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Grand Slam

Five French Open Talking Points

Following the completing of the 2019 tournament on Sunday, here are five topics worth further discussion.

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photo by Gianni Ciaccia

From the unexpected to the predictable, this year’s French Open had it all. Ash Barty stunned the women’s draw to win her maiden grand slam titles. Meanwhile, Rafael Nadal continued his dominance of the men’s section. The past two weeks in the French capital have been full of drama.

 

Here are five takes from this year’s tournament.

1) Another Slam, and another event where the women receive unfavourable scheduling.

Tournament officials made some egregious scheduling decisions during this fortnight. Some conflicts were unavoidable due to rain, and thankfully a roof will resolve that issue next year (at least on one court). But there were many instances where the tournament could have done a better job in presenting the women’s matches. One example is bringing Djokovic and Thiem back on Saturday to complete their semifinal rather than try to finish it on Friday. There ended up being much more sunshine on Friday evening after the match had already been postponed. Even if the Djokovic/Thiem match had not concluded on Friday night, enough tennis could have been played where it would have avoided the delay of the women’s championship. This is now the second time in the last four Majors the WTA final was bumped for a men’s semifinal. And there were other smaller mistakes made as well, such as scheduling a blockbuster Sloane Stephens/Garbine Muguruza match at the end of the day following both Federer and Nadal on Court Philippe-Chatrier. Many fans left after the two all-time greats played, leaving an extremely muted atmosphere for a match between two Slam champions. It would be wiser to schedule a women’s match in between Federer and Nadal. While the women’s draw was lacking the star power of the men’s in the second week, tournaments too often do the women no favours in enabling star power to be created. And on seven of the first nine days of the tournament, the women were scheduled first on Chatrier at 11:00am, playing in a mostly-empty stadium as the French fans eat their lunch.

2) If the French care more about lunch than Federer versus Nadal, they don’t deserve to host a Major.

The number of empty seats for the Federer/Nadal match at 1:00pm Friday, as well as the next day for the resumption of Djokovic/Thiem as 12:00pm, was astonishing and disgraceful. This was an issue on every day of the fortnight, but was even more shocking with the sport’s greatest rivalry on the court. As Ben Rothenberg highlighted on Twitter, French officials even used ball kids to fill in the empty seats in the lower level of Chatrier on Saturday. And I’m not kidding when I suggest it might be worth considering a different city to host the sport’s fourth Grand Slam event. Indian Wells would be a strong choice to be upgraded to a Major, or starting a new Slam event in Asia would certainly be good for the sport’s growth. Short of downgrading this tournament, officials should take a page out of the USTA’s book, and move the start of play on Chatrier to later in the day. With a roof and lights on the way, play on Chatrier should not begin before 1:00pm or 2:00pm. Or at a minimum, the tournament should allow grounds pass ticket holders into the lower bowl of Chatrier until the French’s precious lunchtime is over.

3) It’s long overdue for the French Open to institute final set tiebreaks.

This is another way in which this tournament is lagging behind the other Majors. While it’s absurd how all four Slams have different rules for final sets, at least the other Majors have introduced a tiebreak at some point. Once players get to 6-6 in the final set, especially the men who have played five full sets by that stage, isn’t that enough? It’s preferable for the fans, the tournament schedule, the television schedule, and players alike to have a discernable end in sight. Players who win extended fifth sets rarely advance much further in the tournament after such an overdose of tennis.

4) Let’s end this debate now: there is nothing unfair or unsportsmanlike about underhand serving.

This has become a much talked about topic of late, due to the 30th anniversary of Michael Chang’s victory in Paris, as well as current players such as Nick Kyrgios reintroducing this tactic to the sport. But there’s really no debate here. An underhand serve is a fair and strategic tactic, no different than a drop shot. With many players standing so far back to return serve, I’m surprised this hasn’t been used more often. Anyone crying foul over this strategy being applied is just plain wrong.

5) Despite the valid criticisms of the tournament, let’s celebrate all the compelling storylines provided.

A player who walked away from the sport at the age of 18, due to the pressure and travel involved, comes back to win a Major on their least-preferred surface. A former champion struggling to regain their top form after serious knee surgery, battles through one of the sport’s most promising young fighters in a match that went over five hours, in surely the match of the tournament, if not the year. A 37-year-old Frenchman most well-known for being on the losing end of tennis’ longest match gets to share what was perhaps his two last victories at home with his young son, who joined him on court. And of course, the King of Clay wins his twelfth title at the same Grand Slam event, giving him a 24-0 record in the semifinals and finals. No other sport provides us with such a plethora of great moments throughout the entire year.

Grand Slam

Na-Lae Han, Tatsuma Ito Clinch Australian Open Wildcards

With just over a month to go, wildcards for the first grand slam of 2020 have already been decided.

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Han Na-Lae (image via wtatennis.com)

South Korean player Na-Lae Han is set to make her grand slam debut at the Australian Open next month after winning the Asia-Pacific playoff tournament in Zhuhai, China.

 

The 27-year-old, who was the top seed in the tournament, downed Ayano Shimizu 6-2 6-2 in the final to secure her spot in Melbourne. Han is currently ranked 182nd in the world and has won a trio of ITF $25,000 titles this season. She is currently the only player from her country to be ranked inside the top 300 on the WTA Tour.

“It’s the first time I played Ayano. I am really happy to win the championship and to capture the wildcard,” Han told Tennis Australia.

Han was hoping for double success after also taking part in the doubles draw alongside compatriot Choi Ji-hee. However, the duo lost in the semi-finals. Han won her first and so far only WTA title at the 2018 Korean Open in the doubles with Choi. The wildcard was secured by the Chinese Taipei pairing of Ya-Hsuan Lee and Fang-Hsien Wu.

In the men’s tournament Japan’s Tatsuma Ito upset top seed Jason Jung 7-5, 6-4, to seal his place. 31-year-old Ito has been ranked as high as 60th in the world and will be playing in the main draw of the Australian Open for the sixth time in his career. However, he last won a match in the tournament back in 2013. This year he reached the main draw after coming through qualifying, but lost in the first round to Dan Evans.

“I really enjoyed this moment” said Ito after his win. “I moved through into the main draw after qualifying this year. It was very tough for me and my body. It will easier next year (smiling).”

Elsewhere, South Korea’s Ji Sung Nam and Minkyu Song won the men’s doubles title. Meanwhile, China had a clean sweep in the junior competitions with Xiaofei Wang and Fangran Tian winning their events.

This year’s playoffs have been branded as a success by tournament director Isabelle Gemmel. It is the eighth consecutive year the tournament has taken place, which aim to promote top-level tennis in the region.

“Na-Lae Han was undefeated all week and Tatsuma Ito overcame a couple of tough matches to win the all-important main draw wildcard.” Said Gemmel.
“With two new countries, Korea and Japan, winning for the first time in singles, it underlines how the Asia-Pacific wildcard playoff has established itself as a key tournament in its own right and how valued it is in the Asia-Pacific region.”

The 2020 Australian Open will get underway on January 20th.

List of winners

MEN’S SINGLES: Tatsuma Ito (JPN)

WOMEN’S SINGLES: Na-Lae Han (KOR)

MEN’S DOUBLES: Ji Sung Nam and Minkyu Song (KOR)

WOMEN’S DOUBLES: Ya-Hsuan Lee and Fang-Hsien Wu (TPE)

BOYS’ SINGLES: Xiaofei Wang (CHN)

GIRLS’ SINGLES: Fangran Tian (CHN)

 

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Grand Slam

Margaret Court’s Tennis To Be Celebrated At Australian Open But Not Her Politics

Margaret Court will be invited to the Australian Open this year despite her political views.

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Margaret Court(@shopworldoffers - Twitter)

Tennis Australia will be celebrating Margaret Court’s tennis at the Australian Open in January but not her politics. 

 

Margaret Court has won 24 grand slam singles titles, the most of any female player in history as of now, and has been invited to celebrate 50 years since winning one of 11 Australian Open titles.

That year, she would also win all four grand slam titles, marking a historic year for Court in the context of her tennis career.

But for many Australians and people around the world that is not the way she is being remembered lately as it’s her politics that are taking over.

Just before the Gay Marriage Referendum vote in 2018, Margaret Court expressed her rather hateful views towards the LGBTQ community, calling transgender children the work of “the devil.”

Furthermore she claimed that tennis was full of lesbians, “Tennis is full of lesbians. Even when I was playing there were only a couple there but those couple that led took young ones into parties,” Court told Vision Christian Radio in 2017.

Those views have been criticised by many with the likes of Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova wanting her name stripped from the second biggest court at the Australian Open.

Now, a couple of years later after much debate, Court will be invited to the Australian Open for her incredible achievement 50 years ago as Tennis Australia announced today.

The Australian was thrilled to hear the truce given by Tennis Australia, “This is an incredible milestone for me, and I can’t quite believe how quickly the time has gone. It’s always wonderful to catch up with my fellow legends and I’m grateful to Tennis Australia,” Court said in Tennis Australia’s press release.

During the event a special documentary of Court reflecting back on that achievement will be released as well as this there will be in-stadium entertainment celebrating the event as well as a legends lunch.

But once again Tennis Australia once again distanced themselves from Court’s political views as they stated in their press release, “As often stated, Tennis Australia does not agree with Margaret’s personal views, which have demeaned and hurt many in our community over a number of years,” Tennis Australia said.

“They do not align with our values of equality, diversity and inclusion. Our sport welcomes everyone, no matter what gender, ability, race, religion or sexuality, and we will continue to actively promote inclusion initiatives widely at all levels of the sport.

“#Open4All encompasses events such as the Glam Slam, an international LGBTQI tournament that has been held at the Australian Open for the past few years, and will be back for AO 2020.

“We have also hosted events for the National Inclusion Conference and have ongoing working relationships with the Pride in Sport Index and Stand Up Events. A full program of #Open4All events at Australian Open 2020 will be released in the coming weeks.

“The Australian Open is for everyone, and we look forward to welcoming the world to Melbourne in January 2020.”

Although, Court will continue to cause controversy especially considering Tennis Australia’s ‘tale of two halves’ press release.

The Australian will hope that it will be her tennis that will be remembered in January, but it won’t be a smooth ride on the road to being appreciated.

 

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Grand Slam

Tennis Australia Face Calls To Honour Margaret Court In 2020 Amid Potential Backlash

The 77-year-old is regarded as one of her country’s greatest-ever tennis players, but has been criticised for a series of homophobic comments she has made.

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Controversial tennis legend Margaret Court has said she wants to be treated the same as fellow former great Rod Laver concerning the upcoming anniversary of one of the biggest milestones she has ever achieved in her career.

 

2020 will mark 50 years since Court won all four grand slam titles within the same season. An elusive achievement in the world of tennis. Only three women in total have managed to complete a calendar grand slam – Maureen Connolly (1953) and Steffi Graf (1988) are the others. Court also still holds the record for the most grand slam singles titles ever won by a tennis player at 24. One ahead of Serena Williams.

Court said she has received no contact from Tennis Australia regarding any plans to mark her milestone. Laver, who is the only man to ever complete the calendar grand slam twice, was honoured this year for his accomplishment. It is the 50th anniversary of when he claimed the four major trophies back in 1969.

“I think Tennis Australia should sit and talk with me (about the anniversary),” Court told Nine News Australia.
“They have never phoned me. Nobody has spoken to me directly about it. I think they would rather not confront it.
“They brought Rod in from America. If they think I’m just going to turn up, I don’t think that is right. I think I should be invited. I would hope they would pay my way to come like they paid for his, and honour me. If they are not going to do that, I don’t really want to come.”

Any move to honour Court at the Australian Open in January is likely to split opinion. The 77-year-old has been criticised for a series of homophobic remarks she has made for many years. In 1990 she once said that Martina Navratilova was a bad role model for children because she is gay. A vocal opponent of same-sex marriage, she said in another interview in 2017 that tennis was ‘full of lesbians’ and those who identify as transgender were ‘the work of the devil.’ In another incident, Court wrote a comment to an Australian newspaper is which she said took a swipe at former player Casey Dellacqua after she announced the birth of her child. Dellacqua is in a same-sex relationship.

There have been calls for Court’s name to be removed from one of the premier stadiums at the Australian Open in light of hew views. Billie Jean King, who is one of the founding members of the WTA, has previously called for the arena to be renamed.

“I don’t feel any of that should be brought into my tennis career,” Court told The Sydney Morning Herald about calls for her name being removed. “It was a different phase of my life from where I am now and if we are not big enough as a nation and a game to face those challenges there is something wrong.
“Many gay people think my name shouldn’t come off it. There are many gay people who don’t believe in gay marriage. They know that marriage is between a man and a woman and they will say that. Then you get the radicals coming at me, you have got these minority groups in every area now having a say and taking on nations and taking on big companies.”

Whilst her comments have triggered controversy, Court has insisted that she has nothing against gay people. Claiming she has members of the LGBT community attend her church. Following retirement from tennis, Court became a Christian pastor.

“I have gay people in the church. It is nothing against the people themselves, I just said what the Bible said. If I can’t say what the Bible says, there is something wrong.”

The ball is now very much in the court of Tennis Australia, who oversees the running of the Melbourne major. Although coming to a decision will not be easy. In June they were named as one of the best sporting organisations for LGBTIQ+ inclusion in the annual Pride Sport Awards in Melbourne.

“As previously stated, Tennis Australia recognises the tennis achievements of Margaret Court, although her views do not align with our values of equality, diversity and inclusion.” A statement from Tennis Australia reads.

During her career Court won 140 titles in the Open Era (1968 onwards). 92 of those were in singles and 48 were in doubles. At the 1963 Australian Open and 1970 US Open she won all three titles in singles, doubles and mixed doubles.

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