Roger Federer Gives New Meaning to Being No. 1
Blasphemy, I know. But he did break rules Wednesday in his quarterfinal victory over Nikolay Davydenko at the Australian Open, and the move seemed to turn momentum his way.
What did he do? Federer went to the bathroom.
That sounds silly, but it's actually a serious issue on tour. Players have made habit of pretending to cramp up when they're losing, hoping to stop the opponent's rhythm. So rules were changed, eliminating timeouts for cramps.
And now players are finding a new way to delay. Forget strategic cramping, this is strategic-, well, I'm not going to finish that sentence.
Federer was crushed in the first set and then took a bathroom break.
After the match, he explained why:
"When the sun comes from the side, the ball seems half the size and is just hard to hit. I never take toilet breaks, but I thought 'Why not?'
I just hoped that with every minute it took, the sun would move another centimeter."
He then threw in, as an afterthought, that he also had to go to the bathroom.
Well, tennis doesn't have bathroom monitors. Yet. So we can't say for sure what he did.
But Federer made it clear that he was looking for the break so the sun might set a little and wouldn't be in his eyes. And the rules clearly state that a bathroom break "can be used for no other purpose" than going to the bathroom.
A few minutes after Federer returned, Davydenko fell to pieces.
But it's not just Federer. The next match on Rod Laver Arena, Novak Djokovic suddenly had to leave during the third set, telling the chair umpire he needed to throw up. Djokovic did look sick.
Still, he's known for having a suspiciously high number of ailments.
He would lose to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and afterward someone asked Tsonga when he first noticed that Djokovic was having a problem.
"Five years ago," he said.
This is gamesmanship, pure and simple. It's widely practiced and somewhat accepted in tennis culture in the same way as basketball players flopping when they are touched or soccer players falling over in melodrama every time someone comes within two feet of them.
But tennis' governing bodies are trying to legislate against this stuff with certain restrictions as to what kind of treatment players can get for a cramp, how often they can be seen for medical issues or, yes, when and why they can go to the bathroom.
You have to understand the psyche of a tennis player. The feeling is that you're on the court by yourself, with no help. If you're not in good enough shape to play, well, that's your problem. A cramp is seen not as a medical problem, but a lack of fitness.
But at the 1995 U.S. Open, player Shuzo Matsuoka's legs were cramping so bad that he was on the court writhing and screaming.
It was a moment tennis fans won't forget, like football fans watching Joe Theismann's leg break. At the time, if a trainer had touched Matsuoka, then he would have been disqualified. So his agony just lasted and lasted.
Rules were changed. And by the end of 2009, an amazing run of players cramped every time they fell behind, taking a break. So much for the warrior attitude.
No more. Now, players can't get treated for a cramp until the changeover, when they're seated anyway. It was a good rule-change for real cramps. The problem is, if the players were fake-cramping, then they could just fake something else.
An injury, for example.
Or the need to go to the bathroom.
"I don't want to find excuses for my loss," Djokovic said. "But, you know, I went to vomit and I had diarrhea before the match.
"I had to go to the toilet. There was no way. Otherwise, I would throw up on the court."
We didn't need to see that, but maybe he was just nervous. Or, maybe he was tired.
It brings back memories of the 2008 U.S. Open, when Andy Roddick ridiculed Djokovic for his constant calls for trainers. Told that Djokovic had a few injuries, Roddick started listing things, sarcastically: back, hip, cramp. Bird flu. "Anthrax. SARS. Common cough and cold."
Djokovic then, after beating Roddick, was booed for taking on Roddick over the public address system.
"They're already against me," Djokovic said at the time, "because they think I'm faking everything."
When Djokovic returned, he couldn't run anymore, leading to the feeling that he wanted a break because he was tired. Djokovic said the loss of fluids made his "engine a bit stop working."
You decide if his break was legitimate. But Federer all but admitted that his break wasn't legit.
He was just strategic- ... well, give it your own name.
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