Down the Line: Nastase deserves permanent ban, Sharapova wildcard drama rages on

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Weekend to forget: Nastase and Keothavong.

This past week in tennis has been so eventful, it made 2016 look like a dull season in comparison.

2016 – a year where Maria Sharapova got suspended for committing a doping offence, Roger Federer missed six months injured, Angelique Kerber won two majors and became the world No1, and Victoria Azarenka announced she was pregnant and had her first child in December… that sounds hard to top in the eventful department, no?

Well think again! 2017 has upped the ante, but sadly it hasn’t all been bright and shiny.

The ugliness of the whole Ilie Nastase drama taking place over Fed Cup weekend in Constanta overshadowed the Romania-Great Britain play-off tie.

I refuse to give the Romanian Hall-of-Famer more time than he deserves but here’s the concise version of my reaction:

There should be a zero tolerance policy in tennis for racism and whether the person making the remark “intended” to be racist or thought he was making a “joke” should not matter. Nastase’s comments regarding Serena Williams’ unborn child were abhorrent and all he needs to do to realise how unacceptable they were is to look at the backlash and acknowledge he was wrong.

His sexist behaviour towards Anne Keothavong, GB’s Fed Cup team captain is also unacceptable and sending flowers is by no means an apology.


His on-court tirade, name-calling, and abusive comments to Keothavong, Johanna Konta and Press Association reporter Eleanor Crooks, followed by the complete lack of remorse makes it all a no-brainer for the ITF to give him a lifetime ban. He is currently provisionally suspended by the ITF. Considering his latest statements to the Daily Mirror in which he said “I don’t regret it and they can send me to prison if they want – I don’t care”, he really has no place in the sport anymore, irrespective of his accomplishments as a player.

The fact that someone excelled at tennis and shaped part of the history of the sport does not give them permission to cast a dark cloud on it anytime they please and is not an excuse to act like a complete fool. We need to separate between history and reality and I hope Nastase is permanently banned from being in tennis in any official capacity.

While Simona Halep, who has not openly denounced Nastase’s actions but did say “of course I’m not defending anyone”, her compatriot Nadia Comaneci took to social media to speak up about the incident.

Finally some sanity in this world!

ALL EYES ON STUTTGART

Meanwhile, Sharapova’s return to action this Wednesday in Stuttgart following her 15-month doping suspension has obviously hogged its fair share of headlines. Again, not all of it has been pretty.

The Russian’s ban ends at midnight Tuesday, which means she is only allowed on site on the third day of the tournament.

While tournament organisers have not broken any rules, the fact they seemed to be bending over backwards to accommodate a doping offender and are giving her a wildcard that could have perhaps gone to someone more worthy has irked many players, who are getting more and more vocal about it by the minute. The latest being Sharapova’s first round opponent, Roberta Vinci, who said yesterday she doesn’t believe the five-time grand slam champion should be invited to any tournaments.

The wildcard controversy remains a tricky call. In an ideal world, you want the most deserving players to receive invitations to tournaments, but “deserving” can be subjective. Many can argue that Sharapova has given a lot to the sport, has served her time, and deserves wildcards until she gets her ranking up.

Others, and there have been many, prefer it if she works her way back up, with no free invitations passed out to her. That is also understandable. Why would Sharapova deserve a wildcard for Stuttgart more than someone like Julia Goerges, who missed qualifying because she was helping Germany win a Fed Cup tie last weekend?

In the end, money talks. Porsche are the title sponsors of the Stuttgart event and they are sponsors of Sharapova. It makes sense for them to make that call, whether we feel it’s fair or not. It’s now up to the French Open to figure out whether the 30-year-old deserves a wildcard for their event next month.

If Sharapova makes the final in Stuttgart, she can probably make the cut-off for French Open qualifying. If that happens, the logical thing would be for her to play qualies, assuming the tournament can handle the security issues that come along with this situation.

In conclusion: If this whole Sharapova-wildcard mess had a status on Facebook, it would be ‘It’s complicated‘.

THUMBS UP

Rafael Nadal
The Spaniard became the first man in the Open Era to win 10 titles at the same tournament by ruling once again in Monte Carlo.

Considering Roger Federer is not playing any clay events except Paris, Andy Murray’s form is questionable following his elbow injury, Stan Wawrinka is being his typical fluctuating self, and Novak Djokovic is still losing matches he’s expected to win, you’d have to put Nadal as a favourite for Roland Garros at this point.

04 24 17 Nadal2

Another one to look out for would be David Goffin. He’s shown flashes of brilliance from the very start of the season – even in Abu Dhabi at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship end of December – and has a real chance to shine in Paris next month.

Belarus Fed Cup team

World No125 and 18-year-old Aryna Sabalenka gave Belarus an unassailable 3-1 lead over Switzerland to send Belarus into their first-ever Fed Cup final. Belarus’ achievement is all the more remarkable considering their highest-ranked player in the squad is the 23-year-old Aliaksandra Sasnovich, who is ranked No96 in the world. They took down a Swiss team that includes world No22 Timea Bacsinszky, No54 Viktorija Golubic and doubles star Martina Hingis. They will now square off with the United States in the final in November, with Victoria Azarenka potentially joining them following her maternity leave.


THUMBS DOWN

Cedric Mourier

The French umpire lost the plot in a controversial call that seemed to have swung the Monte Carlo semi-final between Nadal and Goffin into the Spaniard’s favour. He pointed to a completely different mark on the centre court clay and cost the Belgian a game point for 4-2 in the opening set. Goffin’s subsequent meltdown may not be Mourier’s fault, but still, you’d expect a man of his experience to at least point to the right mark.

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Serena pens letter to her unborn child, Ennis-Hill backs her to handle motherhood and sport

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Super mom-to-be: Serena Williams.

US tennis great Serena Williams on Monday marked her fiance’s birthday and her return to the world number one ranking by posting an emotional message to her unborn baby on Instagram.

Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian turned 34 on Monday, the day that Williams also recaptured the women’s top ranking.

Williams’ social media post showed the 35-year-old sitting on a beach lounger in a black two-piece swimsuit that revealed her growing baby bump.

Williams is due to give birth in September, the month she turns 36 years old. In December, Williams announced her engagement to tech entrepreneur Ohanian and last week revealed she is expecting her first child and will not play again this year.

She was already expecting when she won her record-setting 23rd Grand Slam title at the Australian Open in January – where she beat her elder sister Venus in the final.

Kelly Bush Novak, Williams’ publicist, had said this week that the US star “looks forward to returning in 2018” and that was echoed by her coach Patrick Mouratoglou.

Overtaking Australia’s Margaret Court for the all-time record of 24 Grand Slam singles crowns – Williams is on 23 – is also “a determining factor” in her motivation to plough on, the Frenchman said.

Meanwhile, legendary British heptathlete Jessica Ennis-Hill has backed Williams to handle being a mum and an athlete.

Ennis-Hill took time out of athletics in 2014 and 2015 after having her first son Reggie but returned to win silver at the Rio Olympics last year. The 31-year-old is now pregnant with her second child and the 2012 Olympic heptathlon champion believes Williams will be able to juggle her responsibilities.

“It’s very individual to everyone and to what sport you do,” said Ennis-Hill. “Tennis is very different to athletics, it’s an incredible thing to do. It’s probably one of the hardest things you will face in life as a women, having a child and coming back to sport.

“I’m sure whatever she decides she’ll do a great job at it because she’s a fantastic athlete.

“Your life changes so much and you do change as a person massively. You can have benefits, when I came back and did the 800 metres I found that was a lot easier than previously – but then the other six events were harder. It’s a balancing act but you can take the good things from being an athlete to help you come back.”

*From PA and AFP

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Nadal downs Ramos-Vinolas to win record 10th Monte Carlo crown

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Perfect 10: For Rafa.

Rafael Nadal completed a record-breaking ‘La Decima’ in Monte Carlo by defeating his Spanish compatriot Albert Ramos-Vinolas 6-1, 6-3 in the final on Sunday.

The 30-year-old Nadal will be aiming for a 10th French Open title as well next month.

It was Nadal’s first title in almost a year and further cemented his place in history as he became the first man in the Open era to win the same event 10 times.

He won eight Monte Carlo titles in a row from 2005 to 2012 but then lost to Novak Djokovic in the 2013 final.

He won the title again last year and then added the Barcelona crown a week later, yet had not lifted a trophy since, losing three finals already this year, including January’s Australian Open against Roger Federer.

“I cannot explain the feelings that I have,” Nadal said on court. “When I first played here in 2003 as a qualifier I reached the third round. Now, a lot of years later, to have 10 titles here, this is something I could have never dreamt. Thanks to life for giving me this opportunity.”

He has now amassed 50 clay titles during his career, to take sole ownership of the record on the red dirt with one trophy more than Guillermo Vilas.

Ramos-Vinolas was featuring in a Masters 1000 final for the first time after a tremendous week where he claimed back-to-back wins over top-10 opposition for the first time. The 29-year-old from Barcelona took out world No1 Andy Murray, No8 Marin Cilic, and No17 Lucas Pouille en route to the final.

“Probably nothing to do, no? I think that he was a little bit better in everything. When he’s a little bit better in everything, the difference after, it’s what we saw in the match,” said Ramos-Vinolas.

“I think also I didn’t serve good. To be honest, I think he served really good today. Last time I played against him, I felt that on the return it was my chance to put some pressure. But today I felt that he was serving so good.”

Ramos-Vinolas will rise to career-high ranking of No19 on Monday, cracking the top-20 for the first time.

Nadal needed just 76 minutes to get through the final against his countryman. The 10-time champion hit 21 winners against just 13 unforced errors and faced zero break points in what was a dominant display on his favourite surface.

The Mallorcan will now attempt to win a 10th Barcelona Open trophy in the Catalan city (April 24-30) where he is the No3 seed. Nadal has a bye in the first round and could face either Rogerio Dutra Silva or Renzo Olivo in the second round.

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