Shoulder bumps and catfights: The unimportantly memorable tennis moments of 2012
Every tennis season has its own set of unforgettable memories. And at the end of every tennis season we always make it a point to recap the most special things that defined the season – the best player of the year, the most spectacular achievement of the year, the most thrilling match of the year. But there’s also something to be said about the small, petty, insignificant incidents of note – the quirky surprises, if you will – that will probably remain in our memories just as long as the more obviously remarkable ones. Is it just me, or are negative moments a lot more vividly recollected than the cuddly, feel-good ones? So in a spirit that isn’t quite in keeping with the festive season, here’s a look back at some of the incidents – most of them unpleasant – that weren’t as game-changing as Roger Federer‘s return to No. 1 or Rafael Nadal‘s 8th consecutive Monte Carlo triumph, but were just as memorable:
‘Fedal’ is not all sugar and mush: Speaking of Federer and Nadal, while their rivalry may have been taken over by the Djokovic-Murray one in terms of frequency and drama, the two certainly did their best to inject some much-needed rancor into their relationship. First Nadal called Federer out for frowning upon players who publicly air their grievances to the media. “For him it’s good to say nothing. Everything positive. ‘It’s all well and good for me, I look like a gentleman,’ and the rest can burn themselves”, Nadal said at the Australian Open, causing listeners to drop their jaws in shock and awe. A month later, Federer hit back, albeit on a completely unrelated subject: “I do believe the officials could be a bit more tough on timing. I’m not complaining a lot, but I don’t know how you can go through a four-hour match with Rafa (Nadal) and he never gets a time violation.” Roger and Rafa may not be able to match the Djokovic-Murray rivalry on the court any more, but they sure as heck aren’t going to let the Fedal story fade sweetly into oblivion.
The one-woman show: Andy Murray may have made his big breakthrough by defeating Federer in the gold medal match at the Olympics, but really, there was only one tennis showstopper in London. Serena Williams inflicted such severe beat-downs on every single opponent of hers that we ran out of adjectives to describe her once-in-a-millennium performance (many claimed that it was the most dominant showing ever by any player – male or female). And since this is Serena we’re talking about, there had to be a final, momentous touch to properly commemorate the occasion; in this case, it turned out to be a Crip Walk move on the court. The dance move, once the hallmark of gang members from Serena’s hometown Compton, was intended to be a reminder of the humble origins where Serena and her sister Venus came from. But this is Serena we’re talking about, so naturally, a lot of people took exception to her supposedly ‘stupid’, ‘insensitive’ and ‘toxic’ behaviour. Ah well, at least Serena can laugh it all off.
Celebration gets the caveman touch: Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal participated in a long, sweaty, macho battle of wills in the final of the Australian Open. Then Djokovic decided to take the caveman theme beyond the match, as he tore off his shirt and screamed at the heavens in celebration of his epic win. Naturally, a large percentage of the stiff-upper-lipped tennis audience thought the celebration was classless and disrespectful. Which might have counted for something if Djokovic, who had just sacrificed a part of his humanity to win his 5th Slam title, actually cared about how ‘respectful’ people thought he was.
Catfights galore: In 2012, Agnieszka Radwanska displayed a rather unexpected affinity for getting under the skin of her WTA counterparts. At the Australian Open, Radwanska slyly remarked that “it wasn’t very necessary for Maria Sharapova‘s on-court shrieks to be so annoying and loud”. When told about this, Sharapova, never one to back down from a fight, shot back, “Isn’t she back in Poland already?” Could a catfight get any colder? Well, it could, specially if it involves friends-turned-foes. Radwanska was at it again in February; after watching good friend Victoria Azarenka exaggeratedly hobble and wince in pain during their match in Dubai, Radwankska claimed she had lost all respect for the Belarussian. Azarenka’s response, however, was what made the spat particularly memorable: she brushed off the comment while speaking to the media, and then proceeded to beat the living daylights out of Radwanska in four straight matches. Ouch.
Tomic tanks his way to immortality: Bernard Tomic may have made headlines with his tank-job losses towards the end of the year, but his most memorable moment actually came in the first half of 2012. And no, I’m not talking about his impressive Australian Open run here. At the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami, Tomic’s father John, sitting courtside, got so vocal about his disappointment at Tomic’s performance that he finally made the 19-year-old snap. In a fabulous fit of fury, Tomic uttered the immortal words, “He’s annoying me. I know he’s my father, but he’s annoying me. I want him to leave, but how is that possible?” to the match referee. Well played, Bernard.
A Golden Achievement: In the era of Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Serena, it’s easy for a record by a rank-and-file player to go relatively unnoticed. But the sheer uniqueness of this particular record should ensure that Yaroslava Shvedova is never considered just another rank-and-file player. By winning all 24 points in the first set of her 3rd round match against Sara Errani at Wimbledon, Shvedova won a Golden Set, thereby accomplishing a feat that has only been seen once in the Open Era, all the way back in 1983. If you actually think about what it takes to win a Golden Set – making sure that you don’t hit a single error, don’t commit a single double fault, get every single return back in play, and hit every single groundstroke with precision – the feat actually sounds even more belief-defying. And Shvedova wasn’t beating up on a journeywoman either – she was playing against a player who had reached the final of a Grand Slam just three weeks ago. This wasn’t just another record – it was a superhuman act.
Nalbandian goes all ‘Saw’ on us: David Nalbandian may be fast approaching the end of his staggeringly disappointing career, so maybe he can’t be completely faulted for trying something, anything, to enter the record books. Still, causing a line judge to bleed is a bit much, even by Serena Williams’s standards. In the Queen’s final against Marin Cilic, Nalbandian got so frustrated at missing a shot that he violently kicked a panel in anger; the panel thudded straight into the unsuspecting line judge’s shin, resulting in some heavy bleeding. And all of this happened while Nalbandian was leading in the match – he had taken the first set 7-6. I shudder to imagine how he might have reacted if he had lost that first set. The Argentine apologized for his behaviour after the match, but he wasn’t fooling anyone. This was Nalbandian’s way of making sure his name found a permanent place in tennis folklore, and boy, did he succeed!
Shoulder Bump of the year: Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka don’t like each other – that has been clear for a while now. But who would’ve thought their dislike would actually get physical? Before you let our imagination run wild, let me clarify that the incident in question was a lot less saucy than it sounds; I’m referring, of course, to Sharapova and Azarenka ‘accidentally’ bumping shoulders as they walked to their chairs at a changeover during their Stuttgart final. After the match, Sharapova let loose her famed iciness as she remarked, in a tone dripping with sarcasm, that “it was so unfortunate Vika was extremely injured today and just couldn’t really perform her game”. Alright, this may be borderline soap opera stuff, but in a sport largely devoid of drama, we take all the crumbs we can get. And yet, this incident wasn’t quite as eye-popping as….
The REAL shoulder bump of the year: Lukas Rosol did the unthinkable by defeating Rafael Nadal in the Wimbledon second round this year, but how he got the job done may have been even more remarkable than the final result. Belying his modest career achievements and lowly ranking, Rosol came to the match armed with a healthy dose of overt bravado and in-your-face aggression. He strutted around the court as though he owned the place, and did everything he could to throw Nadal off his game. Ultimately, the World No. 2 was so rattled by his inability to control the tempo of the match that he complained to the chair umpire about Rosol’s supposedly distracting way of receiving serve. The tension culminated with the infamous shoulder bump in the 3rd set, which most observers thought was originated by the Spaniard. Was the normally-unflappable Nadal actually forced to resort to schoolyard bullying in the middle of a match? Who cares – it made for great drama!
‘Rajni’ line of the year: Ion Tiriac is a revolutionary figure. Too bad he’s not a diplomat. His decision to introduce blue clay at this year’s Madrid Masters rubbed nearly every participating player the wrong way, and the semi-disastrous experiment has already been relegated to the rubbish bin by the ATP. But that won’t stop the 2012 Madrid tournament from being incredibly memorable; a few decades down the line, ‘who is the only player to have won a tournament on blue clay’ may well become a ragingly popular trivia question. More importantly, however, we’ll always be thankful to Tiriac for eliciting this unforgettable line from Novak Djokovic:
“To me that’s not tennis. Either I come out with football shoes or I invite Chuck Norris to advise me how to play on this court.”
Rajnikant would be proud of Djokovic’s way with words.