Juan Martin Del Potro began his latest comeback bid with an encouraging straight sets win over Denis Kudla. The highly anticipated return of the former US Open champion was one that the 27-year-old Argentine will never forget.
Del Potro has been sidelined from action for the past 11 months after undergoing a fourth operation on his wrist. Despite his injury woes, the hugely popular former world No.4 refused to leave the sport he loves as he documented his recovery with the use of social media. The determination from the Argentine have paid off with his first win on the tour since the 2015 Sydney International on Tuesday. The triumph was one that meant a lot for Del Potro.
“After all I’ve been through, it’s amazing for me, and I’d like to say ‘thank you’ to the fans,” Del Potro said following his win over Kudla.
“I enjoyed it tonight.”
The initial signs were good from the Argentine who was playing in his first match since the 2015 Miami Masters. His outstanding forehand was still in good working order as the 27-year-old produced a series of winners. There were also impressive signs in his service game against Kudla with the Argentine producing five aces and winning 78% of his service points. The performance of the 2009 US Open was what many of the Florida crowd were hoping for.
“It felt like I was playing in Buenos Aires,” The 27-year-old said about the reception.
“I was nervous before the match. It was a very important match for my career. Being my first match in 11 months, I think it was okay. . . . Maybe I can be dangerous again.”
Reflecting on his first match in almost a year, Del Potro was most than satisfied with things. During his press conference, Argentine media quoted him, saying that he was ‘impressed by the level he showed’. Explaining his successful return, the 27-year-old put it down to hard work and the support of his friends and family.
“I don’t do anything special. I think the only thing to do is work hard and if you do before a tournament you have more chance to feel good,” The former world No.4 said.
“I have a great family and good friends who support me all the time. They were watching my match on TV in Argentina; it’s very late there. I know they’re very proud of me. They know how sad I was in the past.”
Unsurprisingly, he has also ruled himself out of Argentina’s upcoming Davis Cup tie against Poland. Instead, Del Potro wants to focus on ‘adapting to the tour’.
In the second round the Argentine will play Australia’s John-Patrick Smith. Looking ahead to the match, Del Potro jokingly admitted that he didn’t know much about Smith.
“I don’t know him. I was for two years at home watching the Simpsons”. He joked with the media.
Match highlights: Juan Martin Del Potro ARG Vs Denis Kuda USA
EXCLUSIVE: Sasa Ozmo On How Serbia Has Reacted To Djokovic’s Visa Fiasco
UbiTennis looks into how the European nation has reacted to the decision by Australia to refuse Novak Djokovic a visa with the help of one of the country’s most well known tennis journalists.
Those who have ever looked into how to get accurate information about world No.1 Novak Djokovic would have come across Sasa Ozmo.
Based in Belgrade, Ozmo has professionally covered tennis for more than a decade and is a journalist for Sport Klub. He has spoken to Djokovic on multiple occasions, whether that is through press conferences or in one-to-one interviews. He has also written a book called “Sports Journalism”, which aims to help young students/journalists in the profession. During the ATP Finals last November he presented Djokovic with a copy of his book as a token of his gratitude for his role in helping him achieve his childhood dreams.
In recent days Ozmo’s name has gone around the world following the controversial decision to refuse Djokovic entry into Australia. He has either conducted interviews or written columns with Sky News, BBC Radio 5 live, Diario AS (Spain), ABC Radio Australia and The Daily Mail within the past week.
The 20-time Grand Slam champion is currently residing at the Park Hotel which is a quarantine facility in Melbourne. According to legal files submitted by Djokovic’s defence team, they say the tennis star was granted a medical exemption to play the Australian Open and had assurances that he could enter the country. The exemption is that he had Covid-19 within the past six months (he took a PCR test on December 16th) and therefore couldn’t receive a vaccination. However, Federal authorities are arguing that being unvaccinated isn’t a legitimate reason to enter the country and denies giving such assurances.
Djokovic’s Australian Open dreams now hang on the outcome of a court hearing which will take place on Monday. In the meantime, there is anger in his home country with protests taking place and political figures have thrown their support behind him. But what it is the situation really like in Serbia through the eyes of somebody who is experiencing it minute-by-minute?
Ozmo has been in Belgrade where he has witnessed the fiasco unfold. In an interview with UbiTennis he discusses how Serbians are reacting, if there is a fear of a surge in anti-Western views and the possibility that Djokovic might have attended some events after testing positive for COVID-19.
UBITENNIS: It has been four days since the news of Djokovic’s visa refusal broke. How has the reaction been to this in Serbia?
OZMO: Serbian society has reacted with a mixture of disappointment and anger. I think many of Novak’s fans, not only in Serbia, but millions around the world made their peace that Novak might not play the Australian Open this year. Then that exemption came and that got their hopes up. Only for things to go south very quickly.
I think people are mostly outraged by the way he was treated. Just imagine a different situation. If it was an Australian citizen in Serbia treated like this no matter the circumstances, what would the Australian media write and how would the western society react?
For eight hours he was promised rest (whilst in detention at the airport) but he was woken up after two hours. Almost being forced to sign that cancellation (of his visa). He was without his phone for three hours and then in the detention centre. People call it a hotel but it is a euphemism, it’s not a hotel.
It’s normal that people are outraged about it. Especially considering that he is the greatest tennis player their country has ever produced.
UBITENNIS: In the past, there has been various comments from the Serbian press that Novak is treated unfairly due to where he comes from. Now this has happened, is there a concern that there could be a rise in anti-western views in the country which far-right groups might capitalise on?
OZMO: I wouldn’t go that far as to make this so much political. This will eventually blow over and I personally can’t wait to go back and talk tennis. As far as the far right groups and political parties here go, I am glad that unlike many of the European countries there is no far far-right that has so many members in politics like in countries such as France. I don’t think this (Djokovic’s situation) will increase the level of anti-western sentiment (in Serbia) any more than it currently is.
UBITENNIS: In his legal files submitted to the Melbourne Court, Djokovic took a PCR test on December 16th. The following day and on the 18th he is reported to have participated in events or photo shoots. If it is proven that he did attend those events knowing he was positive, what would the reaction be?
OZMO: Novak is not obligated to share anything from his medical files and his brother said that he will never do that. I think it is in his best interest when it comes to his reputation is to clear this up. What was actually the timeline? When did he test positive?
They (Djokovic’s team) won’t speak up until the trial is adjourned but after that I can only assume that some explanation will be given.
UBITENNIS: It appears that Novak isn’t vaccinated and he has his views on this. Whilst some in the western world might be taken back by this stance, there may be a different perspective on this issue in Serbia. Do you think these cultural differences are playing a factor in the fallout?
OZMO: From what I can tell watching the news, this vaccine has had society polarised all over the world. There have been anti-vaccine protests almost all over the world. It is true that the vaccine rate isn’t as high as we hoped for Serbia. It’s about 50 percent but I don’t think it’s cultural differences. Sometimes when the Western world writes about Serbia they don’t understand the atmosphere in the society or the ambiance everything is happening in. For example, the Adria Tour. It looked scandalous from abroad but here simultaneously Serbia had a football match with 30,000/40,000 spectators. The measures were really lost back then. Sometimes people from the West can’t see what’s actually going on in Serbia.
UBITENNIS: Novak is regarded as one of the most mentally strongest players on the men’s Tour. How easy do you think it will be for him to recover from this?
OZMO: I don’t think this will have any negative long-term effect. Of course now he’s pi**ed and emotional. But in the long run, you know, he hasn’t always been a millionaire with a world No.1 in tennis. Once he was a kid and he didn’t have the easiest of childhoods in Serbia with the bombing, poverty and general atmosphere in society. He will be ok, as you said he’s one of the strongest athletes mentally ever.
Sasa Ozmo can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ozmo_sasa
EXCLUSIVE: Ian Pearson-Brown Survived His Demons, Now He’s a Driving Force In Making Tennis Inclusive
The tennis coach once struggled with his mental health whilst trying to hide his sexuality. Now he wants to prevent others from going through the same experience.
When he was younger Ian Pearson-Brown didn’t want to be gay, he didn’t want anybody to know he was gay and he even attempted suicide as a result of suppressing his sexuality.
Like many in England, he grew up surrounded by sport and was obsessed with it. In school Physical Education was his favourite subject, he had an affection for playing racket sports and football with his friends. Growing up during the 1980s and 1990s there were few openly LGBT athletes, especially in male sports. During this time tennis had Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova, who were both open about their sexuality.
However, this was no consultation for a boy like Pearson whose only idol was that of Justin Fashanu. The first back footballer to command a £1M transfer fee came out in 1990 but was subjected to harsh media scrutiny. During that period, there were also many misconceptions about AIDS and the LGBT community with one club requesting that Fashanu take an HIV test as part of his medical.
“When I was 13 and realized I was gay everything changed. PE became a lesson filled with anxiety. Male sport in that era was not the most welcoming of environments for anyone who was LGBTQ+ as Justin Fashanu would testify so I felt I had to choose between being into sport or being gay,” Pearson tells UbiTennis.
So which path did he initially choose? Sport was the route he went down and he has managed to form a successful tennis career. He has worked as a coach for more than 20 years and has been recognized for his work. In 2021 the former Newcastle University graduate was named Durham and Cleveland Tennis Development Coach of the Year.
Getting to the position Pearson is now has been hard work, both physically and mentally. Embarking upon working in tennis he concealed his sexuality for a long time in fear of the possible repercussions he may face from both his colleagues and those who he was coaching if he came out. Keeping a huge part of his life secret and the fear of being outed by others took its toll on him.
“I chose to deny my sexuality and live a lie until I was nearly 30,” he explains. “In that time I became a full-time tennis coach working in the North East. My own internal barriers and prejudices combined with a lack of role models in men’s sport led me to believe I couldn’t exist as my authentic self in Tennis.’
“I went through years of depression and anxiety. I attempted to take my own life. I was constantly worried if I was outed that parents wouldn’t bring their kids back to my sessions and my tennis mates would stop speaking to me.”
Pride in Tennis
At the age of 30, Pearson decided enough was enough and started working in tennis as an out gay man. He was encouraged to do so by his partner who is now his husband. The reception he received exceeded expectations and also for him sparked a revelation.
“I began to realise that Tennis does not have to be an intimidating environment for LGBTQ+ people if the subject is talked about openly. So I have spent the last 10 years putting time aside to try and change the culture in our sport.”
Pearson is the founder of Pride in Tennis. A network supporting all British-based LGBTQI+ tennis players, coaches, officials and fans which have been endorsed by the LTA. The initiative came about following an open letter issued by CEO Scott Lloyd asking how tennis can be more diverse. Spotting an opportunity he and a group of volunteers from around the UK has paired up with LTA to create Pride in Tennis which aims to promote, support and educate those about tennis opportunities for the LGBT community.
“Our vision is to make tennis in Britain an environment which is safe and inclusive for all LGBT+ players, coaches, officials and fans to be able to exist as their authentic selves with confidence and without prejudice.”
In February there will be an official launch for the network at the Roehampton Tennis Centre. The training base for many British players during the offseason and throughout the year. Covid-permitting, the event is set to feature keynote speakers, breakout feedback sessions, on-court tennis coaching and even a tennis competition.
Getting to this stage hasn’t been easy. It was less than two years ago Pearson spoke about his frustration of trying to generate enough interest from tennis officials concerning the LGBT community. In June 2020 he told Pride Of The Terraces ‘Whenever I suggest things that other sports are doing to promote visibility and inclusion, I get told ‘we don’t need to do that’, or ‘you don’t want to do that because it’s divisive.’
So what has changed since then?
“In a short space of time the governing body’s perspective has gone from ‘not recognizing the problem’ to wanting to actively challenge the barriers, stigmas and stereotypes that prevent LGBTQ+ people from playing sport,” he explains. “In terms of the general tennis playing population in the clubs and parks around the UK the culture will take time to change but we have plans to put resources and tools in place to help. We have already delivered training accessible to all LTA licensed coaches.”
Working with Newcastle United
Tennis isn’t the only sport where Pearson is fighting to break down the barriers. He is the co-chair of United with Pride, a Newcastle United LGBT+ supporters group that has an official partnership with the Premier League Club. He is also an ambassador for Newcastle’s United As One which encapsulates the club’s work in the fields of diversity, inclusion and welfare.
“In football where there is a more immediate need to tackle homophobic attitudes and behaviours. I have had to learn a great deal of patience when trying to change cultures entrenched in historic misogyny, racism and intolerance,” he explains when comparing tennis to football.
“I have had to learn to have a thick skin when faced with regular online targeted abuse. I have learned that you can’t just preach to the already converted allies but also to those who you may not see eye to eye with and engage with them in the hope of changing their views.”
Pearson has previously spoken on the BBC’s LGBT Sport Podcast about his work and to various other media outlets. Even more so in recent months following the takeover of Newcastle United by a group led by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund. In Saudi Arabia there are no laws regarding sexual orientation and LGBT people can be imprisoned.
Now the goal is to incorporate what he has learned from the world of football into the newly formed Pride in Tennis. Recently the ATP conducted a survey on the men’s Tour concerning attitudes towards the LGBT community. The governing body contacted Lou Englefield, who is the director of Pride Sports, a UK organisation that focuses on LGBTQ+phobia in sport and aims to improve access to sport for all LGBTQ+ people. Through their connection, they linked up with Eric Denison, a behavioural science researcher at Monash University’s School of Social Sciences.
“I was delighted to see that at both the Australian and US open’s there has been some dialogue and visibility work conducted by the ATP and WTA,” Pearson commented on the effort being made by tennis’ governing bodies.
“I would say they have come a long way since their official Twitter account unwittingly shared a TikTok containing homophobic slurs and stereotypes. Then taking a full 24hrs to release an apology.’
“However, it is a small step on a long journey to get to the point where the tour is safe for an LGBTQ+ male player, particularly with so many events being held in countries where it is illegal or socially unacceptable to be gay.”
Focus on the foundation of tennis
Pearson’s own personal difficulty in coming out as gay whilst working in sport is not an isolated incident, even though times are changing for the good. The Trevor Project is a nonprofit organisation focus on suicide prevention among LGBT youth in America. Their National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health in 2021 found that more than two thirds (68%) of respondents didn’t play sport for a school or community league or club. Among the 34,000 respondents a number said one of the reasons why they don’t want to play sports is linked to ‘discrimination or fear of LGBTQ-based discrimination.’
On the other hand, a study called Out In Sports extensively looked into the levels of acceptance athletes in the North American sports system receive when they came out to their peers. The comprehensive study was conducted by leading LGBT sports website Outsports, the University of Winchester and the Sports Equality Foundation. The study analysed responses of 370 athletes who were out to high school teammates, and 630 athletes out to college teammates from America and Canada. More than 95% said their teammates’ responses to them coming out were overall “neutral” to “perfect.” In tennis specifically, 89% said they received a positive response when they came out with the other 11% saying they received a ‘neutral’ response.
“My barriers were internal and went unchallenged by role models such as family members, teachers and coaches. Changes in relationships education and a zero-tolerance approach to homophobic, biphobic and transphobic behaviour in the PE environment will go a long way to help with this,” Pearson commented.
“In the absence of professional role models, (the women’s game may have some LGBTQ+ pioneers but they are still an underrepresented minority), we have to create allies at a grassroots level. Coaches wearing rainbow laces, and venues celebrating pride month.”
It is hoped that Pride in Tennis will be the frontrunner in driving this change in the UK. Their launch at the National Tennis Centre in Roehampton is set to take place on February 13th.
“We Hope to Convince Federer to Play”: the Presentation of the 2022 Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters
Director Zeljko Franulovic talked about next year’s tournament, scheduled from April 9-17
The 2022 Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters will take place from April 9-17, so it’s difficult to guess what the pandemic situation will be in six months. At the moment, however, the prevalent hypothesis is that all spectators will need a Covid Pass or to bring proof of a negative test before being allowed in the Montecarlo Country Club at Roquebrune, France. If some players will refuse the vaccine, then they will need to be tested regularly in accordance to the rules devised by the French government.
Other than that, there will be no surprises when it comes to the event’s logistics, since the Country Club has already added a new players lounge and a new press room in the past few years. In 2020 the tournament was cancelled, while in 2021 it took place behind closed doors (while still being televised in 113 countries); the last edition staged with a crowd, in 2019, sold 130,000 tickets, constituting 30% of the total revenue – another 30% came from the sponsors, 30% from media rights (a number that tournament director Zeljko Franulovic hopes to see increase) and 10% from merchandising.
While it’s early days to know whether the tournament will operate at full capacity, Franulovic has made it clear that the organisers are already planning to provide a better covering for the No.2 Court, whose roof has not been at all effective in the past in the event of rain.
The tournament’s tickets can be bought on the official website of the event, but Franulovic has already vowed to reimburse immediately every ticket “if the government and the health authorities should decide to reduce the tournament’s capacity.”
Ticket prices have increased by 2 to 3 percent as compared to 2019, ranging from £25-50 for the qualifiers weekend, £32-75 for the opening rounds, £…-130 for the quarterfinals and semifinals, £65-150 for the final, £360-1250 for a nine-day tickets. Franulovic claims that the prices are in line with those of the other Masters 1000 tournaments.
Finally, Franulovic supports Andrea Gaudenzi’s decision to create a fixed prize money for the next decade. While tournaments like Madrid and Rome are trying to increase their duration from 8 to 12 days, the Monte-Carlo director has claimed that he prefers to remain a week-long event, especially because his is not a combined tournament. As for the players who will feature, Franulovic hopes to convince Roger Federer to participate: “I’m certain that he will give everything he has to be able to stage another comeback on the tour, ma no one knows where he’ll play. However, I think that on the clay he should opt for best-of-three events like Monte-Carlo and Rome rather than the French Open.”
For this and more information, you can watch the video above.
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