Nadal-Federer rivalry heats up

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PARIS (AP) – If Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are going to build a rivalry for the ages, it wouldn’t hurt the TV ratings or buzz factor if there were a bit of animosity – or at least a difference of opinion.

Well, it looks like they’ve got the latter.

Both usually say all the right things about the other’s talent and place in the game, but a touch of tension arises when it comes to Federer’s contention that Nadal is getting coaching help during matches, something against the rules on the tennis tour. The topic was raised Friday with Nadal after the French Open draw, in which both players appeared to avoid tough early matchups.

Asked whether his uncle and coach, Toni, provides in-match instruction, something Federer charged after losing their Rome Masters final this month, the reigning French Open champion gave the longest and most animated response of his news conference.

“If my uncle didn’t receive a warning in Rome, it must be because he was abiding by the rules,” Nadal said. “If my uncle was truly giving me coaching tips, he would have gotten a warning. All he was doing was spurring me on, saying, Vamos!’ (Let’s go!) Venga!’ (Come on!) Con fuerza!’ (Go for it!).”

Nadal said his uncle does the same sort of thing as “every coach in the world, or at least 90 percent of them,” adding that he thinks the rulebook needs updating.

“Explain to me: What kind of rule is this that coaches can’t say anything during a match? In what other sport does that happen?” he asked.

“I mean, you are paying your coach and taking him to Australia to have him do this during the matches?”

At that, Nadal rose from his chair to stand with arms crossed and lips sealed, turning his head from side to side like a spectator following the path of a ball back-and-forth over the net.

“That can’t be,” he said. “These are things that need to change.”

Otherwise, Nadal was quite deferential when talking about Federer, who’ll open his bid to complete a non-calendar Grand Slam on Sunday.

“I know he’s No. 1. He’s the best,” Nadal said. “He can beat me in every surface, any match.”

Really? Nadal is 5-1 against Federer over their careers, including a win in last year’s Roland Garros semifinals and the 5-hour Rome final. After the most recent loss, Federer said about Toni Nadal: “He was coaching a little bit too much again today. Yeah, I caught him in the act.”

So, is it a rivalry?

“We still haven’t played enough yet. Sometimes, a rivalry needs a win and a loss, a win and a loss. That’s not what’s been really going on,” Federer said. “He’s only been on tour for a couple of years. I think it’s heading into a very nice direction for tennis by having a player like him on tour.”

Nadal, who turns 20 next week, will play Robin Soderling of Sweden in the first round. A victory would be the Spaniard’s 54th in a row on clay, breaking the Open era record he shares with Guillermo Vilas.

“It’s amazing what he’s doing, it’s historic,” said No. 8-seeded James Blake, in the top 10 at a major for the first time.

The possible men’s quarterfinals are: Federer vs. No. 7 Tommy Robredo of Spain, Nadal vs. Blake, No. 5 Andy Roddick vs. No. 4 Ivan Ljubicic of Croatia, and Nalbandian vs. No. 6 Nikolay Davydenko of Russia.

Roddick is hoping to recover from an ankle injury, while Blake faces a potentially rough start, with big hitter Paradorn Srichaphan of Thailand in the first round, followed by clay-court expert Nicolas Almagro of Spain.

Many figure the June 11 men’s final will be Roger vs. Rafa, a meeting between men ranked Nos. 1-2 and winners of the past four majors.

“I hope, obviously, I’m in the finals,” Blake said. “If I’m not, as a tennis fan, I’m hoping those two are, to see their rivalry continue.”

That forecast got a boost Friday, when past French Open champions Gaston Gaudio, Juan Carlos Ferrero and Carlos Moya all wound up in No. 3 David Nalbandian’s quarter.

Two-time major champion Marat Safin – unseeded and a candidate to fall anywhere in the draw – is in Nadal’s half, but not until the quarterfinal stage. No. 9 Fernando Gonzalez drew Safin in the first round. Another intriguing opening match pits two 19-year-olds pegged as future stars: No. 25 Gael Monfils of France vs. Andy Murray of Britain.

The women’s final eight could be: No. 1 Amelie Mauresmo of France vs. Venus Williams, No. 2 Kim Clijsters of Belgium vs. Martina Hingis, No. 3 Nadia Petrova of Russia vs. defending champion Justine Henin-Hardenne of Belgium, and No. 4 Maria Sharapova vs. No. 8 Svetlana Kuznetsova.

The woman Henin-Hardenne beat in last year’s final, Mary Pierce, pulled out of the tournament because of a right foot injury that’s kept her off tour since February.

“I don’t feel 100 percent ready to be competitive at this tournament,” said Pierce, the 2000 French Open champion. “I don’t know when I will compete again.”


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