“We play the game, but luck controls our fate.” — The Battle of Algiers (movie)
There’s more luck in golf than any other sport – right? One errant hop spells the difference between a birdie and a triple bogey. But our sport is not that far behind.
Tennis features plenty of bad bounces, quirky net cords, bad draws and inexplicable injuries. Helen Wills Moody’s career came to an end when a dog bit off her finger. Tracy Austin was in a wretched car accident, Maureen Connolly’s career tumbled when a horse bucked, and James Blake broke his neck on a Roman net post.
In contrast, few others in tennis have had better luck than the Bryan brothers. They’re twins, so they have built-in practice partners for life. They had brilliant tennis parents, and Bob’s a big serving lefty while right-handed Mike has great returns and volleys.
These days tennis in general and Rafa Nadal in particular are having some pretty bad luck. Our game has endured a gambling crisis and a devastating drug dustup that has brought down our game’s most glamorous star. Aussie icon Lleyton Hewitt retired and a Swiss guy named Roger screwed up his knee while playing with his kids in a Melbourne park, so he’ll miss the entire hard court season.
Then there’s Rafa. The Spaniard always has had rotten luck at the Australian Open. Twice he wasn’t even able to play because of health problems and three times he was hobbled due to injuries.
After all this, Rafa was philosophical, saying, “[This] is a tournament that I really had some troubles [with] physically in my career…that’s painful for me. But that’s part of life, part of sport.”
More ill fortune struck in Melbourne this year. In the first round, Rafa drew his pal and frequent doubles partner Fernando Verdasco and lost in a tight 4:41 marathon that recalled one of the greatest matches in Aussie Open history.
More recently, while Rafa’s been here in Indian Wells, he was the target of another reckless French accusation about drug use. This wasn’t a French star, Yannick Noah, launching a put-down zinger, or the now-famous Charlie Hebdo running an over-the-top gotcha cartoon about a Rafa-like, musclebound player about to return serve, despite having four needles in him. Ouch!
This time the attack came from a former French Minister of Health and Sport, Roselyne Bachelot, who recklessly claimed that Rafa’s seven months off the circuit in 2012 and 2013 were just a cover-up because he was actually suspended for drug use.
On top of that, here in Indian Wells in men’s doubles, Rafa and Verdasco had the misfortune of drawing the Bryans for the first round. The bad luck of the draw led to a bad result. Despite a fast start and a late surge, the Spaniards with the big forehands suffered a big loss, 3-6, 7-5, 10-8.
In singles, Nadal had better “luck.” In his opening match, he saved 11 of 14 break points against Gilles Muller and prevailed. Then, as fate would have it today, Rafa had to play his pal, fellow Spaniard and southpaw Fernando again – in the second round.
As talk of the drug accusations swirled, the desert winds diminished and a very determined Nadal sprinted to a 6-0 first set win in just 27 minutes. But it took him 1:14 more to craft a win. In the second set he saved five set points, and came back from a 6-3 deficit in the tiebreak before he prevailed 6-0, 7-6 (9).
Rafa hasn’t won a tournament since Stuttgart in June, and he hasn’t won a hard court tournament in over two years. But his legions of fans are loyal. They’re sure his luck will change.
LET THE LAWYERS DO THE TALKING: When IT asked Nadal to reflect on what his feelings were about all the drug accusations that have come his way, Rafa said, “I don’t want to talk any more about that…It’s over for me, and now…my lawyers [are] gonna talk.”
CURIOUS QUESTION: John Isner was asked, “What’s your third-best shot?” When you think about it, the question actually makes sense for the top American, who has a great serve and forehand. He laughed and then said, “Maybe my drop volley, I guess. It’s not my backhand, that’s for sure. [It] isn’t my return. I have a good overhead. There you go. It’s my overhead.”
GO FIGURE: Isner said, “I’ve gotten better these days at losses.”
TACO BELLE: Serena says she is not vegan. But she doesn’t eat red meat, and during the tournament she’s been eating tacos every night.
AMERICAN REPORT CARD: Jack Sock, Sam Querrey and Nicole Gibbs all lost today. Isner and Serena won, and are the only American singles players still in the tourney. The Bryan brothers won their doubles match.
HIGH PRAISE: Nadal will next play the rising Alexander Zverev. The eighteen-year-old German already has downed the No. 23 seed Grigor Dimitrov and the No. 16 Gilles Simon. Rafa said the phenom “is a clear possible future No. 1.”
CAPTAIN McENROE: A new militaristic ad campaign features John McEnroe playing himself as “Captain McEnroe.” Unfortunately, when Johnnie Mac was last a real captain – America’s Davis Cup Captain – he only lasted one memorable but controversial season.