I’ve been watching the US Open this week and I’ve been amazed by several things:
1. Rafa Nadal’s new and improved serve. The guy never served in the 130 mph’s before, and now he does.
2. The explanation for Rafa’s new serve: grip change. Not the gym, not practice. Nope. He changed his grip ‘a couple of days’ before the tournament.
3. The appearance of Rafa in the broadcasting booth at the beginning of the quarterfinal match between Djokovic and Monfils. I watch a lot of tennis, and never ever does a top player appear in the broadcast booth at the beginning of a match. Topic of discussion? Rafa’s new grip. He just happened to have a racket with him to demonstrate it.
Item number 3 above had ‘control the message’ written all over it.
The big question is back up at #1: How did Nadal develop a faster serve at this point in his tennis career? No other tennis player has achieved such a feat. Is Rafa on the juice?
I googled ‘tennis steroid’ and found the web site ‘Tennis Has a Steroid Problem.” It’s an excellent site with gobs of interesting information and links to relevant material.
I’ve spent hours reading the site and the links, and the upshot is that not only am I reasonably sure that some players use PED’s (performance enhancing drugs), but also that the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) protects players. From the must-read article “A Short History of Drugs in Tennis” –
In the first months of ‘04, 16 more players showed elevated test results for nandrolone, with the same analytic fingerprint as the previous positives and elevated negatives. According to the ATP, these players hailed from a dozen different countries, and their test results occurred at tournaments at different times in different parts of the world. Since there was no question now of contaminated ATP supplements, what explained these troubling elevated scores?
No explanation has ever been forthcoming. Except for Ulirach and Rusedski, none of the other players who tested positive for performance enhancers or showed trace amounts in their systems has ever been identified. The ATP has refused to say whether these players were required to have follow-up tests. Tennis fans have no way of knowing whether the six unnamed players won tournaments, perhaps even Grand Slam titles, during the time when they tested positive.
I’ve been a tennis fan for a long time, and I find it both sad and disgusting that the big business of tennis trumps fair play. Say it ain’t so, Joe!
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Here’s a tennis professional wondering if Nadal is on the juice:
I can’t help but ask the question. I like the guy and his desire is unquestionable. His will to win is almost paralleled in his sport (perhaps Federer in a more quiet way matches him) or any other. But, isn’t that what everyone always said about Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens? I don’t know the answer and I’m not here to disparage the man’s name. He makes tennis exciting and we all know that tennis needs all the excitement possible to maintain interest in the sport. Without Nadal and Federer, the sport would be in trouble. That being said, I honestly can’t explain how a man can increase his serve speed 20% in a matter of months. How a man can run in a defensive manner for hours on end and still look ready for hours more. How a man can muscle balls into winners from awkward and bio-mechanically unsound positions. You tell me. —Gene Desrochers
Nadal is on the record re: complaining about drug testing. Read about it here. (Okay, that article is an opinion piece responding to Rafa’s whining, but the point is that he whined.)
Why would a top player jeopardize his/her career by juicing? It doesn’t make sense, yet we can name athletes in other sports who have. A poster named Tennis Mom posits this over on the Tennis Has a Steroid Problem site:
We all know about lots of ambitious pro-athletes who doped to get the gold and lied about it. They may have been “so stupid” or just “so ambitious.” They may also feel they “deserve” to juice because they practiced so much and their family sacrificed so much for their success.
More from A Short History of Drugs in tennis on how doping affects other players:
But then in September ‘80, Yannick Noah broke the silence in an interview with Rock & Folk, the French equivalent of Rolling Stone. While admitting that he smoked hashish, Noah accused other players of using cocaine. What’s more — and in his opinion what was worse — some were popping amphetamines. This infuriated him because it put clean players at a disadvantage. He lamented that they might have to use coke or amphetamines to stay competitive with drug abusers. He wanted the problem to be brought into the open and discussed. If it weren’t, Noah feared there would be deaths from overdoses.
The reaction of tennis authorities and the press was to savage Noah for smoking hashish. His remarks about coke and speed were ignored, as were the players whom he said “take the hit during a tournament and crash afterward. You have guys who have played super during one tournament and who you’ve never seen again.” He mentioned Bjorn Borg and Victor Pecci by name.
Here’s a New York Times article on doping from 2009.
Bill Gifford questions tennis’ holier-than-thou image in this Slate article.
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Well, there it is. We went through this with baseball a few years ago. At this point, I watch baseball knowing that players are using PED’s. Now I’ll start doing the same with tennis.