On the Controversy Over Margaret Court Arena
The holder of 24 Grand Slam singles titles (and 64 overall, counting doubles and mixed), Margaret Court, has come under fire for years for her opinions against homosexuality and her willingness to express those opinions publically. Ubi’s Adam Addicott gave us a rundown of the situation, and it’s likely that we’re going to hear more about it as the Australian Open gets underway. It’s worth your time to listen to Jon Wertheim’s podcast with Mary Carillo, too, as they discuss the issue in a thought provoking, nuanced fashion.
I have no patience for Court’s opinions. The calls by (and for) players to not play on Margaret Court Arena are misguided, however, and a few analogies illustrate why:
- Does a pro’s playing at the O2 Arena honor O2?
- Is playing on a court with a Kia advert around it, or one for PNB Paribas, demonstrate a player’s personal endorsement of that company’s activities? (PNB Paribas was cited for setting up off-shore tax havens for clients in the Panama Papers, for example.)
- When the ATP tournament in Washington, D.C., is held a the William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center are the players honoring Fitzgerald? (Do they even know who he was?)
- Should the National Basketball Association’s Philadelphia 76er’s and the National Hockey League’s Philadelphia Flyers not play at the Wells Fargo Arena because Wells Fargo was fined for practicing discrimination against African-American and Hispanic borrowers?
I’m pretty sure the answers are “No,” in every example.
Should Tennis Australia remove Court’s name from the court? That’s a different discussion, and it should be enjoined. At the moment, though, players and others are conflating simply competing on a tennis court with the act of honoring who or whatever the court might be named after. They’re not the same thing.
Iga Swiatek’s Ultimate Reflection: From Rome Heartbreak To Breakthrough Triumph
Iga Swiatek ultimate reflection has taught us the physiological demands of being an athlete.
Iga Swiatek’s life has changed over the last few years and now the world number one reflects on the defeat that defined the success that followed over the last few years.
Picture the scene. It was the 15th of September, 2020. The world was continuing to go through a traumatic time with the COVID-19 Pandemic six months in and tennis had just restarted a few months earlier in America.
A young 19 year-old called Iga Swiatek had just burst onto the scene having dominated the ITF tour and also conquered Grand Slam juniors. The Pole had won Roland Garros doubles with Caty McNally and followed that up by winning Wimbledon in singles.
Swiatek’s transition to the main tour was taken to like a duck to water as she reached her first final in Lugano in 2019 in April. That was followed by a decent showing at Roland Garros, reaching the last 16 before being demolished by former champion Simona Halep.
However at a young age, Swiatek had showed she can compete with the very best and more success was predicted for the Pole in the future.
Although nobody would predict was about to follow over the next few years with Swiatek eventually winning two Roland Garros titles and becoming one of the most dominant world number one’s in recent history.
Before we get to tennis domination, Swiatek had to go through what every athlete has to go to and that’s defeat.
It was in the Italian capital right before Swiatek’s first Grand Slam title in 2020 that the Pole suffered a massive setback as she would lose the most significant match in her career.
On the 15th of September 2020, Iga Swiatek went out in the first round to Arantxa Rus 7-6(5) 6-3.
A shocking defeat for Swiatek, who had high expectations for Rome and was looking to build some last minute momentum before her favourite Grand Slam of the year.
It was a career defining defeat for Swiatek though as she would win Roland Garros a few weeks later, claiming her first of three Grand Slam singles titles so far.
Three years later, Swiatek returned to Rome as the world number one and as defending champion ahead of her second Roland Garros title defence coming up in Paris.
In the Italian capital, Swiatek gave the ultimate reflection of that defeat to Rus that changed her career:
“Well, it wasn’t easy honestly. It was pretty tricky part of my career. I mean, I just started, but career,” Swiatek reflected on after her 6-0 6-0 demolition of Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
“Well, this match, I remember it like a pretty traumatic one. She played, like, high balls. It really worked here on this slow surface. I couldn’t manage that properly. I was making a lot of mistakes. I didn’t feel really well.
“Then I remember we had some serious talks with the team on what to change and how to, like, reset, what I should do to feel a little bit better. I came home to practice, and that period of time wasn’t, like, easy at all. I also probably had some expectations because it was clay and I knew that I can do better. Yeah, it was really, really hard.
“Even when I came on Roland Garros, I remember just being on the Jean Bouin before the tournament, practicing there. I literally had the talk with Daria if it makes sense to continue everything because I felt so bad. I felt like, I don’t know, my expectations were just pretty high. I felt really bad on court. Always tense and stressed, even when I was practicing.
“I was able to kind of just really, really reset and let it go. I remember I was practicing I think with Kiki Mladenovic. We made a bet, me and Daria, if I’m finally going to have one practice that is going to be without any drama. I don’t remember what’s bet was for, but I remember it was about not having drama on practice, just playing one practice that is going to be calmer than most of my practices, but this is the goal.
“Since then, I managed on this tournament to kind of let everything go. Honestly, when I played my first rounds in Roland Garros 2020, I thought I played so bad that I can’t go lower, so I’m just going to play and see how it goes. Then I won couple of matches. I was like, Okay, what’s going on? Why am I suddenly winning?
“I managed to keep that till the end of the tournament. That’s why my win last year on Roland Garros felt much more special, because I felt like I’m in the right place. In 2020 it all felt like it’s like a big coincidence that I’m even here in the final of Roland Garros, for example. It was a tough time for me.
“Looking overall, I wouldn’t say that my 2020 season was good. I would say I only played well on Roland Garros. I don’t even know why, so… I’m pretty happy that I, like, worked through that experience and actually understood that lowering expectations, just letting everything go, was honestly the key. I tried to repeat that throughout all these years.”
Swiatek’s answer to a question about a defeat that defined her career shows her maturity and world-class talent on and off the court.
A teenager to identify her vulnerabilities and weaknesses is not easy let alone bringing people in to work on solutions.
Swiatek’s Roland Garros victory in 2020 was the start of a few years of success but almost ended in dramatic fashion having gone through stress throughout the tournament.
However it was a blessing in disguise as the Pole was able to identify long-term solutions for problems that relate to stress for the future as well as creating an environment that proves that she can still win the big tournaments.
Now Swiatek is stronger mentally than she ever has been, who knows if she’ll win a fourth Grand Slam title in Paris this year but the formula has been set for future success.
Swiatek’s ultimate reflection has taught us that the Pole is well on course to dominate the sport and create a legacy for many other young athletes on how to diagnose psychological problems.
Reviewing Rome On The Road To Roland Garros
Steve Flink reviews Rome and names who the favourites are ahead of the second Grand Slam of the season in Paris.
In the end, it all came down to a final round skirmish in Rome between the rapidly advancing Danish competitor Holger Rune and the revitalized Russian Daniil Medvedev for the highly coveted 2023 Italian Open singles title. Medvedev upended Rune 7-5, 7-5 with a first rate performance, securing a service break in the last game of the opening set and twice battling back from a break down in the second set, and ultimately establishing himself as a worthy champion.
He had never won a match in three previous visits to Rome. But in capturing the title so magnificently, Medvedev made it abundantly clear to both his followers and rivals that he will present a new version of himself at Roland Garros as a man more than capable of winning the tournament, no longer doubting what he can accomplish on clay, realizing that this just might be his time.
It took some clutch play in both sets from Medvedev to get a difficult job done against Rune in Rome. Behind 0-30 at 1-1, he collected four points in a row. At 2-2, he was down 15-40 but lifted himself out of that precarious territory with three consecutive unstoppable first serves followed by a nifty swing volley winner.
Rune, meanwhile, was holding comfortably until the last game of that opening set. Serving-and-volleying craftily with some regularity up until that juncture, he kept Medvedev at bay, eliciting a surprising number of return errors from his adversary.
But with the Danish competitor serving at 5-6, Medvedev at last found an opening, and exploited it to the hilt. With Rune facing a break point for the first time, Medvedev met the moment ably. Rune released a backhand drop shot down the line that sat up invitingly for the Russian, who came forward swiftly to unleash a cleanly executed forehand crosscourt winner. The set belonged to Medvedev 7-5.
And yet, Rune went ahead 2-0 in the second set, breaking Medvedev at love, holding at 30, looking confident with his uncanny balance of control and power. Medvedev retaliated, capturing the next three games, sweeping 12 of 15 points in the process, taking a 3-2 lead. Now Rune went on a three game spree of his own to regain the ascendancy with a 5-3 scoreline in his favor.
The highlight of that stirring stretch from the Danish player was the first point of the seventh game, when he prevailed in a 38 stroke exchange. All rally long he had rolled backhands crosscourt in a war of patience with the Russian, but Rune ended that exchange with a blazing backhand winner up the line.
The loss of that point seemed to send Medvedev into a psychological tailspin for a while, but he recovered his emotional equilibrium just in the nick of time, putting everything on the line to prevent a third set, winning four games in a row to close out a gripping account. Medvedev held at 30 for 4-5, broke Rune in the tenth game at 30 by fending off a fierce backhand from his adversary and coaxing an error. At 5-5, Medvedev sent an ace down the T at 30-40, made it to 6-5, and then broke a dispirited Rune at 15 in the final game as the 20-year-old imploded with four unforced errors.
Overcoming a clay court player of Rune’s prowess in a hard fought 7-5, 7-5 final round appointment was a seminal moment for Medvedev on that surface, but his win over Stefanos Tsitsipas by the same scores in the penultimate round was nearly as impressive. The two players endured terribly long and draining rain delays. Even when they were out on court the rain fell almost incessantly.
Tsitsipas rallied from a break down to reach 5-5 in the opening set, and then led 40-0 in the eleventh game. But he was not nearly as sturdy from the backcourt as his adversary, making a string of unjustifiable errors on the next four points and double faulting the game away.
Tsitsipas rallied from a break down in the second set as well, but Medvedev took three consecutive games from 4-5 to close out the match, breaking into a bizarre dance step to celebrate his hard earned victory. Rune won his semifinal in a stunning comeback against Casper Ruud. The Norwegian had won all four of his previous career clashes with Rune.
Although Ruud has struggled inordinately this season after unexpected final round appearances in 2022 at Miami, Roland Garros and the U.S.Open, he was exemplary against Rune until he led by a set and 4-2 over his rival. Serving at 4-3, Ruud, so impenetrable until then, faltered flagrantly from the baseline, making a pair of unprovoked mistakes to give away that game. Rune took ten of the last twelve games for a 6-7 (2), 6-4, 6-2 win as Ruud turned into a much tamer individual. Losing his second set lead was a devastating blow to the Norwegian.
For most of the leading players, Rome was the last tournament they would play before moving on to Roland Garros at the end of the month, although the results meant more to some marquee names than it did for others.
Let’s start with Carlos Alcaraz. Making his debut in Rome, the sprightly Spaniard was seen as the favorite in the eyes of many seasoned observers. He had been victorious in Barcelona on the dirt, eclipsing Tsitsipas in the final. Confident after claiming that title, he then came through purposefully at the Masters 1000 event in Madrid, overcoming the 33-year-old German lucky loser Jan-Lennard Struff in a three set final. Defending his crowns in each of those Spanish cities lifted the sprits of Alcaraz considerably. He came into Rome brimming with self conviction.
But the 20-year-old was upended in the third round of Rome in one of the year’s biggest shockers. Facing Fabian Marozsan, Alcaraz was caught off guard by the potency of the Hungarian’s ground game and serve. Marozsan, a 23-year-old ranked No.135 in the world, was unrelentingly explosive from the backcourt and cagey as well, implementing the drop shot with supreme disguise— much to the dismay of Alcaraz.
Marozsan had barely survived in the first round of the qualifying, emerging with a hard fought 6-0, 2-6, 7-5 victory over Kazakhstan’s Timofey Skatov. In the second round of the main draw, Marozsan barely survived a 4-6, 6-1, 7-6 (4) encounter with world No. 39 Jiri Lehecka. But, given the chance to play with absolutely nothing to lose against Alcaraz, Marozsan was a player of a different ilk. He controlled his firepower commendably, kept the Spaniard off balance and ill at ease, and held his nerve remarkably well.
Marozsan took the first set and was up a break in the second, serving at 4-3. Only then did the reality of what he was on the verge of achieving seem to sink in. Alcaraz broke back and soon they moved on to a tie-break. When the Hungarian fell behind 1-4 in that sequence, his upset bid looked over. But, improbably, he swept six points in a row to complete a stunning 6-3, 7-6 (4) triumph over the dynamic Spaniard.
Frankly, I believe that defeat will not harm Alcaraz in the least. Had he gone deep into the draw at Rome and perhaps secured the title, he might have left himself vulnerable to an injury or even drifted into overconfidence. Losing early will enable Alcaraz to be fully rested and ready for Roland Garros. The great players never like losing, but this one may have been timely for Alcaraz. He will get over it in a hurry.
As for Novak Djokovic, he wanted more out of Rome than he got, although the week was not a disaster. After only winning one match in Monte Carlo and one more in Bosnia while dealing with lingering elbow issues, the six-time (and defending) Italian Open champion seemed somewhat healthier in Rome. He reached the quarterfinals with wins over Tomas Martin Etcheverry, Grigor Dimitrov, and Cameron Norrie. He played well in his 6-3, 6-4 victory over Norrie.
But Djokovic was never really himself during a 6-2, 4-6, 6-2 loss at the hands of an enterprising Rune. Most surprising was the Serbian’s third set performance. He had returned from a rain delay in the tenth game of the second set to break Rune and make it one set all. But he lost his momentum quickly, falling behind 0-4 in the third set.
The wet conditions did not help as Rune skillfully countered the Serbian’s best baseline punches, but Djokovic also asked for a pain killer at one stage from the trainer. He was both impatient and undisciplined. He has an awful lot of work to do en route to Roland Garros after another subpar showing, but the two-time French Open victor will have time to play his way into top form in Paris as long as his body cooperates.
The way I look at it, Alcaraz, despite his Rome setback, remains the clear favorite to prevail at Roland Garros. He was victorious at the last major he played last September at the U.S. Open, establishing himself as the first teenaged male player to garner a Grand Slam singles title since Rafael Nadal broke through at Roland Garros in 2005. Considering that an injury kept Alcaraz out of the Australian Open earlier this year, his motivation to rule on the red clay in Paris this year will be even greater.
In my view, Djokovic is the second most likely to succeed— even with all of the heavy baggage he is carrying around now after a lackluster clay court season and the lingering questions surrounding his current physical state. Nevertheless, his Roland Garros record includes titles in 2016 and 2021, and four final round showings. Three of those title round losses were against the redoubtable Rafael Nadal, who is unable to play in Paris this year after claiming an astonishing 14 championships in a sterling 18 straight years of competing at the clay court shrine from 2005-2022.
Not only did Djokovic fall short against Nadal thrice in the finals, but he has lost to his chief rival on those courts no fewer than five other times altogether. Be that as it may, Djokovic is the only man to topple Nadal twice at Roland Garros. The Spaniard—victorious in 112 of 115 career contests at his favorite major— lost only one other match at the French Open, falling against Robin Soderling in 2009.
To put this in perspective, Djokovic has (like Nadal) played the French Open 18 times. Half of his 16 losses have been suffered against Nadal, including his last two defeats. He is 2-8 versus the Spaniard on the red clay of Roland Garros. It will be an odd feeling for the Serbian to not have Nadal in the forefront of his mind as he approaches Roland Garros. But his larger concern will be recovering his best form and releasing it when it matters the most over the coming Paris fortnight.
My No. 3 Roland Garros choice—and close behind Djokovic— is Medvedev. In my view, one of the reasons he has adjusted so much better this season to the dirt is the dominance he exhibited on hard courts leading up to the clay events. He exceeded even his own expectations by ruling in Rome. It was his fifth singles title of 2023, his sixth career Masters 1000 tournament triumph, and his 20th career championship. But it was the first time Medvedev has ever claimed a title on clay. Medvedev has won 18 tournaments on his preferred hard courts, and one on grass.
Do not undervalue what winning Rome will do for his morale. Remember as well that he played better than usual on the dirt leading up to the Italian Open, reaching the quarterfinals in Monte Carlo before losing to Rune, making it to the round of 16 at Madrid where he lost to countryman Aslan Karatsev.
To be sure, those showings could not be classified as extraordinary. But he put forth a remarkable effort in Rome, dropping only one set in six matches, finishing up with wins over 2022 Italian Open finalist Stefanos Tsitsipas and then avenging his Monte Carlo defeat to Rune.
At No. 4 in my Roland Garros projection is the surging Rune. A year ago, he made it to the quarterfinals in Paris, toppling Tsitsipas before bowing against Ruud. Since then, Rune has made immense strides in the sport. He finished 2022 at No. 11 in the world after stopping Djokovic in a tremendous final at the Rolex Paris Masters. That was his first Masters 1000 title, and a dandy. This season he started slowly and underperformed prior to the clay court campaign.
But after reaching two Masters 1000 finals on the dirt and winning in Munich, Rune now stands at No. 6 in the world. Rune is capable of beating anyone in the Roland Garros field. Anyone. What concerns me is how well he will hold up physically if he becomes embroiled in a few long and taxing matches. But he is a big picture thinker who could peak in Paris and win it all under the right circumstances.
In my view, only two other men have a serious chance to win the premier clay court prize in France. I place Tsitsipas at No. 5 on my list of contenders. He was ever so close to wearing the champion’s robe two years ago, reaching the final and winning the first two sets from Djokovic. This year he opened the season with a second final round appearance at a major, falling against Djokovic again at the Australian Open—this time in straight sets.
Tsitsipas was not as impressive this year on the clay as he was the past couple of seasons. In 2021 and 2022, he was victorious at Monte Carlo. His best showing in 2023 was reaching the Barcelona final, which he lost decisively to Alcaraz. Had he beaten Medvedev in Rome and been back in the final there, he might have come into Roland Garros with a clearer set of convictions, but I have my doubts at the moment about his game and his outlook.
Rounding out my list at No. 6 for Roland Garros is Ruud. But his setback against Rune in Rome was considerable. He needed a win in the worst possible way and fell narrowly short. Coming so close only to falter in the crunch was surely devastating for this thorough professional. And yet, the fact remains that he was the runner-up to Nadal a year ago in Paris. With the benefit of a good draw, he has an outside chance to replicate that feat this year, but it is still hard to envision him managing to win the title.
In my estimation, Jannik Sinner could make a decent run but I don’t see him getting across the finish line at Roland Garros or even reaching the final this year. His clay court campaign was disappointing. Andrey Rublev is not on my list of realistic contenders for the Roland Garros crown either.
In the ultimate analysis, it essentially comes down to the world No. 1 Alcaraz searching for a second major title; to Novak Djokovic looking not only for a third crown in Paris but a record 23rd major title in the process; to Daniil Medvedev going into the tournament believing for the first time that he can take it; and to Holger Rune timing his ascent impeccably and securing his first of the premier prizes. Tsitsipas and Ruud can’t be counted out, but they will need more than their share of good fortune to succeed.
I am expecting a championship run from Carlos Alcaraz, but, no matter what happens, the feeling grows that this is going to be one of those Grand Slam tournaments we will remember for a very long time.
The sorrows of the young Sinner
How strong is Jannik Sinner really? How the renaissance of Italian tennis deflated in Rome…
By Ubaldo Scanagatta
What could have been a memorable fortnight in Rome, despite some questionable scheduling and court quality, was hampered not only by the dire weather but also by the Italian players, who didn’t live up to the expectations. For the first time since 2019 no Italian, man or woman, featured in the quarterfinals.
Jannik Sinner had reached the quarter finals one year ago, where he was defeated by Tsitsipas (76 62). In 2021 Lorenzo Sonego had an outstanding run to the semifinals, putting away Thiem and Rublev, and was only halted by Djokovic. Matteo Berrettini made it to the quarterfinals in 2020, where he lost to Ruud.
Have we been overly trumpeting a Renaissance of Italian tennis in these years?
If we delve into the matter, we cannot really blame Matteo Berrettini for missing Internazionali BNL d’Italia two times in a row because of an endless string of injuries, neither can we criticize Lorenzo Sonego and Lorenzo Musetti for losing in straight sets against Stefanos Tsitsipas, No. 5 in the world and one of the best clay specialists, a two-time winner in Montecarlo, finalist in Roland Garros 2021 and Rome 2022. And Marco Cecchinato, while brushing away Bautista Agut, flashed glimmers of his heyday, namely 2018-19 when he reached the semifinals in Paris and a peak ranking at No.16.
Sonego even had two setpoints in the second set, which he didn’t play so brilliantly. Musetti had snatched a break in the second set but let the Greek back in before fatally dropping serve in the 12th game, just like in the first set. When the points get tight, the gap between the top players and the others suddenly widens.
There is no doubt that the great disappointment came when Jannik Sinner unexpectedly lost to Francisco Cerundolo. Throughout his young career the Argentinian had already beaten three top ten players (Ruud, Rublev and Auger-Aliassime) and is a tough hurdle to clear on clay, but the way he disposed of Sinner in the last two sets with a double 62 was discomforting.
A great disappointment because expectations were immense, considering that in the three Masters 1000 he played this year he had reached one final (Miami) and two semifinals (Indian Wells and Montecarlo).
Djokovic and Alcaraz, were the first two favourites for the title. But Sinner was rated as a third pick. And once Alcaraz and Djokovic were most unexpectedly ousted from the tournament he appeared as a likely winner. Also because Tsitispas hadn’t got off to brilliant start of clay season; Ruud had been struggling even more and Medvedev had never won a match in this previous four participations in Rome.
So is Sinner really as strong as here in Italy we say he is? Only Einstein could answer: it’s all relative.
Of course he’s a strong player. And it’s likely he’s going to stay in the top 10 for a long time. Much longer than Panatta, Barazzutti and Fognini did. Probably also than Berrettini, who has already been in the top ten longer than the three I mentioned, though helped by favourable circumstances, like the frozen rankings due to Covid.
How strong is he? Well, it depends on who we compare him with. If we look at his birth certificate, we cannot but think of Carlitos Alcaraz and Holger Rune.
Well, perhaps we have a little exaggerated, spurred by patriotism and craving for a true Italian champion, who has been missing since Panatta. Because the results achieved by Alcaraz, a Major and 4 Masters 1000, as well as No. 1 of the ATP ranking are quite different. It’s true that Jannik has beaten him on 3 occasions out of 6, at Wimbledon, Umag and Miami, not to mention the epic match at the US Open when he lost in 5 sets after having a match point. But this simply means that Alcaraz suffers his game, his powerful hitting from the baseline. In this sense there’s not such a huge gap, but many other aspects have to be taken into account.
Which are Jannik’s limits, compared with the current No. 1 in the world? Alcaraz is a much more complete player in terms of touch and finesse, natural gameplay fluidity, explosiveness of shots, physical strength, athleticism and variety of recovery skills and, therefore, unpredictability, tactical ductility, from serve and volley which he sometimes executes persistently, as he did against Medvedev, never looking like a fish out of water at the net) to marathon runner resilience. He can mix up powerful serves and kick serves, continuously varying angles and spin. His dropshots are completely natural. Jannik’s tennis, instead, often gives the impression of being robotic, even though he has made great progress in the last year.
I have often said that Jannik Sinner resembles Ivan Lendl, because Ivan’s philosophy was centred on work, work, and work, but he definitely wasn’t endowed with the same natural talent as John McEnroe. Yet he won more than McEnroe and this must be the hope, the goal of Sinner and his team.
Rune is a much more natural talent than Jannik. And it’s not only his mentor who says this. He’s more complete, he serves better, he lands drop shots with greater ease, he can alternate powerful groundstrokes and changes of pace…like Big Cat Mecir. He plays a clever tennis, instinctive at times, but also well-reasoned.
He has already won a Masters 1000, and he’s ahead of Jannik. He’s got a big personality, though sometimes he comes up with unpleasant behaviour on court. He quite reminds me of McEnroe. People just would wait for Mac to meltdown. It will be the same with Rune. The way he put away Djokovic, in spite of the match interruption due to rain which probably cost him the second set, proves his mental qualities. He had displayed the same qualities when he beat Sinner in Montecarlo.
He has achieved goals which Jannik has just got close to. Jannik seems to be often hampered by injuries. He’s not a natural tennis player, he’s not a natural athlete. But his desire to succeed is so impressive that he will overcome these shortcomings.
Alcaraz lost to Marozsan, but before losing he tried everything. He snatched a 4-1 lead in the tiebreak of the second set, which he ended up losing 7-4, because he too is young and can suddenly have lapses. But he battled away and tried to change tactics, whereas Jannik seemed flat and just gave in, without finding the strength to react and fight back.
Sinner is young too, and sooner or later he’s going to get through these situations. But he has to find his way. Many are the features of his game he has to work on: his serve, his volleys. His ultimate breakthrough is still to come.
Translated by Kingsley Elliot Kaye
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