MELBOURNE — Roger Federer's and Rafael Nadal's mutual admiration is being tested after the Spaniard said his rival may be letting other players take the heat as they criticize various aspects of tennis.
The rivals have long been friendly, but the relationship might be changing after a Nadal outburst on the eve of the Australian Open, which began Sunday.
After advising in English that his days of publicly agitating for tennis reform had done nothing except make him an occasional villain, Nadal then criticized Federer to Spanish media.
Federer has long been something of a statesman for the sport, without igniting controversy.
Nadal says the 16-time Grand Slam winner is letting other players cop the flak: "For him it's good to say nothing. Everything positive. 'It's all well and good for me, I look like a gentleman,' and the rest can burn themselves. Everyone is entitled to have their own opinions."
Nadal, Andy Murray and Andy Roddick led criticism about the state of the game at the U.S. Open, when poor scheduling and the contentious issue of how Grand Slam prize money is distributed arose.
The annual players' meeting in Melbourne on Saturday night was emotional, with Nadal, Roddick and other speakers drawing extended applause and with support growing to push Grand Slam tournaments to dedicate more revenue to the players. Regular tour events routinely commit more than 30 percent of revenues to prize money; players say that despite purse increases, the Grand Slam event percentages remain considerably lower.
Although players, including Alex Bogomolov, sent Twitter messages mentioning an imminent players strike, there is no sign of a work stoppage. A future strike remains unlikely, in part because many players have contractual obligations with sponsors linked to participation in the majors and because many players from the countries that host the Grand Slam events — France, Australia, the United States and Britain — feel strong loyalty after having received considerable aid from their national federations.
Nonetheless, the players seem intent on increasing the pressure.
Nadal said he plans to make his opinions known in private rather than in postmatch news conferences.
"Federer likes the circuit," he said. "I like the circuit. It's much better than many other sports, but that doesn't mean that it couldn't be better."
Aussie play begins: Third-seeded Victoria Azarenka won 12 straight games to finish off Heather Watson 6-1, 6-0 in 67 minutes today in the opening match at the Australian Open. "Well, the score is easy. To actually play the match, it's never easy," said Azarenka, who was unsettled because she had to get to Melbourne Park so early there was nowhere to buy morning coffee. Azarenka is one of six women who can finish atop the rankings depending on results at Melbourne Park. Eighth-ranked Agnieszka Radwanska had a battle, fending off American Bethanie Mattek-Sands 6-7 (12-10), 6-4, 6-2 in a three-hour match. Mattek-Sands hit 81 winners but had 65 unforced errors.