Laver Cup: As Europe's blue reign, myriad hues peek out in event's latest iteration - UBITENNIS
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Laver Cup: As Europe’s blue reign, myriad hues peek out in event’s latest iteration

The 2019 Laver Cup showed all over again why it was an opportunity for tennis to be diverse in its offering.

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2019 Laver Cup, Team Europe, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal
Photo Credit: Laver Cup

Twelve matches spread over a three-day weekend later, Laver Cup has modified the proverbial face and scope of men’s tennis. It is still viewed sceptically as a disruptor to routine, individual-focused tennis matches in certain pockets. Yet, the singularity it has brought into the midst of the prevalent concept of individuality is irrevocable.

 

In the third year of the event’s emergence, these aspects are repetitive. However, Laver Cup’s display re-lit the theme of a team before a player. It also elevated it to heights not seen in its previous two editions. This showed in the players’ camaraderie with each other. As it did in the numerous coaching tips that came from the bench from Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, and even Nick Kyrgios towards their fellow squad members.

Broadly, it was laid out in how the Laver Cup changed the subject from who would win the most Slams to which part of the globe would be victorious. For once, the conversation did not focus on 20 Slams versus 19, as it had come to be after Nadal’s win at the US Open. It was riveted on how two sportsmen with 39 Slams between them could set aside their competitiveness towards a common goal for a still-mushrooming tourney.

“Winning (as) teams is just amazing because you celebrate together. It’s a very special thing. Honestly, I really hope that this new and young generation keeps supporting this event because this event is special,” Nadal said after Team Europe’s three-peat on Sunday. “We need to make this event stronger and stronger because the atmosphere that we leave here is difficult to find in other places.”

The 33-year-old’s statements, aside from setting aside any cynicism about his involvement in the event this year, emphasised the growth Laver Cup has had in its three years. Nadal’s participation in Laver Cup’s inaugural year was seen as a novelty, a continuation of his and Federer’s triumphant return to the Tour after an injury-troubled 2016. Novak Djokovic’s inclusion in Europe’s 2018 squad was viewed as a reiteration that the event was a fad, where top-ranked players would make a one-off appearance, before stepping away.

In 2019, the 12-time French Open champion’s return contradicted this previously-held supposition. This shifting of perceptions is why Laver Cup has turned problematic to the Tour’s other mainstay events.

If Laver Cup were to be regarded as merely an exhibition, a tournament with no relevance to how the ATP tour progressed year-on-year with its usual clanking schedule, all of the players’ emotiveness and reactions would have been on par with the idea of livening it up for its sake.

https://twitter.com/rogerfederer/status/1176258686269952000

On the other hand, when two former world no. 1s were heard sternly telling their touted successor not to be negative for the rest of his match, it was hard to convince that the whole atmosphere was made-up.

Though, it does bear noting that not being put-on and the ease with which it has been assimilated in tennis’ mainstay have been the catalysts for Laver Cup’s disparaging mooting in certain circles.

The past weekend it coincided with a couple of ATP tournaments, in St. Petersburg and Metz. Both events had several interesting match-ups of their own. Followers deeply vested in the sport knew the happenings across all tournaments held last week. But for casual viewers, it would have come down to picking one event over the rest.

The factoring in of this unnecessary chasm added to the enervation around tennis by making one take sides in a sport that is already at crossroads, without Laver Cup even being mentioned.

Yet, if it were about inclusivity, selectivity in audiences’ preferences is the other side of tennis’ coin. These choices cannot always remain aligned, even in accepting or discarding the tri-day tournament as a consequential pursuit. As Nadal opined, when asked to compare between his other title wins and his Laver Cup team win, “…every single thing is different and is important by itself.”

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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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A Doping Ban And Frosty Friendships Failed To Stop Maria Sharapova Becoming A Tennis Icon

The inspiring, complicated and controversial career of one of Russia’s most renowned players of all time.

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In an ideal world Maria Sharapova’s legacy will be her five grand slam titles or the fact she is the third youngest woman in history to win a Wimbledon title. However, it was never that simple for the former tennis superstar throughout her career.

 

On Wednesday the Russian announced her immediate retirement from tennis at the age of 32. She chose to make her announcement in a heartfelt article written for Vanity Fair. In it she elegantly wrote ‘tennis- I’m saying goodbye.’ The decision comes after months of injury setbacks, particularly concerning her shoulder, side-lining Sharapova from the tour. She hasn’t played since losing in the first round at the Australian Open to Donna Vekic, but few expected that to be the last match of her career.

“In giving my life to tennis, tennis gave me a life. I’ll miss it everyday. I’ll miss the training and my daily routine: waking up at dawn, lacing my left shoe before my right, and closing the court’s gate before I hit my first ball of the day. I’ll miss my team, my coaches. I’ll miss the moments sitting with my father on the practice court bench. The handshakes—win or lose—and the athletes, whether they knew it or not, who pushed me to be my best.” Sharapova wrote.
“Looking back now, I realize that tennis has been my mountain. My path has been filled with valleys and detours, but the views from its peak were incredible. After 28 years and five Grand Slam titles, though, I’m ready to scale another mountain—to compete on a different type of terrain.”

Renowned for her fighting spirit displayed on the court, Sharapova achieved numerous milestones by the age of 18 that many others would dream of doing in their entire careers. Including winning the 2004 Wimbledon championships at the age of 17 before rising to world No.1 a year later. Despite her inexperience at the time, she managed to make herself a household name worldwide and laid the foundations to becoming one of the most prestigious female athletes in the world.

Over the coming years, she would record 98 victories over top 10 players, win 36 WTA titles (including five majors) and spend a total of 21 weeks as world No.1. Furthermore, she finished 13 seasons inside the world’s top 20 and is the third highest earning player in the history of the WTA Tour with $38.8 million in prize money earned.

It is hard to describe how extraordinary Sharapova’s career has been and to a degree subjective too. According to Forbes magazine her total career earnings are estimated to be in the region of $325 million. A figure includes her prize money, endorsements and appearances over the years. To put that into perspective, only Serena Williams has made more ($350 million). Williams is six years older than her.

“One of the keys to my success was that I never looked back and I never looked forward. I believed that if I kept grinding and grinding, I could push myself to an incredible place. But there is no mastering tennis—you must simply keep heeding the demands of the court while trying to quiet those incessant thoughts in the back of your mind.”

Highly respected, but not loved by all

Maria Sharapova at the US Open 2018 (photo via Twitter @usopen)

Throughout her career, the Russian was very much focused on her tennis and not making friends on the tour. She once said ‘I’m not really friendly or close to many players. I have not a lot of friends away from the courts.’ One of her biggest critics on the tour was Dominika Cibulkova, who she played seven times on the tour between 2008-2018.

“She’s a totally unlikeable person,” Cibulkova once said of Sharapova. “Arrogant, conceited and cold. When I sit beside her in the locker room, she won’t even say hello.”

It is Sharapova’s rivalry and relationship with Williams which was the most publicised. Two years ago she released a memoir titled Unstoppable: My life so far that reportedly featured the name of her American nemesis an estimated 100 times. In one chapter she wrote ‘I think Serena hated me for being the skinny kid who beat her, against all odds, at Wimbledon. But mostly I think she hated me for hearing her cry.’ Sharapova later claimed that she heard Williams telling a friend that she ‘will never lose to that little b**** again.’

Inevitably Williams was questioned about the book during the 2018 French Open. Diplomatically she assured that she had no ‘negative feelings’ against Sharapova, but did question the accuracy of her account.

“I wanted to read the book and I was really excited for it to come out and I was really happy for her.” Williams said of Sharapova.
“And then the book was a lot about me. I was surprised about that, to be honest. I was,like ‘Oh, okay.’ I didn’t expect to be reading a book about me, that wasn’t necessarily true.”

The introverted approach from the former world No.1, who has a active social life outside of the sport, was something she had from a young age. Legendary tennis coach Nick Bollettieri first got acquainted with her when she was nine at his academy.

“One her work is done, she’s gone,” he told The Independent in a previous interview.
“She doesn’t like to hang around. There’s no bullshitting afterwards with the other players. It’s all business.”

The ban that could have destroyed her

Little did she know that her popularity on the tour would decline further. In 2016 the sports world was stunned when Sharapova conducted a press conference as a venue that she famously described as having ‘an ugly carpet.’ Unfortunately that was the only humorous thing on that occasion. In a broadcast that was streamed live around the world, she confirmed she has failed a drugs test. The culprit was meldonium, which was added to the list of prohibited substances just months before. Naturally, she protested her innocence, but the suspicion remained.

Less than 12 months before her statement, she was one of the most, if not the most, sought after female athletes. In fact Forbes.com named her as the world’s most marketable female athlete of 2015.

“In so many ways, I feel like something I love was taken away from me and it will feel really good to have it back. Tennis is my passion and I have missed it.” She commented on her ban.

Initially slammed with a 24-month ban, it was reduced to 15 months after the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) ruled that she was not an ‘intentional doper.’ Not that their verdict reduced the critical comments. Usually when an athlete is sanctioned for doping, they suffer a freefall in endorsements. Yet, in Sharapova’s case many jumped to her defence. Nike, Porsche, Evian and Head all maintained their links. The only exception was Tag Heuer who decided not to renew a previous deal. Few athletes in the world have the ability to do that, but Sharapova somehow did.

“I don’t think there’s too many athletes that could have had those type of relationships with people, decision-makers that knew her really well and the character of her, and where willing to hang in there, to wait, instead of terminating, but suspending the contract. That was really the key. Everybody had termination clauses and they decided to suspend and wait,” agent Max Eisenbud once said in an interview with Forbes.

Fighting until she decided to stop

When she returned to the sport following the ban, Sharapova once again faced the hostility of her rivals. Top names such as Caroline Wozniacki and Andy Murray questioned the decision to award her wild cards following a drugs ban. Nevertheless, like throughout the majority of her career, she was defiant and undeterred by what others think .

“I don’t think it’s for them to really have an opinion because they don’t have the facts. Those are the types of words that make headlines and they will be used as headlines. But ultimately, this is my career and I faced it head on. I admitted my mistake and I went about it and I served my suspension and now I’m back.” She told BBC Sport in 2017.

Sharapova managed to build up her tennis career and returned as a familiar figure on the tour, but she was no longer the player she was earlier in her career. Winning the Tianjin Open almost three years ago would turn out to be her last taste of silverware in professional tennis. She would eventually end back in the world’s top 30 before injury would be the start of the end. Numerous shoulder problems sidelined her from actions for days, then weeks. After fighting for so long, she finally gave in after her experience during last year’s US Open.

“Shoulder injuries are nothing new for me — over time my tendons have frayed like a string. I’ve had multiple surgeries — once in 2008; another procedure last year — and spent countless months in physical therapy. Just stepping onto the court that day felt like a final victory, when of course it should have been merely the first step toward victory. I share this not to garner pity, but to paint my new reality: My body had become a distraction.”

Sharapova will not be remembered as the player everybody loved and sadly her doping ban taints her career. Yet she still managed to remain one of the sport’s most iconic and influential figures for more than a decade. Many people would have never been able to do this, but Sharapova was one in a million.

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