LONDON (Reuters) - For Rafael Nadal dignity in defeat is a deeply held belief and, along with his arch rivals, the Spaniard has put the gentleman back into the gentlemen’s singles at Wimbledon.
Compare that with the catfight that broke out between Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova in the lead-up to the world’s most famous tennis tournament.
Nadal, who tumbled out of the championships in a straight sets defeat by Belgian journeyman Steve Darcis on the opening day, declined to blame his wounded knee despite persistent questioning at the post-match news conference.
He doesn’t do excuses.
The Spaniard, like Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic, is a great believer in mutual respect. The leading quartet on the men’s circuit do not indulge in slanging matches.
That prompted Latvian player Ernests Gulbis to complain in an interview with French newspaper L’Equipe last month that: “Tennis today badly lacks characters... all four of them are boring players. Their interviews are boring.”
You certainly could not say that about Russian Sharapova and Williams who launched into a verbal scrap worthy of the best soap opera scripts.
In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, defending Wimbledon champion Williams controversially spoke about a high-profile teenage rape case in Ohio prompting Sharapova to say the American should not comment on matters outside tennis.
Last week’s article also included an account of a private conversation between Serena and her sister Venus that the reporter interpreted as an attack on Sharapova’s relationship with Bulgarian player Grigor Dimitrov.
Then the fur really flew. Sharapova told the world number one to keep her nose out of other people’s business and Williams hastily sought to broker a truce.
It is hard to imagine, say, Djokovic and Murray locking horns like that or even slagging off each other’s pet dogs.
Long gone are the days of sound and fury, on and off court, between John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors. The men’s game is thin on bad boys but Nick Bollettieri, one of the sport’s most influential coaches, is not surprised.
Bollettieri, who crafted the careers of 13 grand slam winners from Andre Agassi to Monica Seles, told Reuters: “Back in the times of Yannick Noah, Ilie Nastase, Jimmy Connors and McEnroe, that was more like going to a festivity, to an attraction.”
“You went there because you knew that during the match you would hear all the words in the alphabet, all the cuss words; you are going to see balls flying, everyone was challenging the umpire. That went down quite well but there were other people like the Lavers and the Rosewalls and they did not do that. If everybody did that, we would have a problem.”
Bollettieri, whose Florida academy helped to change the face of tennis, argued that Djokovic still plays around enough to make it amusing while people talk about Murray’s tennis prowess now he has Ivan Lendl as his coach.
“Lendl is so stoic you wonder if he has teeth in his mouth but when you get to know Lendl he is quite comical,” said Bollettieri, as sprightly as ever in his eighties with a dapper dress sense to match his exuberant personality.
Bollettieri, clearly full of admiration for Nadal, said the Spaniard would never put on a show like “Nasty” Nastase because he doesn’t have to. “He does fireworks but in a way that is amazing,” he said.
He also made the point that when it comes to socializing, the tour has changed beyond all recognition. “Back in those days, the guys would have a beer together,” he said. “Players today have an entourage.”
“If you compare Federer to McEnroe, we need both of them to make the game,” Bollettieri said.
“There’s nothing boring about greatness,” former Wimbledon champion Chris Evert said on an ESPN conference call ahead of the tournament. “ Those top players... are at a level by themselves. That will form rivalries.
“So I don’t think ‘boring’ is the right word. I wished the women had four up there like the men do right now. Right now it just seems to be one,” she added referring to world number one Williams.
As for Federer, he is quite happy for today’s players to follow his Mr Nice Guy example but does concede Gulbis might have a point.
“I get bored as well in the press room talking about a 6-2 6-2 match. I wish it was different too but it is how it is and sometimes you just get it done,” said the Swiss seven-times Wimbledon champion.
Reporting by Paul Majendie; Editing by Ken Ferris