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Wednesday, January 18, 2012
Federer, Nadal need to spice up their rivalry

By Sarah Spain

It might be considered a gentleman's game, but tennis has seen its fair share of feuds -- and I'm not just talking about Serena Williams' spats with chair umps. Over the years, some of the game's top names have volleyed insults back and forth both on the court and in the media room, adding an extra bit of drama to a sport that's sometimes lacking in front-page fodder.

This week, it looked like Rafael Nadal would be the one to provide us with the year's first fireworks. Before the Australian Open started, Nadal lobbed a ball into Roger Federer's court, publicly calling him out for staying silent while other players push for change in the men's game.

"For him, it's good to say nothing," Nadal said in a Spanish-language news conference Sunday. "Everything positive. 'It's all well and good for me, I look like a gentleman,' and the rest can burn themselves."

Nadal even got some backup from fellow pros.

"I don't know why Roger is not supporting the players," Nikolay Davydenko said Monday. "Because he don't want ... any problems. He's nice guy. He's winning Grand Slams. He's from Switzerland. He's perfect."

While Federer's tendency toward neutrality is as natural as an Italian's penchant for pizza or a German's love for David Hasselhoff, he did say he's willing to take a stance; he'd just rather not do it publicly.

"I completely understand and support the players' opinions," Federer said Monday. "I just have a different way of going at it. I'm not discussing it with you guys in the press room. It creates unfortunately sometimes negative stories."

You say negative, Rog; I say juicy. I think we could use a few more salacious tennis headlines. But it turns out this little feud won't give us the gossip we're looking for.

Martina Hingis and Anna Kournikova
What happened to the good ol' days of Martina Hingis and Anna Kournikova throwing bouquets at each other?

For Pete Sampras' sake, by the time Federer and Nadal had completed their first-round matches Monday, their beef was already squashed. The women on this season of "The Bachelor" (all competing for Nadal look-a-like Ben Flajnik, by the way) have provided the public with more entertaining tiffs, and they've known each other for only a few days.

Nadal said he was wrong for bringing the issue to the media, and that he and Federer still have a "fantastic relationship." Federer was as genial as ever, saying "things are fine" between them and admitting "we can't always agree on everything."


What happened to the good ol' days when players really went at it? Martina Hingis and Anna Kournikova throwing trophies and bouquets at each other in the locker room. Jimmy Connors crossing the net and drawing a shove from John McEnroe in an exhibition game. Leander Paes nearly coming to blows with ... well, everyone. Seems the past few years, the game of tennis has become altogether too civil.

I usually preach the importance of respect for sport and for one's opponent (i.e., not having your all-pro quarterback play every minute of a blowout playoff game, even going so far as to punt on third down at one point in the fourth quarter), but in this case, I'm making an exception. The game of tennis needs a jolt, and a few players puffing out their chests would do the job.

Of course, we want the players to be smart and remember their bodies are their money-makers. No physical violence of any kind; some trash-talking will do just fine. I'd love to see a little verbal spat between Rog and Rafa in the Australian Open final. How about a cocky prematch guarantee from Kim Clijsters or a blog post from Maria Sharapova dogging Serena Williams' fashion choices?

I suppose I should just be entertained by good tennis and appreciate the professionalism of today's stars.

Nah ... bring on the catfights!