Concrete Elbow by Steve Tignor - Rainy Day Roundup: Drugs, Bruises, Nalbandian
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Rainy Day Roundup: Drugs, Bruises, Nalbandian 03/29/2010 - 4:06 PM

Dn Greetings from a gloomy east coast of the United States. It’s been raining, heavily, according to the tournament’s web site, in Key Biscayne. It’s raining, just as heavily, outside my office window in Manhattan.

With matches just getting started and no finals to review from yesterday, I’m left with a hodge-podge of items to address. Three items, to be exact, come to mind.

“Some Jackass”

Yes, these were the words used by Andy Roddick to describe Wayne Odesnik this weekend. As you know, Odesnik, an American third-fourth-fifth-tier ATP player, pleaded guilty to trying to smuggle eight vials of HGH into Australia at the beginning of the year. Another player, upon hearing of the case, wondered what it said about WADA, the sport’s doping overseer, that Odesnik had never failed a test. The truth is, he couldn’t have failed a test for HGH, because tennis has yet to test for it. In fact, until a couple of months ago, no one in any sport had ever tested positive for the muscle-building substance. Terry Newton, a British rugby player, was the first; he admitted using it and has been suspended. This has led major league baseball’s commissioner, Bud Selig, to push the player’s union to allow HGH testing. Along with the Odesnik case, it may (it should) spur tennis to make that step as well.

ITF spokesman Stuart Miller told me today that “recent developments”—namely, the Odesnik situation—meant that tennis would have to “consider broadening” what it tests for. “We test for a wide variety of substances, and you can’t test for everything every day. It’s constantly evolving, and we’re always looking to trends in other sports and what we should be looking for next.”

According to the ITF’s records from 2009, Odesnik was tested once last year, at the U.S. Open.

The Phantom Injury

I have a running debate with another tennis writer about how much consideration we should give a supposed injury or illness when we assess a player’s performance in a given match.

My colleague is willing to downgrade the significance of any match where one player has complained of a physical problem. I go the other way; if it doesn’t force you to retire, and it doesn’t make you limp or have to powder-puff your serve in, it’s not worth considering or mentioning. The latest example of one of these situations happened on Saturday, when Andy Murray lost for the second straight time while seeming to have an issue with his foot. But niggling problem or not, it wasn't his foot that drilled that easy pass into the net to lose him the first set against Mardy Fish—he got the ball in plenty of time. Murray hasn’t mentioned any physical issue in his press conferences. He’s focused on what is likely a larger problem: His lack of mental toughness since the Aussie Open final. He looks like a deflated player at the moment.

Part of my attitude about this comes from own experience. I never pushed my body the way a pro athlete does, but I did play tennis virtually every day for a lot of years. I’ve been injured plenty of times—back, shoulder, hamstring are three popular places. But I've never finished a match where an injury was in any way the cause of my defeat. Either I I couldn’t play at all, or I had to quit midway. When any injury is mentioned, and I've seen a pro run and hit with no visible hindrance, I wonder what exactly it could have done to them. Partisans of Roger Federer claim that he was hindered by a back problem in his 2009 Aussie Open loss to Rafael Nadal. I didn’t notice it, and even if I had, I don’t know how what kind of injury is worth bringing up if it allows you to win six matches at a Grand Slam and take two sets from a guy who has a winning record against you. Ditto for Nadal at the French Open last year. I didn’t see any visible knee trouble in his loss to Robin Soderling, and I don’t know how you win three matches at the most grueling tournament in the world, before going out in four tough sets to the eventual runner-up, if you’re suffering every time you plant your foot on the ground. I know Nadal has said his knees contributed to that defeat, and he pulled out of Wimbledon because of them a few weeks later. But I’ve also heard from another source near him that it was his head—which was troubled by his parents’ separation—and not his body that hurt most. I know we don’t want to start making personal problems into excuses, because no match will ever count again. How often does anyone feel their absolute best both physically and mentally? How often are our heads totally clear?

Don’t take it from me, though. Take it from Federer. Asked in Indian Wells whether he felt as beat up at 23 as Nadal often appears to be now, he said, “Sure, sometimes you feel tired. Part of our sport, you know. You ask: Every guy has something small going on.” If every guy has something small going on, then that means no injury—no barely detectable injury, anyway—is worth mentioning over any other. Do we want to, after every match, start scientifically comparing the significance of each player's bruises and strains and boo-boos with his opponent's? It'd be a lot easier to go back to judging a match by its final score, and its final score alone.

A Daveed Sighting

It was nice to see David Nalbandian again this weekend, wasn’t it? No, he’s not in perfect shape. Yes, he faded down the stretch against Nadal. And yes, he’ll never be all he can be, because he likes his hobbies and his time away from the sport and he’s capable of petulantly chucking any match to the wind. But did you see the slo-mo replays that Fox Sports showed of his forehand on Sunday? Effortless balance, eyes glued to the contact point well after he’s hit the ball, a naturally exaggerated extension afterward: Nalbandian may be hell to root for, but every shot of his is a pleasure to watch.


Posted by arun 03/29/2010 at 04:27 PM


Posted by linex 03/29/2010 at 04:42 PM

Hi Steve, how good that you could catch some of Nadal-Nalbi's match, I always like the way you analyze David's game, and I really appreciate the fact that you focus on his game and not in his persona. His backhand was on fire almost the whole match and in most points it would be more powerful as a tool to end points than Nadal's own forehand. His forehand broke down, and it was that shot that let him down in the last 2 sets with a lot of unforced erros. His serve was not effective in sets 2 and 3 niether. I guess Steve that you summarized it well once in Madrid 07 when Nalbi was having perfect serving performances, it is that shot and not his fitness or lack thereof that could win so many matches for him.

Nadal's serve game him some free points in important moments, though David did not return as well as he can, especially when Rafa was hitting second serves.

Posted by Aims 03/29/2010 at 05:10 PM

Agree completely with your assessment of which injuries are relevant when discussing the outcome of a match. But I do think some players (Djokovic in particular) have quit matches, blaming injury, whilst their physical condition was in fact not bad enough to prevent them from playing. It's simply a good excuse when they realize they're very likely going to lose regardless.

Posted by thooz 03/29/2010 at 05:42 PM

Steve, those are good points you make about injuries, and I'm in total agreement with you. As far as I'm concerned, if you've shown up for the match, the final score is all that matters. And no excuses should be made in hindsight either about a particular match, such as sore knees or aching lungs or a bad back. If you play with your injury, then in my book you're not injured.

Posted by Red⁺ = Legacy Solidified 03/29/2010 at 05:50 PM

Agreed, it is an absolute joy to watch Nalbandian play when he decides to play that is.

Posted by Ray T. 03/29/2010 at 06:07 PM

"The truth is, he couldn’t have failed a test for HGH, because tennis has yet to test for it. In fact, until a couple of months ago, no one in any sport had ever tested positive for the muscle-building substance."

I'm sure most if not all tennis fans had no clue about this, and it is quite obvious who has been using using it on both the men and women's tour. They know who they are and so do we now...

Posted by gliciouss 03/29/2010 at 06:21 PM

is it obvious??? i would have no clue...i watch tonnes of tennis

Posted by Robert 03/29/2010 at 06:28 PM

No hgh test in tennis please. Nadal they are coming after you my man

Posted by Dunlop Maxply 03/29/2010 at 06:30 PM

My experience has been that an injury in tennis that actually affects how you hit the ball in a match is relatively rare. For example, your shoulder may be a bit tight, but its either something that can be safely ignored, or you can't play at all.

However, there is the entire subset of injuries which affect movement. The most typical is a loss of conditioning. I would not call it technically an "injury" -- but I have seen many, many matches at all levels of competitive tennis where a player's movement simply degrades. This is often a factor in a match, but just because it is a factor does not mean you treat the match result with any less validity.

In addition to loss of conditioning, any lower body or back injury can affect movement. I think Nadal and Federer, for example, depend so much on their movement and footwork that if either is off it would affect their game.

But, part of maintaining long term excellence is maintaining your conditioning, or pacing yourself.

Posted by tennis roids 03/29/2010 at 07:14 PM

I will, of course, chime in here and mention the drug testing issue. A lot of players complain of the injury after the fact so that they can miss the next low level tournament while juicing up for a bigger event. They would otherwise be tested in that event, while they can apparently avoid out of competition testing. So claiming an injury would give them an excuse for losing their last match and an excuse to miss the next event.

Posted by Tari 03/29/2010 at 07:33 PM

Hi Steve! Great getting to say hello to you at Indian Wells this year.

I agree with you about injuries. Interesting that you had an example of possibly the "head" hurting more than any other niggling pain. I think both Nadal and Federer have now been through this at different times.

Hope you don't get too much grief for saying that.

Posted by Christopher 03/29/2010 at 08:05 PM

Great points, Steve.

tennis roids-- I certainly think it's possible that there is far more use of PED in tennis than we think, but I grow weary of the accusations you consistently make without even a shred of evidence. I've been to your site and I find the implication that every player who appears to have big muscles at the point of contact with a 2-handed backhand is using PEDs absurd. Look at photos of Borg at that same moment of contact. His arms look incredibly cut and muscular. Do you think he was juicing in '79?

I am no professional athlete, but I do keep in shape and do consistent if moderate physical training with weights. My arms don't look like Nadal's, but they're not far off from Federer's (especially his left!), Djokovic's, and those of other players. And I can promise you my career as an academic has not resulted in using PEDs (other than lots of caffeine).

Unless you have real evidence I think it would be better to be more circumspect in the claims you are making (or at least strongly implying).

Posted by ladyjulia 03/29/2010 at 08:14 PM

Hi Steve,

Excellent point about injuries. If players come on court to play, they deem themselves fit enough to compete. Otherwise, don't play. Simple.

Posted by Andrade 03/29/2010 at 08:44 PM

Excuses seem to come fast and furious with a few of today's players, rather than just accepting the loss. I'll never forget the comment made by Chris Evert after an early loss at Wimbledon in 1983. Evert was visibly sick with a cold/flu and was beaten by a player whom she had never lost to before.

When a reporter tried to get her to use it as excuse, she would have none of it, replying simply, "If you step out onto the court, it means you're ready to play."

Posted by tennis roids 03/29/2010 at 08:53 PM

If you have a picture of Borg that looks like the pics on my website, then I'd like to see it. I have a pic of him there that serves as a contrast to modern players.
I don't say that every player that is pictured is on steroids. There are always people with a certain natural musculature, but when so many players seem to have this "natural" musculature, you have to start wondering whether it ain't so natural. I used to have only the pictures on my website and my own intuition. Now I do have some evidence to point to, such as the ITF document that suggests players are skipping tests and the Odesnik affair. As the exterminator once told the guys in my college fraternity, for every cockroach you see, there are 400 in the walls. The pictures plant some doubt in the minds of many, but I don't think it's correct to say that I don't have evidence at this point, even if you want to disagree with my assessment of the evidence.

Posted by ladyjulia 03/29/2010 at 09:29 PM

Also, about the drugs issue...I think the players are not tested enough for EPO out of competition...and it seems (after odnesik episode) there is no testing for HGH.

There is a problem in logistics and WADA and ITF need to figure out how to administer the tests more efficiently so as to ensure a level playing field. The tests right now are scarce for out-of-competition.

Posted by Tyler 03/29/2010 at 09:58 PM

I agree with your opinion on injuries. Evertime I walk on to the court something is not 100%. My knee hurts, I have a headache, I didn't get much sleep the night before. Nothing is ever perfect and that is tennis. The key is to get yourself to a place, were mentally you feel 100%.

Posted by Roland 03/29/2010 at 10:02 PM

HGH is really not that bad for you if used properly.

Posted by Sunny nine 03/29/2010 at 10:20 PM

Actually I agree with what Federer said when interviewd after the last Wimbledon. He was asked about Nadal not being there. Fed said that injuries were part of the game. In my view this means that if you truly have an injury it is bad luck but doesn't affect the person who wins. If Tommy Haas didn't have a couple shoulder surgeries then maybe he could have stayed in the top 10. But he did and we can't think about alternate universes. Bodo wants to put an asterik by Roger's win at the French. But Federer beat who was put on the other side of the net. Rafa played well until he was beaten. Federer can't help that. Also at Madrid journalists were saying that Federer's win didn't mean as much because Nadal was tired. Please! Even Nadal said that if he had played as well as Federer did in his semifinal he wouldn't be tired. Being tired is not an excuse. I like both players and I hate to see them diminished. If you go with Fed's mono for losing 2008 Wimby then you have to go with Rafa's knees at RG. But you can't do this for all the players every time. If you step on the court you are announcing you are fit to play.

Posted by HoiHa 03/29/2010 at 10:24 PM

Tennisroids - in the interest of fairness the image you have of Nadal on your web site is a photoshopped fake that made the rounds as a joke some years ago. This does not do much for your credibility which is a shame because in truth the issue is a serious one.

Posted by Marshall1 03/29/2010 at 11:17 PM

I actually don't really agree about the black and white definition of "injury". Yes, if you are seriously injured, you can't play at all. I am a musician who has suffered through injuries for a long time. It doesn't affect my daily habits (although it is painful to brush my teeth) and I still teach and demonstrate to my students. When people look at me talking about my injuries, they think that I'm lying and most of it is in my head. Yes, it affects how I think and put me in deep depression, but from the outside I look perfectly ok. I think most atheletes, especially tennis players, go out to play with "little things" here and there, but they always think if they hang in there, or if their opponents were not in good shape, they might sneak away with a win or two. I don't completely blame them if they lost a match and blame it on the injury. The atheletes that CONSTANTLY resort to injury as an excuse, however, are troubling signs about the sports and maybe even their integrity.

Posted by mwu 03/29/2010 at 11:19 PM

I thought the jury had long-since agreed that while HGH can enhance your look, it's not performance-enhancing.

(This may be what I'm thinking of: )

Posted by HoiHa 03/29/2010 at 11:29 PM

I suspect the thing about carrying a niggling kind of injury is more the way it might impact on a player's ability to concentrate fully throughout a match, especially if the match is a tight one. I would imagine that getting into that "zone" is all the harder. I can certainly see where the fear of an injury - Rafa's knees for example - play on the mind and might be very distracting. It's hard to swing freely if in the back of your mind you are afraid to step wrong lest you get a shooting pain through your knee (or back or shoulder or wrist etc etc). But as a professional athlete you get through that fear - you have no choice ... if you don't, your career slips rather rapidly. But I can still understand how the fear of it can play mind games.

Posted by susan 03/29/2010 at 11:51 PM

kudos for roddick for speaking up. and I love watching nalbandian play when he is on. first set was fantastic; if it could only be sustained (sigh).
don't understand the antipathy toward him by some fans here. his shots are indeed a pleasure to watch.

my sense at the FO was that nadal was hurting in more ways than one. not surprised to hear about that source's comment. seems to be in near-peak fighting spirit now, though.

Posted by tennis roids 03/30/2010 at 12:01 AM

I have discussed this pic on my blog several times and no one has ever provided evidence that it is a photoshop. If you show me any evidence that it's a photoshop, I will take it down immediately. Conversely, what will you say if it's not?

Posted by HoiHa 03/30/2010 at 12:53 AM

Tennisroids - what eveidence are you looking for? Because one need only look at Nadal shirtless, which we do see frequently, to see that is not his body in that photo.

Posted by harrap 03/30/2010 at 01:01 AM

It's most unfortunate that you were not incapaciated by some injury today from writing such a silly piece!

Posted by tennis roids 03/30/2010 at 01:58 AM

Here is another picture from the same practice session at AO from a few years ago.
The picture I've posted, I grant you, shows his muscles to the greatest extent possible, which is why I posted it, but it basically just catches his lat muscle at a good angle in combination with his deltoid. If you google search Nadal muscle images, you will see many pictures that aren't too different, but he generally isn't completely shirtless, just wearing a sleeveless shirt. His muscular frame changes over the course of time. I have opinions about why that is the case, as you might imagine. Believe me, I have MANY rather angry Nadal supporters coming onto my site to make a case for him being clean, and even they don't dispute the picture. It has appeared in magazine articles and if it was photoshopped, I would assume that he or someone would have demanded a retraction. Now, again, I ask you what you would think if you conclude that it is not photoshopped?

Posted by geellis 03/30/2010 at 02:23 AM

I think my problem with Steve's analysis is the apparent lack of appreciation for the margins involved here. One commentor mentioned the extent to which players like Nadal and Federer rely upon movement as an explanation how a lower body niggling injury or pain could affect their play. However, I believe a better analysis discusses the small margin of superiority that any top player has over another, let's say top 50, player. The difference is just not that great. And when you're talking about the top 20 or 25 players, you're really working with small margins. Steve, for all his playing glory, simply didn't play amongst a field where the margin of difference, the margin for error, was so small and, therefore, either cannot imagine, or has simply failed here to account for, the thin margins with which players today have to work. While saying this, I do not mean to suggest that there aren't a lot of fake excuses offered by players (esp. certain ones like the Djoker, who I otherwise like). But I am saying that if a Nadal or Federer is slightly injured or feeling poorly, there's no question that, to the right player, they can lose matches that they otherwise would win. There's just too little margin at the top of the men's game for them to be off more than a couple percentage points from their best against other , for example, top 20 players.

Posted by geellis 03/30/2010 at 03:10 AM

Pete has his critics, but this is a good article. That's first.

@Evelyn W., I've been wondering this myself as of late. I don't want our speculation to start a viral rumor or anything, but her late ascendancy and lean muscle mass makes one wonder. That said, this wondering is exactly the toxicity of PE drugs in sport, that their presence makes us question athletes on the basis of little or no evidence. That's too bad for sport and too bad for Sam specifically.

Posted by jb (go smiley fed!) 03/30/2010 at 03:20 AM

mhm... i still think that injuries, like other factors such as wind, heat etc are a factore in a match. Not necessarily an only one, but a factor that if you change, you may change the outcome of the match.

Roddick in oz had a issue with his shoulder and arm, and his hand was numb. He was able to play, but it definately effected him. How he adjusted became a part of that match, a factor. If the injury wasn't there, his play would have been different as he wouldn't have had to make those adjustments. So is it a reason he lost? No. But was it a factor, in that it forced him to adjust, of course it was. If it hadn't happened, he may have won, he may have lost. We'll never know. But that match, his play, his options were effected by what was happening with the nerve in his neck. (i think that's what it was)

Not being able to look at everything that is going on in a match is too limiting, imo. the athletes fitness is just one more component to the way the play unfolds, and how they cope can be fascinating.

well, fascinating if your a tennis geek. :)

Posted by md 03/30/2010 at 04:31 AM

Interesting stuff - I didn't see anything wrong with Nadal at the French. I thought at the time, and you appear to have confirmed it, that Nadal was suffering from some sort of mental breakdown. Doubt had been planted in a mind that had no doubt in it before, ie losing at the French represented some sort of crisis, as I think Nadal thought he was unbeatable on clay, certainly over 5 sets. The loss of confidence meant he was not mentally able to contemplate Wimbledon. I have no idea if his parents's separation was the cause, but there was something wrong with him that went beyond the physical. As for Federer I don't think his back affected his all round game much, bar his serve. It looks like he has sorted out those back problems.

I saw Federer play last night and he looked so so bored. At this stage I don't think the spring hardcourt season even vaguely interests him. I suspect he is more interested in winning some of the great clay court titles, like Rome and Monte Carlo and of course the French. Other than that only Wimbledon motivates him greatly and even then I suspect he is on auto pilot until the semis. I am not sure he will get motivated to win the US Open, with all of its hoopla and discordant atmosphere. Intrinsically the GS interest him but I am not sure if even they are enough at this point. The only target he has left in tennis is to surpass Sampras at Wimbledon. Maybe he wants more US Open than Tilden, but I am not sure he can physically survive the crazy scheduling of the US anymore.

Posted by md 03/30/2010 at 04:37 AM

interesting pics tennis roid - the one of Nadal certainly looks fake. However, your point is well made - comparing the likes of Borg, McEnroe, Connors, Lendl, Wilander, Edberg, Lendl, Laver, Newcombe, Roche, Rosewall, Becker (who was considered incredibly powerful), Sampras etc they all look weedy compared to some of today's players. Creatine must play a role as the physical change has taken place over a very short period of time.

Posted by HoiHa 03/30/2010 at 04:46 AM

Tennisroids - I suspect that getting into a debate with you on this topic via a public board is silly as it would seem we possess very different attitudes and priorities in life - suffice it to say that there is nothing for Nadal's people to retract - one is absolutely allowed (legally) to lampoon a public figure and that includes doing wonderful things in photoshop - it is why I can put Andy Roddick's head on Tinky Winky's body and circulate it to my heart's content without fear (and yes, I am a lawyer).

That said, I choose to live my life giving people the benefit of the doubt - yes I have gotten burned a few times as a result, but I have also seen and done things I never would have if I had lived my life presuming that people were ill intentioned.

I love tennis and I really honestly believe that the sport is essentially clean. Are there some bad apples? Of course. Do I believe that drug testing is, unfortunately, necessary in this day and age? Yes, I do. But fundamentally when I watch my favourite players and follow their careers, their ups and downs, their triumphs, their heartaches, I refuse to be so cynical as to think they are all taking PED's. You might find this belief in other people's honesty to be naive - but it is how I choose to live my life. Sometimes people - and athletes - will disappoint us - but I for one give all these players the benefit of the doubt because I think as human beings we should do that for each other. Who wants to live in a world where we assume everybody is a cheater? What a terribly sad place that would be.

Posted by felizjulianidad 03/30/2010 at 07:04 AM

Geezus guys.
I can show you a picture of myself when I was a summer intern at work several years ago (it was about 4-5 hours a day more manageable than real work!) - I PUT ON fat and LOST definition after about 6 weeks of eating lots of Oreos dipped in milk at work, and I still looked like someone whom "tennisroids" would accuse of juicing up.
Give it a break.
Odesnik had a massive upper body, tiny legs, and zits all over his back. The signs were all over the place.
Nadal's skin never changes, he gets flabby when he eats lots of donuts and jacked up when he plays a lot, he's got a very low center of gravity (as someone else said - seen his rear? He's a stallion meets a full back), and HE IS NOT THAT RIPPED. He puts on fat really easily. I still remember the first time I ran into his uncle - the guy looked like he was part of the Praetorian Guard.
Nadal is just a naturally corpulent sort of guy.
There are serious rumors that he was just very early on in his career - around 4 to 5 years ago. Those should be taken seriously. The rumor was that his extended break was to get all the juice out of his system, and then he could compete legitimately.
Guys, he's way slower than he used to be. He can only hit those passing shots against fat guys like Nalbandián. Watch his Wimbledon 07 match against Berdych - that was the young, pre-injury, lighter Nadal with a bit less muscle to him. He can't do that anymore.

Posted by Alexis (the real one) 03/30/2010 at 07:14 AM

I can't believe you failed to mention the constant whining of the Williams' sisters - any time they lose a match. Always pointing to some phantom injury. They are the two worst abusers of this cop out mentality -- and you failed to mention it ????

Posted by tennis mom 03/30/2010 at 08:43 AM

"Tennisroids - I suspect that getting into a debate with you on this topic via a public board is silly as it would seem we possess very different attitudes and priorities in life "

The debate is not silly. First, I have watched women's tennis and wondered about how those enormous arm muscles were produced long before THASP's blog.
Second, I don't want my Junior Player tempted to use PED's. I, like a lot of other tennis parents, need to know my child's idols in the sport are clean. It is not an esotheric question about the good in others, it is a health question for my family.
And when I say "idols", anyone who has ever been in the top 500 gets tremendous respect around here, so I am shocked that testing is only for the top 50.

Posted by Chris 03/30/2010 at 10:02 AM

I agree we don't need to disect matches to weight the influence of small injuries into the outcome but disagree that small injuries don't influence results. Almost any injury that impacts movement does indeed impact a player's ability to play agreesively. If you are just a tab bit slower, you will not have the balance and timing to hit at your best. Anyhow, I do agree it is best to play it lowkey and not make excuses about every small injury.

Posted by Christopher 03/30/2010 at 10:14 AM

Again, I imagine that there are players using PEDs. There's simply too much money involved for that not to be the case.

At the same time, for the men at least, I don't find the pictures to be convincing. Look at pictures of 20 year old men in photos from Woodstock (or other pictures of college age men in the '60s and 70's and compare them to pictures of men that same again at present day rock concerts, on the beach, etc. The difference is stunning. One obvious difference is simply obesity. We're a much thicker nation than we were 35 years ago. But for younger men especially, the amount of muscle definition is also vastly different. Why? A lot of them work out with weights now and that was very rare for the population as a whole pre-'80's.

I do think PED use is probably relatively rare for players at the top of the men's game. You can basically do a cost-benefit analysis of different sports to see which ones are most likely to have a high degree of PED use. Cycling and track and field put a huge emphasis on pure physical attributes (albeit obviously honed through massive amounts of practice). If your VO max is 15% less than Lance Armstrong's, you simply will never be the cyclist he is without some artificial enhancement. I'm not saying cycling, sprinting, etc. don't involve some strategy and mental aspects, but they are obviously nowhere near tennis in those skills.

Baseball is an interesting case in the middle. A player's value is heavily dependent on raw statistics that don't necessarily have to do with winning or losing (pitchers might be an exception here, I don't really follow baseball much). All the PEDs in the world are not going to improve your hand-eye coordination, but if you ALREADY have great hand-eye coordination, like Bonds, McGuire, etc., then the extra strength can make a HUGE difference in turning deep hits into home runs. If you get caught having used PEDs you might be disgraced (or not), but the opportunity for improvement is so high (as are the monetary rewards) that a player could reasonably assume it is worth it.

Tennis is at the other extreme, even more so than say, golf. There are really limited returns for bulking up in tennis. It seems that more players have suffered from bulking up than have benefited from it (Chang, Jankovic, etc.). The top player in the world for most of the last 6 years or so is a pretty normal looking guy. If you are a top player especially, the small possible rewards probably don't outweigh the costs of discovery.

Now I realize that PEDs have functions other than bulking up. Drugs that dramatically increase recovery time from an injury, etc. would be much more tempting. They're also in a grayer moral area in my opinion. It seems strange that something that, outside of professional sports, would be considered a legitimate medical advancement would be outlawed within sports. There's a lot to be worked out here.

Finally, tennis roids (who is himself, it seems, very muscular without the use of PEDs) consistently implies that players claim injuries to get out of events at which they might be tested, including Nadal at last year's Wimbledon. Do players claim injuries like this at a higher rate than they did in the 80's and 90's? I don't know. On the face of it, it seems absurd that Nadal would plan his doping schedule (and I am definitely NOT implying he actually has one or dopes at all) so that the tournament he had to skip was Wimbledon. I just cannot see that logic.

I suspect that we will eventually hear of many players in the 30-100 range that have used PEDs. I think there will be very few top players. I also do think that reading everything from bigger muscles to missed tournaments (and missed drug tests, given how frequent they are for top players) as evidence of doping is going too far. I hope I'm right.

Posted by BrooklynNY 03/30/2010 at 10:14 AM

I can't beleive no one has ever speculated of Andre Agassi using HGH. Its undetectable, and he had a resurgence at what, age 31? Played some of his best tennis, and posted some of his best results.

All the while while MLB home run records are being destroyed by players who have now been caught or admitted to doping. Same with other olympic athletes as well that competed during this time.

Posted by Sandra 03/30/2010 at 10:19 AM

All injuries are not the same. If an injury affects the player's play sufficiently to affect the outcome of the match, then that has to be taken into account, particularly the next time the same players play because the outcome might be different based. If I'm betting on the outcome of a match, I'd want to know that the result of a prior match-up might have turned on an injury. But if we're talking about the usual day-to-day injuries that afflict just about all professional athletes, then that evens itself out.

Posted by tennis roids 03/30/2010 at 10:21 AM

To show that a pic is photoshopped is not difficult. Show the original pic that it was photoshopped from.

Posted by Sandra 03/30/2010 at 10:23 AM

Tennis roids: you're suffering from the well-known injury called testosterone-deficient envy. Just because you don't have the hormones to develop muscles like some professional athletes do, and you haven't done the work and made the sacrifices that they have, and therefore don't/can't have the bodies that they have, you feel the need to impugn them all. Grow up, and stop envying others the fruits of their labor. I don't look like some female movie stars do, but I assume it's because I don't have their genes, haven't had the plastic surgery, don't work out 4 hours a day, don't starve myself, don't have professional hair and make-up people, and can't afford their wardrobes. But that's okay - I'm not going to hate them over it. Great for them - gives me something to aspire to.

Posted by Christopher 03/30/2010 at 10:33 AM

Sandra-- if the photo on his site is to be believed, "tennis roids" is not suffering from a lack of muscles. But more importantly, the ad hominem attack tells us nothing. The question that matters is NOT why this anon blogger is obsessed with the issue of PEDs in tennis, it's whether or not there use of PEDs in tennis. I think and hope that such use is limited, but knowing this would have to be based on evidence, not a low opinion of someone making accusations to the contrary.

Wouldn't we have all thought it crazy if someone claimed that Andre Agassi spend the better part of a year of his career as a meth-head, failed a drug test, lied about it, and essentially had it covered up by the powers that be? Well...

Posted by Andrew 03/30/2010 at 12:44 PM

Coming back to the injury question - nicks, tweaks and scratches are part of every tennis tournament.

Federer went to Shanghai YEC in 2008 after withdrawing from Paris Bercy before a QF match with Blake. He lost two hard fought matches with Simon and Murray in the RR stage, receiving treatment on his back during his match with Murray. Both matches were hard fought - all credit is due to Simon and Murray for winning them.

I felt that Federer adjusted his serve motion, possibly subconciously, after the back injury. He declared himself fully fit for Doha and the Australian Open, but in the final against Nadal (particularly in the 5th set) you can see much less knee bend and a lower ball toss during the serve. This takes nothing whatsoever against Nadal's play during the match, and no asterisk or footnote applies.

Federer later said that he thought he was subconsciously worried about his back, and pushed it hard in training in the early part of the clay season. Clearly, by Wimbledon, it was not an issue. I thought the number of double faults Federer hit in the US Open final vs Del Potro was also anomalous, and may have had something to do with the short rest after the match with Djokovic. But again, that's what comes with the Super Saturday aspect of that tournament, and nothing takes away from Del Potro's fightback in that match.

Posted by Tari 03/30/2010 at 12:57 PM

I agree with you about Roger's service motion, Andrew. I noticed it myself. What amazed me at the time was that his fans noticed it (and I believe someone did a comparison somewhere that I saw), but no commentators or writers observed this. How could that be, I wonder?

This isn't an excuse for his loss to Nadal at the AO. I think that match was totally winnable for Roger.

Posted by weak4.0player 03/30/2010 at 12:59 PM

Hangnail, hangnail.

Of course injuries influence the outcome of matches, probably in a majority of matches. But, so what. Let's all re-emphasize the old Aussie rule: if you play, you're not hurt. If you're hurt, don't play. Pretty simple.

As for PEDs, there have to be at least a few players who use, but I hope it's more the exception than the rule. Seems to me that Odesnik is exactly the sort you would expect to succumb; journeyman player who realizes that he needs an edge.

It is flat out a mistake to assume that being well built equates to juicing--just not so. Some folks are just born lucky while others can do the work to get there. Herschel Walker, a legend in these parts, had, essentially, a perfect build, a combination of good genes, fast food, and thousands of pushups and sit ups every day. Heck, I can walk over to the University's fitness center any day and see young guys who are better built than Nadal.

Christopher (posting above) is right, most of us are fatter than 30 years ago, but those who do work out (not me) are more interested in achieving a cut torso.

Anyway, I hope the juicing problem in tennis is minor, but I would support much more rigorous testing to a) learn the truth, b) catch the cheaters, and c) inhibit those who would consider PEDs through fear of punishment.

My 2¢.

Posted by Christopher 03/30/2010 at 01:26 PM

Hi Tari!!!

I recall Andrew and crazyone were the first to really pick up on the subtle changes in Federer's service motion. Yet another example of how some of the commentary here and at Pete's blog can be more accurate and insightful than what the TV commentators are saying in a match. Andrew's analyzes of changes in Djokovic's strokes (first forehand, starting last year, and the serve more recently) have been spot-on as well.

Posted by Tari 03/30/2010 at 02:13 PM

Hello Christopher! I remember those posts as well. There was a lot of detail, as Andrew provided here. Kind of easy to see once you look for it, I had thought.

Btw, hoping you'll make it to the USO this year. Would be great to get to say hello!

Posted by Mr Rick 03/30/2010 at 02:58 PM

oh boy, here we go again ... "Rafa on roids" ... Instead of looking at photos taken at various angles and lighting conditions, try looking at him IN PERSON. The guy is a string bean, he wears a SIZE MEDIUM T-SHIRT, his skin is healthy, at the end of a lot of tournaments from the waist up he looks practically anorexic. Not to even mention the fact that 'roids are of NO BENEFIT whatsoever to a professional tennis player. But carry on if you must...

I'm a little surprised Steve that you are implying that Rafa's head was really the cause of his losses and other problems last summer. Rafa's injuries were well documented and discussed by Rafa, his Team and his doctors. He made key changes to his playing schedule this year to avoid problems with his knees, etc. that he had last year. No doubt emotional worries make it even harder to ignore and play through injuries. But there is no question he was really in pain by the time he got to the FO.

Posted by Mr Rick 03/30/2010 at 03:11 PM

"Let's all re-emphasize the old Aussie rule: if you play, you're not hurt. If you're hurt, don't play. Pretty simple."

No, its not at all that simple in tennis. This is a great rule if you are playing a team sport. In tennis, an individual sport, if you don't play, you get fined and/or you loose points and piss off the tournament directors and the sponsors. At times of the year when you don't have as many points to defend, the decison not to play is easier. But for the top players, you usually have a lot of points to defend throughout the year. The pressure to play, even when injured is great, and as we have seen with someone like Rafa, it can have some bad consequences.

Posted by Mr Rick 03/30/2010 at 03:32 PM

I get a little annoyed with the Nalbandian worship. There is no question, he is an extremely talented player. But he's never won a slam and only has about 10 titles of any kind total. Any player can play lights out for one set or even one tournament and win; but try sustaining that intense effort for several years, across all surfaces, against all types of players. Then we'd really see how long his great forehand would hold up.

Posted by Tari 03/30/2010 at 03:41 PM

Annoyed? Why, Mr Rick? People like to watch him play. I like to watch him myself. I watch a lot of players that have not and probably never will end up winning a slam. By doing that, I've gifted myself some amazing tennis to behold. Maybe it's just one or two matches, but so what?

Posted by Christopher 03/30/2010 at 04:23 PM

I get annoyed at Nalbandian himself, because there's so much great tennis we could see from him but don't get to. Can't see getting annoyed at people who like watching him play. What's not to like about beautifully fluid shots and astounding angles? I don't think any of his fans have any illusions at this point about his place in the game, but that doesn't mean he's not great fun to watch.

Posted by SR 03/30/2010 at 04:28 PM

Just on the subject of injuries and Rafa:
Check out this interview with Spanish TV last summer (scroll to the bottom for the videos). It is by far the best interview I have ever seen with Rafa...he is incredibly thoughtful and discusses his time off and rehab, his philosophies, the economy, etc. This link also includes a partial translation of what he said. It is definitely true that he was in pain for sometime before his French Open loss; while he acknowledges the impact of his parents' separation on his play, he says that it was really his knees that resulted in his having had to take that extended break.

Posted by weak4.0player 03/30/2010 at 04:46 PM

Mr. Rick, of course, the decision itself can be difficult, but once made you go with it. Really, what I believe the old Aussie rule means is:

No Cry Babies!

Posted by Corrie 03/30/2010 at 04:59 PM

Like Christopher and Tari said, I too find it amazing how little the commentators seem to notice while the fans pick up crucial things. Perhaps the fans are brighter as well as more devoted.

Since PEDs are used in most other sports it's impossible to believe that tennis players are purer and more virtuous, especially with the massive money to be made. I wonder especially what goes on in the early years of a player when he is building himself up physically as well as technically. Once you're a top player it's hard to believe you'd be mad enough to take the risk, but what about in the getting there?

Posted by Mr Rick 03/30/2010 at 05:33 PM

Corrie, like I said, 'roids really do nothing to help a professional tennis player - at any time. It is not at all to their advantage to carry around excessive bulk/muscle. It causes injury and slows down movement.

Posted by Mr Rick 03/30/2010 at 05:39 PM

SR- thanks for bringing reality to the discussion

"Mr. Rick, of course, the decision itself can be difficult, but once made you go with it. Really, what I believe the old Aussie rule means is: No Cry Babies!"

Whatever, hope you never have to play several weeks of master's level tennis with a bruised bone and tendinitis.

Posted by CL 03/30/2010 at 08:22 PM

Steve - I have thought a lot about the whole 'to declare/to not declare an injury' without coming to much in the way of a conclusion. Other than working within the 'if you show up you are fit to play,' only, sort of flies in the face of reality. Sometimes. Of course, the record books will never show if a player was injured/ill; nor should they. But if one of the two players on court has an injury, not seeing it, not talking about it, in the day to day discourse about the game seems silly to me.
To avoid a Fedal war, let's use Davydenko as an example. Turns out the guy had been playing his way through several tournaments with a broken wrist. Not broken in the sense he had a bone breaking through skin, but broken nontheless. Do we ignore that in assessing his less than stellar results in the last few tourneys since the AO? Or do we simply factor that in as ONE aspect upon which a match might turn? Seems crazy to me not to do the latter.

Posted by Ryota 03/30/2010 at 09:07 PM

Nalbandian is the one player that I wish could win a Grand Slam before he retires.

Posted by weak4.0player 03/30/2010 at 10:41 PM

Mr. Rick,

"Whatever, hope you never have to play several weeks of master's level tennis with a bruised bone and tendinitis."

Well, no danger of that.

Posted by Karl Romano 03/31/2010 at 02:10 PM

Two comments:
I was watching some shots of Nadal when he won the Gold Medal at the Beijing Olympic Games. His muscular mas belonged to a different sport, not tennis. To watch him now is like watching at a complete different player. I remember he was one of the players who complained the most for the surprise doping tests and I think now, he must take a decision, whether to become an average player or risk being caught. No player on the planet can stand two consecutive 5-hours games as Nadal did in the 2009 Australian Open.
Recent discoveries on physiology have found that an athlete body can be trained in such a way that when lost muscle fiber regenerates, it comes improved to resist the level of training at which the dead fiber wore down. That's what we call 'Super Compensation'. It's compressed evolution. A long time ago, Nalbandian took a decision not to train at full capacity, relying on his talent alone. Then came the Federer era, and all else was redefined. At some moment during the second half of last year, Nalbandian decided to start training as he should when his legs were still fresh. It's too late! That training level got him injured and as he slows down to recover, his condition goes down too. It's a round circle he will never get out of. Nalbandian, in the years to come, will be remembered as the ultimate underachiever and will leave the courts without one miserable Grand-Slam. Nature justice... or balance if you prefer.

Posted by Alejandro 04/09/2010 at 10:58 AM

at least she's not a Tiger

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