This week the Grands Slam Board announced a number of revolutionary changes that will change tennis at the sport’s biggest events. Changes including a shot clock, and shorter on court warm-ups have been made.
Yet has the GSB missed a trick in all this change?
For years three of the four Grand Slams have engaged in the Reciprocal Wildcard Agreement. This Agreement sees wildcard places at the Grand Slam events exchanged between three out of the four host nations. For example, at the upcoming Australian Open, Tim Smyczek has won the wildcard through his results on the Challenger circuit, the way the United States Tennis Association awards its coveted prize. France will announce the recipient of theirs at an appropriate time, and Australia will then benefit with a wildcard at each of the French and US Opens respectively.
The key question is, should this Agreement exist at all?
Proponents of the agreement might suggest that it helps develop stronger relationships and firmer ties between the Grand Slams. Others might suggest that it reflects the contribution to tennis history that these nations have made. However, this doesn’t really seem to be a good enough reason to dole out a coveted position in the main draw of a Grand Slam.
Indeed, the Agreement seems almost an unnecessary monopoly by some of the biggest nations in tennis. Considering that these nations have a natural tendency to offer the majority of the wildcards at their event to home players, it seems strange that they should be afforded the luxury of yet another wildcard at other slams. Being awarded a wildcard should be an honour, a reflection of great talent or proven ability, as these are the only real reasons that could possibly justify handing out a coveted place at a grand slam.
Wimbledon has in the past seemed better in its decision-making. Until 2015 the tournament usually did not offer wildcards to home players unless they met stringent criteria, including a ranking of inside the Top 250 of the ATP/WTA rankings. It was changed to reflect the fact that Wimbledon views an upcoming generation of British players worthy of chances in the future. The principle was very sound, even fair. Wimbledon is also the only Grand Slam to not currently partake in the Reciprocal Agreement.
If the GSB board was to scrap the Agreement, what could take its place?
There are a number of ideas about how the wildcard could be better, and more fairly, used. One idea could be to follow the line taken by the Olympic Games. These tournaments reserve wildcards for smaller, nations that have less funding, access to funding, or local tournaments to benefit their players. This principle saw Slovakia’s Andrej Martin, Bosnia Hrzegovina’s Mirza Basic, Moldova’s Radu Albot, and the Bahama’s Darian King all receive wildcards after their pre-tournament rankings failed to gain them entry.
It seemed to pay off, as both Albot and Martin progressed past the first round, with Martin making it to round three. Yet progression is not necessarily the overall point, (though it would give weight to the decision if the individual progressed.) The point is that these wildcards make tennis far more inclusive. We might not expect a player from Kazakhstan, Panama, or Vietnam to win a grand slam but it would be a great move in the game today to see players from such nations afforded a rare piece of luck that so rarely comes their way compared to others. Of course, the player who is to be the recipient of such a wildcard must have a strong professional tennis ability, so a prerequisite criteria of a ranking inside the Top 300 would be sensible.
There seems to be a attempt to install something like this in tennis at present. The Australian Open hosts an Asia-Pacific Play-Off where sixteen players (excluding Australians) partake in a tournament with the winner earning a wildcard for the main draw of the Australian Open. It is worth mentioning that the winner for the 2017 wildcard was none other than Uzbekistan’s Denis Istomin, who would go on to stun defending champion Novak Djokovic in the second round on his way to an eventual fourth round run.
Yet the Australian Open seems to be the only tournament at present that explores this at present. In an age where tennis seems to be all about change, one of the most glaring issues stepped in recent tennis history seems to be surviving for no discernible reason.
UBITennis Has An Instagram Page!
UBITennis has it’s own Instagram page here are the details on how you can follow our content!
UBITennis.net has its own Instagram page with 243 followers already in the last year!
This is where you can follow the growing page:
The page creates content to do with all the latest news such as stories such as Novak Djokovic’s recent visa saga and any tournament withdrawals.
There are also match results from the grand slams as well all of the major tournaments.
There are also quotes pieces and engaging pieces of content to attract the audience and gain engagement.
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Emma Raducanu Needs Less Hype And More Consistency To Be Among The World’s Best
COMMENT: Raducanu is a sensation of tennis, but she has a way to go to become a great.
Three months have passed since the world of tennis was stunned by the run of a British teenager at one of its most prestigious events.
Emma Raducanu entered the US Open surrounded by hype following her performances earlier in the year. In June she made her WTA main draw debut at the Nottingham Open before going to to reach the fourth round at Wimbledon as a wild card. Becoming the youngest British woman in the Open Era to do so. Unfortunately, her fairytale journey at The All England Club didn’t have a happy ending as she was forced to retire from her last 16 match due to illness which was worsened by high anxiety.
Now in the limelight for the first time, Raducanu continue plucking away on the Tour in North America where she was runner-up at a WTA 125 event in Chicago. This would however be the precursor to the biggest achievement of her career to date. Entering the US Open qualifying draw, the teenager stormed to her first major title without dropping a set in 10 matches played. Those she defeated included Olympic champion Belinda Bencic and Maria Sakkri. In the final she downed Leylah Fernandez, who at the time was also on a sensational run after beating a series of top 20 players.
“For me, I don’t feel absolutely any pressure. I’m still only 18 years old,” Raducanu said shortly after her US Open triumph. “I’m just having a free swing at anything that comes my way. That’s how I faced every match here in the States. It got me this trophy, so I don’t think I should change anything.”
After her New York triumph, Raducanu’s wealth rocketed thanks to a surge of endorsements from the likes of Dior, Tiffany & Co., Evian and British Airways. In the UK she was a household name after being on the front pages of every major newspaper. In December she won the prestigious BBC Sports Personality of the Year award which is ultimately decided by a public vote. It is also widely reported that she is in line to receive an MBE in the New Year’s Honours list.
2021 has been the year of Raducanu but what about the future?
There is no doubt that the 19-year-old has what it takes and she has proven this. Tennis great Martina Navratilova has described her as the ‘whole package’ and Billie Jean King says the youngster is ‘the real deal.’ But is the world of tennis getting carried away?
The WTA Tour has a reputation for its unpredictability with numerous players excelling at the very top and then there is a lull. Since 2015 eight women have won their maiden major title without going on to claim a second. Not counting Raducanu’s win at the latest major. Sloane Stephens was tipped to become the next Serena Williams following her 2017 triumph in New York and Bianca Andreescu looked destined to be the best in the world before injury struck.
Perhaps the most appropriate way to describe Raducanu is as a potential star in the making and not a sporting heavyweight. This isn’t to criticise or to devalue her extraordinary achievements but it brings things into perspective.
“Only March the 18th was my first session on court in 2021,” Raducanu reflected prior to the start of the Linz Open in October. “And so January, February, March I was literally just sat on my desk staring at a wall for nine hours a day. So I feel like where I am now I just need to really take it all in and enjoy because looking back at how far I’ve come it’s pretty surreal. I just really need to enjoy it because when I was in the beginning of the year I would have never thought this was possible. I’m kind of just really living in the moment right now I feel.”
In 2017 Jelena Ostapenko became the first unseeded woman in the Open Era to win the French Open. It remains her biggest achievement to date and since then the Latvian has failed to shine in any other Grand Slam. In fact, she has only managed to progress beyond the third round in two out of 13 attempts.
“When players don’t know you and you’re the underdog in every match, you have nothing to lose against the top players and that can help you to play really well,” Ostapenko told The Independent. “My opponents didn’t know me that well, because I was still new to the tour. But after I won in Paris, everyone knew me and they knew how I played. They knew how to prepare to play against me, so that was way harder for me.”
”The situation turns around when you’re the Grand Slam champion. You’re the favourite and it’s your opponents who have nothing to lose against you. That’s the hardest part of it all.”
Sometimes it is very easy to get caught up in the moment and not look at things from a wider perspective. Raducanu has proven that she has the ability to win the biggest tournaments in the world and produces tennis that millions around the world only dream of having. But she is still young and is yet to spend a full year on the Tour.
As 2022 beckons Raducanu will be guided by Torben Beltz who is known for his work with Angelique Kerber. Many will be talking up her chances of winning the Australian Open but is it the right thing to do?
Historically many players have become media sensations overnight if you look at the performances of Stephens and Ostapenko when they won their maiden Grand Slams. However, those who are referred to as greats of the games are the ones who are able to replicate this on multiple occasions and consistently.
Only time will tell if Raducanu will be known as a sensation or as a great. The important thing for Raducanu in 2022 isn’t how she fares at the Australian Open, it is how she performs at every Grand Slam throughout the year.
As former world No.1 King once said – “Champions keep playing until they get it right.”
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.
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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