Recent comments by Rafael Nadal suggest that his friendship with Roger Federer may be beginning to cool. The world No. 2 took a dig at his longtime rival on Sunday, insinuating that Federer doesn’t care about the needs of fellow tennis players.
Federer and Nadal, the two leading players on the ATP Player Council, have been on opposite sides of a number of off-court issues in recent months. Nadal takes a public approach to some of his grievances, including length of the tennis calendar and a ranking system that penalizes players with injuries. Federer recently stated that he thinks players should stay private with their issues.
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The Spaniard was asked Sunday whether Federer may have made such a statement because he doesn’t like to see the sport criticized in public.
“No, I totally disagree,” Nadal said. “For him, it’s good to say nothing. Everything positive. ‘It’s all well and good for me, I look like a gentleman,’ and the rest can burn themselves.”
For a player who’s always treated Federer with deference, even while beating him in Grand Slam finals, Nadal’s comments are particularly stinging. There’s an uncharacteristic cattiness to his words that don’t jibe with the fraternal atmosphere that has defined the past decade of men’s tennis. He essentially called Federer a phony. (That the interview was conducted in Spanish, and not his second language of English, leaves less room for contextual backsliding.)
“He’s got a different opinion,” Nadal said. “If the vast majority have one opinion, and a small minority think differently, maybe it’s them who are wrong.”
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Does Rafa have the stats to back up that statement? The top players may think the calendar is too long or that the rankings should be based on two years of results, but is that opinion shared by the journeymen who grind out a living in lower-tier events? The season is long for Nadal and Federer because they win so much. When you’re ranked No. 60 in the world, losing in the first round of a tournament in Winston-Salem and cashing checks that barely cover travel costs and lodging, the amount of tournaments isn’t an issue that’s as likely to bother.
Regardless of the merits of each argument, Nadal shouldn’t call out Federer. It’s not because this rivalry couldn’t use a little bad blood (it’s not nearly as much fun when two rivals hug at the net and praise each other endlessly in post-match interviews). Nor is it because Nadal shouldn’t be allowed to take a shot at a rival. It’s a bad idea because it’s bad business. If Nadal’s intention is to change tennis, getting involved in a public spat with his main ally isn’t the best way to enact change.