Halep’s Olympic Honour To Kuznetsova’s Visa Woes: Four Post-Wimbledon Stories You Might Have Missed - UBITENNIS
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Halep’s Olympic Honour To Kuznetsova’s Visa Woes: Four Post-Wimbledon Stories You Might Have Missed

Wimbledon may have finished on Sunday, but the world of tennis does not stop for anybody.

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When a grand slam ends, many take a break to rest and recover from what has been a blockbuster two weeks of action. Headlined by Simona Halep’s and Novak Djokovic’s triumphs in the singles tournaments. However, the sport does not rest and plenty has gone on during the past couple of days.

 

Here are four post-Wimbledon stories you might have missed.

Halep’s hero’s welcome

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Since winning the Wimbledon title, Simona Halep has made headlines across her home country of Romania. She returned back home on Monday and later that day it was announced that she would receive the ‘Star of Romania.’ The highest honour that can be handed out by the state. Halep is the first Romanian to have ever won the Wimbledon title.

“The final wasn’t as easy as it looked like. Emotionally, it was difficult, there was a big emotional charge, but I was clear in my tactics. I consider I played the perfect match on the perfect day.” The 27-year-old said during a press conference earlier this week.
“I didn’t think for a moment about the score or about what happens on court. All I wanted was to do my job and take my chances. Darren Cahill gave me some tips before the final, but it was just some friendly advice. My official coach is now Daniel Dobre.”

It has also been revealed that Halep will be the official flag bearer for Romania at the 2020 Olympic Games. The confirmation first occurred when she was questioned by a journalist. In the background there was a nod of approval from Mihai Covaliu, who is the head of the Romanian Olympic Committee.

“This is a huge success because, as you know, we don’t have grass tennis courts in Romania. As a matter of fact, there aren’t many countries to have lawn courts.” She said.
“When we are children it’s difficult to think we will ever have the chance to play at Wimbledon and win, but now the dream has come true and I hope to be an inspiration to the young generation. Make them believe in themselves, that everything is possible and never give up.”

A celebration to honour Halep’s latest achievement will take place on Wednesday at the National Arena in Bucharest.

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Rafael Nadal Hoping Coronavirus Will Not Spoil His Olympic Dreams

The 19-time grand slam champion speaks out about the worldwide outbreak.

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World No.2 Rafael Nadal has said he is hopeful that a remedy can be found to contain the worldwide Coronavirus outbreak in order to stop what he describes as ‘fear’ erupting.

 

Several countries have declared major medical emergencies in order to tackle the illness, which also goes by the name of Covid 19. It is believed to have originated in China, where the most infections and deaths from the illness have been recorded. However, Iran is also struggling with an outbreak, Italy has quantified 11 towns, Saudi Arabia is preventing foreign pilgrims from entering their country and Japan has closed schools.

Coronavirus has also had an impact on various tennis events with a string of Chinese ITF and Challenger events cancelled. Meanwhile on Sunday, the final of the ATP Bergamo Open in Italy was cancelled due to concerns. Making it the first time an European event has been impacted by the threat posed by Coronavirus.

“I hope it is controlled, that a remedy is found and this uncertainty is stopped, this psychosis, this fear. It is the most important thing, not only for the Olympic Games, but for humanity, “ Nadal commented on the issue following his second round win at the Mexican Open.

One of the biggest sporting events is also under threat – the Olympic Games. This year’s edition will be held in Tokyo, Japan. IOC council member Dick Pound has recently said the sporting event will be cancelled if there is ‘world health at stake.’ The World Health Organisation is currently working with Olympic organizers, who are keen to empathise that they have no intention of cancelling the event.

“Our basic thoughts are that we will go ahead with the Olympic and Paralympic Games as scheduled,” Committee chief executive Toshiro Muto recently told Japanese reporters.
“For the time being, the situation of the coronavirus infection is, admittedly, difficult to predict, but we will take measures such that we’ll have a safe Olympic and Paralympic Games.”

Nadal is one of many tennis players hoping to win a gold medal later this year. The Spaniard is already a three-time Olympic after competing in 2004, 2008 and 2016. He has previously won two gold medals. Claiming the singles title in 2008 and the doubles trophy alongside Marc Lopez in 2016.

“Regarding the Olympic Games, to say that it is one of the most special events in the world. It is a unique experience to be there and I consider it the most difficult tournament to win because you only have two or three chances in your career, “ Nadal commented.

The Olympic tennis tournament will get underway on July 25th. It will be held at the Ariake Coliseum.

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ATP

Topspin Rate: What The 2019 Stats Tell Us

Let’s take a look at the data collected during the season-ending events of last year, the NextGen and ATP Finals.

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Topspin groundstrokes are the ever-present feature of contemporary tennis. As it goes, the widening of racquets’ sweet spots (starting in the early 1980s) allowed for a greater net clearance, lowering the rate of baseline errors without losing girth on the shot, quite the opposite. In some kind of arms race, grips and swings have developed as well (as highlighted by this New York Times piece), increasing the role of topspin even more, to the point that “flat shot” is a mere figure of speech in today’s tennis, as almost every shot generates rotation, especially on the forehand side. 

 

At the same time, however, data needs to be relativized. While it’s true that all players put topspin on their shots, at the same time some put more than others, de facto flattening the less spinny ones in the perception of the opponent – a playing style is necessarily tied to the way a foe relates to it.

A compelling analysis can thus be to compare the numbers of each player, albeit in the limited setting of the Masters 1000 and the two Finals, the NextGen and the Master, which are the only events for which Tennis TV provides public information.

As a matter of fact, the latter two tournaments have been an object of study for the analyst (his handle is “Vestige du jour,” a likely nod to Kazuo Ishoguro, a fellow Japanese expatriate), a Twitter user who lives in Paris and who has collected the available topspin data for the 16 players who competed in the year-end bouts. Here’s the graphics, with the caveat that he used RPM, Round Per Minute, as a measure, instead of Tennis TV’s  RPS, Rounds Per Second, probably to emphasise the differences between the various samples:

Clearly, these are very limited samples, and should therefore be taken with a grain of salt (each player played a maximum of five matches), but a few inferences can be made, three of which appear to be more interesting than others.

HOMOLOGATION – The first, and most relevant, pertains the proportionality vis-à-vis the data on almost every player’s groundstrokes. it can be noticed that most rates are in the central lane of the diagram, with a ratio of about 60-65% between the rotation of the backhand and that of the forehand, barring unique styles like Tiafoe’s, whose forehand’s rate is over 3000 RPM, more than twice as much as his backhand (an even starker antinomy would emerge from the analysis of Britain’s Cameron Norrie), or single instances like Sinner’s route of Ymer (he went over 2800 with his backhand while flattening his forehand to 2200, but that match ended with a 4-0 4-2 4-1 score, far too lopsided to carry meaningful insights).

Specifically, most players have an average between 2700 and 3000 RPM on the forehand, and between 1800 and 2300 RPM on the backhand, respectively – this category features Djokovic, one Federer match, one Zverev match, Humbert, Kecmanovic, Sinner, Davidovich Fokina, and Ymer, pretty much half of the involved players, most of whom are youngsters, giving interesting indications as for the direction the game is moving towards.

This percentage of homologation is confirmed by another chart prepared by our numbers-crunching friend, which extends the study to six Masters 1000 events from the 2018 season (Miami, Monte Carlo, Madrid, Roma, Canada, Cincinnati):

An interesting corollary emerges when looking at the low reported average of Alex De Minaur and Daniil Medvedev, two players with a few shared quirks, such as their eastern grip which leads them to hit the ball with no exaggerated pronation and supination of the forearm, inherently generating less spin. Their semi-flat style extends to the backhand too, though, and this combo has them labeled as counterpunchers, given their penchant for using their opponent’s speed to generate their their own on both sides.

What seems relevants with regards to the two of them (and the same can be said for Murray, Simon, Mannarino, Bautista Agut, and especially Kukushkin) is that their reputation and imagery as reactive players is a great example of how the classic dichotomies of our sport have shifted, particularly with the way we look at offensive and defensive players, creating a chasm between tennis’s signifiers and signifieds. Until 15-20 years ago, attacking players hit hard and flat on fast surfaces, while grinders overcharged with topspin on slower turfs, whereas now most aggressive players rely on condor-like backswings and therefore prefer the clay and slow hardcourts, as opposed to the aforementioned counterpunchers who find their natural habitat indoors (thanks to the clean shots they can get) and on quick ground – Medvedev’s performance at the ATP Finals notwithstanding, since he’d been out of gas for weeks. In our view, this is the most interesting subject in contemporary tennis, and even though there isn’t much room in this piece to elaborate on its etiology (from physical changes to new tools to different surfaces), which should definitely be tackled in future, and it’s very meaningful nonetheless to highlight how the numbers confirm this transfiguration.

EVOLUTION – The second point revolves around the admirable adaptation that clay-bred champions (e.g. Nadal and Thiem, it’d be insulting to call them specialists) have undergone in order find success on the indoor Green Set of the O2 Arena.

Their versatility emerges when looking at the second chart above. As can be noticed, their topspin rate is a lot higher on clay and outdoors. This is due to the fact that greater humidity lowers the bounce indoors, making tospin shots anodyne and punishing players who stand far from the baseline, inherently forcing them to go for flatter shots (or better, less spinny), more advanced stances (something that in turn forces them to shorten the backwings), and more vertical ball-placements – this datum is rendered even more apodictic by the second chart’s footnote, reporting a 5-7 %increase in tospin rates in the three slower events, Miami (tropical hardcourt, much more humid than Madrid’s MASL-caused rarefied air), Monte Carlo, and Rome.

The contrasti s particularly stark for the Austrian, and it’s a clear symtpom of his incredible technical strides under the aegis of Nicolas Massù, especially regarding his anticipated backhand down the line (a great net play aide) e more generally his on-court positioning, far more advanced than it used to be.

Flipping this line of reasoning, on the other hand, it can be inferred that players with similar rates who have disappointed in these two events (e.g. Ruud and Berrettini, who finished with one win and five losses between the two of them) still haven’t completed their game to the point of being able to skin-change in less friendly conditions. Ruud, in particular, spins mightily from both sides (something that’s helping him in South America), and is the only player who regularly clocks at over 2400 RPM with a two-handed backhand, excluding Sinner’s one-spin-wonder.

LIMITATION? – One more contemporary axiom-disproving stat, at least among fans, is the one pertaining the topspin rate of one-handed backhands, which are purportedly without a future in their being less assertive than their paired evolution. This is a false myth though, a straw-man argument: as can be seen, the three one-handed backhands featured at the ATP Finals (Federer, Tsitsipas, Thiem) have always hit above the 2100 mark, resulting heavier than almost all of their rivals’ ones, and the truth becomes undeniable when looking at the second chart, in which all backhands averaging over 2300 RPM (except for Jaziri’s and Nadal’s) are one-handers.

The bane of such shots doesn’t abide in its abrasiveness (a longer lever generates more spin and more speed as opposed to the closer-to-the-body contact point of a two-hander) as much as in its practical use: as a matter of fact, the same distance from the contact point makes it a lot more problematic on high balls (just think of the long years of strife that Federer has endured on the left side against Nadal). What’s more, the necessity to execute a wide backswing and to hit it in a closed stance limit the shot on fast surfaces, both in the rally and in returning – it could be said that its Achilles’ heel actually stems from its very firepower, which hinders versatility in its elaborateness, especially for those who don’t possess a good slice backhand.

Some might object: what about three out of four semi-finalists at the ATP Finals being one-handers, though, without considering the many others who have performed well during the 2019 indoor season, such as Shapovalov, Dimitrov, and Wawrinka. That is unquestionably true, but a few things need to be clarified: firstly, some of these players (Federer, Dimitrov, Shapo) possess such arm-speed that they can adapt easily to such conditions, actually thriving in them, due to the effectiveness of the slice backhand of Federer and of his epigone; secondly, Thiem and Tsitsipas have had to change their game a lot to accommodate the surface switch and to succeed, learning how to hit earlier and flatter in order not to lose ground – quick demonstration, consider how many more one-handers are doing better on clay than they are on grass, and that’s precisely because bouncy slowy clay allows to hit hard from afar, whereas SW19’s lawns are unpalatable for every one-hander whose name isn’t Roger, in another flip of long-held convictions.

We’d like to end on an idea, which is that analytics help us mediate between our own prejudices and the reality of phenomena, providing us with objective considerations that could seem counter-intuitive at first sight. The dyad involving semi-flat counterpunchers and one-handed backhands (especially in relation to the surfaces on which they perform best) is the perfect representation of such concept. While it’s true that the topspin rate is just one side of the coin, it’s also true that this is exactly the kind of number that could have an impact in the upbringing of new talents, especially in the wake of a game that is becoming more and more rooted in quick points (0-4 shots) and on powerful solutions, and this evolution might widen the gap between those punchers and counter-punchers. Is this the direction the game’s going towards?

 

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Forgive Us, Roger, We Took One More Piece Of You

(Abstract) We’ve written a letter to Roger Federer, who’s been forced to take a break, and who’ll be forced to come back.

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Roger Federer, you’ve given yourself away long ago. This is hardly news, it’s what happens to many, if not to every public figure. This is what’s happened to you more than to others, and it usually goes down this way.

 

Generally, you begin by giving away your liberties, your privacy – and in so doing you lose your first piece of yourself. You can’t hide anymore, nor can you pretend that it’s not happening. You can’t fall in love nor mourn privately, nor can you do it in the company of just your loved ones. There is a whole army of aspiring VIPs who flood social media with their entire being. For you Instagram comes as a package deal, even though you can’t switch on a laptop. You could wear a wig in public, like Boris Becker did a few years back, but they’ll track you down anyway. Your intimacy is gone – you were born in silence, but ended up on Love Island.

After that, you give away your image. You suddenly give it up and let the world dissect it in a kaleidoscope of shiny shafts. Wholly fragmented, it appears where you’d have least expected to. Your face is everywhere, your name is everywhere. You give away your image to endorse a pair of sneakers, and a graphite racquet. You give it away for a Swiss bank, and live with the criticism, and for an Italian brand of pasta. You grow to be inextricably tied to these things: you were born free and your image is theirs. You didn’t have to, the mortgage was fine. It’s just that there’s never existed someone who didn’t do it.

On the other hand, you also give yourself away for millions of kids in tennis clubs at every latitude, kids who who try to imitate your serve motion, or try to hit a forehand in the hope that their hair may fall on their forehead like it does for you. They never succeed, God forbid, but if they manage to come up with something that remotely resembles your style, they just cry out a single “Roger!”, and feel some elctricity down their spine for the very first time. Your image is with them when they play, when they trail off in school, when the door to their room and don’t need a video game or a poster hanging on the wall to own it. All they need is the space to conjure you. We could almost say that they take away your soul, if only a kid knew how to do it.

Then other things were given away, things that you didn’t expect, and that perhaps we took without your consent. We took our tears – in Paris, in London. In Australia, we had tears for both elation and despair, in the years 2006 and 2009, respectively. No-one was able to bottle them and brew a talent elixir. They fell on Rod Laver’s blazer, on Rafa’s tracksuit. They mingled with the rain and the clay at Porte d’Auteuil, while in London they wetted the grass at your seat’s feet. How many among us have wept in front of millions of people? How many would be okay with it?

Finally, we took a few worthless items, mere mementos. We picked your brains on stuff you wouldn’t have wanted to discuss: politics, the environment, psychoanalysis. We picked your brains on Freud, and on things you don’t know, so you learned to reply walking on the thin line between what we wanted and what you didn’t. Someone even stole a fragment of your voice, undetected yet harmless, after having asked you a question in a press conference. He recorded it as it was, glued to his own inquiring tone. He listened back just once, to check if he’d actually recorded it, and then treasured it in a box.

When we got tired of immaterial things, those we can’t touch, we became morbid, and we began to demand pieces of your body. We took your bout of mononucleosis in 2008, so short-lived and yet so fierce. At regular intervals, we got some small pieces of your back. Since 2008, your body has been on a lease, as we were reminded during the serendipitous run at the 2012 Championships, when you were forced to wear a top under your Nike outfit.

We wanted you on court no matter what. We’ve showered you in obsequious praise for being the only one who’s never retired during a match, talking you into wearing yourself out for us. We exploited you a month ago too, for four hours straight against Sandgren, while your groin strained and ached, and for two more hours against Nole, well aware that you couldn’t win. Now we’ve taken one of your knees. We were quite content with the other one, which we took four years ago, feeding on its cartilage while tenderly recalling our generosity. That time, you told us an incredible story of nemeses and comebacks, gifting us with the most re-watched fifth set in tennis history.

Now you’ve given us the other knee. We’re still unsure as to which altar it was immolated on: perhaps on that of too many exhibition matches, the Cape Town altar, where it was crunched by 52,000 South Africans, cannibalistic like in Livingstone’s short stories. Maybe the altar is that of one more crazed run for another Wimbledon title, or better for one more crazed run to flee from Nadal and Djokovic, who’ve been chasing you down, their breath on their prey’s neck who can’t do anything if not run with no more caution. We’ve taken your knee because we need to live through the wait for your comeback. We hold it at ransom: do you want it back? Surprise us, because the game has been the same for ten years and we need some romance. This is why we’re booking a place for one more comeback. The 2020 Championships just like Australia back in ’17. That day, there will be no room for any pain in your arm, or your heart. C’mon Roger, entertain us, even if you’re sad.

There’s no complex explanation for such sadism. For this crave to have on court a man who, at 38, has every right but no wish whatsoever to give up – it’s just a crave, and love. Because we want you. We’re like husbands who abuse their wives and say they they do it out of love. If that’s the way it is, then it isn’t love, nor admiration. We’re getting confused too. When we get exhalted for a volley and we, too, cry out your name, all we’re doing is actually crying out our own. We’ve taken your whole being, you and your victories, piece after piece. You’re necessary to us who know nothing of winning what we want.

This is why I’d like to give something back to you in return, even if just in small part. I’d like to give back to you some time to make a choice, because we ended up taking that too. I’m not saying it panned out badly for you, not in the slightest. But your years have also been chomped by newspapers that would sell a lot less without you, they have been belittled by octogenarian ladies who beg you to hold on, unimpressed by your age- you’ve become a finger food for them. Enzo Ferrari used to say that a racer loses one full second on the track for every child he begets. Of course we’re talking about a second per lap, the comparison doesn’t really hold. And yet, even I know that out of the races that second dilates beyond every reasonable time and beyond every reasonable engagement – and I would only drop a second. You have four children, and still it looks like you don’t get a right to drop your four seconds.   

Thus, I’m now offering them to you, and the same do all those who wish for your knee to be okay in no time, but we do it without demanding the impossible to become possible at all costs, once again. We offer them to you the only way we know how to. Count them down with us, exhaling at every number. One. Two. Three. And four. In four seconds you can say everything that is remotely important: I’m leaving, you’re a father, I’ll wait for you, I’m coming back. And if you wish, you can say goodbye as well.

Note: This article was originally published in Italian on ubitennis.com by Agostino Nigro and translated into english by Tommaso Villa.

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