2019 French Open: Where The 'Fedal' Twain Shall Meet Again - UBITENNIS
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2019 French Open: Where The ‘Fedal’ Twain Shall Meet Again

The re-igniting of the Fedal rivalry at the French Open has renewed implications, going beyond the event itself

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Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, French Open 2005
Photo Credit: Live Tennis

For a while now, make that years’ worth, we have been waiting for a Roger Federer-Rafael Nadal clash at the US Open. The draws have been made, either they have been grouped in the same half – and one has fallen short – or they have happened to be in different halves entirely, and have never met.

 

One reason for the higher-than-usual (in the last couple of years) pangs to see Fedal square-off in New York is because of how each of their meetings in the three other Majors has been. We have seen Nadal end Federer’s reign as the favourite at Wimbledon, and the Australian Open. The first result coming about after multiple attempts while achieving the second, in a far easier manner.

But it is what we have had the opportunity to see in Roland Garros that has kept this rivalry distinct and blazing, impervious to time passing by. Twelve of their previous 38 matches have come at the three Majors. Five of these 12 meetings have come by in Paris, four in finals and once in that fated semi-final in 2005, which in the truest of terms was the origin of this rivalrous duopoly. And, it had to happen the way it did for audiences to understand the significance of what this rivalry was and would continue to be.

Though, for a moment, let us imagine an alternate reality. A reality in which the Swiss, instead of the Spaniard, won their first meeting and the ones to follow thereafter. Let us think of an alt-verse where results at the 2008 French Open and Wimbledon did not turn out the way they did. And it was the Mallorcan in place of the Basel-born who needed a coincidental intervention to halt the latter in his tracks in Paris, the following year.

If all of these had transpired, would we have felt the same way about the two being the nemesis of each other? What hold would each player have had in our lives? Would we be thinking of them as a duology, where each player is one half of a pair that has added to men’s tennis’ qualitative appeal?

Indeed, they would have been rivals still but we would not have seen them as equals – as the greatest of the game – despite the clear unevenness in their head-to-head, albeit in Federer’s favour. Most of all, if they had been slated to play in the semi-final of the French Open nearly a decade-and-a-half removed since their first meeting there under such envisioned reality, perhaps, we would not have been this excited about the prospective match-up.

The reality as we know it is so much better. In its moments of exultation and in times of despair – for the players, their fans and even for the supposedly unbiased viewers – reality has presented the players as humans. Each match between Federer and Nadal has seen both players put forth this quality – humanness – at the forefront while vying for wins. Regardless of how easy or hard the results have come by for either player.

When Federer and Nadal step onto the court for their 39th meeting, they will try to do the same all over again, impassive to time’s turning. As Federer said, “Like against any player, there is always a chance. Otherwise, nobody will be in the stadium to watch because everybody already knows the result in advance…For me to get to Rafa is not simple. It took five matches here for me to win to get there. That’s why I’m very happy to play Rafa, because if you want to do or achieve something on the clay, inevitably, at some stage, you will go through Rafa, because he’s that strong and he will be there.

In a way, this match is also about getting closure, specifically in the French capital.

Where Wimbledon and the Australian Open have given us relative cessation, the French Open has remained in limbo in its one-sidedness. This contest, coming at a time when both have different highs at their backs, promises to be an interesting pivot for them to revisit their rivalry and their legacy at the Majors.

Even as it rekindles exigency for more of their matches at the Majors. Not only in Flushing Meadows later in the year, but perhaps in the soon-to-follow Wimbledon championships, too, in a unique kind of second wind.

Editorial

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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The Coronavirus Crisis Exposes A Lack Of Communication And Solidarity Among Tennis’ Top Bodies

There should be unity when it comes to a global pandemic that threatens the sport, but this has failed to happen once again.

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What is the world of tennis doing to deal with the Coronavirus threat? It should be a question with one answer from all within the sport. However, this was never going to happen in the confusing and complex world of tennis politics.

 

On Thursday afternoon the ATP confirmed the suspension of their tour for six weeks with immediate effect. Challenger tournaments taking place at present are to be cancelled by the end of the day (after matches have finished) and some of the most prestigious events will no longer happen. Including Miami, Monte Carlo and Barcelona. All set to feature many of the world’s top 10 players.

“This is not a decision that was taken lightly and it represents a great loss for our tournaments, players, and fans worldwide. However we believe this is the responsible action needed at this time in order to protect the health and safety of our players, staff, the wider tennis community and general public health in the face of this global pandemic.” ATP CEO Andrea Gaudenzi said in a statement.
“The worldwide nature of our sport and the international travel required presents significant risks and challenges in today’s circumstances, as do the increasingly restrictive directives issued by local authorities. We continue to monitor this on a daily basis and we look forward to the Tour resuming when the situation improves. In the meantime, our thoughts and well-wishes are with all those that have been affected by the virus.”

As male players ponder the repercussions of what the decision will have on them with many joking that they have been made unemployed, their female counterparts were left waiting. Then they waited some more and are still waiting now for some clarity.

In an unexpected turn of events, the WTA didn’t take a similar approach as that to the ATP. Well, for the moment that is what it seems. No statement has been disclosed to the public about their plans to counter Covid-19 on the tour. The only light shed was courtesy of the Associated Press, who obtained a brief comment.

It is as much shocking as it is baffling considering the ATP and WTA tour’s simultaneously take place in the same parts of the world many times throughout the year. Although this was always going to happen when there are two governing bodies. ATP oversees the men’s tour and WTA is in charge of the women’s.

Tennis bosses could rightfully argue that they should have the choice to do what they think is best. But surely a united approach to a global pandemic is the best one? Unless both tours take place on opposite sides of the world, what is the logic in not doing so?

In the midst of the confusion, the WTA suffered a fresh blow. The prestigious Volvo Open in Charleston officially cancelled their tournament for next month due to the current crises. It was at this point when WTA chief Steve Simon commented on his organisation’s approach to Covid-19. Almost five hours after the ATP statement.

“The WTA, working alongside our players and tournament leaders, will make a decision in the week ahead regarding the European clay season.” Simon said in a press release.

Of course, there has been communication between tennis’ top bodies. On what level as to what kind of detail is unclear. Although it is pretty evident that there are no united front. Rightfully, they both want to do what is best for their players, but seemingly have different ideas of how to tackle it.

There is also the International Tennis Federation to take into account. Overseen by president David Haggerty, they are in charge of the Fed and Davis Cup tournaments as well as the Olympic Tennis competition. To their credit, they have been the only governing body to mention the others.

“We are of course working closely with the WTA and ATP as well as with the IOC to minimise the health risk due to the spread of COVID-19.” ITF Head of Communications Heather Bowler told Ubitennis.
“There will be further announcements as the situation is evolving on a daily basis and tennis is working collaboratively to handle the impact on our sport.
“Since early Feb 2020, the ITF formed a dedicated COVID-19 Advisory Group comprised of medical, travel and security experts which is continuously monitoring the data, WHO guidelines and the steps announced by national authorities.”

Although there is irony when it comes to the ITF. Yesterday they confirmed the postpone of Fed Cup playoffs and finals. Then today they did the draw for the Davis Cup finals later this year, an hour after the ATP six-week suspension was confirmed. Would this timing have been made if tennis was run by one organisation? Absolutely not. By the way, all ITF tournaments have been postponed until April 20th.

It is clear that tennis is very patchy and has been for many years. They have a history of struggling to find a common ground. Just look at the development of men’s team tournaments over the past couple of years.

The ATP, WTA and ITF are not terrible organisations. Without them tennis would not be where it is now, which is a multi-million pound sport. However, they do lack unity and at times clarity. Leaving players and their teams in an uncertain situation.

Maybe it is time player’s have their own union in the future? After all, would you want to work in a job where there are three different bosses who make three different policies that will influence your career?

Locations of tournaments in the near future

WEEK STARTING ATP WTA
9/3/20 Indian Wells, USA
Indian Wells, USA
23/3/20 Miami, USA
Miami, USA
6/4/20 Marrakech, MOR
Houston, USA
Charleston, USA
Bogotá, COL
13/4/20 Monte Carlo
Fed Cup Finals, HUN*
2-/4/20 Barcelona, ESP
Budapest, HUN
Stuttgart, GER
Istanbul, TUR

*Run by ITF
Note: Cities crossed out with a horizontal line marks cancelled tournaments as of March 12th 2020.

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Coronavirus: I Think That The Time For Jokes Is Over

Those who should be calling the shots are showing more and more uncertainty. Surely, this is ignorance-driven, but then we should just play it safe.

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We’ve been kidding long enough. I wouldn’t have wanted to write about Coronavirus myself, since many have already done so and with much greater competence than I could ever muster. However, the situation has gotten to a point that prompts me to do it, albeit with the awareness that I can’t say anything particularly new or offer a fresh perspective on the disease. Right now, I feel like common sense is the only thing we can rely on, and I hope I have some to offer. 

 

Newspapers, TVs, all sorts of media outlets, they’ve been publishing endless content about Covid-19, flooding front pages, bulletins, etc…

At the same time, though, I’m pretty sure that we’ve all received jokes and memes on WhatsApp, always with a Coronavirus motif. Well, I think that we’ve reached the threshold of seriousness (especially among tennis and sports fans in general), now that we’re seeing some victims who apparently weren’t sick nor octogenarians.

While a few days ago I was frankly amused by a friend of mine who elected not to shake hands with me, well, today – after reading of a 61-year-old who died in Parma on Sunday night after experiencing the early symptoms on Friday night, a man who was apparently healthy and sporty, spending the entirety of his spare time on court – today I find myself more understanding towards whoever may decide to take precautions, while still trying not to be engulfed in mass hysteria.

And I don’t see why we shouldn’t advise that our loved ones take the same precautions, since they don’t hurt in any way – except for causing some embarrassment at having to refuse a handshake or a kiss on the cheek – and that the threat for public health is real, although maybe not as much as advertised.  So why take a risk? Quo bono? We can always apologise if our choice upsets somebody, as the other day I was upset myself, and we can always explain that we are not just doing it for our own sake. Is it boring, is it a nuance, is it ridiculous? It is, but there are worse ordeals to go through, ordeals that many people like us are experiencing after having felt safe and after having perhaps tried to play it cool when facing more timorous and wary than theirs.

Our politicians have been under heavy fire for the past few days. Some attacks were justified, others were not, some were ludicrous and self-interested, others were just spontaneous. Honestly, this isn’t an easy situation to manage, and, most importantly, no-one (and I mean no-one) could have any experience in managing them. This a complex predicament, even more from a public relations standpoint than from a decision-making one, because of the consequences that all choices and communications could have, on the one hand, for public health (the most important thing, and yet tied to a knowledge of the virus that eludes most), and. on the other, for the economy of a region and of a whole country, especially when having to take into account that some other countries might want – and I underline, might want – to speculate on the spread of the virus within our borders. The newly-found reputation of Italy having almost as many sick patients as China or South Korea – even though this is mostly caused by the quantity of testing that we’ve administered, unlike many other countries who have deemed us plague-spreaders – is a media reality that we have to come to terms with, unfortunately.

Almost all of us (including myself) have been making gut-based decisions, even when our gut blew hot and cold, influenced by official and non-officials channels that kept telling us different things, one minute trying to calm us down and instilling mortal dread the next.

Maybe this is due to contingent interests. The necessity not to scare-monger excessively, the necessity not to destroy the economy of a nation that has been acting as one of the three main incubators from the beginning, these necessities have driven some, politicians and laymen, to present scenarios that were ever too optimistic.

It won’t be easy to revive all the companies that in the meantime have fallen to historic lows, nor those that have experienced a heavy avalanche because of the uncertainties lying ahead.

At the same time the threat of a pandemic is casting dark lights on the future. And all of this is happening as real scientists are confused and fake ones confuse us, contradicting themselves in a hubbub of fake and actual news – the result is that nobody knows what’s going on. Unfortunately, the authorities have contributed to this disorienting feeling, both at a national, regional, and now the sports level.

The latter, like our Football Association (the Lega Calcio), have made the most damage, especially because of the media following that football has, for various reasons that encompass passion, money, visibility – a match between Juventus and Inter has a far greater impact than a concert, as it goes beyond our borders due to TV exposure. One region advised one thing, another said the exact opposite, the Serie A worried about the spread of the virus, the Serie B didn’t – a bona fide fiasco. We’ve witnessed contradictory approaches every day, even on the same show, even on different pages of the same newspaper.

Newspapers still have more credibility than web-based outlets, because we keep thinking that these fully-employed professionals are more punctual in the verification of news – I feel that such credibility is now crumbling.

Yesterday, We’ve been waiting all day of a government decree that would tell us how to go about with our daily lives as students, spectators, fans. The very first decree promulgated by our PM, Giuseppe Conte, pertained schools, whereas the wait for the expected suspension of sports events underwent further delays, as if 24 hours hadn’t been enough to make a definitive call – in the end, it was decided to play behind closed doors till April 3.

I don’t have an opinion on what should have been done, nor I think I should have one without the proper scientific knowledge that should be the basis for any decision of this kind. The only thing I feel comfortable saying is to accept every sort of decision with discipline, and to unite as much as possible, without any considerations pertaining internal divisions, contrasts, or interests.

What I care about is the Italian people and their well-being. What I care about is Italy, its consistency, and even its image, which hasn’t had many good looks so far. Let’s try, for once, to behave as we would like our kids to behave, especially for those who go to a football match solely to wish a painful death to every fouled opponent – my dream is that one day fans might stop with hate-cheering against opposing teams and cities, but I feel like this might be utopian. I mean that for the readers of UbiTennis too, who sometimes transcend civility and display attitudes that are far over the line.

Finally, to go back to our beloved game: the Davis Cup tie between Italy and South Korea will be played behind closed doors, which is too bad, as those who have made the effort to organise the event, the players, the fans, they would have deserved a proper atmosphere. I dearly hope that this decision was not instrumental to political or economic interests.

Those who should be calling the shots are showing more and more uncertainty. Surely, this is ignorance-driven, but then we should just play it safe. I have never been prone to alarmism, albeit perhaps I have been to fatalism, and this is what I think. What about you?

Article translated from Italian to English by Tommaso Villa

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