Djokovic and Federer the favourites in Stan Smith, but is Rafa the contender in the other group? - UBITENNIS
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Djokovic and Federer the favourites in Stan Smith, but is Rafa the contender in the other group?

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Could Nadal’s late season resurgence see him dominate Ilie Nastase Group?

Ubaldo Scanagatta and Tennis Channel’s Steve Flink Comment the ATP World Tour Finals Draws (AUDIO)

 

Flink: “Nadal should be happy to be in his group”

If the Stan Smith Group looks somewhat predictable, with two Grand slam champions, tennis fans can be reassured that the Ilie Nastase Group is anything but. This article previews each singles player from both groups, and attempts a prediction as to how each group might eventually pan out.

Stan Smith

Novak Djokovic: The World Number 1 has had a scintillating year, winning three of the four Grand Slams, and six of nine Masters titles. He is the three-time defending champion in London, and will be the favourite to extend his run. Crucially for Djokovic, the player who has given him the most issues this year, Stan Wawrinka, has been drawn in the other group. Will certainly fancy his chances over Tomas Berdych, who he was drawn with last year, and defeated 6-2, 6-2. Kei Nishikori has had an injury plagued year, so should be little of little danger to Djokovic. Roger Federer is the major threat. He loves indoor tennis, and if Djokovic becomes unstuck in one match it would be with Federer.

Roger Federer: His season has been strong, highlighted by two Grand Slam finals, including his first In New York since 2009. He was beaten though in each by Djokovic. Federer loves indoors tennis, but has failed to defeat Djokovic in their last four meetings on the surface. Yet if anyone has the best chance of defeating Federer in the group stages, then Federer is the man. Has beaten Nishikori in their last two meetings, and Berdych in their last three. Question marks over his early Paris exit to John Isner.

Tomas Berdych: Has had a good if slightly underwhelming year, but has done well to qualify for sixth consecutive year. A telling stat is that he has failed to beat any of the opponents he is set to face in the group this season. He has been soundly thrashed by Federer twice, though did play Djokovic close in all three of their meetings this year. He did not encounter Nishikori this year. Lack of wins over top players is the apparent weakness In Berdych’s game this year.

Kei Nishikori: The Japanese star takes his place at the ATP World Tour Finals for the second time, though without a Grand Slam final display to back him up this time. Has beaten fellow contenders Ferrer and Nadal this year, but has no wins against his group opponents, though like Berdych, he took a set from Djokovic in their meeting in Rome. Inconsistent with injury this year, but has proven that when fit, can still beat the best. He has only met played one match, versus Djokovic, against his group opponents this season, so could be considered something of a wildcard.

Group Prediction:  1. Djokovic 3-0, 2. Federer, 2-1, 3. Nishikori 1-2, 4. Berdych 0-3.

Ilie Nastase

Andy Murray: The Brit leapfrogged Roger Federer into second place in the rankings at the back-end of the season, and his reward is avoiding Djokovic in the group stages. That said, Wawrinka, Nadal, and Ferrer are noteworthy opponents. Yet he has won both meetings with Ferrer this season, including a meeting on the Spaniard’s favoured surface of clay. He also beat Nadal on clay for the first time, in their only match this year, but he has struggled against Rafa in previous meetings at the World Tour Finals. Hasn’t played Wawrinka this season, so an interesting matchup in store there. The underlying subtext of the Davis Cup Final could have an impact on Murray’s focus, and he can’t afford any slip-ups against the quality of opposition he faces this year.

Stan Wawrinka: Should Stan be happy or relieved to have avoided Djokovic in the group stages? He is probably the only player capable of making a question of that this season. Beating Djokovic in the Roland Garros final solidified Wawrinka’s credentials as a genuine force, after his fortuitous win over Nadal in the Australian Open. A brilliant year punctuated by a few surprise losses but impressive titles, means that we never really know what to expect from Stan, except that he normally rises to the occasion in big events. Pushed Federer all the way in a tense semi-final in London last year, Stan will be looking to go one better in 2015

Rafael Nadal: After a comprehensive defeat to Djokovic at Roland Garros, followed by early defeats at Wimbledon and the US Open, some had begun to write Rafa off. Yet he is a true champion, and has signalled his return to somewhere near his good is not best form. He destroyed Wawrinka in Shanghai but lost to him in Paris. Finals in Beijing and Basel suggest he is in form, and played Federer close in the latter final. Gone is the almost afraid Rafa from the beginning of the year, replace by a force that could easily go all the way in London. He still dominates the head-to-head with all three in the group. He leads Murray 15-6, Ferrer 23-6, and Wawrinka 13-3. This might actually make him the favourite in this tight group.

David Ferrer. It is testament that Ferrer is yet again here this year. His participation in previous years has largely relied on playing more tournaments than just about any other player. Yet this year, an elbow injury curtailed his involvement in Wimbledon, and forced him to miss a large chunk of the season. He has instead relied on performing well in the events he has been able to play. No wins in three meetings this year vs Murray/Nadal, and did not face Wawrinka. He has a losing record against both Murray (6-11) and Nadal (6-23), and has lost his last three meetings with Wawrinka, even if he does still edge the head-to-head (7-6). Ferrer is a dogged competitor, but the feeling is his ability to earn wins in London will be more down to his opponent’s games than his own.

Group prediction: 1. Nadal 2-1, 2. Wawrinka 2-1, 3. Murray 2-1, 4. Ferrer 0-3

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1st December 2021: The Day Women’s Tennis Held China Accountable For Their Actions

With millions at stake, the WTA stands firmly behind their players.

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WTA CEO Steve Simon

Even with the threats coming from the WTA few were convinced that the governing body of women’s tennis would conduct one of the most significant moves in its history.

 

In a statement published on Wednesday, WTA CEO Steve Simon announced that all tournaments in China and neighbouring Hong Kong will be suspended with immediate effect. The remarkable decision is a show of solidarity with Peng Shuai who many fear is being censored by Chinese officials for accusing a former vice-premier of sexual assult. Something the country denies with state-backed media publishing videos and photos of the player. Even a recent video call between Shuai and the International Olympic Committee failed to ease the concerns of the WTA.

“Unfortunately, the leadership in China has not addressed this very serious issue in any credible way. While we now know where Peng is, I have serious doubts that she is free, safe and not subject to censorship, coercion and intimidation. The WTA has been clear on what is needed here, and we repeat our call for a full and transparent investigation – without censorship – into Peng Shuai’s sexual assault accusation.” Simon said in a press release.

The bold move has been hailed by many across social media ranging from tennis players to celebrities. Billie Jean King, who is the WTA’s founder, said the organisation remains ‘on the right side of history in supporting our players.’ Meanwhile, former world No.1 Andy Roddick tweeted ‘there are a lot of organisations who can afford to do something a lot more than the WTA Can.’ It is this point by Roddick that speaks volumes to the significance of their announcement.

Over the past 15 years China has injected millions into developing tennis within the country. It began during 1988 when tennis was brought back into the Olympics before Li Na’s mainstream breakthrough triggered a huge surge in interest. Various cities such as Wuhan, Li Na’s birthplace, started to invest millions in facilities in order to stage major events. As the years went by China wasn’t just a fixture in the calendar, it was instrumental for the entire WTA.

In 2019 China hosted nine WTA events which had a combined prize money pool of $30.4M. To put that into perspective the figure works out to be roughly 17% of the entire prize money offerings on the WTA Tour that year. It was also during 2019 when the WTA Finals started in Shenzhen as part of a lucrative 10-year deal which was valued at $1bn at the time of the announcement by The Sports Business Journal. However, the country has been unable to host another edition due to the COVID-19 pandemic and it was instead held in Mexico this year.

Perhaps from a cynical perspective, the pandemic showed to the WTA that they can still hold a highly successful Tour without relying on a single country during one period of their calendar. Would this influence their decision to withdraw from China in support of Shuai? Probably but they are unlikely to admit it. Not that the WTA doesn’t deserve widespread praise for their decisive action which put other governing bodies to shame.

There is also the question as to how will China respond? Will a country that has spent so much trying to promote tennis be prepared to make some deal with the WTA in order to get them to change their minds? In an ideal world, yes, but this isn’t an ideal world.

“I don’t think they (the WTA) have been paying much attention to what has been happening in Basketball and football in threatening the Chinese with Economic sanctions. It’s not going to work and part of the proof of the pudding was they were not able to get in touch with her (Shuai) and that’s her sport,” IOC council member Dick Pound told CNN earlier this week.

Pound has been a spokesperson for his organisation in defending their handling of Shuai and has told multiple news outlets that she is safe based on what the IOC interpreted from the video call. Ironically, he hasn’t seen the video himself and the IOC made no mention of the sexual assault allegations in their press release.

However, Pound’s remarks on China’s stubbornness is supported by past incidents. One of which involved Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, who made a comment in public supporting the democracy movement in Chinese-ruled Hong Kong. China’s CCTV stopped broadcasting NBA Games and the sporting body later apologised but it was 15 months before another Houston game was shown on TV.

Money and politics aside, there remains serious concerns about Shuai’s welfare. Whilst she had made headlines around the world, China’s state-owned media have not published a single article. Photos and videos of the tennis player have only been published on Twitter which is blocked in her home country. BBC analyst Kerry Allen has confirmed that Shuai’s Weibo account is still under restrictions. Users are banned from quoting, sharing or commenting on her historic posts.

It would have been so easy for the WTA to sidestep the Shuai case and label it as a domestic matter in order to maintain their relationship with the Asian country. Instead, they have backed their player despite the likely consequence of a financial loss should China not back down. Something that is both brave and inspiring.

Will the men’s ATP or the ITF follow suit and suspend business with China? Only time will tell on that front. The most important thing is trying to establish the true welfare of Shuai. Something the WTA is determined to do no matter what the cost may be.

December 1st, 2021 has been a historic day for tennis.

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WTA Suspends All Tournaments In China With Immediate Effect

In a statement WTA CEO Steve Simon says the decision has been made following concerns raised about the welfare of Peng Shuai.

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The Women’s Tennis Association has suspended all of their tournaments in both China and Hong Kong due to what they described as a failure by the Chinese government to address serious claims of sexual harassment made by Peng Shuai against a former senior official.

 

Shuai, who is a two-time Grand Slam champion and former world No.1 in doubles, published a post on her Weibo account on November 2nd accusing former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli of pressuring her into having sex with him. She also said the two have a one-and-off affair over a 10-year period. The post was deleted less than an hour after publication and her Weibo account is still under restriction. Shuai has not spoken in public since that post but has conducted a private video call with the IOC and two other members. One of which has links to the Chinese government. Meanwhile, state media outlets have previously published videos and photos of the tennis star claiming that she is well.

However, the WTA has repeatedly voiced concerns that Shuai is being censored by authorities due to the allegations she made against a former government official. CEO Steve Simon told reporters that he has repeatedly tried to contact Shuai but failed to get through. He has received two emails from Shuai, which was leaked online, purporting to be from her. However, the organisation believes Shuai wrote them under the influence of others.

“Chinese officials have been provided the opportunity to cease this censorship, verifiably prove that Peng is free and able to speak without interference or intimidation, and investigate the allegation of sexual assault in a full, fair and transparent manner. Unfortunately, the leadership in China has not addressed this very serious issue in any credible way,” Simon said in a statement.
“While we now know where Peng is, I have serious doubts that she is free, safe and not subject to censorship, coercion and intimidation. The WTA has been clear on what is needed here, and we repeat our call for a full and transparent investigation – without censorship – into Peng Shuai’s sexual assault accusation.”

Now in a dramatic turn of events, Simon has suspended all WTA events taking place in China next year after receiving backing from the board of directors. A sensational development given the country has generated millions of pounds in revenue for the Tour in recent years and has been a key area for their development as a business. In 2022 China was set to host 10 events which include the prestigious season-ending WTA Finals. A tournament which has the biggest prize money pool for women outside of the four Grand Slams. However, no tournament was held in the country in 2020 or 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“With the full support of the WTA Board of Directors, I am announcing the immediate suspension of all WTA tournaments in China, including Hong Kong,” Simon stated. “In good conscience, I don’t see how I can ask our athletes to compete there when Peng Shuai is not allowed to communicate freely and has seemingly been pressured to contradict her allegation of sexual assault. Given the current state of affairs, I am also greatly concerned about the risks that all of our players and staff could face if we were to hold events in China in 2022.”

The WTA has said that they are willing to do whatever it takes to protect their players regardless of the financial ramifications which may occur.

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Former World No.4 Johanna Konta Retires From Tennis

The multiple Grand Slam semi-finalist says she has run out of steam as she starts a new chapter in her life.

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Johanna Konta (@the_LTA on Twitter)

Johanna Konta has announced her retirement from tennis at the age of 30 in a statement published on her social media accounts on Wednesday morning.

 

Konta, who reached the semi-finals at three different Grand Slam tournaments, said her ‘playing career had come to an end’ in a statement which was titled ‘Grateful.’ A word she said she used the most during her professional career. The revelation comes after recent speculation about the British player’s future in the sport with some saying she will not be playing at the Australian Open. Konta hadn’t played a match on the WTA Tour since August due to a knee injury. An issue which has been bothering her in recent years.

“Grateful: This is the word that I’ve probably used the most during my career, and is the word that I feel explains it best at the end,” Konta wrote.
“My playing career has come to an end, and I am so incredibly grateful for the career that it turned out to be. All the evidence pointed towards me not ‘making’ it in this profession. However my luck materialised in the people that came into my life and impacted my existence in ways that transcended tennis. I am so incredibly grateful for these people. You know who you are.
“Through my own resilience and through the guidance of others, I got to live my dreams. I got to become what I wanted and said as a child. How incredibly fortunate I count myself to be. How grateful I am.”

Born in Sydney, Australia to Hungarian parents, Konta played for Great Britain since 2012 when she officially became a British citizen. She first moved to the country at the age of 14. During her professional career, Konta was the poster girl for British tennis after achieving a series of accolades. In October 2016 she became the first female player from her country to break into the world’s top 10 in over 30 years. A year later at Wimbledon she became the first British woman to reach the last four since Virginia Wade back in 1977.

“On behalf of the LTA and everyone involved in British Tennis I want to express my appreciation to Johanna for her hugely impressive career,” LTA CEO Scott Lloyd said in a statement. “To reach the semifinals of three slams and spend more time as British number one than any other woman since the WTA rankings began, shows the level of her achievements. We wish her well in the future, and hope that she will continue to play a role in British tennis in the years to come.”

On the WTA Tour Konta finished four seasons ranked in the world’s top 20 and achieved a ranking high of fourth in July 2017. She won a total of four titles with the most recent occurring at the Nottingham Open earlier this year. She also won two titles in 2017 (Sydney and Miami), as well as one in 2016 at Stanford. Konta was also a runner-up on five other occasions at the 2016 China Open, twice at the Nottingham Open, 2018 Italian Open and 2018 Rabat International.

A former Olympian, Konta recorded more than 20 wins over top 10 players throughout her career. Some of the players she beat include Simona Halep, Garbine Muguruza, Venus Williams, Agnieszka Radwanska and Petra Kvitova.

The physical demands of playing tennis at the highest level took their toll on Konta in recent years. In June she admitted that her knee problem may be a long-term issue she would have to deal with after not paying attention to the issue earlier on. She also dealt with other issues such as a thigh injury forcing her to miss the US Open in September.

“For me, it’s just about putting my emotional, mental, physical well-being in the position to put that energy and work in to be able to do that. It’s that link of being able to convince yourself to be in pain. I just ran out of steam for it,” Konta told WTA Insider.
“So when you get to that point, you can’t put your best self on display because you haven’t put in the work for it and you just don’t have the energy to put in the work for it.”

Konta, who made her pro debut in 2006, held the British No.1 spot for 5 years and 11 months consecutively which is the longest ever run since the WTA rankings was created back in 1975.

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