Is Grigor Dimitrov's return to the Top 10 in 2017 a foregone conclusion? - UBITENNIS
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Is Grigor Dimitrov’s return to the Top 10 in 2017 a foregone conclusion?

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Grigor Dimitrov’s early season form has made him a sure candidate to challenge the Top 10 (Zimbio.com)

Now that the dust has settled from the Australian Open, some of the rankings have a more fixed look to them, whilst some players positions are under threat from those who have enjoyed a good start to the year.

 

Yesterday Jack Sock stated his intention to challenge for a Top 10 position in the Emirates ATP rankings. Yesterday I assessed the current security of the current Top 10 (week of 27th February,) and identified Marin Cilic, and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga as the most vulnerable members, with Dominic Thiem and Stan Wawrinka possibly under threat later in the year.

However, if Cilic, Tsonga, or any of the others are to relinquish their Top 10 positions, then it means someone beneath must improve to oust them. This article is dedicated to examining players who could be considered in the frame, and assessing their capability to challenge.

  1. Grigor Dimitrov (ATP ranking No.13): Probably the favourite of most in the tennis community to break back into the Top 10 in 2017, after a sensational start to the year. After picking up his first title in nearly three years in Brisbane, and a semi-final run in the Australian Open where he came close to defeating Rafael Nadal, Dimitrov was already the in-form player of 2017. Add in his first Sofia title earned this month, and a quarter-final run in Rotterdam, and 2017 looks impressive already for a player who failed to pick up a title in 2015 or 2016. Much of Dimitrov’s improvement in his game and self-belief can be attributed to his new coaching team, which consists of former Andy Murray and Tomas Berdych coach Dani Vallverdu. Vallverdu has experience in assisting high-profile stars, and Dimitrov looks settled with him after mixed spells with Roger Rasheed and Franco Davin. Dimitrov did not go past the fourth round of any slam in 2016, including first and third round exits in Roland Garros and Wimbledon respectively. This leaves a lot of room to improve and relatively few points to defend. Dimitrov in his current form could be in the Top 10 within a matter of weeks, and could and possibly should be looking not just for a Top 10 ranking, but his first place at the ATP World Tour Finals as well.
  2. David Goffin (ATP ranking No.11): David Goffin epitomises good consistency on the ATP tour without as yet managing a truly outstanding tournament win. He was only once in the final of a tournament in 2016, losing to Nick Kyrgios in Tokyo, but went deep at a number of tournaments. He didn’t play Acapulco last year so could earn up to 500 points were he to win there. Yet the three most important tournaments for Goffin are defending the semi-final points he earned back-to-back at the year’s first two Masters in Indian Wells and Miami. If he manages to defend those points he then has a quarter-final run at Roland Garros to defend as well. If he can emerge from those events having saved all or most of those points, as well as add some titles possibly at 250 or 500 level, then he has a chance, but not a hugely favourable one. His issue remains taking on the Big Four in Federer, Nadal, Murray, and Djokovic. He is 0-15 against those opponents (5 defeats each to Federer, Murray, and Djokovic, he has never faced Nadal). The way the draws at the big tournaments go, he must improve on that record in 2017 to truly be considered a contender.
  3. Tomas Berdych (ATP ranking 14): A consistent member of the Top 10 for much of the last decade, Berdych has struggled to start 2017. He had the poor fortune to draw the lowly seeded Roger Federer early in the Australian Open, accounting for his drop out of the Top 10. Yet the defeat to Federer is not so concerning so much as the manner of the defeat. Berdych was made to look distinctly average by Federer, winning just ten games in the third round encounter. He has few points to defend before Roland Garros, just two Masters quarter-finals in the five events he played before Roland Garros. A quarter-final at the French Open, and a semi at Wimbledon are where the bulk of Berdych’s points are. The danger for Berdych is that the likes of Dimitrov and Goffin seem to have already eclipsed him, whilst one could also begin to make that argument for Lucas Pouille and Alexander Zverev too. If he doesn’t pick up some extra points in those Masters, Berdych could find himself slip further down the rankings before he even has a chance to defend his points in the middle slams. That could lead to tougher matches earlier in the draw than he is accustomed to. Overall, Berdych likely faces more of a battle to maintain his Top 15 ranking over 2017 than look back towards the Top 10.
  4. Alexander Zverev (ATP rank 20): A little further down the rankings but with the capacity to make up ground quickly, is the nineteen year-old German Alexander Zverev. He has already won a title this season in Montpellier, taking down the likes of Richard Gasquet and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in impressive fashion. He also took Rafael Nadal to five sets in the Australian Open third round. He is looking more and more like the finished article. Zverev also has relatively few points to defend at slams (not going past the third round in any last season). If he can improve his ranking to avoid any of the top stars until the Round of 16 before the French, then he must be favoured to go deeper this time. His close match with Nadal suggests he is now ready to compete regardless with the Top 10, and his wins over the likes of Gasquet and Tsonga suggest he can back up good wins. There are few negatives with him he serves big, moves well, and is consistent on both wings. He is not as tour weary as some and has the achievable goal of the Top 10 in his sights.
  5. Lucas Pouille (ATP ranking 15): Isolated as a young French talent, with most of his compatriots around him in the Top 100 the wrong side of the thirty, Lucas Pouille represents possibly the only French hope of a generation. The French public have much to be excited about though, as at 23, he is perfectly poised to make a run for the Top 10. Incredibly, this time last year he was forced to qualify for the Dubai tournament. As a result, he has few points to defend until the clay Masters, with semi-finalist points to defend in Rome, and a quarter-final to defend at Wimbledon. The Metz title and a US Open quarter-final also account for most of his points, with few deep runs at other tournaments. Pouille already has shown a capability to peak for slams, with two quarter-finals at that stage in 2016. With a more favourable seeding likely this year, and opportunities throughout the year at other events, Pouille looks a strong contender.
  6. Jack Sock (ATP ranking 18): Finally, the one whose comments started this discussion. The United States would love another player to break the Top 10. With John Isner the last to do it, and Andy Roddick and Mardy Fish the last pair to consistently hold down that ranking, the US has been devoid of positions at the top of the rankings for some time. Some of Sock’s numbers look very nice, especially starting 2017. Two titles in Auckland and Delray Beach, after Raonic retired hurt before the final, Sock already has more titles this year than in the rest of his career put together. Yet Sock has only twice in his career reached the fourth round of a slam. Some might say that that gives him a great opportunity to build points this year and it does. Yet at 24, he has had enough time to grow into the five set contests, and the lack of a slam quarter-final at this stage of his career is a slight question mark. However, he has never been ranked as high as No.18, an if he improves on his third round showings from last year at Indian Wells and Miami, could set himself up for a very high seeding at Roland Garros.  His game in theory translates well to all services, with clay and hard court titles to date. A contender to improve on his current ranking of No.18 certainly, but may just fall short of the Top 10 in 2017.

There are further contenders, such as Gael Monfils and Juan Martin del Potro, but the injury records of both these players leaves me pessimistic as to their longevity over the course of the season. Del Potro certainly could peak and reach a slam final, but that would likely be the only way he could climb so high, as his cautious attitude in protecting the wrist means he plays far fewer events than most of his competitors. Monfils plays more events when fit, but with this one of the mercurial Frenchman’s longest spells without serious injury makes me believe another is not far away. Monfils needs a season free from injury to even have a chance of competing for a Top 10 ranking, and I do not believe he can manage that.

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Does WTA Need A Top Rivalry To Drive The Sport?

Iga Swiatek is the WTA’s dominant world number one but does she need a rival in order to drive the sport to new heights.

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Iga Swiatek (@TennisHandshake - Twitter)

The WTA has a dominant world number one and a variety of talented players on the tour but the one thing it’s lacking at the moment is a top rivalry.

 

First of all it was supposed to be Bianca Andreescu and Naomi Osaka, then Ash Barty and Osaka and also Barty and Iga Swiatek.

However none of these match-ups created a top rivalry over a long period to generate an overwhelming amount of interest.

After Barty’s shock retirement, many people were left disappointed at the fact that her and current dominant world number one Iga Swiatek could not compete for the sport’s biggest titles in a fierce rivalry.

Now Swiatek sits at the top of the WTA rankings with almost a 4,000 point lead at the top. The rest of the field are very talented and that in itself is an intriguing aspect of the WTA’s appeal.

But the one thing the women’s game lacks is a top rivalry to generate a hype that the ATP clearly has right now.

As Mark Petchey said it’s an issue that needs solving soon as every sport has one, “Rivalries drive the sport. What they do is make sure that it manifests itself in a big polarisation of a large fan base, against another one,” Petchey was quoted as saying by Tennis365.

“You look across the board, over F1, look at the tribal nature of AFL, of Premier League football here. It’s a huge part of what you need to have a successful sport. That is the one thing that is missing from the women’s tour at the moment, is a superb rivalry, with a little bit of edge.

“That’s why I say I’m sad that Ash pulled up stumps, because I think that rivalry could’ve developed with Iga in that way. Would it have been quite as intense as the Rafa-Novak and Roger-Novak rivalries? Probably not. But it would have been there. Going into every major saying that you’re not looking forward to a specific clash potentially when the draw comes out, does hurt the tour a little bit. 

“You can’t keep saying ‘oh, anyone can win it’. Because you’re just not tagging anybody… you’re not setting the scene for something amazing that’s going to happen, a nice little volcanic eruption right at the back-end of a major. They need some people to be a bit more consistent and getting through, because that’s what will be a massive driver for the WTA.”

It’s hard to argue with those points of view from Petchey as rivalries are what are talked about for decades after players have retired.

It will be interesting to see whether Swiatek will continue to dominate the rest of the field or whether someone can build a rivalry with the Pole heading into the remainder of the season.

The next big WTA event of the year will take place at the Rogers Cup in Toronto on the week of the eighth of August.

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Why Celebrating LGBT+ Pride Month In Tennis Matters

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

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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.

https://twitter.com/the_LTA/status/1537788274890121216

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.

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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.

RAFA DIDN’T MISS ‘HIS SHOT’ OFTEN

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 COULDN’T HANDLE RAFA’S PRESSURE

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.

JOHNNY MAC: RAFA ‘INSANELY GOOD’

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 Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com. 

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