x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Tennis boasts its share of blows

From Novak Djokovic's run-in with Andy Roddick at the 2008 US Open to Mikhail Youzhny's self-inflicted abuse in 2008, tennis as a sport has had some surprisingly physical moments, writes Ahmed Rizvi.

In a testier moment, Novak Djokovic and Andy Roddick exchanged sharp words behind the scenes at the 2008 US Open. Mark Ralston / AFP
In a testier moment, Novak Djokovic and Andy Roddick exchanged sharp words behind the scenes at the 2008 US Open. Mark Ralston / AFP

You cannot be serious! We thought tennis could not get any nastier than “Superbrat” John McEnroe’s bursts of rage. But apparently, the sport has a few locker room skeletons and Andy Roddick has just let one out.

“I got in an in-the-locker-room, after-a-match confrontation with this tennis player one time,” the former world No 1 revealed in a discussion on Fox Sports Live. “I won’t say his name, I’ll just say it rhymes with ‘Schmovak Schmokovic’...and we got into it at the US Open one time.

“I was kind of talking trash and he came out and beat the pants off of me as he would, but then kind of chirped afterward and he came straight in, I went right up to him and had him up against the locker, but then I realised his trainer was about a little bit bigger than Donovan [McNabb, a former NFL quarterback, who does the Fox show with Roddick] here, and I kind of checked myself.

“My trainer is about 5-foot-8, 130, and can dodge raindrops. I kind of backed off real quick. I was about to get railroaded from the side.”

The incident apparently happened at the 2008 US Open and “Schmovak Schmokovic” is none other than Novak Djokovic. On the eve of the match, Roddick was asked about the Serbian’s injuries and the now-retired American mockingly wondered if his foe might have “a back and a hip [injury]? And a cramp, Anthrax, SARS, the common cough and a cold”.

Djokovic was not happy about the insinuations and said so in his on-court interview after beating Roddick in their quarterfinal match. A-Rod was enraged and took up the matter in the locker room, but backed off for good reasons. But there have been a few incidents when others did not.

In his autobiography, Pat Cash has related a story about holding Ivan Lendl by the throat in a Monte Carlo locker room and threatening to punch his head in after Lendl had ruined a pair of the Australian’s shoes.

Steve Denton, a finalist at the 1981 and 82 Australian Open, went a step further, grabbing John McEnroe by the neck and ramming his head into the locker. According to the tale, the Texan was upset about a tantrum that McEnroe threw on the court, and Big Mac was knocked out cold.

Bob Hewitt, a former Australian pro, was also knocked out cold following a fight with Brit Roger Taylor, a former boxer, following a match in Berlin, 1969. In another German city, Hamburg, two Argentines, Guillermo Coria and Gaston Gaudio, reportedly came to blows following their semis in 2003 and had to be separated.

Locker room bust-ups have not been a monopoly of men alone though. In 2000, following an exhibition match in Santiago, Chile, doubles partners Martina Hingis and Anna Kournikova had a raucous showdown. They reportedly threw trophies, vases and bouquets at each other.

There have been a few incidents on the court as well. Austrian Stefan Koubek grabbed compatriot Daniel Koellerer (now banned for life for match-fixing) by the neck during a change of ends at a match in 2010. Koellerer, known as “Crazy Dani”, had a locker room punch-up with the late Federico Luzzi as well, after he spat into his palms before shaking hands with the Italian.

At the 2006 French Open, Croat Mario Ancic and Paul Capdeville of Chile got into shoving match after the post-match handshake. Something similar happened between McEnroe and Jimmy Connors during an exhibition game in Chicago in 1982 and officials had to intervene and separate the two. Years later, in 2009, McEnroe showed time had not dimmed his temper as he crossed the net to give India’s Leander Paes a tongue-lashing during a World Team Tennis match.

In these times, given the respect between the Big Four – Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Roger Federer – and the way they conduct themselves, both on and off court, these tales might seem strange, a bit out of place. But tennis, actually, is the only sport where a player has smashed open his own skull in anger.

It happened at the 2008 Miami Masters. Leading 5-4 in the third set, Nicolas Almagro was serving for the match, but Mikhail Youzhny had battled his way to a match-saving break point. A long and tense rally ensued, before the Russian put a backhand into the net.

Enraged, Youzhny started smashing his racquet on his head and blood started oozing from his wounds. A medical time-out was called, with game at deuce, but the blows did the trick for the Russian. He came back to win the match. Can you beat that?