Aravane Rezai (above) celebrated her 24th birthday Monday by losing to world #18, Maria Sharapova, 6-2, 6-2. What had been an excellent start for the world #22 and French #2, an early break and a 2-0 lead, quickly turned sour for the birthday girl, who commenced to get steamrolled by Sharapova from there on a sunny day at Indian Wells. For Rezai, who has only won 2 tour level matches this year, with one of those coming 2 days prior against Shuai Zhang, and the other coming in her very first match in 2011 at Medibank in Sydney some 2 months ago, we don’t think she minded too much that her ticket got punched here so early and in such decisive fashion.
For Rezai, it seems she is apt to settle for incremental progress, having taken a bagel in her first round defeat in Melbourne to Zahlavova Strycova, and eventually losing 7-5 in the third, and having been pushed all over the court by Alla Kudryatseva 6-2, 6-1 in the first round a few weeks back in Monterrey. Why has the world #22 played only 6 matches this year, and why would a nationalistic young woman skip out on Federation Cup, especially when French #1 Marion Bartoli, already in a rift with the French team, was a definite no go. Why is there a rift between captain Nicolas Escude and Bartoli? Why, over Bartoli’s controlling father, mad Doctor Walter Bartoli, of course, and the fact that to Escude, he has made Bartoli an “and one” player, a diva who places herself above the team. Escude says that Dr. Bartoli never lets Marion out of his sight, occupies her every moment, that he demands to be on the court at all times, and even “decides the hour that she will eat.”
We’ll say this then: he’s letting her eat too much. But as it turns out, Dr. Bartoli, though controlling an unorthodox, is by no means the tennis father villain that the elder Rezai has become. Rezai, of French and Iranian descent, has represented Iran in the Women’s Islamic Games, and while she has done her best to remain neutral politically in recent months, she has become infamous in Iran where she was featured in a promotional video for the controversial Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in his latest bid for president. Ahmadinejad’s victory touched off a firestorm of unrest, “violent protests” and “has drawn virulent criticism in some Iranian circles”.
Rezai has taken to ducking the tour some these days, taking an otherwise inexplicable 6 weeks off after the debacle in Melbourne, which she admits, was in part due to distractions. That her father and boyfriend had some sort of altercation involving the Australian authorities on the morning of the match, and that the WTA has subsequently banned her father from tour events indefinitely, didn’t exactly come as a surprise to us, considering that Rezai’s father once had a famous screaming match with a coach at Roland Garros.
The French Federation has been so disenchanted with Rezai’s family problems and volatile entourage that they once went so far as to deny Rezai, one of the few promising French women at the time, direct entrance into the French Open, and forced her to qualify. So Rezai is especially careful in choosing her words when apologizing to her exceedingly honest Fed Cup captain Escude for her absence from a squad that featured Alize Cornet and Virginie Razzano in singles, and still almost pulled off a stunning upset of the Russians in February. Instead, France got out 2-0 and then lost 3-2, letting Russia out of jail and giving the Russian women their first ever victory from a 2-0 deficit.
Aravane Rezai: In Australia, I had some problems with my family. These are problems that happen in all families. I decided to take a break after this little family problem. For me it was a big earthquake in the head. So I decided not to play Fed Cup and the Open GDF-Suez. I want to apologize to the girls of the France team for not having been with them. They know what situation I’m dealing with. I really enjoyed representing my country, but being only 20% was impossible. I thank the captain (Editor’s note: Nicolas Escude) have respected my choice. My apologies also to GDF-SUEZ, which has always supported me as a partner. But this break was important to me, and it will allow me to come back stronger. I intend to return to the tournament in Monterrey, Mexico, if I have a wild card, or otherwise in Indian Wells.
When pressed further, Rezai claimed there was no big deal down under, and that her problems are normal ones that all families go through. She claims none of the press reports are true. She says she’d have spoken out earlier, but:
the WTA, my managers and the organization advised me not to do so because they thought I was not ready psychologically.
Does that sound like no big deal to you? What about her “big earthquake in the head”? We will not comment on the rumors, but we aren’t afraid to re-state what those rumors are. The whispers on tour, and they are loud, are that Rezai is left traumatized by abuse at her father’s hands. Not surprising.
A teen and then twenty-something year old girl used as an Irani political pawn, now who must literally duck and cover from angry nationalists? Who injects their kid into that type of situation? What does a French national like Rezai’s father even care that much about Ahmadinejad’s campaign?
The WTA, among others, we’d think, are currently investigating abuse claims.