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10 Takes From This Year’s French Open

10 topics worth further discussion following the 2018 tournament.

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Rafael Nadal (Zimbio.com)

From Rafael Nadal’s 11th Roland Garros title to Simona Halep’s first, here are ten storylines from the French Open that deserves more discussion.

 

Nadal’s supremacy

1) “Undecima” for Rafael Nadal, unfathomable.  86-2 at Roland Garros, with a 22-0 record in semifinals and finals.  His ability to win the pressure matches and pressure points on this surface is unprecedented in this sport, and some would suggest in any sport.  As Dominic Thiem’s own coach, Gunter Bresnik, told Christopher Clarey of The New York Times even before Sunday’s final, “He is, for me, the best competitor I ever saw in any sport.”  His last two matches were perfect examples. Nadal saved all six break points he faced against Juan Martin Del Potro on Friday, then broke to win the first set and ran away with the match.  Similarly on Sunday, he broke Dominic Thiem at love to win the first set, and broke Thiem’s will in the process. Rafa’s enduring success in big moments on clay should be marveled at.

Halep’s triumph at last

2) Simona Halep didn’t achieve success as the majors as quickly as Nadal, but her story is more relatable and inspiring.  She lost in the final at the French Open last year despite being up a set and break against an unproven player. How does she respond?  She reaches the quarters at Wimbledon just one month later on her weakest surface. She loses that quarter-final in a tight three-setter, when a win would have made her the new number one in the world.  How does she respond? She makes the semis and finals just one month later in Toronto and Cincinnati, respectively. She loses an emotional first round against Maria Sharapova at the US Open. How does she respond?  She earns the number one ranking just one month later with a run to the final in Beijing. She loses her third major final in Melbourne after saving match points in two earlier rounds. How does she respond? She wins the very next major, despite being down a set and a break in the final.  Simona’s ability to continually pick herself back up so soon after each crushing loss should also be marveled at.

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Djokovic’s run

3) Some are hailing Novak Djokovic’s run to the quarters as another step forward in his comeback.  But I disagree: if anything, this fortnight was a step backward for him. Losing a major quarterfinal to a man who had never before won a match at any Grand Slam event will stun for some time to come, and will rattle his confidence on such occasions going forward.  Most disturbing for Djokovic during this tournament was his attitude. Novak’s frustration level during many of his matches was startling, especially considering it often came out at times where he was ahead. Rafael Nadal has talked about the need to enjoy the suffering when on court.  Djokovic appears far removed from enjoying competition on the tennis court, and far removed from the player who two years ago held all four major titles.

Serena’s return

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4) Serena Williams not being seeded at Roland Garros was quite absurd.  Does anyone believe she was not one of the 32 most likely players in the draw to win the tournament?  I get that she came in with few matches and few wins, but she’s still a 23-time major champion. Even so, she advanced to the fourth round, with two victories over top 20 seeds.  She may have gone much farther had she not gotten injured. And as many have pointed out, I’m sure the seeded players themselves would also agree Serena should be seeded, so they’re guaranteed to not face her before the third round.  Just ask Ashleigh Barty. It’s time the majors exercise some discretion, and some common sense, when it comes to seedings. Serena will not be ranked high enough for an automatic seeding at Wimbledon. Your move, All-England Club.

The best-of-five debate

5) Lots of heated debate these past two weeks on twitter as to whether the men should continue to play best-of-five at the majors.  I would suggest a compromise (a foreign concept nowadays, I know).  Both the men and women play best-of-five at ALL tournaments (majors and non-majors), but sets are played to five with a tiebreak at 4-4 of every set (including the final set).  Ad scoring remains, as no-ad eliminates too many pivotal and dynamic points from the match.  This would address many issues without losing what makes the sport great.  You would still get the drama of five-set tennis, but you speed up play and make each point within a set more meaningful.  Match times would be close to the current best-of three-format, with approximately the same number of games required to play out a match (in both the minimum and maximum possibilities).  It seems archaic that men and women have different scoring systems and play for different lengths – does any other sport do that?  Women should be fully treated as equals beyond equal pay (which they deserve regardless of the scoring systems used), and be given the same amount of court and TV time.

The 25-second rule

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6) I’m more curious than ever to see how the introduction of the service clock in the main draw of this year’s US Open will play out.  Too many players have abused the rule regarding time allowed between points for too long. The men seem to be the worst offenders here.  Nadal regularly goes beyond the 25 seconds allotted from the time the score is announced to the time the serve is struck. And the number of times Djokovic and Cilic bounce the ball before serving has become comical.  While I’m all for speeding up the sport, I don’t see these players making any drastic changes to their pre-serve rituals, especially Nadal. Are officials ready to penalize them beyond warnings, and beyond the loss of a first serve, for such infractions?  And will a visible clock on court just create more controversy? If umpires are liberal as to when they call the score, such as not immediately calling it after a prolonged point, that doesn’t remove discretion from this issue. And if fans are still making noise when the clock gets to zero, will the server be penalized?  I still have more questions than answers, but let’s either consistently and transparently enforce the rule, or get rid of the rule altogether.

Where is hawk-eye?

7) In the year 2018, there’s still too many instances where umpires and players stare down at marks on the court and argue over whether a ball was in or out.  If hawk-eye is not exact enough to be utilized on the clay, can’t the technology be further advanced with the proper investment? And even if hawkeye is not perfectly precise on clay, perhaps it should still be utilized.  At least it would be a definitive ruling. And even if players argue the mark on the court doesn’t agree with hawkeye, it’s harder to fight with a computer than a human. It’s been reported that the use of hawkeye on clay is an agenda item at the upcoming ATP Player Council meeting prior to Wimbledon, so let’s see what comes out of that.

Umpire should have the ultimate say

8) Why are players allowed so much say as to when a match is stopped due to rain or darkness?  This call should be made by the chair umpire and tournament officials, and decisively so. Rafael Nadal should not be able to pack his bag and effectively decide himself that it’s raining too hard to play.  Caroline Wozniacki should not be able to stop play for several minutes while arguing it’s too dark to continue. Officials need to take the power back here. If a player doesn’t want to continue, start the service clock and penalize them if they’re not at the service line in time.  Players won’t like it, but they’ll oblige accordingly.

The empty seats

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9) Something should be done about the amount of empty seats on the lower levels of the show courts in Paris at the start of play.  This happens not only on days with 11:00am starts, but even days with 2:00pm starts. I understand how important lunch time is to the French, but if they’re not going to arrive on time, move the VIP seats a bit higher so the empty seats will be less visible on TV.  Or alternatively, start play at a later time on the show courts, and only schedule two or three matches per day. The players scheduled first on are robbed of a good atmosphere for their matches. Wimbledon doesn’t have this problem. The US Open is adjusting their show court starting times this year for this very reason.  The French should follow their lead.

The troublesome tarp’s

10) Last year at Roland Garros, David Goffin slipped on the rolled-up tarp at the back of the court while chasing down a ball.  The injury Goffin suffered to his ankle caused him to miss six weeks of his season, including Wimbledon. A year later, the tarps still sit at the back of the court.  Why? This is an incident that could easily happen again, and could easily be prevented if the tarp is moved off the court and instead stored nearby. And for that matter, why do we still have the signs that stand at the feet of the line judges?  How many times have we seen players trip on them during the clay court season? In Monte Carlo this year, Thanasi Kokkinakis was on crutches after tripping over one of these signs. The answer as to why they haven’t been removed is, of course, money: advertising space is sold on them.  But why continue to unnecessarily put the players at risk of injury? Stick a few extra crocodiles on the walls behind the courts and prioritize the players’ health.

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Simona Halep ‘Happy To Be Back’ Amid Uncertainty Over US Open Plans

The Romanian still has reservations about her future plans after taking her first international flight in five months.

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World No.2 Simona Halep admits the prospect of travelling from Europe to America will be ‘mentally tough’ as she ponders whether or not to play at the US Open.

 

The reigning Wimbledon champion is set to return to competitive tennis in the Czech Republic where she will play her first tournament in five months at the Prague Open. Halep was originally due to make her return in Palermo but withdrew from the event due to ‘travelling anxiety’ despite being assured she wouldn’t have to go through quarantine. Speculation has mounted in recent weeks about if the Romanian would travel to the US Open later this year with the 28-year-old confirming she will make her final decision after Prague.

“I haven’t made the final decision yet,” AFP quoted Halep as telling reporters during a virtual press conference on Sunday.
“The travelling from Europe is a little bit tough with changing flights — we don’t have straight flights — so it’s going to be tough for me personally, mentally,” she told a video conference.
“I don’t want to put myself into that stress. As I said I haven’t decided yet, but the conditions are tough for me at this moment.”

Three members of the top 10 on the women’s Tour have already pulled out of the New York major, which will be played behind closed doors for the first time in history. Ash Barty, Kiki Bertens and Elina Svitolina have all withdrawn from the major due to concerns. In comparison, only one member of the top 10 on the men’s Tour, Rafael Nadal, has withdrawn specifically related to COVID-19 concerns.

Prague is Halep’s first international trip after being in lockdown in Romania since February. A country which reported 1,378 new coronavirus cases and 50 new related deaths on Friday in what was their highest 24-hour figure since the pandemic began.

“I’m a bit nervous but things are very controlled here and very safe so I feel safe,” she said upon arrival in the Czech capital.
“I’m happy to be back, I’m happy to be healthy.”

It will be double duty for Halep in Prague. Besides being the top seed in the singles draw, she will also be playing the doubles alongside local favourite Barbora Strycova. Who reached the semi-final of Wimbledon last year before losing to Serena Williams. It is the first time ever the two are playing alongside each other on the Tour.

“I’m sure we will have fun. I’m sure that she will understand if I miss easy balls at the net, and I hope we’ll enjoy it.” Halep commented on their collaboration.

Halep will start her singles campaign against Slovenia’s Polona Hercog.

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REPORT: Madrid Open To Be Axed Amid COVID-19 Concerns In Latest Setback For Tennis

Hopes of Spain holding their top tennis event in 2020 are over.

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The world of tennis is set to suffer another severe blow with multiple media sources confirming that organisers of Spain’s most prestigious tennis tournament will officially cancel their event on Tuesday. 

 

The Mutua Madrid Open will be removed from the 2020 calendar following a meeting involving tournament owner Iron Tiriac. Recently doubts have been cast on the event after local health officials called for it to be suspended due to a spike in COVID-19 cases. Although the final decision was up to Tiriac and his team. It had been due to take place between September 12 to 20, following the conclusion of the US Open. 

“We have to be realistic now, we have to accept that health is always the priority. We must not endanger anyone, neither the fans, nor the players, nor the staff, all those who come to Madrid in September,” tournament director Feliciano Lopez told L’Equipe over the weekend. 

Spain has seen their rate of COVID-19 cases rapidly rise since the country ended its lockdown. According to El Pais, the number of cases recorded within 24 hours is eight times the amount compared to 40 days ago. Rising from 334 (June 20) to 2,789 (between July 29 and 30). On Friday July 31st there were 3092 new cases in the country in what is a post-lockdown record.

Held at the Caja Magica, the Madrid Open is a key event for both men and women. It is currently classed as a Masters 1000 for the men and as a Premier Mandatory for the women. Last year each of the singles champions took home €1,202,520 in prize money. It was originally set to be played in May but was postponed due to the pandemic.

The demise of Madrid this year is another setback for what is becoming a rapidly thinning 2020 tennis calendar. Within the past two weeks China has confirmed that they will not be hosting any tournaments this year, Japan’s scrapped it’s premier women’s event and the Italian Open has been advised to not allow any fans to their event this year. 

As a result of the latest development, only two WTA clay-court events will take place after the US Open leading up to Roland Garros. They are both set to get underway on September 21st in Rome and Strasbourg. As for the men, Rome will be their only point of call. 

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Serena Williams leads a high-quality line-up in Lexington

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Twenty-three time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams will be the top seed at the inaugural edition of the Lexington Open from 10th August 2020 on the same week as the Prague Open. The Lexington Open will be the first US tournament of the US hard court season, which will continue with the Western and Southern Open and the US Open, which will be held in the same venue at Flushing Meadows in New York. 

 

Serena was very close to tie Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam titles, but lost four times in a Major final after giving birth to her daughter Olympia. 

The US legend will play her first match since she hepled the US team beat Latvia in the Fed Cup last March in Everett. There Serena beat Jelena Ostapenko but she was defeated by Anastasija Sevastova. 

Williams will lead a star-studded line-up, which features this year’s Australian Open finalist and former Roland Garros and Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza, Aryna Sabalenka, Sloane Stephens, Johanna Konta, Amanda Anisimova and Yulia Putintseva, Ons Jabeur, Victoria Azarenka, Heather Watson and US rising star Cori Gauff. 

Sabalenka won two consecutive editions of the Wuhan tournament in 2018 and 2019, in Shenzhen in 2019, the WTA Elite Trophy in Zhuhai in 2019 and the Doha final in 2020. 

Stephens won her first Grand Slam title at the US Open in 2017 and reached the final at 2018 Roland Garros. She finished runner-up to Elina Svitolina at the 2018 WTA Finals in Singapore. The US player lost to Canadian teenager Leylah Annie Fernandez in Monterrey in her last WTA Tour match before the pandemic. 

Amanda Anisimova won her maiden WTA title in Bogotà in 2019 in her first professional tour tournament on clay. Last year the young US player beat Simona Halep en route to becoming the youngest semifinalist at the French Open since 2006. This year Amanda lost to Serena Williams in the semifinal in Auckland last January. 

Johanna Konta reached the French Open semifinal and the Rome Final in 2019. The British player enjoyed her best year in 2017, when she won the Miami title and reached the Wimbledon semifinal rising to her best ranking at world number 4. 

The Top seed Open will be the first WTA tournament to be played in the United States since the coronavirus pandemic swept across the United States. The Kentucky tournament will feature a 32-player singles draw and a 16-player doubles field. 

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