When Rafa Meets Roger … And Friends, Too

WASHINGTON, April 21, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

When Rafael Nadal speaks, like he did when he hosted an Instagram Live chat Monday evening from his home in Mallorca, people watch and listen. During its peak, more than 50,000 tuned in for Nadal’s get-together with his friends and fans. He was joined during his hour-long get-together chat by Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Marc Lopez.

The 19-time Grand Slam champion, clad in a simple white Nike t-shirt, spoke in both English and his native Spanish. Among many questions fielded by Nadal, he was asked: “What keeps you motivated after all your victories?” Nadal, 33, who has 990 career ATP Tour victories, answered the question with great sincerity, saying: “My motivation is simple: I like what I do, that I am able to enjoy tennis. Honestly, I want to keep doing the things that I like. I like to play tennis. I like competition. I want to stay healthy and do my job. I’m just trying to do my best and stay ready for when we return.” 

Later, when Federer joined the chat after Nadal experienced some difficulty with Instagram technology – “Finally,” said a relieved Nadal. “Are we in?” asks Federer laughingly. “We have made it!” he says to Nadal – the two legends of tennis shared eight minutes of breezy conversation that covered topics like family life and how each was handling their role of staying shuttered in place. Federer also gave an update on his injury rehab, saying, “I had a really good first six weeks, then things got a bit slower, now it’s good again. But I have plenty of time obviously. There’s no rush. I’ve been hitting a bit against the wall, doing my rehab and my fitness. The good thing is that the second surgery is easier than the first one. I don’t need to experience a third one, though!”

Then, Federer inquiringly asked Nadal why he plays left-handed when he does everything else, such as playing basketball and signing autographs, right-handed. The Spaniard answered: “I cannot play righty. That’s just a legend!” Federer, who has long endured the success of Nadal’s leftiness, sounded relieved by the revelation. “So I cannot be angry. Just natural. So that’s fine.”

Fognini holds out hope for Rome Masters this year

A year ago, Italy’s Fabio Fognini was lifting his first Masters 1000 trophy at Monte Carlo. Now, he’s at home in Arma di Taggia, Italy, with his wife, 2015 US Open champion Flavia Pennetta, and their two young children. Like other pros, Fognini sits and await word on whether there will be a resumption of the 2020 tennis season that has been halted by the coronavirus pandemic.

In an interview with the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, the 33-year-old Fognini, said he’s not optimistic that the season will restart.

“At this moment, I think that we will not return to the court this year,” said Fognini. “I am husband and father of two children. I fear that I can transmit the virus. How can a tournament director take the responsibility for the health of players, media representatives and spectators? I will not travel around the world, until it will be 100 percent.”

When he was asked if tournaments played without spectators present is a good solution, Fognini said no. “There is no point in holding tournaments without spectators. I don’t agree with the policy of football to hold tournaments at any cost without spectators,” he said. “I wonder if it is possible to hold football matches in empty spectators?” 

Had it not been for the Covid-19 outbreak, which grounded the ATP Tour on the eve of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells last month and suspended all tournaments until at least July 13, the Rome Masters would be in three weeks. Now, Fognini hopes that the Italian Open can be played this autumn.

“I hope that the Italian Masters will be held in Rome,” said Fognini. “There is a wonderful atmosphere at the Foro Italico. Rome is Rome. With everything going on, I understand that the Italian Federation is looking for all the solutions to organize the tournament, but I hope it will not be the same.”

What they’re saying

• Novak Djokovic, during a Facebook live chat with other Serbian athletes Sunday, as reported by Reuters: “Personally I am opposed to vaccination and I wouldn’t want to be forced by someone to take a vaccine in order to be able to travel. But if it becomes compulsory, what will happen? I will have to make a decision. I have my own thoughts about the matter and whether those thoughts will change at some point, I don’t know. Hypothetically, if the season was to resume in July, August or September, though unlikely, I understand that a vaccine will become a requirement straight after we are out of strict quarantine and there is no vaccine yet.”

• During a recent interview with The Australian, 237th-ranked Thanasi Kokkinakis revealed that his withdrawal from the 2020 Australian Open was due to severe mononucleosis. The 24-year-old from Adelaide said he had to be hospitalized twice with the illness. “I was told I had stopped breathing when I was sleeping, my throat was so inflamed.

“I thought it might be the bushfire thing with all the smoke. I was going through four or five shirts a night with a fever, my bed was drenched. It felt like razor blades down my throat so I went to hospital in Melbourne. … I got back to Adelaide and it got really bad, I couldn’t eat. But I’m better now, I’m feeling relatively healthy, but it’s been frustrating.”

What they’re writing

Stuart Fraser, tennis correspondent for The Times of London reports that British tennis players could return this summer “on home soil in a closed-doors tournament limited to eight singles competitors and a handful of doubles teams.

“Plans are in place for an event that would replicate the season-ending ATP Finals, with the top eight British male players competing in a round-robin format of two groups. To maintain distancing in the present climate, players could potentially call their own lines, in the absence of an umpire, and pick up balls. Spectators would not be allowed. 

“Jamie Murray is heavily involved in the organization of an event that would give players the opportunity to compete and prepare for the eventual resumption of professional tennis. If government regulations permit, then it will most likely be held on hard courts at a London venue during the summer, potentially even filling some of the gap in late June and early July that has appeared through the cancellation of Wimbledon.

“Already, backing has been received from several participants. As it stands, according to the present rankings, the singles field would consist of Andy Murray, Dan Evans, Kyle Edmund, Cameron Norrie, Jay Clarke, Liam Broady, James Ward and Jack Draper. The exact number of doubles teams is still to be determined.”

What they’re tweeting

Rod Laver / Hall of Fame great and winner of 11 Grand Slam singles titles

Kristie Ahn, United States, ranked No. 96 / Queen of the TikTok

Ben Rothenberg, New York Times tennis corespondent / Serena shoutout