Reflections on the Australasian swing: Old-school success and new faces mean tennis as unpredictable as ever - UBITENNIS
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Reflections on the Australasian swing: Old-school success and new faces mean tennis as unpredictable as ever




Alex De Minaur was one of the young players to really impress at the start of the 2017 season (

With the conclusion of the Launceston Challenger overnight, it officially brings to an end the main Australasian ATP circuit for 2017. The Tour for now moves to the Americas and Europe, with events in Memphis, Buenos Aires, and Rotterdam signalling a move West for most.


So what has the first section of the season revealed in 2017?

Match-fixing rears its ugly head again. In 2016 a Buzzfeed/BBC investigative report claimed that corruption was rife in tennis, with allegations of match-fixing at high levels of the game surfacing just as the 2016 Australian Open got underway. The tennis world spent much of the next twelve months trying to repair the integrity image of the game. Thus, when Australian Open Junior Champion Oliver Anderson was charged with match-fixing in relation to a Traralgon Challenger event, it brought back awkward questions about how effective the efforts of the Tennis Integrity Unit have been in the last year. Anderson has been officially suspended from tennis activity, but the TIU has said as things stand this neither a confirmation of his guilt or innocence of the charge as of yet.

Australian juniors break the big time. Fortunately for the Aussies, there was much promising news to deflect attention from the Anderson story. Nick Kyrgios may have suffered a disappointing early exit, but Alex De Minaur and Omar Jasika both gave the home nation of the year’s first Grand Slam yet more promise for the future. De Minaur qualified for an ATP event for the first time at the Brisbane International, defeating Mikhail Kukushkin and Frances Tiafoe. He then defeated Gerald Melzer in a classic five-set thriller in the Australian Open first round, coming back from Melzer serving for the match in the fourth set to race through the fifth. Jasika didn’t excel at the same Grand Slam, having been dealt an unlucky draw with David Ferrer. However, he made a Challenger final in Happy Valley, and then won in Burnie to suggest he is worth as much attention as De Minaur. Other notable mentions go to Max Purcell, Marc Polmans, and Andrew Whittington, who all showcased the depth of tennis in Australia.

American Juniors rival the Aussies. Reilly Opelka, Frances Tiafoe, Noah Rubin, Ernesto Escobedo. These Americans are all under twenty-one and each distinguished themselves well at the Australian Open. With the exception of Rubin, they featured in their first Australian Open, all qualifying and three of the four making the second round, Opelka only narrowly lost a five-set thriller in the first round to David Goffin. Tiafoe, Rubin, and Escobedo all had hard second round draws with Alexander Zverev, Roger Federer, and David Ferrer respectively, and they bowed out at that stage. Yet it is the first real time that these players have qualified for a Grand Slam in their own right away from the familiar confines of Flushing Meadows. Rubin also followed up his run with the Launceston Challenger title.

Familiar, but unlikely names dominate as shocks reign in Melbourne. If you had said a decade ago that a Nadal-Federer final would seem distinctly improbable, you would have been laughed off. Yet the two stars have struggled with injury and form over the last two years and neither was expected to reach the finals. Yet shock defeats for Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic to Mischa Zverev and Denis Istomin respectively opened the draw up. Roger Federer ultimately took full advantage, winning a classic final against his old nemesis for a nostalgic tournament, also aided by an all-Williams clash on the Women’s side that saw Serena Williams move above Steffi Graf on the Open era titles list.

Fed can still last the distance. At thirty-five, many had begun to assume that Roger Federer could no longer cope with the demands of five-set tennis against quality opposition consistently. He lost at Wimbledon in 2016 to Milos Raonic in a five-set thriller and some had thought that his last chance had passed. Yet the Swiss maestro took down both Kei Nishikori, Stan Wawrinka, and Rafael Nadal in three of the last four rounds, with only a quick demolition of Mischa Zverev in the quarters a reprieve. Given the notorious heat of Australia, the quality of the opponents faced, and his ability to find a way to win in fifth sets, we have to assume that Federer is fit and able to compete with the best in five sets again. He didn’t have to face Murray or Djokovic, but that was their fault not his, and he beat all three of Top Ten opponents he faced in the draw. Injury and form may be a barrier to success, for Federer, mere age certainly isn’t.

New potential contenders emerge, questions arise about others. Grigor Dimitrov once reached the Wimbledon semi-finals in 2013, but the Bulgarian never really cemented his place as a genuine contender. After a enthralling semi-final with Rafael Nadal though, Dimitrov’s credentials must be re-examined. He took the Brisbane title, defeating Nishikori in the final there. Working with Andy Murray’s former coach Dani Vallverdu appears to have reignited the fire in Dimitrov and we will have to see how he does over the next six months to confirm if he has developed into a true contender, though the signs are promising. Alexander Zverev fought hard with Nadal, but cramped up in the fifth set. A struggle with Robin Haase in round one shows that the German still lacks the consistency to compete for the highest honours just yet.

The Australian Open must be considered a disappointment for Dominic Thiem, as the Austrian went down rather meekly to David Goffin in the fourth round. Clay is still considered his best surface, but he has a lot of points to defend, starting with Buenos Aires, and extending to a Roland Garros semi-final. He will be under pressure just to maintain his Top Ten ranking.

Player of the swing: Grigor Dimitrov

Disappointing for: Andy Murray/Novak Djokovic





Why Celebrating LGBT+ Pride Month In Tennis Matters

Besides the fancy rainbow-coloured clothing that is worn, there is a far more important reason.




Guido Pella during a Men's Singles match at the 2021 US Open, Wednesday, Sep. 1, 2021 in Flushing, NY. (Manuela Davies/USTA)

June is when players switch their focus from the clay to grass in order to tune up their preparations ahead of the prestigious Wimbledon Championships. But for some linked to the sport this month is also significant for another reason.


It is LGBT pride month which is an initiative that was originally created as a way to mark the Stonewall Riots which began on June 28th 1969 in New York. A series of protests took place in response to a police raid on the Stonewall Inn which was the catalyst in the fight for equal rights among the LGBT community. In the UK the first pride March was held in 1972 and today there are more than 100 events in the country annually.

Today Pride is about promoting equality in the world with various organizations taking part, including tennis. The British Lawn Tennis Association has gotten more involved this year by hosting a series of Pride Days at their ATP and WTA events. They have taken place on the Friday of tournaments in Nottingham, Birmingham and Queen’s. The final one is taking place this Friday in Eastbourne.

“We still live in a time when people don’t always feel like they can be open about their sexual orientation or gender identity, so the more we can do to show support and let them know everything is ok the better,’ British player Liam Broady recently said.

Some may wonder as to if Pride events such as these are necessary in tennis considering it is 2022 and lives for LGBT people have improved considerably over the years. However, there is still work to be done. One study called OUTSPORT found that 90% of LGBT+ respondents believe that homophobia and transphobia is a problem in sport and 33% remain closeted in their own sporting context. Another study conducted in recent years is Out On The Fields which found almost eight out of 10 respondents felt that an openly gay person would not be very safe as a spectator at a sporting event. Obviously, these findings vary depending on the sport and the country, but it still illustrates the seriousness of the subject.

In tennis, the WTA Tour has seen various LGBT role models triumph at the very top. Both Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova were some of the very first professional athletes to come out publicly during the 1980s which was a decade when misinformation about the Aids crises lead to the stigmation of the gay community. King said she lost all of her endorsements within 24 hours after being outed in 1981 and that was before the Aids crisis erupted. Navratilova also experienced similar misfortunes.

The WTA was founded on the principles of equality and opportunity, along with positivity and progress, and wholeheartedly supports and encourages players, tournaments, partners and fans’ commitment to LGBT+ initiatives,” the WTA told UbiTennis last week.
“The WTA supports LGBT+ projects across the tennis family, such as amplifying our athletes’ voices on this topic through the Tour’s global platforms, increasing awareness by incorporating the LGBT+ spirit into our wider corporate identity, among many other initiatives.”

The International Tennis Federation (ITF) tells UbiTennis the sport has a ‘proud history of advocating social change.’ The organization oversees the running of all junior events, Davis Cup, Billie Jean King Club and the Olympic tennis events.

“Inclusion is one of the ITF’s core values and a pillar of the ITF 2024 strategy. Tennis as a sport has a proud history of advocating social justice and instigating change. Within the tennis community, we embrace the LGBTQ community and full support any initiative, such as the celebration of Pride Month, that continues the conversation and furthers progress in ensuring sport and society are free from bias and discrimination in any form. There is always more that can be done, and we will continue to make every effort to ensure that all our participants, our employees and fans feel welcome, included, and respected day in, day out.” The ITF said in a statement.

Whilst the women’s Tour has had plenty of LGBT role models, it is different on the men’s circuit. At present there is no openly gay player in men’s tennis where around 2000 people have an ATP ranking. In recent months the governing body has looked into making the Tour more inclusive. Last year they reached out to Lou Englefield, 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 contacted Eric Denison, a behavioural science researcher at Monash University’s School of Social Sciences. Monash University supplied the ATP with a series of scientifically validated questions, which they used to ‘look under the hood’ at the factors which supports a culture where gay or bisexual players feel they are not welcome.

It has been over nine months since news of the survey taking place emerged but the findings are still to be published. In an email to Ubitennis, the ATP confirmed that they are ‘finalizing their next steps’ and will be making an announcement shortly. They acknowledge that the survey process has taken longer than expected but it is unclear as to why.

As for those who may be experiencing difficulty in their personal lives regarding their sexuality, Brian Vahaly has his own advice which he shared with Ubitennis last year. Vahaly is a former top 100 player who came out as gay after retiring from the sport.

“Find somebody to talk to, somebody you trust. Know that people like us are there if you have questions. It’s just nice to have somebody to talk to who can help you learn about yourself,” he said.
“What I try to do is in terms of putting my family forward is that we live a pretty ‘normal life.’ I have two kids, I have a house and I walked my kids to preschool this morning. It doesn’t have to be such a defining characteristic of who you are. In the sports world, it feels that it is magnified, but what I want to show is that you can have a great athletic career, meet somebody and have a family no matter your sexuality.”

Pride is as much about making sports such as tennis an open environment for everyone as it is about marking a series of historic protests which took place in America more than 40 years ago.

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It’s Unfair, Rafa Is Too Good In Roland Garros Final

James Beck reflects on Nadal’s latest triumph at Roland Garros.




Rafael Nadal - Roland Garros 2022 (foto Roberto Dell'Olivo)

This one was almost unfair.


It was like Rafa Nadal giving lessons to one of his former students at the Nadal academy back home in Mallorca.

When this French Open men’s singles final was over in less than two hours and a half, Rafa celebrated, of course. But he didn’t even execute his usual championship ritual on Court Philippe Chatrier of falling on his back on the red clay all sprawled out.

This one was that easy for the 36-year-old Spanish left-hander. He yielded only six games.

 It certainly didn’t have the characteristics of his many battles at Roland Garros with Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer.

It must have been a bit shocking to the packed house of mostly Rafa fans.


Nadal didn’t miss many of his patented shots such as his famed reverse cross-court forehand. He was awesome at times. Young 23-year-old Casper Ruud must have realized that by the middle of the second set when Rafa started on his amazing 11-game winning streak to finish off a 6-3, 6-3, 6-0 victory.

Ruud is good. The Norway native will win his share of ATP titles, but probably not many Grand Slam titles. If any, at least until Rafa goes away to a retirement, certainly on his island of Mallorca.

Rafa already has his own statue on the grounds of Roland Garros. Perhaps, Mallorca should be renamed Rafa Island.


Ruud displayed a great forehand at times to an open court. But when Rafa applied his usual pressure to the corners Ruud’s forehand often  went haywire.

Rafa’s domination started to show in the third set as Ruud stopped chasing Nadal’s wicked reverse cross-court forehands. 

Ruud simply surrendered the last three games while Nadal yielded only three points. Nadal finished it off with a sizzling backhand down the line. In the end, nice guy, good sport and former student Ruud could only congratulate Rafa.


The great John McEnroe even called Nadal’s overall perfection “insanely good.”

If Iga Swiatek’s 6-1, 6-3 win in Saturday’s women’s final over young Coco Gauff was a mismatch,  Iga’s tennis idol staged a complete domination of Ruud a day later.

It appears that the only thing that can slow Rafa down is his nearly always sore left foot, not his age. He won his first French Open final 17 years ago.

For Nadal to win a 22nd Grand Slam title to take a 22-20-20 lead over his friends and rivals Djokovic and Federer is mind-boggling, but not as virtually unbelievable as winning a 14th  French Open title.

James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award for print media. A 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at 

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At The French Open Rafa and Novak Lived Up To A Battle For The Ages




Rafael Nadal (photo @RolandGarros)

Rafa Nadal is simply amazing.


His herd of fans couldn’t have been more pleased with their hero on this day just hours from his 36th birthday. He was never better, his patented reverse  cross-court forehand a marvel for the ages and his serve never more accurate.

The presence of his long-time friend and rival on the Court Philippe Chatrier that he loves so much made Nadal’s victory over Novak Djokovic even more special. The 59th meeting between these two warriors was a match for the ages, marvelous play by both players. Some games seemed to go on forever, with these two legends of the game dueling for every point for nearly four hours in a match that started in May and ended in June.


The 6-2, 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 (4) victory sends Nadal into his birthday on Friday to face Alexander Zverev for a spot in Sunday’s final of the French Open. Win or lose now, Rafa will remain the all-time leader in Grand Slam singles titles until at least Wimbledon due to his current 21-20-20 edge over Djokovic and Roger Federer.

Nadal played like he could go on forever playing his game, but he is quick to remind that his career could end at any time. The always painful left foot remains in his mind.

But the Spanish left-hander has never played better than when he overcame a 5-2 deficit against Djokovic in the fourth set. Nadal sparkled with energy, easily holding service, then fighting off two set points with true grit, holding easily to get back to 5-5 and then holding serve at love for 6-6.


The tiebreaker belonged to Rafa for six of the first seven points. That was too tough a task for even Novak to overcome.

Rafa’s podiatrist must have felt relieved at least for now. If Rafa was in pain, he didn’t show it for the first time in quite awhile.

If Nadal could pull off the feat of taming the big game and serving accuracy Zverev displayed while conquering potential whiz kid Carlos Alcaraz, and then taking out whoever is left in the battle between Denmark’s young Holger Rune, Croatia’s veteran Marin Cilic, Norway’s Casper Ruud and Russian Andrey Rublev, Nadal might own a nearly unbeatable lead with 22 Grand Slam titles.

James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award for print media. A 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at 

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