Madrid charms in winning and losing

Unlike football, the Madrid Open Masters has an altogether more relaxed Spanish flavour.

    Not quite the Jose Mourinho style of press conference for a relaxed Roger Federer [Luisa Urrego Bolaños]

    In a post "El Clasico" world in which winning at all costs (matches, prestige, just about everything) increasingly seems the only sporting objective, where trophies and titles are to be achieved by all means possible, the reflections of a Swiss tennis maestro on the sporting rivalry of an entire era against Rafael Nadal are refreshingly registered.

    "We try to be good role models," Roger Federer told Al Jazeera in Madrid ahead of his latest appearance in the Spanish capital, where he is twice champion of the Mutua Madrid Open Masters Series event.

    "I think Rafa's doing a great job as well and he's great for the game. We've played so many times in tough occasions and there's nowhere to hide for sometimes five hours in a row against each other and we are still able to maintain a good relationship. That's not only still nice for us but also nice for the game as well." 

    The father of twins born in 2009, Roger Federer knows a thing or two about winning.

    He is the winner of 67 singles titles, 16 of those at Grand Slam level, an Olympic Gold medal, and has spent some 285 weeks at the number one ranking in the world. But his altogether different role as a father has given him new perspectives into planning priorities.

    "A year ago I thought it was extremely tough just to keep my girls entertained for a long time over tough flights. I think it's getting a bit easier now again.

    "If I want to plan it that way I could also stay here for say nine days, which is a long time so you can make it work really easy, but just never forgetting the health of the girls. I enjoy seeing them every day which is really important for me."

    If Federer is indeed to stay in the Spanish capital for those nine days, he would have a chance to play the final of this increasingly prestigious tournament, which sees all of the best players in the world visit Madrid, both in the men's and ladies draws.

    But to do so, he will have to beat the player he called "in a league of his own on clay" – his friendly rival Nadal, in the semifinals.

    And he will also have the opportunity to watch the last of four El Clasico games on Tuesday night.

    Judging by his comments on Monday, Federer is almost certainly is aware of the controversy that has been unleashed by the previous three football matches here in Spain. 

    "I definitely think the fans in tennis are not as many in numbers, and it's not as aggressive an atmosphere in tennis as it is in soccer. In soccer you always have the issue with the umpire, every match they talk about it, whereas in tennis 90 per cent of the time you don't talk about it."

    But as the fourth derby of Spain in Barcelona's Nou Camp threatens once more to descend into off-pitch hysterics, on-pitch acrimony, traded insults and complaints to UEFA, and preciously little fine sport to fit the occasion, the label 'beautiful game' seems much more aptly applied to another sporting venue altogether: the Caja Magica venue of the 2011 Madrid Open Masters series, where the atmosphere feels idyllic at times in comparison to that fierce football rivalry.  

    Youth friendly

    The tournament offers many child-friendly options
    [Luisa Urrego Bolaños]

    Here, a keen emphasis has been placed on being youth friendly. Youngsters try their hand at mini-tennis, handle giant tennis rackets, try serving competitions or hole-in-the-wall games.

    You can see smiling faces and happy families walking amongst the relaxingly placed waterways flowing through this marvellous tennis complex.

    The question of which sport is more likely to inspire youngsters to practice fair sports seems entirely rhetorical.

    In tennis, the sport which knows no draws, the mechanics of victory and defeat are amplified; victories are short-lived, defeats must be quickly digested.

    Maria Sharapova, the eighth-seeded Russian who is fighting her way back into the women's elite after long-standing injury difficulties, twice had to go over three sets in the opening days to make her way into the third round.

    By contrast, Caroline Wozniacki, the world number one, who unlike Sharapova has yet to taste Grand Slam success, breezed through her opening encounter with Japan's Ayumi Morita by a comfortable 6-2, 6-3 score line.  

    But another fan favourite, 15th seeded Serbian Ana Ivanovic, was forced to accept defeat in the very first round in Madrid this weekend. The former French Open Champion breezed through the first set 6-0, and then fought hard against defeat on Sunday afternoon on a court named after Spanish legend Arantxa Sanchez Vicario.

    With three powerful first serves she saved successive match points at 0-40 down in the final set. She bared a fist. But when, a game later, her American opponent finished the match with a flourish to win 0-6, 6-4, 6-4, she had the grace to find kind words for her opponent at the net.

    A few lucky spectators were even treated to her sweaty armbands on the way off the court. 

    And Swiss number 14 Stanislas Wawrinka was equally forced to be gracious in defeat, waving, albeit in a resigned manner, to the Centre Court crowd after being defeated by the score-line of 4-6, 7-5, 4-6 by home favourite Guillermo Garcia-Lopez.

    The doubles partner of Roger Federer in their 2008 Olympic gold medal winning effort, Wawrinka was unable to reproduce his good form of the last edition of this tournament as his opponent forced him into an altogether too defensive position some meters behind the baseline.

    Caja Magica

    It was a much celebrated Saturday afternoon triumph for the home fans, sitting in between red and yellow decorations in the spectacular 'Caja Magica', the so-called magic box which has a retractable roof that shines silver in the intermittent May sunshine.   

    But it was not all sunshine for the home fans in a tournament which has been dominated in recent years by the successes of the male Spanish players, to such an extent that the pre-tournament supplement of the 'ABC' newspaper analysed the title contenders in terms of 'Spaniards' and 'foreigners'.

    Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the French number 18 in the world, breezed past Spain's newest top 10 member Nicolas Almagro by the surprisingly comfortable score-line of 6-1, 6-3 in what had looked like one of the most finely poised ties of the men's first round before the first balls were hit.

    "He played at a very good level here on clay so he is a fair winner," Almagro said after his early exit, showing exemplary behaviour after what was clearly a painful loss.

    "I had a lot of illusion to play here at home, but clearly it wasn't my best day."

    For the many youngsters who look up to their sporting idols in Madrid, here again was exemplary behavior after a losing performance.

    All but the men's and ladies champions must, after all, leave Madrid with a defeat at hand. 

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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