Steroids Again: Mea Culpa

[I think I was on drugs when I originally posted a piece titled “Why Didn’t Tennis Give Marcelo Rios a Slam Title?” I somehow transposed Petr Korda’s steroid test from Wimbledon to the Australian Open and from 1999 to 1998. I have made corrections below.]

Amidst further revelations about steroid use in baseball, how does tennis deal with a slam champion who tests positive for steroids?

I got into trouble Thursday for failing to adequately explain my snarkiness after Rafael Nadal beat Roger Federer to win the Aussie Open title. Because I wanted Roger to win (see below for further explanation) I was snarky and complained – to myself – that Rafa must be taking performance enhancing drugs of some sort in much the same way that fans complain about the officiating when their team loses. It’s called sour grapes. Bad sportsmanship. You could even call it whining.But can you blame me? Okay, I’m a whiner and I curse when I lose tennis matches, but today more drug revelations appeared in the U.S. this week in the wake of baseball player Barry Bonds’ trial for allegedly lying to a grand jury about using steroids. Four different sources have told Sports Illustrated that Alex Rodriguez, the New York Yankees golden boy and likely successor to Bonds as the holder of the most hallowed record in baseball – career home runs, tested positive for steroids in 2003, the same year he received his first Most Valuable Player award.

It did get me wondering a bit. What if someone wins a slam and tests positive for P.E.D.s? Is it like the Olympics where they take away the gold medal and give it to the runner-up? Despite my assertion that Petr Korda tested positive after winning a slam – he won the Australian Open in 1998, tennis has never had a slam winner test positive for P.E.D.s.

Korda tested positive after losing in the quarterfinals of Wimbledon later that year. The closest thing we have is Mariano Puerta. He tested positive for etilefrine at the 2005 French Open after losing the final to Rafa.

Both Korda and Puerta received suspensions and had to give back their prize money, but what are you going to do – change the record books? Do you wipe Puerta’s name off the tournament draw and bump up his semifinal opponent to the final and his quarterfinal opponent to the semifinal, so on and so forth? That wouldn’t work because the draw is a historical document. It shows the actual matchups that took place.

Baseball is in a tough position because it’s hard to know how many home runs to take away from Bonds or Rodriguez, but I’m assuming tennis would give a slam title to the losing finalist if the actual winner tested positive for banned substances of any sort.

I also got in trouble because I didn’t adequately explain why I wanted Roger to win. I live in sports mad U.S.A. where football is king followed by baseball and basketball. NASCAR racing is probably next followed by hockey. Then there is the general category of college sports because we are the only nation I know that gives academic scholarships for athletic skills and we’re the only nation who’s college athletic association, the NCAA, has a seven year billion dollar television contract for its year-end basketball tournament. Notice, that’s for one sport only and that sport’s year-end tournament only, not even the full season.

Recently, though, tennis has been getting airtime on sports radio shows and that is a huge big deal because tennis usually gets pips and squeaks in comparison to those other sports. Last year’s humongous Wimbledon final kicked it off and now, with a five set Australian final, the talk is growing.

And that’s why I wanted Roger to win. If he can’t beat Rafa on hard court and he can’t beat him on grass, we’ll lose the momentum we’re gaining. There is no rivalry.
And Rafa, has there ever been a mentally tougher tennis player? Roger has been a good front runner but much shakier when coming from behind. I might have picked Borg before but Rafa is overtaking him. And I have Rafa beating out Michael Jordan actually left basketball for a few years to pursue a baseball career. I guess he got bored.

When I mentioned all this to my chiropractor as he was in the middle of an adjustment to get my ileocecal valve and Houston valve working properly – the first one is the valve between the small and the large intestine, the second is the valve between the large intestine and… oh never mind, the chiropractor mentioned Tiger Woods and I have to agree. Tiger won the U.S. Open championship last year on a torn anterior cruciate ligament. That’s what tears when you see American football players scream and crumple to the ground never to be seen again until after reconstructive surgery and a six to nine month recovery period. And Tiger played the entire tournament with it. That takes the cake for athletic performance under physical duress.

Having said that, golf doesn’t require a whole lot of lateral movement or even movement forward and back, and those five and half hours on the course are mostly spent standing around. If Rafa can keep getting better against all odds – meaning that tape around his knees and the wear and tear on his body, he’ll join the Jordan-Woods pantheon in my eyes.