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Nadal diffuses Federer mini-spat with apology

Published on 17 January 2012

The "st" word was still ringing around Melbourne Park yesterday as the Australian Open began with no big surprises on the court and a clear sense of detente off it.

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After a mini-spat between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer on the eve of the first grand slam event of the year, an apology from the Spaniard cleared it up and back on the court, the two men eased into the second round.

Nadal gave his supporters a scare when he revealed he had needed an MRI scan on his left knee before playing Alex Kuznetsov of the USA. The world No.2 apparently locked the knee while he was sitting down the previous day but the scan gave him the all-clear and, having eased to a 6-4, 6-1, 6-1 win, he announced himself 100% fit.

Federer had a tough first set against the Russian Alexander Kudryavtsev but then cruised to a 7-5, 6-2, 6-2 win and it was then the discussions began again in earnest.

Speaking in Spanish, Nadal had suggested that when it came to the gripes of the players, Federer was allowing others to do all the talking and, therefore, take any criticism that came their way. Yesterday, the Spaniard did not back down on his comments but admitted it would have been better if he had said nothing.

"What I said, I said," Nadal agreed. "Probably I am wrong telling that to you, especially because these things can stay, must stay, in the locker room. I've always had a fantastic relationship with Roger; I still have. That's what it should be, in my opinion. Don't create crazy histories about what I said yesterday, please.

"Just I said [it], because, you know, we can have different views about how the tour needs to work. That's all. I do not talk anymore. Yesterday I started by saying I don't want to talk any more about this. Finally, I talked too much, as usual; that won't happen again."

The discussion stemmed from a heated players' meeting here on Sunday when the players, angry at a number of issues, voted to keep the option of a strike on the table. Federer, who previously dismissed the possibility of a strike as "nonsense" is understood to have abstained from the vote, leading many to suggest that the Swiss was the one player preventing unity.

Yesterday, Federer suggested striking was a last resort but said he agreed with everything the players want to achieve. "I completely understand and support the players' opinions; I just have a different way of going at it," he said. "I'm not discussing it with you guys in the press room.

"I choose not to talk about those issues with you guys. That doesn't mean I don't support the players. I think of the players first. Usually, when I take decisions, I think of the lower-ranked players first. I hope they know that. It [strike] is such a dangerous word to use. That's why I always say: let's try to avoid it as much as we can. I think that would be the best for all of us. It's not good for anyone, really. We've seen it happening in other sports. That's why I'm always very careful about it.

"If there's no avoiding it, I'll support the rest of the players but I just think we have to think it through how we do it, if we do it, can we do it, whatever it is, instead of just going out and screaming about it. That's not how I think you're going to get results."

As president and vice-president respectively of the players' council, Federer and Nadal meet regularly to discuss the issues: the burning issues. Together with a shorter schedule and perhaps fewer mandatory tournaments, the biggest bug-bear is what they see as unfairly low prize money as a percentage of total tournament revenue at the four grand slams.

At the US Open last September, the share was 13%. Compare that to 57% in the NBA and almost 50% in the NFL and the players feel they are being short-changed.

Ivan Ljubicic, the Croat who preceded Federer as president, told Herald Sport that the grand slam organisers would eventually have to listen to the players, but that the biggest problem was that the structure of the ATP Tour means that even putting an agenda on the table is problematic, at best.

"It [the issue] we feel absolutely is the major one in that we deserve much more than the 13% or whatever we are getting from the grand slams," he said. "We feel we deserve more. But how much more, you will have to sit down and talk through.

"You cannot say to Wimbledon, 'listen guys, next year you have to triple your prize money'. In the best scenario for the players, you can say 'what about a raise of 10% next year?', and then in five years or seven years, you get to here [another level]. They understand [the issues]. I don't think the grand slams are surprised about this.

"At the moment, we don't have a structure in place, the official player representative who can walk in the room and discuss things with them [the grand slam tournaments]. So I think the players are looking to see if something like that can happen."

Yet Ljubicic, who escaped war-torn Bosnia as a 13-year-old in 1992, said it was "too early" to talk of a strike and that there must be better options.

"It was never, in my opinion, [possible] that the players wouldn't play here or anywhere else," he said. "That's not the way to get things done. I went through one war. I would rather talk than fight. I think that's the best way to get things done."

Back on the court, the real fighting came from Australia's brightest hope for a future grand slam champion on the men's side as 19-year-old Bernard Tomic came from two sets down to beat Fernando Verdasco, the No.22 seed, 4-6, 6-7, 6-4, 6-2, 7-5. Tomorrow, Tomic will play the American Sam Querrey for a place in the third round. "Anything's possible if you keep trying," he said. "Same thing happened in Wimbledon when I was in the second round. I was two sets to love down and made the quarters. Anything is possible."

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