Why There Has Been Carnage In The Wimbledon Women’s Draw - UBITENNIS
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Why There Has Been Carnage In The Wimbledon Women’s Draw

The early exits of nine of the top ten Ladies’ seeds make more sense when you look at the reasons why.

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Ever since Serena William’s long spell of dominance in women’s tennis ended, it has been difficult to predict who will win Grand Slam titles.

 

Many talented players have filled the void left by the American, but none of them have even come close to establishing a stranglehold at the top of the game.

And the fact is that there are so many excellent players around that it the WTA tour has become an almost ever-changing landscape where as many as 20 or 30 women are potential winners of every event.

Because of this, none of the top players can ever relax or have a bad day. If they do, they usually lose, and it has never been better illustrated than at Wimbledon 2018.

These are the key reasons why nine of the top ten seeds were knocked in the first week:

Preparation

Sloane Stephens is the 2017 US Open champion and a high-class tennis player. However, she arrived in London three days before Wimbledon started having not practiced on grass at all.

When you consider that woefully inadequate preparation, her straight-sets loss to Donna Vekic in the first round suddenly seems unsurprising.

Mentality

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Simona Halep achieved her life-long goal of winning a Grand Slam tournament in Paris last month. That success followed good runs to the final in Rome and the quarter-final in Madrid.

Those exertions clearly took a lot out of her because, after her shock loss to Su-Wei Hsieh in the third round, she said: “I was too tired. I have pain everywhere.”

It is nothing new for a professional tennis player to be in pain as they have a punishing schedule. However, it seems entirely possible that Halep’s motivation was not as strong as usual because she recently fulfilled her biggest ambition.

That probably made her less inclined to play on through the pain and, whether she was aware of it or not, it probably also dulled her competitive spirit a bit. And we all know small margins can be crucial in top-level sport.

Madison Keys is a very different case. When she walked out onto Court 12 to face Evgeniya Rodina in the third round, everything was set up for her to go on and claim her first Grand Slam title.

Seeds were tumbling all around her, she had a chance to take on an under-cooked Serena in the fourth round and she loves playing on grass.

Bizarrely, the sense of opportunity seems to be what got the better of the American. “I wasn’t thinking about my match right now in that moment,” Keys said after her shock loss.

“I literally could have played anyone in the next round, but the fact that I felt my mind go there made it really hard to play really well, be super focused and find my timing in the middle of a match.”

On the plus side, Keys now knows what she has to do to try and prevent a repeat and she is willing to do it.

Strong Opposition

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It is so much easier to be a man in tennis because you are very unlikely to face a player of the calibre of Ekaterina Makarova in the second round of a major.

The Russian was once the World No.8 and has reached two Grand Slam semi-finals. She has a lot of tennis ability and she showed plenty of it in her win over Caroline Wozniacki.

The Dane prepared perfectly for Wimbledon by winning Eastbourne, but after losing she admitted, “Today I played someone who played extremely well.”

Sometimes it is that simple, and something similar happened to Petra Kvitova. The Czech, who was the favourite for the event after glory in Birmingham, lost to Aliaksandra Sasnovich, who turned up on Centre Court feeling inspired and suddenly produced the best tennis of her career.

Garbine Muguruza will surely sympathise with Kvitova and Wozniacki. She lost to Alison Van Uytvanck, who has never been inside the World’s Top 40 but played like a Top 20 player.

“I just think it’s a very tough match,” the Spaniard said. “I think she was playing really well. So it was a little bit tough for me to have an opponent that is having a great day.”

Importantly, all three of these giant-killers have backed up their famous wins and are now preparing for fourth-round matches. This demonstrates they have the ability to be successful – they just need to learn to produce it more frequently.

Caroline Garcia received possibly the most difficult unseeded first-round opponent of all: Belinda Bencic.

The Swiss player reached World No.7 before a series of injuries got in the way of her career, but she looks to be on the way back now.

Bencic looked sharp against Garcia and, although the Spaniard could have played better, sometimes players just have to accept that they have been outplayed.

Venus Williams’ defeat is probably the most understandable as she lost to 20th seed Kiki Bertens. It was a very close match that the Dutchwoman just about shaded – and hardly an upset at all.

Grass Court Specialists

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There is another key reason why Stephens lost early at Wimbledon. Her first round opponent, Donna Vekic, is arguably one of the most talented young players on tour and, crucially, she loves grass.

The Croatian reached the final in Birmingham when she was just 16 and then won the event in Nottingham in 2017, before backing that result up with a run to the last eight this year.

Vekic is also a more mature player now. Where she once tried to hit winners from the baseline all the time, she now constructs points intelligently and is willing to defend and wait for the right moment to attack.

Like Makarova, Sasnovich and Van Uytvanck, the World No.55 has backed up her big win by making it to the fourth round. And she is definitely capable of beating last-16 opponent Julia Goerges, so she could go deep into the tournament this year.

Although she reached the fourth round last year, no-one talks much about Elina Svitolina as a contender for Wimbledon.

That is because the Ukrainian still looks uncomfortable on grass. She thrives on hard courts and clay courts where the bounce is predictable, but often looks lost when she ball skids low at venues like Birmingham.

This year, Svitolina was handed a tricky first-round tie with Mallorca winner Tatjana Maria. She competed well in the first two sets, which were shared, but fell apart in the decider against an opponent who played more consistently on the day.

The Ladies’ Singles at Wimbledon 2018 is Still Exciting

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As one Daily Mail writer put it, “There’s a school of thought that the ongoing obliteration of seeds from the women’s draw has lessened its appeal.”

However, it is unlikely that those who watch the last-16 matches at Wimbledon this year will be disappointed with what they see as there are exciting match-ups everywhere.

In the top half of the draw, Halep’s unpredictable conqueror Hsieh takes on fearsome fighter Dominika Cibulkova, big-hitting 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko faces Sasnovich, endlessly-inventive Daria Kasatkina meets Van Uytvanck and two-time Grand Slam winner Angelique Kerber plays against Bencic.

In the bottom half of the draw, highest-seed-remaining Karolina Pliskova continues her quest for her first Grand Slam title against Bertens, big-server Goerges faces Vekic and aggressive Italian Camila Giorgi takes on Makarova.

All of which leaves just one match that is likely to be boring: Serena versus Rodina. The Russian is the World No.120 and should have been thrashed by Keys, so the 23-time Grand Slam champion will be expected to succeed where her fellow American failed.

[Also published on womenssporthub.com]

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Tennis In The Time Of Covid-19

There will be tennis again, but along the way there should be memories of triumphs that rise above the challenges that these times engender. Existence can hinge on more than tennis, but the game will survive a pandemic with a lot of patience and ingenuity.

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By Cheryl Jones

It’s April. Tennis hasn’t been cancelled, but it’s been sidelined by something much bigger than the sport itself. The Covid-19 virus has taken center stage. It’s doubtful that Rafael Nadal will be taking his yearly bite out of the Coupe des Mousquetaires, even though Roland Garros has merely been rescheduled for September. Paris’ delay could eventually lead to cancellation, gauging the way things are now. Roger Federer is likely having mixed feelings about the cancellation of most major events that he was planning to skip anyway, having had knee surgery quite recently. Andy Murray has probably been weighing the events of the day, trying to decide if he should retire and become an expert on the rare species of bats that have taken up residence on his property – or maybe not.

 

There’s a likelihood that the stars of the tennis world are doing just what everyone else is doing – sheltering in place, reading that book that’s been on the shelf gathering dust, or maybe like Federer trying to hit balls against a wall to get back into condition. Of course it is snowing and windy and cold in Switzerland this time of year, but as Chaucer once said – time waits for no man. Evidently, not even Roger Federer.

Having a good deal of time on my hands, having read three of those dusty books and missing tennis, my mind began to wander. I thought about others that were confined to their homes, much as I am here in Southern California. Because this was a rather unplanned sequestering, most folks have had to make-do with what they have on hand.

Last week, ESPN, hungry for sports news, where thanks to the virus, none exists, showed Federer hitting balls against a backboard on his private court. I imagined that he had to make sure there were no gut strings involved that would grow gummy in the wet and wild weather. Then I thought, what if his supply of synthetic strings ran low? A crafty guy like Federer would have something on hand. He would have known that he needed to rehab and there should have been a way to make that happen. What better way to get in shape for tennis than with tennis?

I imagined that he called his good friend Rafa and the two of them surely would have chatted about the dilemma Roger was having. He needed to rehab, but he had way too much gut and not enough synthetic string. As problems go, this should have been inconsequential, in the scheme of things, but it wasn’t. They both knew that their livelihood should not depend on the lack of suitable manmade product. The chitchat that the two greats exchanged would have been light and airy – How are the kids? How about the newlyweds? How’s the fishing going? Kids are fine; marriage is fine; fishing isn’t what it once was, but life is good. Wait – fishing… Rafa might have remembered that he left a tackle box in Roger’s huge garage. Recalling the contents, he would have said, “Check the stash of fishing line, No?”

A glimmer of hope would have painted a smile on Roger’s face and off he would go to check the garage for the tackle box. Looking in every crevice of the space that was carefully catalogued and organized for convenience, he might finally have spotted the box. It was filled with hooks and lures. Not much in the way of fishing line, but when he moved the top drawer, there under it all, was a supply of fishing line. It would have been cold out there. Roger would have stuffed his pockets with spools of various test weights. (Fishing line is gauged by the size of fish it could be strong enough to reel in.)

He would have jogged back into the house, thrilled with his find. After all, the sporting goods stores were all on hiatus because the places had been declared non-essential businesses. The thought of that had left him muttering about who made those decisions? But, he would have headed for his stringing machine, hoping all the while for a miracle.

He would have tried the 16-pound test line first. It was easy to evenly string the test racquet he had selected. But when he struck a ball, it nearly sliced the little green orb into pieces. By then, his wife, Mirka would have entered the picture and procured the strangely strung racquet for slicing hardboiled eggs to make uniquely cubed egg salad sandwiches. With those snacks, their four kids would have memories to share with their own children, someday. Who but a child of the father of an invention could have been so lucky?

A determined Roger would have moved on to another test case (or test racquet) then. He would next have tried the 40-pound test. The curly string would have been a clear example of over-kill, but he persevered. After it had seemed satisfactory, the excited Federer would have swiftly donned his outside clothing and ambled to the soggy court. In mere seconds, his racquet would have been immune to the wet, icy air. He would have swatted ball after ball toward his anxious opponent – the wall. Satisfied to having solved his pressing issues, at least for the day, he would have again dialed up his Spanish friend. The line would have crackled and a friendly voice would have answered, No?

Yes! Would surely have been Roger’s reply. The two friends would have marveled at their ability to think outside the box, even though the solution had been in the tackle box all along.

There will be tennis again, but along the way there should be memories of triumphs that rise above the challenges that these times engender. Existence can hinge on more than tennis, but the game will survive a pandemic with a lot of patience and ingenuity.

 

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The Corona Impasse: What Effect Will It Have On The Careers Of Federer, Williams, The Bryans, Nadal, and Djokovic?

We’ve witnessed the retirement of several players over the last two years (Berdych, Ferrer, Almagro, Baghdatis, …). Many thought that the same would have happened in 2020, but that might not be the case any more.

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Roger Federer e Rafa Nadal - Wimbledon 2019 (foto via Twitter, @wimbledon)
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Caveat lector. All those who, after reading the title, are about to accuse me, to accuse us of click-baiting, those are invited to refrain from reading.

 

We are simply trying to discuss themes that we notice to be in the minds of the fans, and we are trying to relieve them from the more or less catastrophic updates they are bombarded with on a daily basis, at a time when actual tennis will be off limits for God knows how long.

I also warn those who are still reading, out of intellectual honesty, that I have no evidence to support the hypotheses I’m going to make in the few lines – however, I’m relying on predictions coming from inside the tennis microcosm. Most of these were made very recently, I might add, up until the cancellation of Indian Wells (feels like a century ago already!), and they appeared extremely reliable. Said predictions obviously don’t apply anymore, but I still think that some friendly and useful debate might spring, starting from a few considerations floating in my brain.

I’d like to begin by reminding the readers that, between 2019 and the dawn of the 2020 season, the unexpected Kim Clijsters comeback was counterpointed by many retirements of noted players, starting with a pair of perennial Top Tenners, David Ferrer and Tomas Berdych, joined in tennis Benidorm by Nicolas Almagro, Marcos Baghdatis (all former Top 10 players), but also Victor Estrella Burgos and Max Mirnyi, and that’s just on the men’s side.

As for females, the obvious star is Maria Sharapova, but also Sweet Caroline Wozniacki and Dominika Cibulkova. In 2018, we said goodbye to Tommy Haas, Francesca Schiavone, Roberta Vince, Karin Knapp, Nadia Petrova, Gilles Muller, Florian Mayer, Mikhail Youzhny, and I’m probably forgetting more and more.

But what was going to happen over the rest of the 2020 season and beyond? How many would have ridden off into the sunset this year?

Well, the twin rulers of doubles, Bob and Mike Bryan (119 and 124 titles, respectively) announced that they would stop after the US Open, after spending 438 weeks, as joint leaders of the ATP Rankings (although Mike actually spent 506 weeks at the top), with a streak of 139 consecutive weeks – record on record. Bonus one: they also concluded ten seasons as the world’s best. We know what’s going on in New York, and so the US Open might not take place, even if postponed.

Pedalling backwards, after the 41 years of age of the Bryans (they’ll turn 42 on April 29) we find Venus Ebony Williams, who turns 40 on June 17.

Despite winning 7 Slams out of 16 finals (5 at Wimbledon), Venus reached the N.1 spot on three different occasions but for a meagre total of 11 weeks, a chasm between her and Serena, who’s been on the throne for 319 weeks (nine more than Federer!) and has surely prevented her from doing it herself on more than one occasion.

A year ago, Venus implied to me that her goal was to play in the Olympics once more. Having already bagged four gold medals (like her sister), once in singles and thrice as a pair (with a mixed doubles silver medal on the side), Venus is the only tennis player who can boast a medal at four different Olympics (from Sydney onwards), and if she’d gotten one in Tokyo her record would have probably become even more unbreakable – let’s remember that she and Serena never lost a Slam final in the doubles.

Her spirit wasn’t broken by two defeats she suffered against a girl who might be her daughter (Coco Gauff beat her at the Championships and in Australia), at least not to the point of declaring herself ready to hang her racquet. However, even if the rankings are frozen by the virus, she’s now stuck at the 67th spot, and I’d be extremely surprised if the postponement of the Tokyo Games hasn’t made her call it a career.

Speaking of Tokyo, we know that the Olympics are now delayed till 2021 (even though the Japanese don’t want the 2020 branding to end up in a waste-bin), but we don’t know exactly when they’ll take place. Some think they might happen in June (when the UEFA Euros will also be played); some say March, when the simultaneous progress of the Sunshine Double would effectively behead the tennis event in Japan or spell a second doom for at least one event; some say they will happen in the same dates that were slated this year.

PAGE 2: WILL ROGER FEDERER AND SERENA STILL BE PLAYING IN 2021?

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Will the ATP and WTA Retaliate Against The French Open?

The French Federation is at fault, but not too much. Was Rafa Nadal selfish? What about Roger Federer? This isn’t the first civil war in tennis history.

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Roger Federer (@usopen - Twitter)

The French Open’s surprise move was bound to instigate a long streak of reactions, after postponing the tournament to September while stomping on over ten ATP and WTA events plus the Laver Cup. The president of the FFT, Giudicelli (who’s from Corsica like Napoleon), must have foreseen this backlash, and the same goes for tournament director Guy Forget. They decided to reserve the first available dates at all costs, and therefore went straight to their goal, thinking that the many powers-that-be in tennis wouldn’t like it, but that many players perhaps would, because those who aren’t invited to Boston’s Laver Cup would hardly give up a Slam’s prize money – the Slams are the only Slams that guarantee at least £35,000 to first-round losers.

 

THE USUAL SCHEDULING ISSUES

As I wrote a few minutes after learning about this shocking piece of news, this was a selfish decision, announced in a very arrogant and typically French way. I also agreed with Vasek Pospisil’s wording for it, although he was wrong in saying that nobody had been notified beforehand. It was also a sort of war declaration on the tennis establishment, or – at the very least – a clear provocation meant to cause a re-structuring of the season’s schedule. Such re-structuring has been invoked for years by those same governing bodies that rule the game, ma each of them would like to give it a shape that suits exclusively their own interests – of course, an accord was never reached.

POSSIBLE PLAYER RETALIATION

Maybe the challenge that the FFT has posed to the ATP, the WTA, Tennis Australia, and the USTA – not so much to Wimbledon, which always maintains some kind of detachment, embodying the French phrase “noblesse oblige” – will backfire, coming back to bite them like a boomerang, a weapon that the Aussies know very well. There are various forms of retaliation that the players could put into practice (either ATP or WTA members).

Number one: a full French Open boycott come September. Number two (which would materialise after they realise that unanimity cannot be reached in the union like it happened at the 1973 Championships, since many players would be bent on playing after so many cancellations, as Andrey Rublev clearly said: “It’s better to play in a Slam than not. We have no wages – if you don’t play, you don’t make a living”): let the tournament be played with no ATP points at stake. Number three: threaten to take away these points from the 2021 edition as well (the other Slams would probably enjoy that). Number four: cancel the Paris Masters, which also belongs to the FFT and gives another marquee event to the Ville Lumière.

PARIS’S ALLIES

On the other hand, the FFT could receive some unexpected aid from those clay events that were cancelled due to the Coronavirus outbreak, events that could experience a resurgence should the Olympic Games and the whole North American summer swing be postponed – who knows what shape the Big Apple will be in come late August? This would be the ultimate embodiment of the Latin phrase-turned-zero-sum-game, mors tua vita mea. And that would mean that Rome – if yet out of the lockdown – and the other clay capitals could get back in play, more than happy to function as a prologue for the autumnal French Open, even after having thought the worst things about Forget and Giudicelli’s move.

On a side note for Italy, it looks a lot less likely that Turin or Milan could take the place of Bercy in November, cancelling the ATP Next Gen Finals in concert with the ATP… Today the Italian Federation is having a conference call, and I would bet on a neutral stance on the matter. I don’t expect any condemnation for the behaviour of the French, due to the fact that if the Italian management will see an opening for later play (may it be August, September, or October), before or after the Paris Slam, they will certainly not throw it away by souring the relationship with the FFT.

NADAL’S SILENT ASSENT

Rafael Nadal (@atptour – Twitter)

Going back to the French revolutionary move – after all, who has more rights than the French to spark a revolution? – there’s no doubt that it appeared as a unilateral move at a time when this pandemic should suggest more solidarity. They obviously got the assent of their king, Rafa Nadal, that’s almost a due act. If Rafa had said no from the get-go, their stance would have looked a whole lot weaker. Forget and Giudicelli told the world that Nadal said yes, and his silence is looking like a confirmation. Can we therefore criticise Rafa’s selfishness (for instance, he supports the Davis Cup, organised by the ITF and Gerard Piqué, only as long as it takes place in Madrid)? Of course we can, but on the other hand what should we say about Federer and of his brainchild, the Laver Cup, which from nowhere has snatched up a week of the ATP season (a week that would have been useful to the Davis Cup, which was so crammed that if forced crazy finishing time throughout the whole week last year)?

THE CHOICES OF THE ATP: BRAVO TO GAUDENZI AND CALVELLI

I can only imagine how happy can be Andrea Gaudenzi and Massimo Calvelli, the new ATP top dogs, to find themselves in the midst of a melee that involves two of the three best players in the world along with every other party – we can only express our sympathy for these unlucky men. To have to deal with this virus-induced mess in your first year in charge, with the conflicting interests of the tournaments and the selfishness of everybody, wasn’t even remotely imaginable. It’s something that literally could not be wished on your worst enemy. They’ve been brave, they’ve taken well-pondered decisions, and for the time being I applaud them, for what it’s worth. Perhaps American, French, or British CEOs wouldn’t have taken such decisive action against the Coronavirus. The examples set by Trump, Macron, and Johnson – I apologise for the momentary field invasion – lead me to believe that this would have been the case. As for the Germans… well, I apologise for this too, but they sure have a much more cryptic way to release their death toll, and a much trickier one for that matter, perhaps in a cunning attempt to save their own economy.

LAVER CUP, ATP CUP, AND WIMBLEDON’S STRENGTH: MAYBE THE FRENCH OPEN IS AT FAULT, BUT NOT TOO MUCH 

Now, going back to stuff I’m definitely more knowledgeable about… if I were the FFT’s attorney – pretty tough gig these days – I would claim that the Australian Open and the US Open have always promoted their own interests above all else, more or less jointly, de facto co-opting the organising of the Laver Cup even before they were slated for play in Chicago and Boston, thus establishing an exclusive partnership with Tony Godsick and Roger Federer. Tennis Australia, moreover, has pretty much created the ATP Cup, an event that has the firepower to kill the Davis Cup forever, both in its original and in its Piqué format. So, glass houses…

Wimbledon, thanks to its prestige and tradition, has always managed to be considered the biggest Slam, despite being played on a seldom-utilised surface like grass. If the AELTC had acted like the FFT did, I think it would have drawn much less cornering criticism. As things stand, the French Open is becoming the weakest among the Slams, after many years in which the Australian Open was the smallest child at the table, and this will inexorably happen if everybody else will turn against them – the possibility that Indian Wells and Miami took over those dates was real, as they can count on the support of the US Open, of IGM, of the USTA, and of several American management companies. After Brexit, the French Open is pretty much the last European stronghold, and all European clay events rely on its prestige, which has been thinning year in and year out in favour of the hardcourt swings that Americans and Aussies love so much.

Brad Stine, who coached Jim Courier at his peak, told the New York Times: “In such a wretched year, the possibility of playing two Slams, even if just a week apart from each other, would be like a gift from the heavens!”

THE GAME’S POWER STRUGGLES

So, after our website has reported all sorts of opinions on the matter (even diverging ones within the FFT), I’d like to conclude on the same ideas as the other day. It could very well be that there’s a silver lining in every cloud. Power struggles have always happened in tennis: I remember the WCT v ATP and ITF kerfuffle in the early 70s, the one between ITF and the Team Tennis league organized by Larry King and Billie Jean King in various American cities (Jimmy Connors wasn’t allowed to play the 1974 French Open because of it, which prevented him from going for the Grand Slam), and I can even remember, further back, the conflict between Jack Kramer’s professional tour and the ITF-supported shamateurism… which prevented Ken Rosewall from playing in 44 Slams over 11 years!

If there was just one governing body, things would certainly be better off, but no one will ever want to give up even the tiniest claim to power, and this is the real problem in tennis – after that, much more heinous, of Covid-19.

 

 

 

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