Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Fare thee well 2011: 43 of the most fugly, flatulent and forlorn moments of the year

As good as 2011 was (and it was criminally good even without Nole), it was also filled with that quaint mix of fallacy, melancholia, scandal and fuglies (on and off-court) that, in a strange way, does its bit towards holding the year together – imbuing it with a sense of well-rounded closure without which it would just be a string of tennis matches – some good, some barely worth mention.


As far as I can tell, there isn’t a year end list recounting this phenomena. 

I’ve tried to be chronological. I don’t pretend to think the list complete.

Feel free to weigh in if you think I missed something out.


1) (Jan, Melbourne) FAIL: Henin re-retires from tennis

Well that blows? Except it didn’t….not quite.

For what it’s worth, I rather enjoyed the few modest successes she enjoyed during the first half of of her comeback in 2010 and felt she was rather unlucky with the elbow fracture.

But when she bowed out for the 2nd time in Aus this year, just days after one of the greatest WTA Slam matches of all time, the pervasive disillusionment and ennui seemed to have rather more to do with that suffocating sense of un-retirement déjà vu, than it did with any purported despair at having lost a much loved (and unloved) legend of the game.

Not a good mix.

2) (Jan, Melbourne) FORLORN: Rafa’s not quite GS

To be honest it sorta felt right that Rafa not hold all 4 Slams – as I said at the time, that seemed to represent a level of perfection that ought to remain beyond us…for now.

But it’s not often you see Rafa slumped sobbing into a towel – not all of it stifled.

And it’s still a little eerie to consider that Rafa got within just two matches of pulling off the holy grail of the Open Era (yes I realise Fed’s been there 3 times too). 

Can’t help imagining how his season might have turned out if he did.

3) BONUS: Up’n never-quite-comers

Perhaps I’m being harsh. Perhaps I’m not. Hear me out.

Grigor: A star is not born. It never is.

Ernie: Not even sure he qualifies as a young’un any more. But to quote one of the best tweets all year, “First he was up and coming…then he wasn’t”.

Milos: Do we really need another big-serving gangloid? One that seems rather too prone to injury, in that all too familiar way gangloids often are? Wish him well, but really?

Dolgopoloved: He lures you in with his kooky, flamboyant and very sexy dance moves, that leave the charred remains of Soderling, Wawrinka and Tsonga in their wake.  It’s a boat load of fun until he reveals himself equally capable of losing in straights to the 133rd player in the world. And I’m not even convinced that Alice-Band is as charming as it once was.

Harrison/Tomic: “Hooning” and outbursts I wish I could term “uncharacteristic” mar what should have otherwise been a breakthrough year.

All of which leaves Donald Young. Yes, he’s an acquired taste, but if he repeats this year’s success after his much-maligned decision to put ‘Mom’ in charge again, I won’t be sorry.

4) (Feb) MELANCHOLIA: Mario Ancic turns his back on tennis.

Now here’s a retirement that really blows.

5) (March, Miami) FUGLY: When 52 = 100

I’m torn between this and this for WTA meltdown of the year.

Ana’s choke (and it was a choke) was truly the fugly-of-fuglies – you’ve got to be very imaginative and very dedicated to put a positive spin on that (many did).

Even so, 52 UFEs from Caro equals over a hundred from anyone else. You’ve got to rewrite Maths itself to make sense of that.

6) (March, Indian Wells) UNSUNG: “When no one remembers your name”

Or even your face.

I’ve mostly given up on Marion ever receiving much of the right kind of press.

It’s true she hasn’t always made life easy for herself (particularly in relation to her compatriots). She’s not everyone’s cup of tea. And she certainly doesn’t feel the need to pander to the media like a trained baboon.

But this year, this phenomenon seemed to me to reach a head when those nice people at Yahoo! Sports didn’t see fit to include even a single pic of the runner up in their widely-viewed photostream (not unless you specifically searched for it). An event some persist in referring to as “the 5th Slam”. 

Try and imagine Petko receiving the same treatment.

There’s laziness, there’s wilful obfuscation, and there’s straight-up disrespect. Take your pick - I’d say it’s all of them.

7) (March, Indian Wells) UNNECESSARY: Dinaroshka’s short-lived and not-so-sweet comeback 

The absurd, one-sided set of demolitions Dinara endured at the beginning of the year were both callous and uncalled for, and should probably be the subject of a UN inquiry into the use of excessive force.

Bartoli…..Kim…..and then Pova: neither defeat, incidentally, was incurred through any great fault of her own, yet she was allowed a total of just three games over all three matches. That’s just mean.

And then, after just one more month, her (what I guess we’d call chronic) back injury stopped her from playing altogether. Few believe she’s likely to return.

Sometimes it’s not a beautiful sport.

8) (April)  CALAMITY: Bepa fired Sergei for some guy named “Karen”

There are people still undergoing therapy for this.

It was like seeing Kate ditch William and shacking up with Tom Jones.

9) (April, Monte Carlo) FAIL: Jurgen Schmergen

Love Jurgen, but his attempts at what I guess we should call “fighting talk” (coming, unsurprisingly, after his defeat of Fed) made me snigger.

Daveed beat him in straights.

10) REDEMPTION: Robin Soderling

Ok, look. I’m glad Robin’s getting the love he is and only now being truly admitted in from the cold with many Rafa fans even now prepared to concede he may have been “misunderstood” (very popular word).


<brusque-haughty-Southern-accent> Just remember there were a bunch of us on this bandwagon first – we’all already took the best seats back when it was unfashionable to do so, and I’m not even remotely sorry that there’s standing room only. </brusque-haughty-Southern-accent>

In order to convince y’all, our guy had to, 1) put an end to two of the greatest streaks in history by two of the best players to have ever played the game, and 2) to then be sidelined by an illness (6 months and counting), one that has a rather nasty habit of putting paid to entire careers.

The uncomfortable parallels with Delpo, where a gruff, suspicious type gains acceptance (salvation?) after sacrificing themselves on the altar of Fedal, are only too evident.

All of which is to say that after a promising start to the year (and two years of laying siege to the top four), Sod was genuinely missed, not just by us hardcore fans, not just by tennis fans, but by tennis itself (and, I’d like to think, his enemies).

Wait, there’s more – he won’t be playing Aus. :S

11) BONUS: “Rafa had a rubbish year”

Sorry, no he didn’t. He won a Slam, reached the finals of two others, won a Masters title, reached the finals of four others, going out in each instance to a guy that only lost seven matches all year.

In other words, the only reason Rafa lost “all those finals” is that it was Rafa making “all those finals”.

You can certainly argue, as many have, that losing to the same guy so many times leaves scar tissue. That’s almost certainly true, but you’ll have a hard time convincing anyone with a functioning cerebral cortex  it would have been very different had anyone else made those finals.

12) (May, Paris) GAG: The Ball-Kid that jumped the gun

Remember him? That poor ball-kid who ran out on court before Viktor had finished putting a smash away?

And when Viktor pretended that was the reason he SPECTACULARLY blew a 5-2 fifth set lead to a hobbling Muzz?

Yeah, that was stupid.

13) (May, Paris) FLATULENCE: The wonder that is AbFab

If there’s an unvarying truth about the tennis season it’s that there’ll be at least one hedonistic atrocity during the French Open and that AbFab will be at the centre of it.

14) (June, Paris) SCANDAL: “I wags when I likes – and I likes when I wag”

Oh get over yourself. Not only have we seen other tennis players do this, we’ve seen other sports people do this. STOP PRETENDING HE THREATENED TO DEVOUR YOUR FIRST BORN.

Rafa fist-pumps with a raised knee, Nole beats his chest and merges his grunts into a celebratory roar.  Not everyone likes that either. I think we can tolerate the odd, UNHABITUAL finger-wag from Federer.

Your faux-outrage is convincing no one.

15) FALLACY: The Grunting issue that just won’t go away

Not even in the face of the biggest WTA breakthrough since Maria Sharapova in 2004. Not even after almost every player asked about it has said, in one form or another, that they couldn’t care less.

16) BONUS: “Maria had a rubbish year”

Sorry, no she didn’t. She won two Premier-fives (one on her worst surface), reached the finals of Wimbledon, the semis of RG, the finals of Miami and the semis of IW.

You can certainly argue that Pova’s game has habitually deserted her at the moments she’s had most to play for – that’s not even vaguely disputatious. You can also choose to speak that little thing known as “the truth” in relation to the Wimbledon final: that every last bit of it was on Petra’s racquet – no one with an ounce of common sense considers Petra beatable that day.

The heart of this particular fallacy relies on making a fake conflation between Maria’s admittedly untimely, disappointing play (about which many reasonable concerns might be expressed), and the idea that this somehow precludes her from ever winning a Slam (about which many unreasonable and downright salacious things have been said).

The latter may or may not be true. But the fact is that, as of now, the numbers simply don’t back it up.

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Maria’s tennis may be in the gutter, but she is clearly looking at the stars.

Assume for a moment that Vika took more than just that one set from Petra (who can still go AWOL) at Wimbledon and made the final. Can you honestly not see Pova winning that?

17) (Sep, New York) FUGLY: “…on the inside”

Wouldn’t surprise me to learn that the few remaining neutrals in the stadium ended up rooting for Stosur after Serena’s little episode of self-destruction – the only truly “ugly” thing on court that night.

What hasn’t perhaps been emphasised enough – and what made it worse for me –  was whom she chose to pick on.

Eva Azderaki???  That’s like picking on Little Miss Muffet.

Equally repulsive were the amount of Serena fans who chose to make light of and, in some cases, to defend it – often from the same group that like to crap on Andy Roddick for his “anger management” issues.

Serena is what she is. She has her ugly side like anyone else. She’s unlikely to change very much. She’s gotten enough heat for it. And not all of her run-ins with authority figures have been her fault.

But it seems to me you’ve lost your right to be taken seriously if you made light of this blunder.

18) (Sep, New York) SCARY: The Slap

Not the Aussie novel, but the single most spectacular moment of this and most other years I care to remember. ‘Decisive’ doesn’t quite capture it.

I mostly included it for the sake of completeness. And because it’s flat-out scary.

Understandably, it’s provoked all sorts of reactions, ire and outrage,  euphoria and delirium.

People clearly have  a lot of very strong (and not always pent up) feelings over it – feelings they mostly don’t know what to do with.

I don’t rightly know whether it’s a good or a bad thing – or whether it’s even meaningful to think in those terms.

To this day, I haven’t even been able to trace where the ball actually landed.

Fed, of course, dismissed it as “luck”, a child-like “slap” – the kind of ‘street tennis’ he wasn’t brought up to play. Novak’s supporters (and many others), of course,  marvel at its sheer audacity.

Where you choose to sit on that divide is largely a matter of philosophy. You should be able to see both sides.

In the end, it got Nole what he wanted. And that, I suspect, is all that counts.

19)  (June) BLAH: The Gimelstob/Feli bust up

Noteworthy for the revelation that Feli gets hot under the collar.

Non-noteworthy for the revelation that Gimelstob should get anyone hot under the collar.

20) BONUS: “Murray had a rubbish year”

His post-Oz slump was uniquely icky. He continues to have trouble with Fedalovic at the Slams. And people are right to ‘meh’ over his clean-up of the Asian Swing.

But there’s nothing rubbish about 4 Slam SFs. Or, for that matter, the best clay court season of his career. Next.

21) (June) FAIL: Lynn Barber played at being Rafa iconoclast.

I get what she was trying to do. I just don’t think she got what she was trying to do….let alone the matter of actually doing it.

22) (June) HEGEMONY: “Script-Gate”

I’m told there’s an argument that it would be an existential threat to journalists’ livelihoods and credibility if they didn’t get first bite of the players’ press-conference cherry.

That the only way around this is withholding those pressers from the public domain for at least 24 hours, thereby giving them an ample window within which to work on and release their pieces, well before ‘Boris Blogger’ is allowed to  get his dirty mits on them.

I’ve only ever been partially convinced with that explanation.

What’s criminally unambiguous is how much this smacks of snobbery and hegemony.

23) (June, Wimbledon) EPIPHANY: Pironokva discovers the existence of ranking points outside of the Slams.

Simply astonishing.

So ends one of the great mysteries of life – how Pironkova manages to move like a fairy whilst razing the competition at Wimbledon, but is unable to otherwise win two matches together all year.

This year she made the QFs at Wimbledon and was one of only two players to take a set off Petra. No one was very surprised.

I’m still not completely sure this wasn’t a hoax. But I kind of want it to be true as it would explain EVERYTHING (and an awful lot besides).

24) (June, Wimbledon) UNSUNG: Domi made the QFs of Wimbledon meaning she’s now reached the R16 or better at every Slam.

QFs or better if you exclude Oz. She also won her (long overdue) first WTA title.

I get that she hasn’t the fanbase others do. I get that it’s unreasonable to expect non-fans and neutrals to undergo the levels of ecstasy experienced by that modest fanbase (of which I’m unashamedly a member). I’m even willing to concede that she hasn’t always helped her cause .

I don’t get why such a WTA milestone barely gets a mention by any of the outlets (mainstream and those that like to think of themselves as “indie”). Try and imagine the euphoric whiplash if and when, say, Kirilenko or Pavlyuchenkova (nothing against either of them) makes that same milestone.

Players have inspired cults for doing far less. Instead, this was deemed more relevant.

25) (July) FAIL:  Janko/Nole stage a mock assassination.

Tasteless, yes. Damning? No.

And before anyone brings it up, no  it’s not a “cultural thing” either.

No more than humiliating chair umpires is “an American thing”, or punching your racquet strings to the point of drawing blood is “a British thing”.

26) REDEMPTION: Mardy Fish

I never really got why it was considered “trendy” to hate on Mardy Fish. He has his dark side like most of us (and seems to consider being unable to speak French a matter of pride) – still, the reaction has always seemed disproportionate, out of control and, at times, downright ugly.

In any case, at some point early on this year his image seemed to undergo a transition.

Much of it can be traced, of course, to the fact that he began winning. That usually helps. But it’s also a simple matter of practicality: they simply transferred their bile to a new (and easier) target: Ryan Harrison.

And it all went swimmingly well (for a while): those that would once have pointed and laughed, looked on dotingly as Mardy publicly rebuked Ryan for a childish, braggy tweet.

It was a fair point, but didn’t in my mind seem like it deserved such public censure – older and more mature players than Ryan have gotten away with far worse.

What was more likely is that they’d simply overcompensated in their appropriation of Mardy; an easy mistake to make  in the presence of what they deemed a greater and more obviously obnoxious evil – that would be Ryan, for those still with me.
Either way, there was no doubt about it – Mardy’s stock was up.

The fake-out was revealed for what it was with the “don’t-speak-French-dumbass” episode which is when the illusion was shattered, and all those latent Fish anxieties resurfaced once more.

God only knows what 2012 will bring.

27) (July, Wimbledon) HEARTBREAK: Muzz’s Wimbledon SF loss.

I played the blame game.

Difficult to conceive of this being anywhere near as heartbreaking as the Oz final, which I still maintain had much more to do with his own poor performance.

But the Wimbledon SF seemed to me to underline how far he still has to go when Rafa, Fed or Novak are redlining – or whether he’ll even get there. That’s much worse. Isn’t it?

28) (Aug) ENIGMA: Caro parted ways with Piotr

And then sort of didn’t. And then did, again. Kinda. I dunno.

Whatever. Ricardo-Caro on court-coaching will be one of the early highlights of next year.

29) (Aug, Cincinnati) GROSS-OUT: The worst tie-break of the year

The closing moments of this were probably far worse than even Muzz/Haase. Whereas the latter’s atrocities were at least diffuse, this one seemed to have all the toxins distilled into the final set tie break.

At the end of it all, as if in relief, Dasco squatted down and spat on the court (he might just as well have barfed or blown his nose), an apt way to seal in the EVIL. Nevermore to be mentioned amongst polite society. Or, you know, normal people.

30) (Aug, Canada) NUTTY: Canada did its thing…

And it was WACK.

31) (Sep) BLAH: That familiar sound of itchy fanatics undercutting Noles season.

Whatever took them so long?

32)  (Sep, New York) BEATDOWN: Rafa’s 2nd worst loss of the year.

He managed to wangle a set out of it. And perhaps just the faintest scrap of dignity. That was all he wangled out of it.

33)  (Sep, New York) FLATULENCE: The worst match of the year

Bar none. WTA included. Challengers/Futures....in fact every ITF match played this year.

What happens in Ashe stays in Ashe.

34) FLAT: Li Na and Sam Stosur

Don’t get me wrong. What they’ve achieved this year is MONUMENTAL, each in its own way. Sam winning the USO, in particular, is perhaps my favourite moment of the year. Vindication, for her many long-suffering fans and of their undying belief in her game.

But if you’re gonna manhandle Caro for not being up to scratch in the Slams, it’s only fair that you do the same for those unable (or unwilling) to perform outside of them.

Both Sam and Li are top ten players whose tennis ability is undisputed amongst even the harshest of critics. Both’s non-Slam record this year has been DISMAL. Neither, as far as I can tell, was injured.  In other words, there’s no excuse.

What this also means is you really can’t be that confident of their chances next year (the way you might have been with Fran after RG 2010).

Who would you choose to watch your back in a street fight? Pova would be in most people’s top 3, you might imagine Fran or Marion (who didn’t even make a Slam final) would feature highly too…a few might even pick Caro.

Not many would choose Li or Sam. It’s easy to see why.

35) (Oct, China) FAIL: The journo that dared mention the ‘R’ word. Roddick was having none of it.

And no, this wasn’t a “cultural thing” either. We really need to stop confusing flat-out blunders with culture.

36) (Nov) BLAH: Nole’s season finally caught up with him

He pulled out of Paris for which he was flayed alive, and then bowed out quite timidly in London.

No one was very surprised.

37) (Nov, London) UNDERWHELMED:  The ATP WTF photo shoot blew

After the Abbey Road and Downing St., I’m, frankly, kinda outraged a bigger fuss hasn’t been kicked up over how rubbish this was.

38) (Nov, London) OUCH: Rafa’s worst loss of the year

The score was true. Just like the man said.

39)  BONUS: “I saw her first…No I did…No me….Me”.

Major, MAJOR peeve. Apologies in advance for going on for so long.

Every time we get a new talent emerging – and especially when they have their breakthrough the way Petra did this year –  we seem to get a rush of self-satisfied morons who claim to have been in attendance many years ago when talent-x (then a scraggly looking teen) went out in round two of a Challenger event so obscure it probably doesn’t even exist anymore.

The obscurity is deliberately selected and is in direct proportion to the accolade you are now expected to confer upon them for having “a good eye”, as well as being more generally awesome than you in all other respects. No – it’s actually that infantile.

Think of it as their vicarious version of the rags-to-riches tale. Their moment to bask in the radiance of talent-x’s reflected glory.

They remind me of those knobs that sometimes turn up on the IMDB message boards claiming to be Johnny Depp’s 2nd cousin.

What are you – nine years old?

Firstly, NO ONE CARES that Petra was your, my or anyone else’s “discovery”….like, at all. Whatever brownie points they think they might be accruing with these (not even that fanciful) tales don’t seem worth it somehow. Most of us stopped doing this sort of thing at the age of 10.

Secondly,  most people I know make it a rule to disregard anything not immediately verifiable  – the outlandish and the not so outlandish.  So even in the unlikely event that their little unmagical fairy tale turns out to be true, it’ll be treated as guff. And it’ll be entirely proper that it be treated as guff. Most of us learnt this lesson early on in life. 

The most frightening aspect of this pre-school behaviour is that it’s exhibited by relatively mature people of a certain age – people that seem well grounded in all other respects, but who then suddenly, mysteriously, take leave of their senses.

Takeout: Pics (and preferably links), or it didn’t happen. And I doubt anyone will care even after that.

40)  (December) CLOAK AND DAGGER: Why exactly did it take so long to appoint an ATP boss?

This one had all the political intrigue and mystery of a bestselling spy novel.

Ian Ritchie was wikileaked before any official announcement – that kinda scuppered things.

Krajicek was deemed short on business experience by Federer. But what role did the discovery that he follows the unsavoury Islamophobe Geert Wilders on Twitter have to play?

Then, with only 9 days of this year left, we suddenly hear someone called Brad Drewett has been appointed.

He seems, from what I can tell, to have  the right blend of business and tennis experience. Which kinda begs the question, where’s he been all this time?

It seems, to put it charitably, like something they cobbled together at the 11th hour. Or, to put it less charitably, an appointment of last resort.

41) FUGLY: Fed 2nd only to Nelson Mandela

Not that I have any trouble accepting that Federer (or any one below him on the list) should be “liked” or “respected”.

All the same, this made me hurl. And I make no apologies for it.

It would be no different if it were Rafa, Novak or any of the other top 10 most "liked, respected, admired and trusted" world leaders juxtaposed alongside a lifelong activist who forsook all the pleasures of life most of us take for granted in favour of a struggle for freedom and equality that cost him almost 30 of the best years of his life.

But perhaps that's the fault of the survey and iffy sounding metrics like "liked" and "admired".

In any case, the survey also uncovered that older respondents tend to be more critical (not surprising), as do Latin Americans (really?); women tend to be drawn to corporate figures (although also more critical of the female ones) whilst men favour sports stars. World leaders don't fair particularly well at all.

Not to be a spoilsport, but all of that seems far more compelling.

42) FOLIE DE-GRANDEUR: Trial by Noah

Every year an ex-player (not always a legend) makes a tired bid to make themselves relevant again.

This is mostly harmless (if a little embarrassing) and usually takes the form of making the most outrageous picks and forecasts imaginable. It’s something of an annual pageant.

”Fed will never win a Slam again”, “Rafa’s washed up”, “Novak has peaked”, “Murray will win multiple Slams”…that sorta thing.


This year that role was filled by Yannick Noah, who chose to crap not just on Rafa, not even just on Spanish tennis….but on all of Spanish Sport.

It was, to put it mildly, in a class of its own.

There’s kangaroo courts. There’s the many layers of hideous-kinky that lie below that. And then (and only then), do we get to the lowest depths  of farce and ego-mania that is the ‘Trial by Noah’.

43) FOLIE DE GRANDEUR: Martina Hingis and the (incessant whiny) tale of the on-again-off-again Olympics mixed-doubles partnership.

First it was “leaked” that Fed’s people had approached her. Then she denied any such thing had happened. Then it seemed to be on-again. And then it didn’t.

By now, most had lost interest and were willing and wishing it would remain “off-again”. Permanently.

The same might be said of all those insufferable “teasers” that would seem to indicate she may be persuaded to compete in Oz. Singles, doubles, I really don’t care.

Only Mc-Wozil-Roy, inspire more tepid and vacuous thoughts. And sometimes, I’m not even sure of that.

The moral of the tale must surely be how it’s possible to kill what might have once been a credible story by running it again, and again, AND AGAIN,  through the rumour mill.

And if there’s a “story” here at all, it’s that this was THE MOST BORING NON STORY OF THE YEAR.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Novak Djokovic and the Politics of Admissibility

There were certainly a lot of (not terribly consistent) thoughts in the immediate fallout that proceeded from Wertheim’s decision to tweet a link to an Albanian blog post. A  well-researched post that he presumably thought put "the other side” of the narrative surrounding Nole’s conquest of the world rather well.

In so far as it was possible to disentangle, my first impulse was actually to agree.

We’d heard, it seemed to me, rather a lot since 2005 on Serbians training in emptied-out swimming pools with little or no mention of the devastation Milosevic and Co. wrought in that region during the 90s.

Perhaps the decision not to mar that early rise of Serbian tennis with reference to those atrocities was the right one.  Why, after all, should the country’s athletes (many of whom were pre-pubescent at the time) be expected to shoulder that burden? What can their tennis have to do with the prevailing political circumstances of their childhood?

Well, if you’re going to persist in chronicling the difficulties you faced during those early years (none of which I disagree with by the way) and weave it into an elaborate symphony of national reawakening,  it actually has EVERYTHING to do with it.


Its perfectly valid for Ana or Novak to draw attention to how their geopolitical plight placed their tennis development in a vastly different context from, say, Andy Roddick’s formative years. It did.

It’s equally fair for others to want to challenge much of that romantic imagery when you are a self declared nationalist using your (well earned) position to garner international support for your homeland.


Novak’s no different to any self-respecting athlete in wanting to raise his country’s profile in this way, but you can hardly blame others for wanting to relay the other side. Particularly those that lived through and were immediately affected by the conflict.

Quite apart from any of that, a superstar’s personal life and attitudes (both pre and post stardom) have always been fair game. That would have been true even if Novak weren’t an avowed nationalist. Only a tendentious prick will insist those attitudes tell the whole story, yet they always have and always will shape opinion. Not at all at odds with the now burgeoning narrative surrounding Novak’s rise to the top.

All well and good. But that’s when the cracks began to appear.

For one thing, it didn’t seem to me that the Kosovo post told us anything terribly new. Only the very young, in this age of Smartphones and Wikipedia, will have managed to remain wholly ignorant of a conflict that spanned most of the nineties – a conflict described as the most devastating since World War Two.

The Kosovo blog post was certainly a worthy reminder of the last of those conflicts, furnished with facts you may have missed (or forgotten from) the first time round. But it wasn’t, ultimately, all that revelatory.

Secondly, as many have already pointed out, branding Novak a “dangerous nationalist” on the basis of one quote is rash, uncouth and a little confused. You can certainly see why those living, to this day, with the consequences of ethnocentric expansionism might be naturally suspicious of Novak’s patriotic side. That’s a far cry from those neo-fascist extrapolations that are as bizarre as they sound and helpful to precisely no one.

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All of which brings us back to Wertheim. Who, on the one hand, deemed it both relevant (key word) and important enough to link to a blog post some might consider tendentious. But then ducked accusations of bias by offering to link to a rebuttal.

I really don’t think Wertheim was taking sides – that is, I’m sure he has a private opinion (one he may have been itching to get out), but I rather doubt that was ever what this is about.

And I’m not sure I buy into the outrage of those that would have us believe that linking to blogs in this way constitutes a new-fangled form of low-rent journalism.  Journalists of all spheres and from all walks of life link to blog posts all the time. It’s becoming increasingly acceptable to do so (within certain limits) and we should expect to see a lot more of it.

Nevertheless, it does seem somewhat irresponsible to do so with something as explosive as this. Offering to link to a rebuttal feels too much like offering to call the fire service after burning the house down.

What then? Bravado? Telling “the untold story”? .

Well let’s see: a liberal American journalist posted a link to a blog post highlighting the illiberal nationalism of an Eastern-European nation state with fairly weak US diplomatic ties – a country that until recently was considered by many US politicians as something of a pariah state. 

Nothing even remotely radical about that – I daresay he wasn’t trying to be. Nor have I any reason to doubt that he felt it was worth telling that “untold story”. Or AN untold story, at any rate – one it’s politically expedient to tell. Plenty remain untold.

Not to single out Wertheim (the problem’s bigger than any one person), but it’s easy to offer up counter-narratives to a brand of nationalism that’s fallen out of vogue with most of the more liberal west – and it’s easy to deem that kind of discourse “relevant” when it isn’t at odds with any national agenda.

Would he have linked to a Palestinian blog during the Dubai/Peer debacle two years back? There’s an “untold story” there too.

Saying the two situations aren’t comparable because of either the glaring discrepancy between Novak and Shahar’s standing in the game, or simply because there’s no accompanying rhetoric surrounding Shahar that involves training in emptied swimming pools is disingenuous.


What this episode speaks to, ultimately, is the politics of admissibility – the politics that determines what’s relevant and what’s not. Or to put it more crudely, who’s in and who’s out.

Politics that’s bigger than any single journalist – indeed, politics that both subsumes and governs their industry. Like I said, it’s really quite crass to single Wertheim out.

As it happens, I didn’t agree with Dubai back then either – not least because it felt kinda ridiculous for a WTA event to even consider banning a WTA player. But neither did I feel they didn’t have the right to protest against an on going occupation by a country they don’t even have diplomatic ties with (I can only assume that Dubai, like others in the vicinity – to say nothing of the many Jews and non-Arabs worldwide –  didn’t take too kindly to Israel’s then recent incursion into Gaza that had resulted in 1400 Palestinians dead, over 900 of them civilians).

But none of that was deemed either “relevant” or “admissible”.  Instead, we simply went, as we always do, through the tired old charade of pretending that nothing that’s occurred in that region in the past 60 or so years could have or should have given rise to this state of affairs. Words like “discrimination” and “exclusion” were used by no less than Venus Williams and Andy Roddick as if they were the exclusive provenance of one side, and Shahar in particular.

Well, there’s “another side” to that too. Though you’ll have to cast your net just a little wider to get at it.  The absence of a counter-narrative here would be quite laughable if it weren’t so chilling.


Novak’s hardly unique in holding views some might find unpalatable. Players, celebrities and superstars have done that since time immemorial.

Nor would it surprise me very much to learn that he may harbour future political ambitions–

When Djokovic won the Wimbledon championships in July -- which catapulted him to the top of the world rankings -- all of Serbia was ecstatic. A euphoric Serb president jokingly offered Djokovic his post, while 100,000 jubilant fans welcomed their native son back to Belgrade with folk songs, fireworks and red-blue-and-white flags.
-- Spiegel 

A joke? Really? In a world where Marat gets appointed to the Russian Parliament? Anyone that’s followed Novak’s rise to superstardom knows that he might have been earmarked for Serbian statesmanship as far back as 2007.

"The war also made me a better tennis player because I swore to myself that I'd prove to the world that there are good Serbs, too."

Is that bad?

I’m not going to pretend to be a great fan of nationalism – not least because it’s seems unhealthily predicated upon the alienation of those “unlike” you. But it’s hopelessly naive not to think it plays a rather large role in the lives of many in that region (and indeed of many in the “liberal” west) – the vast majority of whom simply want to live in peace.

Is there any reason, at this point, to think Novak’s nationalism should be any different to, say, that of Goran Ivanisevic?



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