Crushing The Italians In The Fed Cup, Rebecca Sramkova Is A Star In The Making - UBITENNIS
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Crushing The Italians In The Fed Cup, Rebecca Sramkova Is A Star In The Making

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Rebecca Sramkova (zimbio.com)

Written by Andrei Bucko

It is said Rebecca Sramkova serves stronger than any other female player in Slovakian tennis history with speeds of approximately 200KM. Within the past 12 months she has risen over 200 places in the world rankings as she closes in on the top 100.

 

The most unique fact about the 20-year-old is that all of her achievements have been guided solely by her father and without any cooperation with the Slovakian tennis federation. Her father even built courts for her to practice on, including one on grass! He believes the federation doesn’t help young players and some aged between 22-23 are still playing ITF events, standing 2-3 meters behind the baseline and getting the ball over the net. He wants his daughter to dominate, attack, be aggressive and create the points. But he doesn’t push, he wants her to understand what it takes to be a great player.

Sramkova is a member of the Empire Tennis Club Academy Trnava in Slovakia. It is the same place where rising star is Daria Kasatkina practices with her coach Vladimir Platenik, who use to mentor Dominika Cibulkova. The two players practice together at the venue, but Sramkova is no Cibulkova. Slovakia has never had a harder serving woman in tennis with speeds between 190-200 KM. Last year at the Wimbledon Championships, Cibulkova averaged 160KM.

She started to play tennis at the age of 6 with her father, who was a recreational player. Her father paid for her first practice session, which started her passion. She was always dreaming about having a professional career and believed in herself.

“As a child you always lose some precious time playing with peers or going out, but tennis gave me more than other my friends have. I learnt much more and I gained more than lost,” she said. “I love travelling, meeting new people, new experiences.”

Her first idol was Serena Williams and still is, from the men’s tour it is Roger Federer. She admires Serena’s power, her way of play, professionalism and patience. Sramkova doesn’t want to copy the world No.1, but like Williams her serve is the most important shot. Rebecca wants to be Rebecca, not a copycat, but she likes Serena style. She can see a lot of potential to improve her dangerous service, with more speed and more effect (placing, higher percentage, spin). She likes hitting hard and risking going for her shots.

She always wanted to skip junior tournaments and compete with women. After the Roland Garros 2014 junior quarterfinal, she decided with her father to give up juniors and play in pro events. She didn’t consider the junior competition important. You can’t compare the power, physicality and experience. Juniors play the ball across the net and try to get all back. Meanwhile, professionals dictate the game, combine, prepare the point and think more on the court. This is why it is harder today to break through from juniors. You also need much better fitness preparation to last longer otherwise you will not survive the challenges, mental or physical.

Fed Cup breakthrough

During Slovakia’s Fed Cup tie against Italy, she told the captain before the tie that it could be won without Cibulkova and she can beat both Errani and Schiavone with an attacking style. She was watching and following the Italian players in Melbourne and she said that they don’t play very fast. Sramkova was proven right as she defeated Errani 2-6, 6-3, 6-4, and Schiavone 6-2, 6-4.

Last month at the Australian Open Sramkova qualified for the first time for the Grand Slam main draw, winning 3 matches in Melbourne. Now she is looking to play in bigger tournaments against higher ranked players.

Embarking on the main stage of the WTA Tour is far from straightforward, but Sramkova is receiving valuable advice from compatriot Daniela Hantuchova. Hantuchova was an integral part of Slovakia’s winning spirit with her experience and advice. Daniela and Jeanette Husarova, the Fed Cup coach, are two team members of the 2002 Slovak Fed Cup squad, who won the trophy. Hantuchova’s success against Errani inspired Sramkova to attack Schiavone. She has also asked Daniela for advice about how to organize a season calendar at her age when climbing the ranks to break through.

Sramkova doesn’t have a coach, her father Jozef coordinates her preparation and she is hitting with her  sparring partners. As a member of the Trnava Academy she likes training there because she can play with intensity and against players like Kasatkina, Svitolina and Safarova. But she also hits at home in Bratislava.

Her tennis career is financed by her father and she doesn’t have an agreement with the Slovak Tennis Federation, except for the Fed Cup. She collected her biggest ever cheque advancing to Australian Open main draw this year – 50,000 Australian dollars.

The route to where she is now was tough. Her father was strict, didn’t let her go clubbing, go out, but she is happy and grateful for that, she understands the importance of professionalism. Her dream was to play in the Fed Cup, even more than a Grand Slam tournament, because she attended some ties in Bratislava and always wanted to represent her country. After her successful week at the Australian Open she knew she would be nominated for the recent tie.

Now that she has played the Fed Cup and hopefully established herself in the team, she wants to climb in WTA ranking as well and play Grand Slams main draws. Her best friend on tour is the other Slovak tennis player Natalia Vajdova, daughter of Marian Vajda, Novak Djokovic coach.

Sramkova is currently ranked 118th in the world and has won five titles the ITF Tour.

 

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Theodore (Ted) Lumpkin Jr. – A Tuskegee Airman And Tennis

Lead- Theodore (Ted) Lumpkin Jr. wasn’t a formidable tennis player and he was much more than a Tuskegee Airman as Mark Winters brings out in a tribute to an extraordinary individual who passed away in late December 2020…

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Annually, the third Monday of January, in the US, is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The national holiday celebrates the memory of the Baptist minister and Civil Rights activist who was assassinated on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee.

 

Ordinarily on MLK Day, I reflect on the experiences that I have had in life and in tennis. As an example, I think back to the time I spent with Arthur Ashe while attending UCLA. (Interestingly, King sent a letter to Ashe in February of 1968, praising his character, along with his commitment to Civil Rights. He concluded his message by saying that he looked forward to meeting him in person, which did not happen.) This year, included in my thoughts, were a salute to Naomi Osaka, who made a statement at the US Open without saying a word. She did it in a quiet and sincere manner by wearing social justice facemasks that protested a spate of police interactions throughout the United States that had left innocent men and women dead or significantly injured. She knew that turning a blind eye to injustice was wrong. It always has been.

On January 18th, my usual day of introspection was very different.  It changed dramatically after I learned that Theodore Lumpkin Jr. (known to most as Ted) had passed away on December 26, 2020. Word was slow to reach those in the tennis community concerning Lumpkin having lost his battle with COVID-19 just a few days before his 101st birthday. 

Readers are probably asking – What exactly does Theodore (Ted) Lumpkin Jr. have to do with tennis and for that matter, Martin Luther King, Jr.? 

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Here is the story. Actually, an overview of his life which could serve as an outline for the production of a documentary. Lumpkin was born in Los Angeles and while attending UCLA in 1942 he was drafted. As a Second Lieutenant in the US Army Air Force, the 21-year-old became a member of the 100th Fighter Squadron. Because of his poor eyesight, he was unable to qualify as a pilot so he served as an intelligence officer in the all-Black unit that was known as the “Tuskegee Airmen”. The name stuck like glue, because it was based in Tuskegee, Alabama. (They were called the Red Tails because the tails on their planes were painted red.) After World War II, thanks to their exploits and their courage they soon became revered. (As an aside, by the end of WWII, Lumpkin had reached the rank of captain. He remained in the Air Force Reserves until 1979 and retired as a Lieutenant Colonel.)

Coincidently, Tuskegee forms part of the foundation of the country’s tennis history. Beginning in the1890s, Howard University and Tuskegee Institute, (both Black schools) were among the first schools in the US to offer their students an opportunity to play tennis. 

On November 30, 1916 in Washington, D.C., players led by the Association Tennis Club of Washington and the Monumental Tennis Club of Baltimore formed the American Tennis Association. The organization came into existence because the United States Lawn Tennis Association had a policy of not allowing African Americans to compete in USLTA tournaments. Due to that exclusion, the ATA’s specific goal was to provide “People of color an opportunity to develop an appreciation for the gentlemen’s game”. 

When it came to tennis, Lumpkin wasn’t a top competitor. He enjoyed the game but for him, the sport offered much more. It provided him with the opportunity to develop meaningful relationships on and off the court. That’s why the people in the Los Angeles tennis community, particularly those who played at Harvard Park, became a part of his extended family. 

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Ronita Elder, Theresa Brown, Ted Lumpkin, Delores Simmons and James Walker

Lumpkin had spirit but it was dignified. Combined with his concern for those around him, these characteristics defined his quiet but captivating presence. It was one that resulted in the respect that he received from his tennis cohorts, though he was only a recreational player. 

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Harvard Park honored “Living Legends In Our Community” including Don Bly, Ted Lumpkin, Earthna Jacquet and Jean Richardson


Lumpkin was humble and rarely talked about the fabled Tuskegee Airmen. In an oral history though, he said that the “Airmen” endeavor was “an experiment…” It was an early version of the proven fallacy that “African Americans” don’t have the intelligence or skill to play quarterback in the National Football League (American football). In this case, it was the intellect or ability to be a combat pilot. The truth has been documented and the bountiful successes African Americans have realized in both endeavors is now a given, and it is backed up by facts.

In 2007, US President, George W. Bush honored the Tuskegee Airmen with the Congressional Gold Medal, the nation’s highest civilian recognition. Barack Obama, in 2009, invited the surviving Airmen to attend his first inauguration. In 2012, Lumpkin was inducted into the West Coast African American Hall of Fame. While he was pleased, it was clear that the acknowledgement didn’t defined who he always was.

With Lumpkin’s death, there are only eight Tuskegee Airmen surviving. Theodore (Ted) Lumpkin led an interesting, challenging and rewarding life. The essence of this man was goodness. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day this year, as always, is a tribute to more than just one man. Ted Lumpkin has passed on, but he will be remembered for the life he lived. Tennis lost a long-standing friend who helped pave the way for every person of color who came after him. May He Rest In Peace. 

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Andy Murray won’t travel to Australia

Andy Murray will miss next month’s Australian Open after testing positive for COVID-19 a couple of weeks ago.

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Andy Murray (@the_LTA - Twitter)

Andy Murray has made it official, he won’t be making the trip down under after working with Tennis Australia to find a viable solution to make it work.

 

“We’ve been in constant dialogue with Tennis Australia to try and find a solution which would allow some form of workable quarantine, but we couldn’t make it work.”

Murray was scheduled to fly to Australia with one of charter flights but due to a positive Covid test wasn’t able to make the flight and put his tournament in jeopardy.

Although he missed the chartered flights there was still a small chance he would play but had to workout an agreement with Tennis Australia to make it work. However it didn’t work and was gutted with the news.

“I want to thank everyone there for their efforts, I’m devastated not to be playing out in Australia. It’s a country and tournament that I love.”

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EXCLUSIVE: Inside The Melbourne Bubble – ‘Top Names Get Preferential Treatment But That’s Part Of The Tour’

Marcelo Demoliner celebrated his birthday in quarantine, his doubles partner isn’t allowed to leave his room for 14 days and he believes there is a difference in treatment between the top players and others. Yet, he refuses to complain about the situation he finds himself in.

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Marcelo Demoliner pictured during the 2020 Australian Open. image via https://www.facebook.com/mdemoliner89)

Like his peers, Brazil’s Marcelo Demoliner passes his time in Melbourne quarantine by training, sleeping, eating and posting amusing videos on social media.

 

Demoliner, who currently has a doubles ranking of world No.44, is required by Australian law to abide by a strict isolation period before he is allowed to play any professional tournament. Although he is allowed to train unless he is deemed to be a close contact of somebody who has tested positive for COVID-19. An unfortunate situation 72 players find themselves in, including Demoliner’s doubles partner Santiago Gonzalez

During an email exchange with UbiTennis the Brazilian sheds light on what he labels as an ‘usual experience’ that has prompted criticism from some players. Roberto Bautista Agut was caught on camera describing conditions as a ‘prison’ in a video leaked to the press. Although he has since apologised for his comments. Demonliner himself is not as critical as others.

“It is an unusual experience that we will remember for a long time,” he told UbiTennis. “It is a very complicated situation that we are going through. Obviously, it is not ideal for us athletes to be able to go out for just 5 hours a day, but mainly for the other 72 players who cannot go out, like my partner Santiago Gonzalez. They have a complicated situation of possibly getting injured after not practicing for 14 days, but it is what it is.’
“We need to understand and adapt to this situation considering Australia did a great job containing Covid.”

With three ATP doubles titles to his name, Demoliner is playing at the Australian Open for the sixth year in a row. He has played on the Tour for over a decade and has been ranked as high as 34th in the world.

Besides the players complaining about food, their rooms and even questioning the transparency of the rule making, Tennis Australia also encountered a slight blip regarding the scheduling of practice.

“I was a little lucky because I stayed in one of the hotels that we don’t need to take transportation to go to the training courts. It made the logistics issue much easier. The other two hotels had problems with transportation and logistics in the first two days, but I have nothing to complain about, honestly.”

Demoliner remains thankful for what Tennis Australia has managed to do in order for the Australian Open to be played. Quarantine can have a big impact on a person mentally, as well as physically. Each day players spend at least 19 hours in their hotel rooms which was no fun for the Brazilian who celebrated his 32nd birthday on Tuesday.

“Without a doubt, it is something we have never been through before. I’m luckily having 5 hours of training daily. I am managing to maintain my physical preparation and rhythm. It is not the ideal, of course, but I can’t even imagine the situation of other players who are in the more restricted quarantine.”

image via https://www.instagram.com/MDemoliner/

Priority given to the top names

As Demoliner resides in Melbourne, a selected handful of players are spending their time in Adelaide. Under a deal struck by Tennis Australia, officials have agreed for the top three players on the ATP and WTA Tour’s to be based in the city. The idea being is that it will relieve the strain on Melbourne who is hosting in the region of 1200 arrivals.

Craig Tiley, who is the head of Tennis Australia, has insisted that all players will have to follow the same rules wherever they are based. Although some feel that those in Adelaide have some extra privileges such as a private gym they can use outside of the five-hour training bubble. Japan’s Taro Daniel told the Herald Sun: “People in Adelaide are being able to hit with four people on court, so there’s some resentment towards that as well.” Daniel’s view is one echoed also by Demoliner.

“I do believe they are receiving preferential treatment, quite different from us. But this is part of the tour,” he said.
“The top tennis players always had these extras, we are kinda of used to it. We came here knowing that they would have better conditions for practicing, structure, hotels… they also have merits to have achieved all that they have to be the best players in the world. I don’t know if it’s fair, but I believe the conditions could be more similar than they are in this situation.”

Some players were recently bemused by a photo of Naomi Osaka that surfaced on social media before being removed. The reigning US Open champion was pictured on a court with four members of her team, which is more people than what those in Melbourne are allowed to train with.

https://twitter.com/mdemoliner89/status/1351079924719898632

As the Adelaide contingent continues their preparations, those most unhappy with them are likely to be the 72 players who are in strict quarantine. Demoliner is concerned about the elevated risk of injury that could occur due to the facts they are not allowed to leave their rooms. All players in this situation have been issued with gym equipment to use.

“I think that they will be at a considerable disadvantage compared to who can train. But we need to obey the law of the country, there is not much to do … until the 29th they will have to stay in the room and that is it,” he said.
“Whether it is fair or not, it is not up to me to say because I am not in this situation. The thing about having the other players who didn’t have contact with the positive cases to also stay in the rooms is the concern about the risk of injury, specially for singles players. It will be a tough challenge, especially at the beginning of the season.”

In recent days, officials have been holding video calls with players to discuss ways to address these concerns ahead of the Australian Open. Which will start a week after they are allowed to leave their rooms.

When the tournaments do get underway there are also questions about how the public will react to players who have made headlines across the country for their criticism of the quarantine process. A somewhat sore point for Australian’s with some nationals unable to return home due to the government restrictions. On top of that, people in Melbourne are concerned about a potential outbreak of COVID-19.

It is a very complex situation. I fully understand the reaction of the Australian population considering the recent events… the effect that the players are bringing, the risks to the population,” Demoliner said of the current circumstances.
“We know this and obviously they are concerned with the whole situation, which is still very uncertain. On our side, though, they did allow us to come here to play. It is important to remember that the decision to welcome us was approved by the Australian Government, otherwise we would not be here.”

Demoliner is one of three Brazilian doubles players ranked to have a top 100 ranking on the ATP Tour along with Bruno Soares and Marcelo Melo.

SEE ALSO EXCLUSIVE: Inside The Melbourne Bubble – ‘Players Can’t Act Like Spoilt People’

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