LONDON – Rafa has sore knees; Roger’s spirit soars. Maybe because the guy who stole his Wimbledon crown is absent?
“There’s a lot of weight off my shoulders since Paris,” he says. It’s an 180 pound weight named Nadal.
And so another Big W commences, bigger than ever, where the T-word (tendonitis) is a TKO to Rafa and his faithful, lamenting his inability to even make the starting gate. Tendonitis or tendinitis? Doesn’t matter how you spell it because it hurts just as bad. Too bad to play, Rafa said. This affliction used to be called housemaid’s knee, but it’s more serious for the suddenly not-so-overpowering Spaniard since he’s not scrubbing floors for a living.
But having scrubbed himself from the most prominent tournament, Rafa must be worried. His crash-bang style on every point, running down every ball, was bound to take a toll. He’s very young, sure. But how long will his body put up with all-out-all-the-time running-and-gunning that has earned him 6 major titles prior to his 23rd birthday.
Knees. Bloody knees. Is this the end? Or am I being too glum?
I hope he’ll win his latterday Battle of Wounded Knee (not as serious as the 1890 tragedy of that name, a massacre of Sioux Indians by the U.S. Army).
Rafa is the first champ electing not to defend his title since Goran Ivanisevic won in 2001, and never returned. Goran, the longest shot ever, a wild card ranked No. 125, was satisfied to go no farther.
But for Californian Stan Smith, the 1972 champion, withdrawing in 1973 was a matter of principle. He wasn’t alone. His lodge brothers in the newly formed ATP, 58 of them, also walked away. A notable twosome were title-holders, Aussies Rod Laver, 1968-69, and John Newcombe, 1970-71.
They were protesting Wimbledon’s unreasonable refusal to accept the entry of Nikki Pilic, a Yugoslav. Pilic had been suspended by his national federation for refusal to play Davis Cup. In those days members of the International Tennis Federation went along with such suspensions, and Wimbledon did. The ATP had been founded so that professionals could control their own lives, a breakaway from national federations that regarded them as serfs.
Of course Wimbledon carried on, albeit with a weakened men’s field. But the pros had won their independence without going down on their knees.