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Winners and Losers in Tennis from the Week of July 22

Jeremy EcksteinFeatured ColumnistJuly 29, 2013

Winners and Losers in Tennis from the Week of July 22

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    Roger Federer's return to Switzerland ranged from a cow to a bad back. His Grand Slam window may still be open, but it may be too difficult to squeeze through at this year's US Open.

    There was also news about Viktor Troicki's failure to provide a blood sample, and tennis' possible link to the Biogenesis scandal.

    Of course there was plenty of excitement on the courts in Gstaad, Croatia and Stanford, USA with some good matches and disappointments.

    All of this and more now featured in this week's edition of Winners and Losers where we look at the unusual, the mundane and the triumphant happenings in professional tennis.

Winner: Novak Djokovic's Book

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    Novak Djokovic is about to reveal the secret ingredients to his rise as the No. 1 player in men's tennis. But rather than dish out a typical autobiography, the enterprising Serbian will be publishing Serve to Win, a book on...nutrition?

    Makes you wonder how many recipes will contain donkey cheese.

    Djokovic has credited his increased endurance and mental fitness to a gluten-free diet that immediately preceded his epic 2011 success.

    Whether or not tennis fans are truly interested in Djokovic's tastes and recipe for success, there may be morsels of tennis insight that provide pearls in becoming a great champion. We can only hope.

    The book, published by Ballantine Bantam Dell, is due to be released before the US Open. Hope you're hungry.

Loser: Roger Federer

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    Gstaad, Switzerland opened up its Swiss Open in a giddy mood by gifting its famous son with a cow. It was an endearing attempt to commemorate the original cow that had been given to Roger Federer following his first Wimbledon win in 2003.

    The gift proved to be an udder failure in helping Federer milk a victory. He was eliminated 6-3, 6-4 by Daniel Brands, ranked No. 53 in the world.

    The real issue for Federer is his recurring back pains, which he admitted have plagued him the past two weeks with his clay-court return. Can he find the health and optimum conditioning to make a run at the US Open title in one month?

    If not, he will have plenty of time to spend with his new four-legged friend.

     

Winner: Serena Williams' Comment

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    In 1993, NBA superstar Charles Barkley started a firestorm of public debate with his Nike commercial. Barkley famously stated, "I am not a role model." He said it was up to parents and teachers be role model, not athletes.

    In 2012, NBA MVP Lebron James reiterated this stance as a piece of his "What Should I do?" commercial for Nike. The sports landscape has changed so much, relatively few people care to look at role models they way they once did.

    Now Serena Williams must be bucking for a Nike commercial with her recent role model comments via SI.com:

    I really don’t feel pressure to be a role model. If young girls want to look up to me, I feel like it’s great. But I also think that role models are a tough position to be in because a lot of people can make a mistake and be positioned in the wrong way.

    Fair enough. Williams is not without faults and tennis fans can criticize behaviors on the court like her disgraceful exit in the 2009 US Open, or scrutinize her recent apology for the Steubenville rape case.

    People would generally love for athletes to be upstanding people, worthy to be role models, but Williams is right: People cannot count on athletes as role models.

Loser: Viktor Troicki's Suspension and Appeal

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    The drama of performance enhancing drugs has become a farce in sports such as Track and Field and Major League Baseball. The real fun is to project what kinds of excuses and lies will be told by the cheating athlete to rationalize his "mistake." After all is lost, the mandatory apology follows. Nobody owns their baggage, but at least we've confirmed that athletes are not role models.

    Will this epidemic infect tennis?

    Immediately after tennis legends John McEnroe and Billie Jean King threw their weight behind tennis's clean policies to oversee performance enhancing drugs, the International Tennis Federeration (ITF) suspended World No. 53 Viktor Troicki for violating doping regulations.

    Troicki had been selected to give a urine and blood sample on April 15. The ITF suspended him for 18 months for not providing the mandatory blood sample. Troicki is now appealing, according to the AP, via ESPN. He claims the doctor let him skip the test because he was ill.

    ESPN's T.J. Quinn also named tennis as one of the sports linked to Biogenesis scandals, though names have not been revealed.

    Tennis is the real loser here. No matter the outcome for Troicki, it's a black mark for the clean image the sport has mostly carried. 

Winner: Sloane Stephens' Challenge

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    Sloane Stephens seemed to be in great spirits as she sounded off on various personal topics on Twitter last Thursday, according to SI.com. Best of all, she mockingly threw down the gauntlet to challenge America's bullet server John Isner to a serving duel.

    Would tennis fans pay to see Stephens vs. Isner in some kind of exhibition event to initiate the US Open?

    Should tennis resort to gimmickry as a parallel to the NBA's slam dunk contest or Major League Baseball's homerun derby?

    Ordinarily no, but considering the anemic condition of American tennis (Not you, Serena Williams), it might give the fans something to cheer for.

Loser: Janko Tipsarevic

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    As recently as March, "The other Serbian" Janko Tipsarevic was a top ten player. He had hit his peak as a 29-year-old talent who had emerged into a hard worker with his fitness and nutrition. His brother Jelko told DEUCE MAGAZINE's James Buddell "You can't be a T6op 10 player if you eat Nutella and bread."

    Somebody needs to check Tipsarevic's tennis bag. Could there be a jar of that delectable hazelnut treat and a loaf of French bread? His ranking has bloated to No. 18.

    What gives? Never a great defender, Tipsarevic has now lost his offensive aggressiveness. As the losses have mounted, he seems to have literally moved a few steps back on the court. Losing at the Claro Open last week and then getting blitzed by Robin Haase 6-2, 6-2 at the Swiss Open is cause for great concern.

    If he doesn't have a strong finish to 2013, he may never get a return trip to the territory of top-10 tennis.

     

Winner: Agnieszka Radwanska

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    The photo above is proof that Agnieszka Radwanska is a tennis player. The WTA World No. 4 is back on the tennis courts, and the media hype and attention over her off-court decisions can finally go away.

    How are the reader ratings for tennis, compared with photography and modelling?

    The answer might be as simple as the decision to place Radwanska's tennis as a middle slide on a weekly update piece. Yes, the tough task of actually covering sports must laboriously be attempted by the likes of yours truly. Here's her result:

    Radwanska played well to get to the Bank of the West final. She lost to Dominika Cibulkova 3-6, 6-4, 6-4.

    So there you have it. Let's be happy with a few thousand reads as Radwanska plays tennis instead of dwelling on several million reads as she poses by a pool. I'm sure you all agree.

     

Loser: Richard Gasquet

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    Another quiet loss for World No. 10 Richard Gasquet, who lost his opening match to Albert Montanes at Umag's Croatia Open. Not exactly the road map to arrive at pay dirt for the tournament's No. 1 seed. His 6-1 loss of the second set was downright criminal. Umag should be calling for a refund.

    Has there been a top-10 player with less media attention in the past few years? Tennis fans and writer have all but ignored Gasquet as a legitimate contender, which is curious given the conditions several years ago when he was hailed as a rising star in tennis.

    Gasquet defeated Roger Federer at Monte Carlo in 2005. He rumbled all the way to the 2007 Wimbledon semifinals. It would never get better than that.

    The problem is not his all-court skills, good speed and beautiful one-handed backhand. Gasquet never found a weapon and became more content to languish in comfort behind the baseline. There's only one Federer, but there are dozens of Gasquets who carve out a nice career but never develop into a killer.

    So, Bernard Tomic, Milos Raonic and Grigor Dimitrov might want to pay attention: Potential never won Grand Slam titles.

     

Winner: Fedal Rivalry

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    If Richard Gasquet was never able to stand up to Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal launched his legend with it.

    Federer recently admitted that their rivalry was special, as reported by Joan Solsona for Marca.com: "There will never be a rivalry like ours...Rafa and I are extreme opposites and that's what the fans like so much."

    It's a particularly interesting comment due to its timing. Federer spoke at Gstaad while suffering through back pains and on the brink of a bad loss to Daniel Brands.

    There's at least some solace in Federer's remarks. He is still thinking ahead to playing more great tennis. He finished by telling Marca.com that "Our rivalry isn't over, I'm sure it will be back, I miss it."

Loser: Fabio Fognini's Streak

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    It's hard to stick Fabio Fognini with a Loser slide, but after the fame of his incredible winning streak, it was dashed to pieces in 62 minutes--the time it took for Tommy Robredo to sweep their Umag title match 6-0, 6-3. Fognini's championship hunger was dealt an unwelcome bagel.

    Earlier this week, Fognini was captured in a profile by tennis writer Peter Bodo who coined the term "Fabulous" to go with Fognini's alliterative name. The Italian had stormed into the top 16 in the world rankings, riding a 13-match winning streak with clay-court titles at Stuttgart and Hamburg.

    But at Umag, Croatia, the pressure became greater. Fognini survived three match points against Gael Monfils just to arrive at the title match with Robredo, before his carriage turned into a pumpkin.

     

Winner: Tommy Robredo

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    Now the baton has passed from Fabio Fognini to Tommy Robredo for this week's triumphant story. The veteran Spaniard, who was not even ranked in the top 100 to begin 2013, won his second title this year and has climbed back into the top 30.

    Robredo has quietly won 28 of 43 matches despite facing most draws as a pronounced underdog. For instance, he humbled young Grigor Dimitrov in April at Barcelona despite Dimitrov's media expectations, and followed this up by defeating top-10 player, Tomas Berdych.

    Perhaps most inspiring was a run to the French Open quarterfinals as he won three consecutive five-set matches after trailing two sets. It took another Spaniard, David Ferrer, to end his magical run, but Robredo may have asserted himself as one of the best players on clay, for the moment.

    Robredo appreciates his ride, as he stated on ATP.com: "Money can't buy this feeling and I'm lucky to be part of this sport and lucky to have the chance to feel these feelings. I enjoy it and I know how to handle it."

Loser: BB&T Open Championship Match

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    There was no underdog story or battle of baseline grinders for the BB&T Open in Atlanta, Georgia. The finals featured Goliath vs. Goliath, in a service battle of heat-seeking missiles. John Isner (6'9") vs. Kevin Anderson (6'8") was a match-up of the tallest players to ever meet in an ATP final.

    Unfortunately, the pairing did not provide a contrast of styles or the footwork and intricate shot-making created from more skilled tennis players. It's like showing up at a ballet only to find that the dancers are going to have a rock fight. There is circus-like appeal to brute power, but it's a far contrast from the vision of tennis's roots. Tennis at its finest is a beautiful variety of creating shots and winners.

    Isner won perhaps the most predictable scoring line, 6-7, 7-6, 7-6, in tennis history: all three sets were decided by tiebreakers. There was not a single break of serve and the two sluggers combined for 45 aces. It was the perfect cure for insomniacs.

    The match of Goliaths could have used a David (Ferrer) to inject match-up appeal. It's an illustration of why the greatest rivalries must have contrast.

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