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France kicks Benoit Paire off Olympic Team, Rafa Nadal gets his Knickers in a Twist (and Then Recovers) and Novak Djokovic Still not Happy With Covid Vaccinations

By Alix Ramsay

Benoit Paire has been banned from this summer’s Olympic Games by his national association. The bad boy of French tennis will not be considered for selection by the French Tennis Federation after what they described as his “deeply inappropriate behaviour”.

Over the past few months, Paire has made it very clear that he loathes playing tennis in a bio-secure bubble where he has no freedom of movement, where there are no fans and where his every action on the court and off it is governed by the Covid protocols. At the same time, he has not been shy of letting his temper flare. In Buenos Aires he was docked a point for spitting and swearing in his match against Francisco Cerundolo before tanking his final service game.

When he lost to Jordan Thompson last week in Monte Carlo (his 11th first round loss since tennis restarted last summer), he was just pleased to be going home.

“I just don’t care,” he said. “You don’t know how it is. This doesn’t bring me anything except a bit more money. But there’s no pleasure in playing.

“The players who are there say they enjoy playing Monte-Carlo. I respect that a lot. But how sad is this for them? Normally this court is one of the most beautiful courts in the world. It seems like we are in a cemetery. Whether you win a point or miss, it’s the same. There’s no atmosphere. It’s the same thing.

“You’re going to say it’s like normal life, but normal life is shit. The only pleasure I have is when I’m home without my mask and I don’t care about the Covid. That’s when I feel good.”

The FFT were obviously listening because as the rest of the world heads to Tokyo in July, Paire will be at home without his mask and presumably feeling much happier.

“His behaviour, which has been deeply inappropriate since the start of the year, seriously undermines the values of sport, such as tennis, and is totally incompatible with the Olympic spirit,” Gilles Moretton, president of the FFT, said. “It is the duty of each player and each high-level player to respect the values of our sport and it is up to them to be exemplary on the court as well as off.”

Spanish player Rafael Nadal celebrates his victory against Japan’s Kei Nishikori after their third round match of the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell – Conde de Godo tennis tournament in Barcelona, Spain, 22 April 2021. EPA-EFE/Alejandro Garcia

Rafa Nadal has always had a far more stoical attitude to whatever life throws at him – his approach is simply to make the best of a bad lot. Consequently, he is fighting his way back into form in Barcelona.

After the shock of his quarter-final defeat at the hands of Andrey Rublev in Monte Carlo last week (he claimed his serve was a “disaster”), he headed back to Spain promising to work his socks off to find a solution to his problems. But after taking three sets to beat both Ilya Ivashka and Kei Nishikori on his way to the Barcelona quarter-finals, some were beginning to doubt whether the extra graft had paid off – but not Rafa.

“Matches like today, like yesterday help the improvement,” he said after the Nishikori encounter. “At the same time, I didn’t play tough matches for a long time, so winning two matches like this I really hope this gives me extra confidence.

“The past three matches that I played were three sets and I don’t take something negative [from that],” Nadal said. “For me it’s something very positive. I need time on court, I need to go through these moments and the past two matches I went through these moments with a victory. Tomorrow is another opportunity. I’m excited to keep playing and have another chance to play better.”

That chance duly presented itself against Cam Norrie on Friday and he did, indeed, play better. He clumped poor Norrie 6-1, 6-4 in 94 minutes and this time there were no dips or blips. He may put this down to tightening up his serve and generally playing with more intensity. Or it may just have been his shorts.

In Monte Carlo, he showed off his new clay court outfit: lilac shirt and shoes with pink shorts and socks (our Raf has never been afraid of a pastel shade). While the colour combo brought complimentary comments, it was the tailoring of his trousering that set tongues wagging. The cut could be best described as snug – probably too snug for comfort and certainly too snug for a gentleman intent on vigorous physical exercise. Indeed, his chances of ever singing basso profundo again were diminishing by the round.

In Barcelona, though, the pink cosy-fits have been replaced by a more generous style. The shorts are still pink but this week’s pair allow room for manoeuvre. As a result, the 11-time Barca champion is through to the semi-finals and an appointment with Pablo Carreno Busta.

Novak Djokovic of Serbia rests between games in his second round match against Kwon Soon-woo of South Korea at the Serbia Open tennis tournament in Belgrade, Serbia, 21 April 2021. EPA-EFE/ANDREJ CUKIC

Novak Djokovic is also through to the semi-finals – although he has had a lighter workload in the smaller Serbia Open. But he is still not happy.

After the ATP tried a couple of weeks ago to encourage players to get vaccinated against Covid by offering them more freedom if they were fully protected from the virus, Djokovic was underwhelmed. He was still underwhelmed as he was brushing aside the early round opponents in Belgrade.

One of the perks for the fully vaccinated would be no isolation on arrival at an event but all the ATP’s new rules are, obviously, subject to approval by the local government at each tournament’s host city.

“I have heard some stories, that it is being considered that the vaccinated will be provided with easier and better conditions around their stay and accommodation,” Djokovic said. “I do not see the logic that the ATP sets a protocol like this, that we have to be in a safe environment, because it is not a ‘bubble’.

“The rules and conditions of local governments are important; you follow the situation in that country and that’s it. That is logical and normal, they [the ATP] decided to take an unnecessary and rigorous position. Everyone has their responsibility.”