Saturday, July 08, 2006

Here's Sports Illustrated on the Wimbledon final between Roger Federer and Spaniard Rafael Nadal:

The facts are simple: Federer has lost six of his seven matches with Nadal, including that four-set demolition in last month's French Open final. It's indeed a curious state of things when the player who thoroughly dominates the field is yet dominated by one man, and theories abound. But the most heavily trafficked these days -- because of both source and outrageousness -- is the one voiced by Swedish tennis legend Mats Wilander. "Rafael has the one thing that Roger doesn't: balls," Wilander told Sports Illustrated in Paris. "I don't even think Rafael has two; I think he has three." Wilander backed off a bit for L'Equipe: "[Federer] might have them, but against Nadal they shrink to a very small size and it's not once. It's every time," he said.

I don't know why the European press never quotes Sports Illustrated; SI often has great international sports stuff that never comes out over here. Just a few months ago Iberian Notes linked to an SI interview with Ronaldo, in which he said that he would probably still be playing with FC Barcelona if team management hadn't lied to him. That would have been front-page news in the Barcelona sports press. Barcelona is so soccer-crazy that it supports two daily sports papers with circulations over 100,000; they're mostly devoted to the Barça, but cover all sports popular in Spain. There's an NBA story every day; the NBA is the only American sports league popular over here. The two Madrid sports papers are also sold in Barcelona.

Spain is wild about Rafael Nadal, who is young, handsome, well-behaved, and a winner; he is also the nephew of star soccer player Miquel Angel Nadal of Barça and the Spanish national team. Uncle Nadal was Spain's best center-back during most of the '90s; he was nicknamed "The Animal" by the British tabloids for his fierce play. The other big current hero is Formula One driver Fernando Alonso, who has dominated the circuit for the last two years. Alonso is a major asshole, however, so he isn't nearly as well-liked as Nadal.

While we're on sports, I'm rooting for France to crush Italy in the World Cup final. I despise the Italian team, and I'm a big fan of Zidane, who is Mr. Class. Too bad he played for Real Madrid, because I'd have liked to be able to root for him during the regular club season. Zidane is quite likely the greatest soccer player ever. The game has changed a great deal since about the mid-80s, and I wouldn't rank a pre-'85 player anywhere near the top. Zidane would have eaten Pele's lunch if the two could have confronted one another at their respective peaks. As for Maradona, forget it. Would you trade Zidane for Maradona, at their peaks, even up? I thought not. Would you even want Maradona on your team? Hell, no. The guy is clubhouse poison, and he'll sell you out to the mob for half a kilo of cocaine.

Speaking of which, several Italian clubs, including Juventus and Milan, are in deep trouble for match-fixing. Seems that Juve set up a scheme in which it bribed league officials to assign paid-for referees to Juve matches, and Milan caught on and set up its own competing scheme. Whatever, all teams involved, including Fiorentina and Lazio, will be demoted to second division, and that means there will be an exodus of star players from those clubs. And guess who's ready to buy? Real Madrid. They plan to get rid of several players, including Helguera, Diogo, Pablo Garcia, Woodgate, Pavon, Gravesen, and Baptista, and they have €100 million to spend on signings. And they just signed former Juventus coach Fabio Capello, who will undoubtedly influence several of his former players to come with him.

Tim Stannard runs an excellent blog on Spanish soccer called La Liga Loca, and he contributes a column to the British website Football365. Highly recommended.

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