federer, nadal set up monte carlo final; djokovic wimps out

Posted on April 26, 2008

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Equilibrium has been restored in the tennis world once again.

The sport’s top two players, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, will meet in the finals of tomorrow’s Monte Carlo Masters.

It has been a long time since the two played each other, with their most recent meeting during last November’s Shanghai’s Masters’ Cup, where the Swiss world number one thrashed Nadal 6-4, 6-1.

But tomorrow will be a different story. Nadal is right at home playing on clay and has an absolutely staggering 93-1 record on clay since April 2005. His sole loss? To Federer in Hamburg last year. Head-to-head, Federer is 1-6 against Nadal on clay.

Nadal’s stranglehold on clay only seemed to have tightened this year, after his impressive wins in Monte Carlo so far. He easily swatted away competition, never once being stretched to a third set in any match. Federer, in contrast, had more of a struggle and nearly lost in the second round to a player ranked outside of the top 100. It would take a supremely confident Federer bringing an A game to have a chance to unseat the Spanish player, who is indisputably the king of clay.

But what a pleasure it would be to see the return of a great tennis rivalry and for these two champions to slug it out once again. Besides spades of talent, these two are true sportsmen, unlike the pretender trying to dislodge them from their top positions, Novak Djokovic.

He and his clan might be able to talk up a storm about how the Federer era is over and he is the future of tennis, but Djokovic does not yet have the game, nor the heart or courage to step up to the fore.

Time and again, Djokovic has chosen to take the easy way out when he has his back pushed against a wall, with a memorable example being last year’s Wimbledon against Nadal. He has had a history of cooking up convenient excuses like an illness or injury and retiring rather than have the gumption to take a beating.

This comes on top of his reputation of gamesmanship, be it taking too long between games when he is serving or bouncing the balls dozens of times before service, but also for often using medical timeouts during matches without justifiable reasons.

Clearly fearing the prospect of being beaten fair and square by a resurgent Federer in today’s semifinal, Djokovic wimped out and gave the excuse of “dizziness” for withdrawing from play.

“From the start I didn’t feel so great,” Djokovic complained. “I just couldn’t get enough energy back after each point. I feel dizziness a little bit in the last three days. I don’t know. Doctor in the tournament couldn’t give me the right diagnosis. I’ll check as soon as possible.”

Hmmm, perhaps the doctor was too polite to give him the true diagnosis — wimp-ititis.

In all of Federer’s 705 matches since turning pro, he has not retired once during a game. When his chips were down, he pressed on to the end, losing graciously.

At this year’s Australian Open, Federer was not only hit with a bout of food poisoning, but was also suffering from monoclueosis, a career-ending condition for many athletes. That did not stop Federer from battling in an epic five-setter against Djokovic’s compatriot Janko Tipsarevic in the third round, and pushing all the way to the semifinals before losing to Djokovic.

Federer was once again diplomatic when asked about Djokovic’s sudden onset of illness after easily beating the likes of Andy Murray and Sam Querrey in earlier rounds. Still, Federer couldn’t resist taking a dig at his rival.

“I didn’t see anything from my side till when he called the doctor,” said Federer. “But I didn’t feel like he was playing too sick. I didn’t think it was that extreme.”

He was right. Djokovic had looked just fine. At 20, the Serbian player may still be lacking in maturity, but he has to grow up and stop concentrating on being a showman if he is truly serious about being a tennis champion.

Quitting a match not only smacks of disrespect for his opponents, it also is unfair for the sponsors and audience who have paid good money to watch the match. On top of that, it is unprofessional.

Unless he is on the brink of collapsing or has something far more serious or life-threatening, Djokovic should not withdraw from games so frivolously. When things are going against them, true champions rally and go down fighting. And if they have to lose, they do so graciously.

(Reuters photos)

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