When Rafa lost to Fabio Fognini last year at the Italian Open, it was a pretty massive upset - while Fognini is one of the most talented players around, the thought of him beating the greatest clay court player of all time, was virtually inconceivable. But beat him he did, drilling dead-flat backhand winners down the line, and taking the initative early in points to rush Nadal and prevent him from getting into the long, exhausting rallies the Spaniard thrives on.
It was pretty much a Robin Soderling-like performance, and as rare a loss from Nadal who, while not at his best, was comprehensively outplayed. He simply wasn't allowed to do what he normally does. Think Lukas Rosol at Wimbledon serving bombs and going for broke on every shot in that fifth set, but on the slow European clay courts that Nadal has made his own.
So it was a bit unRafa-like when the Spaniard just happened to mention afterwards that it was the worst match he’d played in 14 years. Which got me thinking about excuses in general. And how much tennis players rely on them.
Because I've got one for every occasion you can possibly think of.
Went down in a tight match? Well you did pretty well considering how badly strung that racquet of yours was. It was at least 5 pounds too tight - no wonder you missed that dropshot in the tiebreaker.
And the strings? You mean you walked onto the court using THOSE synthetic strings - not cutting-edge polyester strings with a name like Viper or some other reptile? How is that even a level playing field?
And that racquet you’re playing with is at least 5 grams too light - no wonder you kept hitting those backhands into the back fence. Me? I use the Wilson RF Autograph, the heaviest and hardest racquet to break ON THE MARKET.
And how could you possibly even stand up properly - you weren't even using claycourt shoes - you know the ones the pros use. You were using the hard court versions, which are last year’s model and completely out-of-date as far as shoes go.
At the club level, it's ubiquitous. What about when you play at a club and someone from one of the home team turns around and yells “THESE ARE THE WORST COURTS I’VE EVER PLAYED ON”.
That's right - the home team.
Wouldn't it be refreshing if, just once, someone walked off the court and said something like ‘yep, they were simply too good for me’.
I played a doubles match recently and my partner just drilled a backhand down the middle, which was just too tough and had too much pace for the volleyer to control - in fact he was luck to even get his racquet on the ball.
What came next - 'great shot' perhaps? No, it was something much more primitive.
“That’s the worst volley I’ve ever hit”.
But back to the pros. A while ago, when a very famous American lost to another equally famous American at a Grand Slam event, he was asked in the press conference afterwards whether he was hampered by a leg injury that seemed to affect him in the fifth set.
He looked straight at the reporter, and without an ounce of self-awareness or emotion, came up with this beauty.
‘Well, not really, but I did feel it in the first game of the match’.
As he sipped on his bottled mineral water, just for a moment, silence filled the room.