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More from Mac 06/17/2010 - 6:00 PM

Cover.HardcourtConfidential Today, Pat McEnroe, U.S. Davis Cup captain, ESPN color commentator, and author of Hardcourt Confidential (with an assist from yours truly) is going to share some of his thoughts and experiences in that Inner Sanctum, the ATP locker room. This passage is preceded by a lengthy one on Jimmy Connors (if you remember, Connors' storied run in 1991 began with a remarkable comeback win over Patrick), which is why the material below begins with him. 

-- Pete


Jimmy was adept at mind games. He was so keen to keep himself distant from the pack that he would often avoid the locker room altogether, changing and killing time conspicuously apart from his peers. Top players often have what you might call a “locker room strategy,” from aggressively dominating the inner sanctum of the athlete to avoiding it altogether. One of my brother John’s big beefs was that tennis is the only sport where you share the locker room with not just the guy you’re going to engage in intense, one- on- onecombat, but also with someone to whom you might have a deep,genuine aversion. I guess golf is the same way— but then it’s a stretch to call golf a sport.

John disliked Ivan Lendl, and you could feel the tension when they had to inhabit the same locker room. Granted, John liked to strut around, scowling, his body language demanding that you give him wide berth. That could be intimidating. But he didn’t engage guys in the same way as Lendl, who actually talked trash and needled people— sometimes mercilessly. When John Fitzgerald (who was actually a friend of Lendl’s) came into the Australian Open locker room shortly after having his first child, a daughter, Lendl said in his mechanical, clipped Eastern European accent: “Congratulations, John. Maybe next time you vill be man enough to make a son.”

In conclusive proof that there is a God, Lendl ended up having five children of his own— all lovely daughters.

I watched as Brad Gilbert and Ivan Lendl almost came to blows in the locker room in Tokyo one year. Now a lot of guys found Brad’s endless prattling (usually about sports) irritating. But even more glowered at the way Ivan Lendl was constantly razzing and putting others down.

Somehow, the two of them got started on a game of one- upmanship. Brad suggested that he would clean Ivan’s clock in a game of one-on-one basketball. Not to be outdone, Lendl said he could skate rings around Brad in a hockey rink.

“Oh, yeah,” Brad shot back, sticking out that Sgt. Rock jaw of his, “You want a piece of me in a batting cage?”

I could hardly believe my ears, these guys were taking it to another level, like a couple of kids in the schoolyard, until some other players intervened to talk both guys off the ledge before it came to fisticuffs. It was idiotic; clearly, it had nothing to do with either guys’s skill at bowling or beer pong. They just had their backs up and neither was going to back down.

102161069 Wimbledon has two locker rooms, a spacious, well- appointed one for seeded players, and a more bare bones one for everyone else.Yet, Andy Roddick, a three-time finalist at the event, insists on hanging out in the B locker room, so he can be with buddies like Sam Querrey, the Bryan Brothers, Mardy Fish, and James Blake. He just feels more comfortable in there.

Of course, you can’t have individual locker rooms for all 128 players at a major. But at those events, as well as smaller ones, the locker room during the early stages of an event is like a cross between a crowded train station at rush hour and a class reunion. The camaraderie level is high. When whoever won the last tournament walks in, almost everyone slaps him on the back or drops by in front of his locker to say “Well done.”

Friends who haven’t seen each other in weeks say hi and catch up when they meet. At the 2009 US Open, Roger Federer watched the scoreboard as Marsel Ilhan, the first Turkish player (although he’s originally from Uzbekistan) to compete at an Open-era major, won his first- round match. Later, Federer went up to Ilhan in the locker room to congratulate the young player and introduce himself. The journeyman couldn’t believe it.

Carl, the locker room attendant at the US Open, doles out the assignments at the start of the tournament. Over time, he knows which guys like to be near each other, and he generally groups them by nations. It works out well, although the tone in the temple of Ben- Gay changes dramatically later in the event. When it’s down to the finals, the atmosphere in the locker room is almost oppressive.

You’ve got one guy huddled with his team in one corner, his opponent and friends in the other. The tones are hushed. You can almost cut the tension with a knife. It wouldn’t be such a bad idea for tournaments to give the finalists different spaces on that last, critical day. Roger Federer is probably the most relaxed guy I’ve ever seen in the locker room; he’s nothing less than a prince— it’s like he owns the place, but in a good way, like the proud proprietor of a Swiss fondue restaurant.

Rafael Nadal, as nice a kid and good a sportsman as he is, gets into the mind games a bit, wittingly or not. He makes his opponents wait on him, not just between points (for which he gets criticized) but in the locker room and on the sidelines as well. When the tournament officials call Nadal’s match, he goes to take another piss, making his opponent stand there, waiting. When the umpire calls them out to the center of the court for the coin toss, Rafa will often stay in his chair, fiddling with towels or his bottles while the other guy walks right out— and has to wait.

I can understand how Toni Nadal, Rafa’s coach and uncle, tried to drill it into the young, impressionable eighteen- year old of a few years ago that it was important for him to take his time, not feel rushed or obligated to do anything until he was comfortable and well- organized. But you have to grow out of that.

Rafa’s foot- dragging was behind that bad- blood incident at Wimbledon between Rafa and the Swedish player Robin Soderling. Ticked off by the way Rafa had the habit of making an opponent wait, Soderling did some conspicuous stalling of his own, and he even mimicked Rafa’s compulsive habit of plucking at the back of his shorts. It wasn’t a smart thing for Soderling to do, and it didn’t make his life any easier— Rafa is genuinely liked and respected by everyone. Soderling ultimately was cast as a boorish gamesman, but many players felt that his was a point worth making, if not exactly in the way Robin chose.


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Posted by Arun 06/18/2010 at 07:07 PM

"if Nadal drew Roddick and Federer drew Soderling would you still be saying Soderling is the toughest QF opponent any of the big four might face? "
ActionFlunky: Don't pretend like you don't know the answer for that one. ;)
Anyway, if you read back those Wimby'09 and USO'09 threads, imjimmy was saying quite different things re the Fed-Sod matches that he's talking about here.

imjimmy: Sorry if it seems like I'm treading upon your thoughts. Re your draw analysis - frankly, different tournament but same tunes. And you have this knack of making it sound as if there is a perennial conspiracy against Nadal. ;)
Yeah.. This draw seems comparatively tougher for Nadal, of course. This is not new to him. By the same token, he's also had easier draws before. More importantly, he has shown us that he can win against all kinds of competition. Like CL and jb said, there is no point in predictably complaining about the paper strength of the draw even before a match has been played. Sorry - but hearing the same tunes again and again makes it look like baking the excuses ready (as opposed to harmless frazzling), though that might not be what you were/are trying to do.

Posted by Tim (SAVE_TENNIS.FED) 06/18/2010 at 07:55 PM

:) well duh! lol

Rafael Nadal, as nice a kid and good a sportsman as he is, gets into the mind games a bit, wittingly or not. He makes his opponents wait on him, not just between points (for which he gets criticized) but in the locker room and on the sidelines as well. When the tournament officials call Nadal’s match, he goes to take another piss, making his opponent stand there, waiting. When the umpire calls them out to the center of the court for the coin toss, Rafa will often stay in his chair, fiddling with towels or his bottles while the other guy walks right out— and has to wait.

I can understand how Toni Nadal, Rafa’s coach and uncle, tried to drill it into the young, impressionable eighteen- year old of a few years ago that it was important for him to take his time, not feel rushed or obligated to do anything until he was comfortable and well- organized. But you have to grow out of that.

Posted by Tim (SAVE_TENNIS.FED) 06/18/2010 at 08:12 PM

Arun, come now, IMJimmy complain about Rafa's draw, scheduling, fitness, lack of sleep, mental health, weather forecasts, etc.?

never!

Posted by Rafalicious 06/18/2010 at 08:25 PM

and Tim, your never ending bashing of Nadal.....you are like a vuvuzela, only much more annoying

Posted by sans nom (All hail Messi) 06/18/2010 at 11:44 PM

Tim's back! Yay!

Posted by Sharin 06/19/2010 at 12:06 AM

wonder if it's off-topic to comment on the article above!

Re:the time-wasting issue:
I don't think the people who believe Rafa's timewasting is not meant as gamesmanship and is merely his 'routine' are entirly wrong,BUT I think giving a free pass to Rafa for what he does is a bit unfair to all the other players who stick to the rules and don't do whatever makes them feel more comfortabel. wether these acts were meant as gamesmanship or not in the 1st place,they have certainly become sth Rafa is used to and does as a habit.but the least I would say about them is that they're a bit selfish. it's funny how people ask other players to find ways to cope with Rafa's routines,why not ask Rafa to give up a bit of his rituals in respect to the game and the opponent?
I do think that Rafa is a nice guy overall and shows good sportsmanship in some aspects(respect to the opponent,correcting the calls,etc.) but his over all behaviour on the court does not come across as very sportsmanlke IMHO,rituals or not.

Posted by Tim (SAVE_TENNIS.FED) 06/19/2010 at 12:23 AM

lol and Rafalicious, your relentless whining when ANYONE points out these obvious issues with your King Hero are equally so, just in case you werent aware of it ... Pat Mac speaks the truth, I just cut and pasted it in the box, so its MY fault lol

brilliant, really...

Posted by Tim (SAVE_TENNIS.FED) 06/19/2010 at 12:26 AM

lol and Rafalicious, whats annoying to some is funny to others, another realty check for you, share the planet with those who dont agree with you, if you can manage that...

Posted by Sherlock 06/19/2010 at 12:33 AM

Tim, it's funny how you cherry pick. :)

The above snippet from P-Mac also says, "Rafa is genuinely liked and respected by everyone."

Something tells me if he was as evil as you portray him, genuinely liked and respected wouldn't be happening.

Posted by Sharin 06/19/2010 at 12:57 AM

"Something tells me if he was as evil as you portray him, genuinely liked and respected wouldn't be happening."

he's definitely not evil,and definitely not an angel either,unlike what some of his fans think(same goes for Roger and some of his fans).

of course no fan is going to come out saying they think their favorite player is an angel,but when they can't accept the slightest criticism on the most clear issues then they do think so! rarely do you see any fan of the 2 admitting that the other one is better than their own fav in one particular aspect(personality issues).

Posted by Sherlock 06/19/2010 at 01:10 AM

Sharin, it's crazy, isn't it? And it continues on like clockwork. :)

Posted by Tim (SAVE_TENNIS.FED) 06/20/2010 at 01:23 AM

cherry pick? look who's talking! i read more snark about rafa this week and not a peep from sherlock or the mama lions in response, and then when I post something, that happens to just be a cut and paste from the US Davis Cup captain, they holler and whine ... you guys gotta find someone else to blame for awhile...

like clockwork, indeed!

Posted by Pootey Tang 06/20/2010 at 07:03 AM

Pat Mac is a boorish trash talking imbecile. He has had his tongue up Fed's azz for years. He is always looking for a way to trash Nadal. He needs to come out of the closet once and for all, between his man crush on a young Roddick and his azz licking of Fed it is obnoxious to say the least

Posted by Tim (SAVE_TENNIS.FED) 06/20/2010 at 11:18 AM

its so hysterical to think anything of this post is 'trashing' nadal, only a mama lion fan gurl could get upset over such a portrayal, and anyone's whos ever watched the guy play knows its all true anyway! as I said, Fed fans can totally deal and even joke about Fed's mysterious lapses and flaws, or get angry about them, too bad many nadal fans refuse to do the same and see him as an angel with Rear Admirals ... but then, this kind of thing is the very definition of KAD now, isnt it?

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