Why The Surge In Lucky Losers At The French Open Is A Good Thing - UBITENNIS
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Why The Surge In Lucky Losers At The French Open Is A Good Thing

The Grand Slam Board appears to have solved an issue that overshadowed last year’s Wimbledon tournament.

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Egypt’s Mohamed Safwat (zimbio.com)

On Sunday morning at the French Open Egypt’s Mohamed Safwat was given his first opportunity to play in the main draw of a grand slam at the age of 27.

 

Safrat, who was the first player from his country to feature in the main draw at Roland Garros since 1996, bowed out in three sets to Grigor Dimitrov. He was given the chance to take on the fourth seed thanks to the lucky loser rule. Viktor Troicki, Dimitrov’s original opponent, withdrew prior to the start of the match due to injury. Making Safwat the seventh lucky loser to enter this year’s draw.

The surge in lucky losers is in some way a welcome situation. Last year at Wimbledon, there were concerns raised about some players playing deliberately in the main draw despite being injured. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal played of their first round matches on Centre court on the same day, but both of their opponent retired injured. To some it is a coincidence, but in reality few players are going to risk missing out on big money by playing in the first round of a major. Especially those ranked outside of the top 100.

“If a guy is all his life is playing Challengers and suddenly has a chance to play Wimbledon main draw, where the first-round loss is £35,000, I don’t think anybody has the right to judge him, to say ‘you didn’t do the right thing, you’re unfair for going there and picking up a cheque’, because that same guy, probably next week, if he drops, he needs to pay a coach and all the other expenses to go to a Challenger where if he wins he gets €150 or €300.” Former world No.8 Janko Tipsarevic told Sport 360 last year.

Amid the speculation, came the calls to change the system. Federer urged the majors to ‘adjust their rules’ to follow a similar approach to that of the ATP. Those calls were addressed last year by the Grand Slam Board. From 2018, players who withdraw prior to the start of their opening match in grand slams will receive 50% of the first-round losers money. Meanwhile, the lucky loser will receive the other half. This time last year, players would receive nothing if they withdrew from their first round match.

Although it is hard to measure how effective the new rule change is, the stats speak for themselves. The new system now sees at least 14 players benefitting under the new rules in the men’s draw alone. In the women’s tournament, there are currently only two lucky losers.

The number of lucky losers at Roland Garros might just be a coincidence, but you have to wonder if it would be the same amount if the rules wasn’t changed.

List of lucky losers (as at 27/5/2018)

Men
Simone Bolelli ITA
Ruben Bemelmans BEL
Jurgen Zopp EST
Sergiy Stakhovsky UKR
Peter Polansky CAN
Mohamad Safwat EYG
Oscar Otte GER

Women
Arantxa Rus NED
Dalila Jakupovic SRB

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Naomi Osaka’s Rapid Rise To World No.1 Has Its Dark Side Too

Osaka is currently one of the most sought after tennis players in the world, but not everything is perfect.

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Naomi Osaka (photo by chryslène caillaud, copyright @Sport Vision)

Exactly 12 months ago Naomi Osaka was yet to crack the world’s top 40 or win a WTA title. Now she is a two-time grand slam winner, reigning Indian Wells champion and the first Asian player in history to become world No.1. It has been a sensational 12 months for the powerful hitting 21-year-old, but there continues to be the inevitable setbacks.

 

On Tuesday Osaka took to the court of the Dubai Tennis Championships. Taking on Kristina Mladenovic in what was her first competitive match as world No.1, she crashed out 6-3, 6-3. Winning only 35% of her service points and making 25 unforced errors. According to data from the ITF, she is the first player to lose their opening match after rising to the top of the WTA rankings.

“I haven’t been practising well recently. I just thought, like, it would go away during the matches. I was kind of counting on that. That didn’t happen, so…” Osaka reflected during her press conference.
“My rhythm was kind of off. But there’s been times where it’s been worse than now, and I managed to play well in matches. Yeah, when I say I haven’t been practicing well, just like rhythm. I don’t know, I feel like I’m not doing enough or something.”

Osaka has never been the kind of player that loves the media limelight. Her shy and introverted personality is one that has won over the hearts of many fans. However, In recent months Osaka has become a household name. Appearing on the front of numerous newspapers in Japan, signing multi-million dollar sponsorship deals, staring in advertising campaigns and earning numerous accolades. Her most recent achievement was at the Laureus Awards, where she was named breakthrough of the year.

With her rise in fame, Osaka also faces more scrutiny in her decisions. Something she was reminded of last week when she ended her collaboration with coach Sascha Bajin. Bajin won the WTA Coach of the Year away in 2018 for his work with Osaka.

“I don’t think I necessarily understand what position I’m in, in a way, because last year I wasn’t even anywhere close to this ranking. People didn’t pay attention to me. That’s something that I’m comfortable with,” said a tearful Osaka.
“I don’t know why I’m crying. Yeah. I don’t know why this is happening.”
“I don’t really like attention. It’s been a little tough.” She added.

The highs and lows

Despite her successes on the court, it has not immune the Australian Open champion from online trolls. Shortly after her loss to Mladenovic, Osaka received a series of abusive messages on social media. In her Instagram story, she wrote that she was ‘used to’ getting insulting comments online.


Like other players in the past, Osaka is not afraid to admit that her position as the best ranked player in the world is daunting, both mentally and physically. Although she has bounced back from nightmare matches before. Earlier this year, she said she, ‘had the worst attitude’ during her loss at the Brisbane International, before going on to win the Australian Open title. She also lost in the first round of two consecutive tournaments heading into the US Open, where she claimed her maiden major title.

“I mean, the Australian Open was not even a month ago. This was just one match. I feel like even if I don’t win any matches for the rest of the year, I wouldn’t say I’m concerned. I think I’m pretty young. I still feel like I have a lot to learn.” She said.
“For me, that’s sort of my biggest thing after this match. I think I play well after I lose a sort of bad match. I’m just looking forward to the next tournament.”

Despite her setback on the court, Osaka maintains her world No.1 ranking heading into the BNP Paribas Open (Indian Wells). She is hoping her latest loss will make her stronger as a player.

“For sure there’s no one that really thinks losing is fun. But for me, I’ve always been taught that when you lose, you learn more than when you win. I try to take that as really important advice because I think it is true.” wtatennis.com quoted Osaka as saying during her interview with Japanese media.

Osaka is currently down, but is certainly not out.

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Is A Players’ Union Needed? – An Update Look

Following the 2018 Australian Open I wrote a story titled “Players’ Union – Is It Needed?” which examined how tennis professionals, contrary to popular assumptions, really didn’t have effective representation, along with the necessary protection needed to participate in such a grueling sport. Following this year’s championship Down Under, I have updated the feature…

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At the annual mandatory 2018 ATP players meeting in Melbourne prior to the start of the Australian Open, Novak Djokovic, the president of the Players Council, discussed creating a “real” players’ union. The idea involved forming an organization that was solely focused on improving the wellbeing of its members. Unfortunately, the day after that idea was put forth, Djokovic back-peddled. Borrowing, perhaps, from the “Fake News” pillorying that has become a part of  today’s political news cycle, he claimed his message was taken out of context. Somehow, he overlooked the fact that he had a lawyer with union expertise on hand to discuss some of the details involved in creating a legitimate union. He claimed that all he was interested in seeing was that the players earned more from the game’s behemoths, the fortune making Grand Slam tournaments.

 

While the prize money has increased and the slams, along with many other tour events have added a collection of player amenities, the point is clear. The union concept didn’t gain traction. The alphabet leaders – particularly the ATP and ITF – joined by organizations representing players, the tournaments themselves and other assorted tennis business interests, made sure it remained a “decent idea” and nothing more. Bottom line, there is no way this group was going to lose its almost ironclad control of the game.  (For whatever reason, the WTA has been sidetracked and become a meaningless anacronym with next to no grasp of comprehensive player representation. As a result, it is not part of the discussion.)

Maintaining the status quo, albeit with occasional new touch-ups to cover the surface chipping, seemed entrenched until Chris Kermode’s leadership was put in the spotlight this year in Melbourne. Vasek Pospisil, who is on the Player Council representing those ranked between 50 and 100, e-mailed fellow players saying that the group should begin to act like it was involved in running a major business. What’s more, members should not be afraid to voice opinions. The Canadian pointed out that the current ATP operation clearly favors tournaments and the individuals/companies that own them, (meaning that the players are secondary at best, even though they are the ones the throngs of fans pay the big bucks to see). He suggested that Kermode’s contract should be terminated and a CEO, who focuses on players’ genuine interests, should be found.

As is often the case when there is administrative turmoil in tennis, an all-star cast of current and former players have been waving their Kermode flags in support. The steal-strong backing was offered despite the facts Pospisil put forth, including the point that the prize money offered by the majors was still less than ten percent of their annual revenue. In the end, he became an outlier.

In “A Tennis Wish List for 2019” , which appeared in the January 12th edition of the New York Times, the esteemed tennis journalist Christopher Clarey admitted that his No. 1 wish was for tennis unity. He wrote, “That would require each of tennis’s seven governing bodies to cede some of its authority, a situation that would probably require an existential threat to the game’s viability or profitability.

“In an imperfect but still better world, unity could also mean a genuine players’ union — why not men and women together while we’re wishing? — That could make for more meaningful progress on tennis’s now-intractable issues through tough negotiations with those who own and operate the tournaments.

“In the current system, the players and regular tour events are in partnership, an unusual arrangement in professional sports that can make consensus and change difficult.

“Novak Djokovic, back at No. 1 and president of the ATP Player Council, has explored the concept. But for now, a union appears to be wishful thinking: too many legal and logistical hurdles.”

Perhaps insight, along with “how to do it” direction,  could be gained from what took place in New York during the first week of January, this year. A collection of major banks and brokers decided to set up a new stock market in the US. The Members Exchange idea was driven by the unhappiness resulting from a number of issues. Foremost was the fees exchanges charged for transferring money. The back story is clear – Those involved want to control their own destiny.

Time will tell if the players will ever be able to have anything more than pseudo control. Time is also a component in Kermode’s case. His position will be the major issue discussed at the ATP players meeting at BNP Paribas Open in March at Indian Wells, California.

It is important to note that Pospisil has had the courage to draw a line in the sand saying, “Our system is broken … it’s time for a change.”

Perhaps there will be others who, once the “politicking” is side-stepped,  find the gumption to step up. Imagine if a standalone organization, a player collective sans tournaments, agents and organizations, was decided upon? In 1973, the concept resulted in the original ATP being brought to life. In 1990, a bad knock-off version II originated. Will ATP members have the fortitude to cross the line with Pospisil and initiate a process that will lead to actual player representation in the world of tennis?

Unfortunately, other than a smattering of vocal support, things haven’t changed much. Players at the top of the rankings are busy training, traveling then competing. Competitors, who are more lowly ranked,  have tunnel vision when it comes to finding tournaments where they can build their rankings and collect decent prize money. Collectively, players don’t seem to have enough hours in the day to do all that is needed to even get the ball rolling to launch a union.

Pospisil’s effort could be a start. But, realistically, as was pointed out in the conclusion of “Players’ Union – Is It Needed?”, the inference is still the same in this update, which means the answer to “Will a union come about?” is – Not Likely…

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Australian Open Break Points: 10 Topics Worth Further Discussion

From Djokovic’s French Open chances to the campaign against on-court coaching – there is still a lot to be discussed.

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The first grand slam of 2019 has come to an end. Naomi Osaka followed up on her US Open triumph to claim the woman’s title. An achievement that has elevated her to becoming the first Asian player to reach No.1 in the world. Meanwhile, Novak Djokovic produced a masterful display against Rafael Nadal to empathize his dominance on the men’s tour.

 

Now that the tournament has reached its conclusion, here are 10 topics that require further discussion.

1) Novak Djokovic will win Roland Garros, completing his second “Nole Slam.”

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Predicting the winner of an event over four months away is a risky business, especially when that event is played on clay and you’re not picking Rafael Nadal. And hot takes such as this are popular to make after one dominating performance. But the way in which Djokovic destroyed Nadal in Sunday’s final is the kind of victory that has a lingering effect. It’s reminiscent of Nadal’s crushing win over Roger Federer at 2008’s Roland Garros, after which Rafa finally dethroned the king of grass a few weeks later. Novak’s victory over Nadal last year at Wimbledon is what propelled him back to the top of the sport, and reestablished Djokovic’s mental edge over Nadal. Beating Nadal on clay in best-of-five remains the sport’s biggest challenge. But I see Novak winning a few clay titles in the best-of-three format heading into the French Open, which will instill the necessary confidence come Paris. As we saw on Sunday, the patterns in this matchup play to Djokovic’s favor. His deep returns, superior backhand, and aggressive positioning on the baseline all take time away from Nadal. The terra baute will neutralize some of that, but not enough to derail Novak’s quest to again hold all four Majors.

2) The resolve of Petra Kvitova was only trumped by that of Naomi Osaka

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What the men’s final lacked in drama, the women’s certainly made up for. Kvitova’s fight back to save three championship points and level the match at one set all was awesome. Yet the way the 21-year-old Osaka still found a way to compose herself and close out the match was even more impressive. She seemingly matured as a competitor within the match itself. And it was poetic justice for Osaka to get to enjoy her triumph, after she was robbed of doing so in New York. Kudos to both of these great champions, and future Hall of Famers, for their perseverance.

3) Do the right thing and re-name Margeret Court Arena

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Having the Australian Open’s No.2 court named after a proud homophobe continues to be incredibly troubling. While delivering the keynote address in last week’s Australian Open Inspirational Series, Anna Wintour used the platform to address this topic. “It is inconsistent for the sport for Margaret Court’s name to be on a stadium that does so much to bring all people together across their differences,” said Wintour. I wish players would publicly refuse to be scheduled on Margaret Court Arena, but sadly that hasn’t materialized. Instead, a leader from the fashion world was the best advocate for change at this tennis event. The excuse Tennis Australia has provided, that this decision isn’t fully under their authority, is just that: an excuse. We need more officials, more players, and more members of the media to demand this change.

4) The new heat stress scale is an upgrade, but the standard for closing the roof is still way too high

This year the Australian Open replaced the ever-confusing “wet bulb” standard with the AO Heat Stress Scale. It measures a variety of weather-related factors, and requires the roof be closed if the scale reaches a 5.0. This is much easier to understand than the old rule, but 5.0 is too high of a standard. During the women’s semifinals, it was obviously extremely uncomfortable for everyone on Rod Laver Arena due to the heat. The ball kids weren’t even able to rest their hands on the court, but the roof remained open for most of the first set since the scale was still below 5.0. What is it going to take for officials to wake up and realize they’re endangering the health of players, officials, and fans? It’s time for common sense to prevail here before someone suffers from some serious medical issues.

5) The electronic net machine doesn’t work. If better technology is not available, bring back the judge that sits at the net

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There were many instances during this fortnight of lets being called when the serve clearly didn’t touch the net, but the worst example was during the women’s semifinals. As Danielle Collins served to Petra Kvitova, the electronic net machine beeped before she even struck her serve. She subsequently missed the serve and was not awarded a first serve, as Chair Umpire Carlos Ramos incorrectly asserted the beep came after her serve. For years now, players have complained about “phantom lets,” where the ball clearly doesn’t hit the net, but the machine beeps anyway. We should not only eliminate that machine, but we should allow players to challenge let calls. The technology to do so exists, so why not utilize it? Better to wait a few extra moments to get the call right.

6) Let’s introduce the first-to-10 final set tiebreak at all events

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This is one of many innovations where Tennis Australia is ahead of the other Grand Slam governing bodies. The first-to-10 tiebreak was utilized at 6-6 in the final sets at this tournament, and created some great drama. It also served as a reasonable ending to prolonged matches. This is an enhancement over the US Open’s first-to-seven final set tiebreak, which has been used for a long time now. Wimbledon has announced they’ll begin using a best-to-seven tiebreak as 12-12 in the final set, but that’s still allowing for a full extra set of play, when a more prompt conclusion would be best. And as usual, Roland Garros lags behind the other three Majors, as they continue to let final sets play out without a tiebreak. The scoring system in tennis is hard enough for a casual fan to follow. Having four different ways to decide matches at four different Majors is unnecessary. Let’s make the scoring system uniform at all events, including non-Majors, and use a first-to-10 final set tiebreak everywhere.

7) If this was Andy Murray’s last singles match at a Major, what a fitting way to conclude his career

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His over four-hour match with Roberto Bautista Agut, where he somehow summoned the will to comeback from two sets down despite the tremendous pain he was suffering from, was a remarkable feat despite the loss. Murray was never the most naturally-gifted athlete on tour, but worked extremely hard and got everything he could out of his talent and his body. Hopefully Murray finds a way to relieve the pain in his hip, even if it doesn’t yield a return to professional tennis. More important is his quality of life outside of tennis.

8) Good on the fans for booing Maria Sharapova’s ridiculous seven-minute bathroom break

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During her fourth round match against Ashleigh Barty, Sharapova played a terrible second set, losing it 6-1. Then in a lack of sportsmanship, she spent a full seven minutes off-court, in a clear attempt to disrupt her opponent’s momentum. The Aussie crowd reigned boos down upon Sharapova as she walked back onto court, as the sporting crowd is not fond of such dirty tactics. A rule limiting the amount of time a player is allowed to leave the court is long overdue.

9) Starting matches after midnight is unfair to players, tournament employees, and fans alike

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Garbine Muguruza’s near three-hour battle with Johanna Konta in the second round was one of the tournament’s best matches. Unfortunately, almost no fans witnessed it live, and it deserved a much better atmosphere. The MCA schedule ran extremely late, as two men’s matches went five sets (I’ll save the “men’s matches are too damn long” argument for another time). So these two former top 10 players didn’t start their match until after midnight, and didn’t finish until after 3:00am. It’s completely unfair for the winning player to be on court until such an ungodly hour, having to face an opponent in the next round that completed their match at a reasonable time. If we’re not going to speed up play in the men’s tournament (sorry, can’t help myself), at least move this match to a different court at an earlier time, or hold the match over until the next day.

10) One last plea to keep sacred what makes the sport so special. Please don’t allow mid-match coaching

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There’s talk that Tennis Australia is considering allowing coaching from the stands during matches at next year’s Australian Open. Please, Tennis Australia, think better of this. One of the things I love most about this sport is how players are forced to problem solve on the court, and on their own. It’s revealing of character, just as it also builds character. Limit the mid-match coaching to team events where it belongs.

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