Sunday, March 27

Ocho Overshadows Other Crossover

It is entirely understandable that the media are all over the Chad Ochocinco (nee Johnson – he says he’s changing it back by the way) trial with Sporting Kansas City (nee Wizards/Wiz). He is a high-profile National Football League player that is currently in the media frenzy of the labor lockout. But it should be noted, though, that it is not the only sports crossover that took place this week. Tennis stars took the pitch Wednesday evening to play the Hope For Japan charity exhibition versus the Fort Lauderdale Strikers of the new North American Soccer League.

And they weren’t just your run of the mill ATP World Tour players. Among the players in Miami for the Sony Ericsson Open that laced up their football boots for charity were Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, the top two ranked players in the world. Andy Murray (ranked fifth) scored on of the two strikes for the tennis squad in the 5-2 result in favor of the professional footballers. Marco Baghdatis (24th) of Cyprus tallied the other goal from the penalty mark in the shortened 40-minute exhibition friendly.

While Ochocinco may be trying out for an MLS squad, the risk of injury is slight and carries with it the safety net that the season is months away, if not more given the NFL labor situation. These tennis stars were risking injury during a tournament in which even the slightest of ankle sprains could cost them on the court.

Also among the 17 ATP World Tour players representing the tennis side were David Ferrer (6th) and Fernando Verdasco (9th).

The game, while relaxed with no tackling, proved to be a lot more competitive than many would have imagined as the style of play reflected a good futsal or indoor soccer match with some fantastic passing and creative foot skills not only from the Strikers, but surprisingly also from the players on the tennis squad, who represented themselves quite well as they raised funds for the Red Cross.

That probably should not have been too much of a surprise given that Nadal, Ferrer, and Verdasco all hail from Spain, the home of the current FIFA World Cup champions. Djokovic (Serbia) and Murray (Scotland) are among European-heavy top-ten in the current ATP rankings.

Starting alongside Baghdatis, Murray and Djokovic, who served as captain and helped organize the event, was Japan’s top-ranked player Kei Nishikori (62nd), representing the victims of the deadly earthquake and tsunami for which the match and following gala dinner were raising funds for. Also starting were Feliciano Lopez (41, Spain), Juan Monaco (35, Argentina), Richard Gasquet (18, France), Victor Troicki (17, Serbia), Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (16, France) and Jurgen Melzer (10, Austria) with Nadal, Ferrer and Verdasco coming off the bench with Alexandr Dolgopolov (23, Ukraine), Potito Starace (47, Italy), Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo (94, Spain) and David Marrero (Spain).

While it is understandable that Ocho is garnering a lot of attention, it is a shame that an event featuring so many other international sports stars was virtually ignored by the American media, especially those in soccer. The event garnered a few items from the tennis side of things, including a report on the game in ESPN’s online UK tennis section and a photo gallery in the tennis section. It attracted practically no attention from the US soccer media. While nearly all of the established, highly-regarded soccer journalists weighed in with coverage or commentary about Ochocinco, there was hardly a peep, or even a tweet, about what these tennis players were doing and risking, which was for charity. Meanwhile, Ocho’s quest remains solely for the benefit of press attention for both himself and Sporting Kansas City.

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