The Frozen Four at the French Open and Puerta’s Return

Novak Djokovic joins Federer and Nadal at the top of the rankings and Mariano Puerta rejoins the tour after a drug suspension.

The Frozen Four

If any of you college hockey fanatics wandered over here by accident, no, the NCAA hockey championships have not been relocated to Paris (the NCAA hockey final four is called the frozen four). While you’re here though, how about those Anaheim Ducks!!! The NHL Stanley Cup comes to my part of the world – Southern California – for the first time ever. Wooohooo!!!

This is a tennis column and I’m referring to the frozen state, past and future, at the top of the ATP rankings. Roger Federer has been ranked number one since February 2004. Rafael Nadal has been ranked number two since July 2005. Nikolay Davydenko has been bouncing back and forth between number three and four since November of last year.

The frozen three is about to become the frozen four. Novak Djokovic is now the number four. It won’t be long, though, before he’s number three and then we’ll have a frozen three. Davydenko is likely to fall as Wimbledon and the U.S. Open come along because other players such as Andy Roddick will overtake him on fast courts.

Djokovic played Igor Andreev for a spot in the semifinals today. In the first game we saw why Djokovic should stay at number three for a while. Djokovic hit a sharp angled shot and Andreev ran wide to get to it. The ball wasn’t that deep but Djokovic was perceptive enough and aggressive enough and quick enough to get to the net and cutoff Andreev’s response for a winner.

I’ve not been all that thrilled to see Djokovic rise through the ranks. I was looking forward to seeing more of Andy Murray and Marcos Baghdatis. I like Murray’s intelligence and toolbox game – whatever shot he needs, he reaches into his repertoire and pulls it out. And I like Baghdatis because he’s magnetic, bigger than life, joyful, and plays to the occasion and we could have used that here because the tennis was boring. It was a day of straight set matches. Nadal wore down his best pal Carlos Moya, 6-4, 6-3, 6-0, and Djokovic beat Andreev with an even more boring score: 6-3, 6-3, 6-3.

As hard as Andreev hit his forehand, Djokovic stayed with him shot for shot until he got Andreev on the run and came to the net. It’s exactly what we’ve been asking for, another true all-court player. Djokovic is a smart guy, he has Mark Woodforde in his players’ box. Woodforde has 12 grand slam doubles titles to his name. Djokovic probably watched Roger Federer import Tony Roche to improve his volleying and decided to do the same thing himself. Hard hitter, all-court player, smart guy: he’s the whole package.

Okay, how long do you think this frozen three will last? Two years, three years, four years? Any guesses?

Another Argentinean Returns to/from the Court

I just noticed that Mariano Puerta has a wild card entry into a clay court challenger in Sassuolo, Italy. This is interesting for a few reasons.

It’s Puerta’s first tournament back after a two year suspension for using the banned stimulant etilefrine. He was initially hit with a career ending eight year suspension because it was his second positive test for a banned substance. He appealed the suspension and got it reduced because he inadvertently used a glass that contained a liquid form of etilefrine that his wife used to treat pre-menstrual symptoms.

That was his explanation anyway. He and his wife just happened to remember exactly what table they were sitting at and who was sitting where and how the contaminated glass came into contact with Puerta’s mouth. Is that the truth or was it a good story? How could you prove it either way?

Not easy to prove and here is where the process of handing down a drug suspension for an athlete is different than determining guilt in a court of law. To be found guilty in a court of law, the court has to prove criminal intent. If a person possessed illegal drugs but didn’t know they were illegal, they would not be guilty.

For an athlete, though, they are responsible for any drug they take, inadvertent or not. Fellow Argentinean Guilermo Canas completed a 15 month suspension for a banned substance last year. In Canas’ case he didn’t read the label on the prescription he allegedly got from a tournament doctor, and he didn’t enter it onto the drug control sheet, so he gets a suspension.

Athletes complain that this makes the anti-drug agencies quasi-legal but I think it’s the correct approach. The players are held responsible for whatever goes into their body. They’re given a wallet size card with a list of all banned substances and there’s a drug control officer at every tournament to help them.

As for the quasi-legal argument, Canas appealed his suspension to the Swiss Federal Tribunal – Switzerland’s supreme court – to try to get his suspension voided. On more than one occasion, the Tribunal has affirmed an anti-drug agency’s jurisdiction in these matters.

The second interesting part of this story is Puerta’s wild card. The ATP players asked the tour to stop giving wild cards to players returning from drug suspensions. Some players are unhappy that Canas has pushed his way up the ranking so quickly after serving his suspension. Canas started his journey back with four wild cards into challenger events.

I’m with the “he’s already done his time” crowd on this one. Once you’ve served your suspension, you should have the same privileges as anyone else on the tour. If a tournament director wants to give a returning player a wild card, so be it. No need for more punishment.

See also:
B**tch and Singe Dept: Henin Tops Williams at the French
How Far Will Maria Sharapova Go?
B**tch And Sing Dept: At the French Open
Suicide Pools and Richard Gasquet
B**tch and Sing Dept: Springtime in Paris
Serena, Roger and Posh Spice
Familiar Final at the French Open (French Open preview)