So, who’s the most unpopular player in men’s tennis? For a while, you could have made a good case for Daniel Koellerer. Such was Koellerer’s anti-social behaviour, he became known as ‘Crazy Dani’.
Stories abounded about Koellerer mocking opponents, umpires and ball-kids, and how he had once had a fight in the locker room with an Italian player, which started when the Austrian allegedly spat on his palm before they shook hands at the net. And, a few years ago, a petition was circulated among players on the South American second-tier Challenger tour asking for Koellerer to be banned. However, Koellerer’s days as a pest are over as last year, for the crime of match-fixing, he received a life ban.
So, with ‘Crazy Dani’ off the scene, who does that leave in contention to win this unpopularity contest?
How about Wayne Odesnik? As Simon Cambers wrote today, the American is unlikely to have a warm Texas reception at this week’s clay-court tournament in Houston. Ryan Harrison has called Odesnik “a weasel and an embarrassment to American tennis”. Though Odesnik was initially banned for two years after he was caught trying to smuggle eight vials of human growth hormone through Australian customs, that was reduced to seven months for what was described as “substantial assistance provided in relation to the enforcement of professional rules of conduct”.
What information could Wayne have provided to the tennis authorities? That’s the case for (or maybe that should be ‘against’?) Odesnik, that he ‘weaseled’ his way out of a longer suspension.
Others will point to Radek Stepanek. It was at the weekend, at a Davis Cup tie between Serbia and the Czech Republic, that Serbia’s Nenad Zimonjic called Stepanek “the least likeable guy on the tour, especially on the court”.
That followed the controversy of Stepanek’s singles rubber against Janko Tipsarevic. Afterwards, Tipsarevic tweeted a picture which appeared to show Stepanek giving him the finger. Tipsarevic had this to say: “It really is a great shame that a great tennis nation like CZE is represented by someone like him.” He would also accuse Stepanek of being pathetic. Stepanek is a strange, complicated, and infuriating character. Stepanek has a strong facial resemblance to Homer Simpson, and he also behaves in a cartoon-like manner, with his celebratory skips and hops, his hand gestures and the naughty faces he pulls between points.
So Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic will play an exhibition at Real Madrid’s 80,000-seater Bernabau stadium between Wimbledon and the Olympics. The occasion is likely to see a record crowd for an unsanctioned tennis match, as even if the stadium is half full that will exceed the 35,000 who watched Kim Clijsters play an exhibition against Serena Williams in Belgium in 2010.