Tennis - the Greatest Game
Rafa, congrats - what a privilege to see you play!
It is simply amazing how time flies - it has been just over twelve years after I wrote the this rather emotional article on Nadal’s gamesmanship in August of 2008, following his defeat of Federer in the Wimbledon final that year. At that stage he openly used time-delay tactics, amongst others, to disrupt the rhythm of his opponents. I was not the only one to have thought so. When Wawrinka won the first set against Nadal in the 2014 Australian Open final, he (Nadal) immediately took a long (if memory serves me right) bathroom break, and he was actually booed by the crowd when he walked onto court again.
However, since then he has matured in both the level of his tennis and his on-court behaviour, to such an extent that he has won the Stephan Edberg sportsmanship award for several years (despite it being automatically awarded to the player who ended up #1 in the ATP ranking that year). Perhaps largely due to Federer’s influence, Nadal has also become a popular player among the fans and he is obviously on of the greatest players of all time.
As such, I can only congratulate him on his achievements over the last couple of years. However, there still remains the sticky issue of time violations, which he still is regularly reprimanded for. This usually takes place after a particularly exhausting rally, to which he would angrily respond, “Do you want to see tennis?” I have no doubt that if Nadal were to play a game in which he served four aces, and his opponent would then do the same, they will have their break and then continue with the match. After having served another three aces, Nadal will then take precisely the same time to prepare for his next first serve, irrespective of whether a rally had left him exhausted or not.
In this regard I still think the timing-keeping method I have proposed is by far the best way to deal with this issue (see my proposal in the Tennis View Magazine).
In essence, it boils down to electronically keeping track of the average additional time a player takes to deliver his first serve during a set. When the average time-to-serve is below 20 seconds, a green bar is display, which is slowly raised as the player takes longer to serve. Once it reaches an average of between 20 and 25 seconds, a yellow bar is displayed, the level of which also raises as the player takes longer to serve. However, when the average exceeds 30 seconds, the player automatically forfeits his first serve should he again exceed 20 seconds. No arguments with the referee anymore. He can work his average down to a safer level by just concentrating on quickly delivering his first serve.
The advantage of such a system would be that should the player have spare time in reserve, it would not matter if he occasionally exceeds the 20 or even 25 second limit. As pointed out though, one has to take into account the exchange of balls from one side to the other, and so forth.
Having said all that, I think we are unbelievably privileged to see in action Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and others like Murray and a whole array of upcoming youngsters. Whereas Nadal is undoubtedly the King of Clay, I also have no doubt that Djokovic will eventually overtake most of Federer’s records. However, in terms of what he has done for the game, Federer’s personality and specifically his on-court magic, he must certainly be the most talented and most respected player to have ever graced our tennis courts.
The game of tennis probably lends itself to rivalry between two contesting individuals more than any other type of sport. With Roger Federer having been replaced as the world's number one tennis player by Rafael Nadal, it is perhaps an appropriate time to take a look at the character of both players. Federer is viewed by many as possibly the greatest tennis player so far, whereas Nadal certainly holds the promise of surpassing even Federer's achievements. It is not only Federer's accomplishments on the tennis court that have earned him respect, but also his on- and off-court behaviour. He is very popular among his fellow players and the public alike, having won the Laureus World Sportsman Award for the past four years consecutively in competition with all other sportsmen across the globe. Nadal's career has virtually just started, but he has already been around long enough to allow a judgement to be made of his character as a tennis player.
There is no question that Nadal has thoroughly earned his position as the number one tennis player in the world, although Federer's illness at the beginning of this year certainly contributed significantly to his lack of form throughout most of the year and therefore Nadal's success. Unlike Federer though, Nadal's image is not completely untarnished. Among my friends I have long contended that, in addition to being on top of the game in many respects, Nadal is also a master of gamesmanship. This is of course a contentious statement and very difficult to prove. We all know that Nadal takes his time to prepare for serving, but how bad is it really? Did he feign injury against Federer in Monte Carlo, or did he genuinely require medical attention? What is his on-court behaviour like in general?
In this article, written for the fun of it, I endeavour to prove that Nadal is indeed guilty of gamesmanship of significant proportions. The first to be addressed will be his timely medical time-out called for during the Monte Carlo final on clay this year, followed by a point-by-point analysis of his delaying tactics as witnessed during the epic Wimbledon 2008 final. Nadal is of course not the only tennis player to be guilty of these forms of gamesmanship and in order to put a stop to it, I propose methods and regulations that I have no doubt will succeed in doing so.