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Rafa dominates despite freak knee injury

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Richard Evans

Richard Evans has covered tennis since the 1960s, reporting on more than 150 Grand Slams. He is author of 15 books, including the official history of the Davis Cup and the unofficial history of the modern game in "Open Tennis." Follow him on Twitter.

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You can't injure you knee sitting in a chair, right? You can if you are Rafael Nadal, apparently, but then very few people's knees have suffered like Rafa's knees.

The former world No. 1 came through his first-round match at the Australian Open with a clear cut 6-4, 6-1, 6-1 victory over the American Alex Kuznetsov and then recounted the bizarre story of how, just 24 hours earlier, he thought he was not going to be able to play.

"Yesterday afternoon happened the most strange thing that ever happened to me," said Nadal. "I was sitting on a chair in the hotel. I felt like a crack on the knee. I stand up and felt the knee a little bit strange. I move the knee two times to try to find the feeling. After second time the knee stays completely straight with unbelievable pain. I have no movement on the knee."

Nadal was rushed over to Melbourne Park where he had an ultrasound and was then taken to a hospital for an MRI. It showed nothing. So Nadal had the trainers work on his knee all evening and got some movement back in it despite more pain, which disappeared eventually. But Nadal was understandably nervous at the beginning of his match.

"So I still don't understand what happened, but I am really happy that I was ready to play and that I played a fantastic match," he said after covering the court with little sign of restriction. And he certainly played too well for the 24-year-old Kuznetsov, who is ranked 167 on the ATP computer and looked overwhelmed.

With nothing more to say about the match or locked knees, the conversation inevitably turned to Nadal's unlocked tongue, which he has been using to suggest a difference of opinion between himself and his good friend Roger Federer about the state of the men's tour. Nadal seems to be a leading member of a large group of players who are unhappy about the percentage of income at Grand Slam events that is put into prize money — it ranges between 12 to 15 percent — and the scheduling at the US Open where opposition to Super Saturday is growing, especially after the incessant rain delays of recent years. Federer is more inclined to accent the positive and shies away from talk of players using the ultimate weapon — a strike.

2012 AUSTRALIAN Open

2012 Australian Open

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"Probably I am wrong telling that to you," Nadal said. "I talk too much — as usual. These things must stay in the locker room. I always had fantastic relationship with Roger. I still have fantastic relationship with Roger. Don't create crazy stories about what I said yesterday, please. We can have different views about how the Tour needs to work. That's all."

Federer also had a relatively straightforward first-round victory, although he took a set to come to terms with the power-driven returns of a big 26-year-old Russian named Alexander Kudryavtsev, who was playing his first main draw singles event at a Grand Slam. For a while Federer had to worry more about his opponent than the back that had worried him in Qatar, forcing him to pull out at the semifinal stage. But he eventually prevailed 7-5, 6-2, 6-2 and said the back felt fine.

He also said he felt fine about Nadal's comments.

"I think it's normal," he said. "We can't always agree on everything. He used to say 'Whatever Roger decides, I'm fine with.' Today, he's much more grown up. He has a strong opinion himself which I think is great. It's what we need, especially on the (Players') Council. It's been nice working with him. That he has a strong opinion also creates good arguments about how you want to move the sport forward."

Federer made a point of saying that, just because he did not speak out as forcefully as Nadal, we shouldn't think he does not support the players. "I choose not to talk about those issues with you guys," he said. "I think of the players first.

"Usually when I take decisions I think of the lower-ranked players first. I hope they know that. I wouldn't be sitting on the council just trying to do what's best for the top guys. I'm very happy if the lower-ranked players are doing better, too."

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Federer is president and Nadal vice president of the Players Council which makes recommendations to the six-man ATP Board, now chaired by new CEO Brad Drewett. It remains to be seen how all this will play out because, inevitably, there are noisier factions in the locker room who do want to threaten strike action.

"I think it's such a dangerous word to use," said Federer. "I always say, 'Let's try and avoid it as much as we can.' We've seen it happening in other sports in the States. That's why I'm always very careful about it."

The calm deliberate Swiss will find he has an ally in Drewett, who is a softly spoken Australian and not a man to rattle cages. But the tournaments, as well as CBS in the case of the US Open and scheduling, should realize that the players are making some legitimate points and their views should not be dismissed.

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