feels perfectly normal to root for both of them. No one likes the Red Sox
Nadal has a fair point that the season is too long; that the tournament representatives on the ATP board are not sufficiently sympathetic to injuries and fatigue; that Federer could stand to be a little less political and circumspect -- and that the solidarity erodes when the players with the most moral authority are reluctant to use it. Federer, on the other hand, is understandably loath to blow up a system that has served him well. He compassionately points out that he represents all the players who are ATP members; that what's good for the members of the top 10 (fewer events, fewer commitment requirements, a shorter season) isn't necessarily good for the Peter Luczaks of the world; that tennis is ill-served when the disputes play out so publicly. In other words, they're both kinda right.
You can bet that the media will continue probing and asking Nadal to respond to
So here we are, Day 1 of the first Grand Slam event of the year and already we have a storyline to follow throughout the season.
• Very good. Last week we posed some Twitter trivia: Name the players with the longest active streaks appearing in Grand Slam events. Federer was the winner on the men's side. As Wesley notes, Craybas was tied with Schiavone heading into Australia. But the Rhode Island native failed to qualify, so her run ends at 45.
And, yes, let's take this opportunity to pay tribute to Craybas, who has labored in relative anonymity for most of her career -- a defeat of Serena Williams at Wimbledon notwithstanding -- has avoided controversy, hasn't taken advantage of her platform (see:
• She just lost one of longtime confidants to brain cancer. Her sister is out with an illness. Serena herself is injured -- this after missing most of the last 18 months with various ailments. She is thousands of miles from home. And she's not allowed to express something less than love for tennis at that particularly moment? Really?
• That's a proctologist's visit waiting to happen. (On balls to the backhand, you're more likely to attempt that backward slap shot.) And while we're here, Kody Leonard of Dakar, Senegal, reminds us of
• Sensitive Canuck. Seriously, I'd say Canada was indeed owed one after the Pierce-Rusedski "defections," such as they were. You got your karma with Raonic.
• I feel better. Thanks.
• Previewing the Australian Open with James Blake in our inaugural
• Who wants to buy
• Dubai Duty Free has extended its longstanding global sponsorship of the WTA for an additional three years through 2014.
• If you missed it, here's the
• And from another continent,
• Indiana followers: The
• A continent away from the action, Jack Sock wins the Plantation, Fla., Futures event.