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Wednesday, December 18, 2013
Top controversies of 2013

By Kamakshi Tandon

Editor's note: On Dec. 9, we began our 10-part year-end awards series. Stay tuned each weekday for our latest entry.

Dec. 9: Men's POY | Dec. 10: Women's POY | Dec. 11: Best men's matches | Dec. 12: Best women's matches | Dec. 13: Points of the year | Dec. 16: Shot-makers of the year | Dec. 17: Tantrums of the year | Dec. 18: Controversies of the year

Matches aren't the only faceoffs on the tennis circuit. These 10 controversies were among the most talked about this year.

1. Time violation rule

The ATP said it was going to start enforcing a new version of the 25-second time limit between points this year, but who knew it was actually going to do it? Certainly not many of the players, who reacted with surprise and outrage when they started receiving warnings and point penalties en masse at the beginning of the season (and Nadal hadn't even returned to the tour yet).

On one hand, some of the delays were getting out of hand. On the other, the rule was sometimes enforced in ways that weren't always appropriate. Examples include after a long point or when players were penalized for delays caused by waiting for an opponent, ball kids or the crowd. And the new measures didn't even apply at the four biggest events, the Grand Slams.

Throughout the year, it caused repeated and occasionally disruptive conflicts between male players and the chair umpires. By the end of the season, however, the players did seem to be quicker than before, and umpires also appeared to have loosened up on the rule again.

Happy medium or just fruitless furor? Either way, there was a lot of time spent on the time spent between points this year.

2. Drug tests

Viktor Troicki received an 18-month ban for not giving a blood test, saying he had not been feeling well and the testing supervisor had allegedly indicated it would be OK to miss the test. The suspension was reduced to 12 months on appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), with opinion divided on whether his treatment was too strict. Compatriot Novak Djokovic felt it was the testing supervisor's fault. Others felt it was too lenient. Roger Federer and Andy Murray said players had a responsibility to follow the rules.

Marin Cilic received a nine-month ban for testing positive for a stimulant, which he said was caused by a French-labeled product he mistakenly took instead of glucose tablets. On appeal, CAS reduced the ban to the four months Cilic had already missed. But there was controversy over his Wimbledon withdrawal cover-up. Cilic cited a knee injury rather than disclosing the test results. There was at least one other ambiguous-looking positive test as well.

All this came after the testing program began receiving added scrutiny following the Lance Armstrong revelations in cycling, which may have been what prompted the ITF to carry out more tests and introduce a biological passport. So more news may be good news as far as tennis’ anti-doping efforts are concerned.

3. Serena Williams' player relations

Serena Williams had few problems with other players on the court this year, but off the court, it was a different story. Sloane Stephens spoke out about Williams cutting off communication after losing their Australian Open quarterfinal meeting, though she later backed off the comments. (Stephens had also described Williams' cries of “Come on” as "disrespectful" during a match at the beginning of the year.)

Then it was Maria Sharapova, hitting back after Williams was quoted in a magazine, making some biting comments that apparently referred to Sharapova and her boyfriend, Grigor Dimitrov.

Jelena Jankovic had a testy on-court exchange with Williams at Charleston after Williams made her wait to serve. "How long do I have to wait?" Jankovic asked the chair. "'Til I'm ready," Williams replied. “I’m not slow." At the year-end championships, the Serb questioned whether Williams' fluctuations during matches were gamesmanship.

4. Wimbledon grass

Big names tumbled on the grass and out of the tournament this year, creating plenty of speculation about the state of the courts. A cold snap was blamed for the slippery conditions, and the hastened turnaround required after last year's Olympics may not have helped, either.

5. Marion Bartoli

It wasn't exactly clear what BBC presenter John Inverdale meant when he wondered if Bartoli's father had told her that she would have to fight harder on the court because she wasn't going to be a "looker." The insensitive comment, made during the Wimbledon final won by Bartoli, generated an explosive reaction and got even members of Parliament talking. In the end, though, the best response may have been Bartoli's own: "Have I dreamed of having a modeling contract? No, I'm sorry. Have I dreamed of winning Wimbledon? Yes."

6. Lack of controversy

Ernests Gulbis protested boring interviews by giving a decidedly non-boring interview during the French Open in which he said, "I respect Roger [Federer], Rafa [Nadal], Novak [Djokovic] and [Andy] Murray, but, for me, all four of them are boring players. Their interviews are boring. ...

"It is Federer who started this fashion. He has a superb image of the perfect Swiss gentleman. I repeat, I respect Federer, but I don't like it that young players try to imitate him. When I hear them answer like Roger, I am terrified by phrases 'I had a little bit more success at certain moments and that is how I won.'"

The talented-but-erratic Gulbis could solve his own problem simply by becoming a top player himself.

7. Malek Jaziri boycott order

Jaziri pulled out of his challenger match against Amir Weintrab in October with -- what else? -- a knee injury. But Jaziri's brother then revealed the Tunisian federation, at the direction of the government, had ordered him not to play an Israeli. As a result, the ITF banned Tunisia from Davis Cup for a year.

8. Toronto's men's exhibition match

The WTA event in Toronto, worried about attendance, supplemented a night session with a men's exhibition match between Feliciano Lopez and Bernard Tomic, two first-round losers at the ATP event in Montreal. Coincidentally, it was on the same day Billie Jean King was in attendance to receive an honor from the tournament. For the second straight tournament, a men's legend event was also held during the tournament.

9. Milos Raonic's net touch

At first, it wasn't even clear if the issue was whether Milos Raonic had touched the net or if the ball had bounced twice by the time he had touched it. But it was clear that Juan Martin del Potro was angered. (After the match, he tweeted, "Very upset about the match I lost ... I think everyone saw what happened.'') And that, Raonic was unrepentant about not giving his opponent the call. When told del Potro should have had the point, he replied in a now-famous answer, "Hypothetically, yes; technically, no."

But though that was technically his position, hypothetically he changed it the following week. "I feel like I made a mistake in the spur of the moment, something, I guess, because I hadn't been faced with it before. I'm disappointed with myself how I dealt with it, and it's something I learned a lot from,'' he said.

"I really didn't have the opportunity until really the last two days to think about it that much. It's something that I feel sorry about and something I want to apologize to Juan when I see him here. I don't think I dealt with that the right way, and I think it's something that I probably should have in that situation, and probably in the future, call on myself."

10. Indian Wells prize money

The tournament, owned by billionaire Larry Ellison, offered to increase prize money for early-round losers this year by about $800,000, following an increase for the later rounds last year. But the ATP board, concerned about its distribution rules and how it would affect other tournaments, refused to accept. After much criticism from players and media for turning down extra bucks, the decision was reversed.