Exciting news, everybody. The vacuum created by Yevgeny Kafelnikov’s retirement has been filled: there’s a grumpy Russian back on tour. It’s big hitter Nikolay Davydenko, who will probably be wrist-slapped by the ATP after pulling out of the Sydney International last night, then claiming in his press conference that “nobody cares” about the $1.3 million tournament.

Like Kafelnikov, who spent much of his spare time explaining why the cash mountains being paid to elite tennis players weren’t tall or gleaming enough, Davydenko appears to have mastered the knack of telling it like he sees it, while getting as many people offside as possible. It would be easy to focus on this and overlook the fact that the man has a point.

Except for the carnival at Melbourne Park that begins on Monday, not a single one of the Australasian summer tournaments are coveted by the game’s best.

The Fanatics may tell you differently until the blood shows through their face paint, but the Sydney International is not a serious tennis tournament, it is a warm-up event for a serious tennis tournament. The same goes for the Kooyong Classic, the Gold Coast Hardcourt and Auckland’s Heineken Open, where a number of decent contenders are also gearing up this week to very little scrutiny, including world No. 7 (Tommy Robredo) and No. 9 (Mario Ancic).

Kafelnikov’s point, ultimately, was that while tennis revenue was booming, too much of it was being siphoned away from the players by organisers and money men. He was derided not so much for his argument but because of the way he chose to pursue it, bleating in press conferences and interviews, when the prudent course would have been to leave player and tour representatives to hammer out the case in private negotiations.

Davydenko will be castigated, perhaps justifiably, given that it’s believed he took appearance money for the Sydney event he then belittled. But this shouldn’t be used to mask the simple truth that in tennis, just as in any other sport, there are some weeks that count and some weeks when you turn up, hope to get a bit of match practice without turning an ankle, and don’t weep into your match towel if results grant you a few extra days on the practice court before the big one.

With most male tennis players now so media-trained you could introduce them to your mum, it’s not a bad thing to have a straight man.

Peter Fray

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