- Kamakshi Tandon
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PARIS -- The last time Rafael Nadal played the French Open in pink, we all know what happened. He lost.
OK, so it's possible that the loss wasn't about the color of his shirt. Maybe it was his bad knees. His parents' separation, perhaps. Or even Robin Soderling's fine play.
All plausible explanations. On the other hand, he and Soderling had met just a few weeks earlier in Rome, with Nadal winning 6-1, 6-0. That time, Nadal had worn a yellow-and-white shirt. Coincidence?
Real men aren't afraid to wear pink, they say. But tennis history has generally not been kind to the color. Andre Agassi began the 1990s wearing neon pink tights, a period when he was largely seen as an underachiever. He lost his first three Grand Slam finals, finally winning one in 1992 at Wimbledon -- where there happened to be an all-white dress code in place. Coincidence? You decide.
In 1997, he was on the comeback trail at the U.S. Open, dressed in a light pink shirt and seen as one of the favorites. A TV interviewer tried to describe his outfit as "peach," but Agassi was having none of it. "That's pink. That's hard-core pink right there," he replied. He lost in the fourth round.
Years later, Dominik Hrbaty played the 2005 U.S. Open in a light pink shirt with shoulder-blade cutouts, widely regarded as one of the uglier outfits seen on a tennis court. He was soundly beaten by Lleyton Hewitt. "I just couldn't lose to a bloke wearing a shirt like that," Hewitt said then.
There seems to be only one recorded instance of a player wearing pink winning an ATP tournament: Roger Federer in Toronto in 2010. But Nadal, who also turned up in the same color that week, didn't fare a lot better than he had at the French Open a year earlier, losing to Andy Murray in the semifinals. Maybe the difference was that Federer was in a light pink shade, while Nadal's shirt was of the bright crayon variety.
The record at this year's French Open isn't that encouraging, either. Kevin Anderson wore a white shirt with a little pinkish striping in his first two rounds, scoring two wins. Then he turned up for his third-round match against Tomas Berdych in a fuchsia-hued number and lost after going up two sets to one against the Czech.
Maybe that's why Nadal found himself confronted with the following question in his first-round news conference the other day: "I have a very important fashion question. What exactly is the color of your shirt?"
Nadal wasn't sure but said he would check. According to catalogs, the official color is scarlet fire.
Sounds pretty intimidating. But call it what you want. If Nadal somehow contrives to lose this fortnight, we're all going to know what color it really was.
After scratching out a four-set win against Nieminen, Murray said he "couldn't believe" he had won and had no idea how he would feel the next day. He also said the injury, which appeared to be a muscle spasm, was not the same as the ongoing problem that caused him to pull out of the Masters event in Madrid last month.
Murray was seen practicing on Friday and reportedly moving OK, though former player and ITV presenter Mark Petchey said the Scot was hitting his serves only as about "80 percent."
So there will be a lot more interest in his upcoming match than there would be for an otherwise unremarkable third-rounder. This latest incident comes after Murray injured his ankle at this event last year, hobbling through two matches and eventually reaching the semifinals. It prompted one TV commentator to call Murray a "drama queen," a remark Murray called "disappointing."
Sharapova, who once joked that the women deserved more prize money than the men because they were always waiting around for the best-of-five matches to finish, had a tough time doing just that -- waiting around -- on Thursday. "It was a pretty long day," she said. "I feel like I warmed up 20 times for this match.
"It was one of those days when you just want to get on the court and then, you know, you're on the courts all day. And sitting, waiting around, eating, sleeping. It's a good way to put someone into retirement."
She's third up for her next match against Shuai Peng, after -- you guessed it -- a men's match.
If Rafael Nadal loses at the French Open, we'll all know why. And it has nothing to do with Novak Djokovic.