The most significant volley that Marcelo Rios had to face at this year’s Australian Open was the volley of abuse he received from female professionals after describing the women’s game as a “joke.”

Rios has said and done a lot of stupid things in his career as a tennis pro but this, within the context of his argument was not one of them.

Rios, acknowledged more for his ability on the court than his diplomatic skills, made a point that may cause him to have trouble finding a partner for the mixed doubles at the next major event.

The “joke” that he was referring to was that in women’s events, the top players have it too easy in the early rounds — generally not having to break a sweat in the first three or four rounds of a tournament and breezing through matches quicker than it takes Mike Tyson to lose his temper.

Rios argued that in the men’s game, every round is a battle and any given player can lose easily in any round. The controversy that this comment served up had the top women players on the tour ditching their rackets and sharpening their hairbrushes. Not altogether surprising in this age of political correctness.

Most of the top players on tour bypassed school in order to focus on their tennis. Judging from their responses to the argument, this much was obvious.

First up, Martina Hingis, “If he thinks women’s tennis is a joke then I challenge him to a game.”

Sorry Martina, you missed the boat there. If the “Swiss Miss” could just get her head out of the clouds, she would realize that Rios in this case is not saying that men’s tennis is better than women’s tennis.

In fact his comments could be construed as a thinly veiled compliment to the top players on the women’s tour in that their level is so much higher than the others.

Rios was trying to say that a huge gap exists between the top 10 players on the tour and the rest. He was saying that this has caused an absence of competition in the early rounds of tournaments and was a problem in women’s tennis.

Venus lays in with a forehand of her own, claiming that the only difference between the top men and women was that the women play their best every time they go on court. “We don’t slack at any time and we don’t just bring our best game to the Slams, we bring it to every event,” Williams said.

To suggest that the top men don’t give their best effort during every event is even more ridiculous. Did you listen to anything Rios said, Venus? If that was the case then Rios would not have made the point that he did. That’s like disputing a line call that went your way.

Venus shouldn’t talk anyway. At the 1998 Australian Open Venus and her sister Serena boasted they could beat a male ranked 200 in the world. Heavy-smoking Kaarsten Braasch, ranked 203 in the world and in the twilight of his career, volunteered his services one day after a round of golf, comprehensively beating Serena 6-1 and then Venus 6-2 immediately after.

Venus and Serena can be grateful that Rios wasn’t around that day.

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In response to opinions in Rob Smaal’s column last week attributed to an unidentified source, I would like to make the following comments.

“When those horny Germans come to town, somebody better take down all those posters of schoolgirls in their mini skirts and white socks. Talk about asking for trouble.”

I have a pretty good idea who you are and I’ve got your number mate. The only reason you are worried about the horny Germans coming to town is because they may get to the schoolgirls in their mini skirts and white socks before you after you finish work on a Friday night. Coming from you, it is a bit rich calling anybody “horny.”

“Somebody should tell Japan national coach Philippe Troussier to lighten up. When’s the last time you saw the guy crack a smile? It’s only a game. And how much pressure could the guy be under? Japan can’t do any worse than last time and he’s already said he won’t be back as Japan’s coach.”

Please tell me, as a distinguished sportswriter, when last you saw a national team boss smile? It’s not meant to be fun carrying the burden of the nation’s hopes on your shoulders every game. Just like you, I think there are activities outside of the game that put a smile on his face.

“And that’s another thing, how do you miss a target the size of a small barn? (Referring to soccer goals).

You’ve missed targets bigger than that . . . such as your house after a night on the town. At least soccer goals are big enough to score in — ice hockey goals are so small that if you padded up Konishiki and put him in front of one, it would be impossible to score.

“I’ve figured it out. Writing about soccer is the art of writing about nothing, kind of a Zen thing I guess. For example, from the BBC Web site: ‘Lester’s clever reverse pass after 66 minutes played Brennan through on goal. But the 24-year-old shot across Bennett’s goal and wide when he should have hit the target.’ Almost 30 words on a missed shot!! As they say in soccer, brilliant!”

At least soccer writers don’t waste time recording how many shots the ‘keeper saved among other meaningless stats. At least soccer writers don’t waste time giving credit to the guy who passed to the guy who scored. If a player collects a pass from his goalkeeper, dribbles past the whole team finishing with a curling shot into the top corner, do we really have to mark down an assist for the ‘keeper? Who cares? Next we will be giving the guy’s parents an assist for giving birth to him.

“The people who run the World Cup organizing committee in Japan are playing it for laughs. Brazil’s got Pele, England has Sir Bobby Charlton, so who do you think the Japanese choose to be their World Cup ambassador? Norika Fujiwara. Now, I have nothing against old Norika-chan and wouldn’t mind getting together with her to ‘slot one home,’ but you could probably place all she knows about soccer and the World Cup on the head of a pin.”

You may have noticed in this day and age that figureheads need not necessarily know anything about what they represent. Do you think George W. Bush knows anything about politics or that Koizumi knows how to run a country?

“I’ll tell you how I’d deal with the hooligans. Round them all up and force them to watch 30 uninterrupted hours of J. League soccer.”

Rob Smaal himself came up with this idea in one of his columns a year or two ago. Do you ever suffer from amnesia?

Next time drinks are on you.

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