Dear readers, first off I’d like to thank you for your ever-growing support. For this reason, I’ve decided to publish my annual Crystal… Bald predictions for the 2020 season, a long-standing tradition for my Italian readers.
How did I do last year? Well, my numbers clearly came around, since I nailed the opening 11 prophecies, most of them not as easy to foresee, such as Federer not winning any Majors but reaching the French Open semis and joining the 100 Tournaments Club, or Nadal winning the Roland Garros for the 12th time, Osaka taking the AO, or a NextGen player making a Slam final, as well as the more pessimistic ones on Murray and Del Potro’s fitness – needless to say, I’m proud of this Federeresque record, and I’m pretty sure I won’t be able to replicate it in the future.
Obviously, I badly missed on some others: for instance, I predicted a great year from Sascha Zverev (actually, judging from his 2020 form so far, last year might have actually been triumphant in comparison), and a heroic Serena Williams comeback, whom I thought would tie Margaret Court’s record tally, but I fell a couple of finals short – especially recalling the Centre Court steam-rolling by Halep.
So, now that my ethos and credentials have been shown (sort of), let’s get going with a whole new teleological haul, i.e. what will happen in Year 1 of the new decade:
- Federer won’t squander any more match point leads.
- 2019 was the last year so thoroughly dominated by two of the Fab Four.
- A NextGen will win a Major. Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if we were in for a brace of youngsters.
- Tsitsipas will reach the Top 3 – he is also the likeliest to win a Major.
- Nadal won’t be rude to me, and I will be more careful with the phrasing of my questions.
- However… Zverev might underperform in the first six months of the season (and especially in Melbourne and Paris) due to the many exhibitions played with Federer that are likely to hinder his conditioning. If that were to happen, I’d be all but compelled to remind Rafa that he said to me: “If Sascha doesn’t win a Major in two years, you’ll be allowed to tell me that I’m a tennis illiterate.” Diplomatic incident alert, y’all.
- I will scheme to get Djokovic to say “not too bad” one more time.
- I’ll be interviewed by Channel 9, the Down Under network that will broadcast the Australian Open for the first time, whose brass won’t want to miss a chance to discuss my viral gags with the Big Three.
- I’ll make peace with Fognini – okay, this is too far.
- The new ATP chairman, Andrea Gaudenzi, will deny ever advocating a shortening of sets from 6 to 4 games. A very earnest bloke in the past, he’ll become a politician in his own right – it’s everybody’s fate. He’ll court the powers that be and he’ll forget about the small time reporters who saw him grow into this position.
- The NextGen ATP Finals will be moved to Turin in 2021 as a leading-up event to the actual Finals.
- Jannik Sinner, Italy’s most promising player, will have a similar progression to Djokovic’s. Nole finished as No.83 at 18 years old, in 2005, before reaching No.16 the following season. Sinner finished last season as No.78, and I believe he could be No.16 by the end of 2020.
- Benito Perez Barbadillo, Nadal’s manager, will mellow and learn to appreciate others for what they are, with no prejudice.
- Serena Williams won’t win a Major, thus not equalling Margaret Court’s record of 24 Slams. She betrayed me last year by not making it, so I’m tanking her this time around.
- Coco Gauff will experience some growing pains early in the year, suffering from the media pressure, but then will rise.
- Andreescu and Osaka will meet in a Major final.
- Denis Shapovalov will break the Top 10.
- The biggest letdown between the ATP No.10 and 20 will be David Goffin.
- Nick Kyrgios will rise from the ashes.
- Medvedev and Tsitsipas will re-assert their place as Slam contenders.
- ATP comebacks of the year: Del Potro and Chung.
- More letdowns: Zverev and/or Federer.
- ATP Top 5: Djokovic, Tsitsipas, Medvedev, Nadal, Thiem.
- WTA Top 5: Andreescu, Osaka, Barty, Halep, Bencic.
- WTA comebacks of the year: Muguruza and/or Stephens.
- Amanda Anisimova will also stage a comeback after a difficult end to last season.
- WTA letdowns: Serena and/or Pliskova.
- The biggest letdown between the WTA No. 10 and 20 will be Angelique Kerber.
- A final, chauvinistic prophecy: Matteo Berrettini won’t manage to keep the eight spot in the rankings – hopefully, he will get back to the top when the ATP Finals will move to Turin – while Fabio Fognini will come back to the Top 10 early in the year, and the will crash out after Monte carlo.
- A final, chauvinistic prophecy, Part II: Italy will have another great year in men’s tennis, with as many as three players in the Top 20.
PS: I know that No.22 will piss off a lot of people, but I’m prepared to take the heat. Happy 2020!
Translated by Tommaso Villa
If Rafael Nadal Can Struggle With Self-Confidence, So Can You!
Ubitennis spoke to sport psychology consultant Adam Blicher about the role of believing in oneself in tennis.
The best tennis players look and act very self-confident, but we forget that what they are experiencing might be completely different from what we are able to see from the outside. They too are experiencing uncertainty and doubt. Just like you and I. Some days, you feel like you move effortlessly, and it almost seem like you can’t miss the court with your forehand. Other days you doubt if you can even put your forehand into the court.
20-time Grand Slam Champion Rafael Nadal talked in press conferences about his lack of self-confidence in 2015. He expressed how he did not experience the feeling of self-confidence despite the fact that he will go down in the history books as one of the best players the world has ever seen.
So if you sometimes get the thought that you are the only one struggling with confidence, remember that even the best players in the world struggle. The best players in the world are not super-humans who only have positive thoughts, are always motivated and feel very self-confident.
Also remember that more self-confidence is not always better. There is a very fine line between having high self-confidence and having too big of an ego. If you are having too big of an ego, it often leads to not preparing well enough, or you might get a little bit too cocky in the way that you are going about your performance.
That said, it can also be problematic to not experience any self-confidence at all which might then lead you to dwell and to struggle with quick decision-making on the court. You might find yourself accepting to hit too many backhands instead of covering more of the court with your forehand; or, instead of stepping up close to the baseline, you find yourself playing more defensive a meter behind the baseline.
We need to redefine our understanding of self-confidence. We cannot let out emotional state dictate our performances as our emotions are fleeting and very hard to control. If you try to control your emotions all of your focus and energy will be occupied fighting an internal battle instead of having full awareness on your gameplan and executing your shots fighting the outside battle against the player on the other side of the court.
The act of self-confidence comes before the feeling.
When Rafael Nadal talks about his lack of self-confidence, he is talking about the feeling of self-confidence. Rafael understands that he can’t control the feeling, but what he can control is his actions. He understands that the antidote to the doubt, and the worries that is creeping in on him, is courage. The courage to step up to the line, covering two thirds of the court with his weapon and keep following his gameplan despite the feeling of self-confidence not being present at all times.
Rafael understands that the feeling of self-confidence is a bonus that comes after the good performances. Not the other way around as many tend to think. Many are stuck in the belief that we need to feel or think in a certain way before we are able to perform well. That “if I only had more self-confidence, then I would perform better.” Maybe in reality it’s about having the courage to act like you already had the confidence in order to provide yourself with the opportunity of performing well. Then, after the good performance, the nice feeling of self-confidence might arise as a bonus making it easier to be courageous in your actions for the next match.
Remember that the act of self-confidence comes before the feeling.
Danish Sport Psychologist Consultant Adam Blicher is a member of the International Sport Mental Coach Association
EXCLUSIVE INVESTIGATION: Does Tennis Have A LGBT Inclusivity Problem?
Is it just a coincidence that there are no out players on the men’s Tour or is there a more significant reason that the sport needs to be aware of?
Tennis has an illustrious reputation when it comes to LGBT representation compared to some other sports.
Billie Jean King, who was first outed by the media in 1981, played an instrumental role in the formation of the WTA Tour and the campaign for equal pay highlighted by her infamous Battle of the Sexes match against Bobby Riggs. It was also during 1981 when Martina Navratilova came out as gay for the first time. Despite being one of the sports biggest stars, the multiple Grand Slam champion admits that she lost endorsement deals due to her sexuality. Nowadays the treatment and promotion of LGBT players have improved for the better, but does more need to be done?
In recent years tennis has dabbled in and out of the Rainbow Laces campaign with the British Lawn Tennis Association throwing their weight behind it. The initiative was created by LGBT charity Stonewall and initially marketed specifically towards football’s Premier League. The idea is to get players to wear rainbow laces in order to raise awareness of LGBT representation within sport. As for its effectiveness in combating homophobia, it is debatable.
“In the UK, sports teams have also been holding Rainbow Laces for the past seven years, yet homophobic language also remains common. Two-thirds of teenage football players and nearly half of male rugby players admit to recently using homophobic language with teammates (for example, fag), which is generally part of their banter and humour. At the amateur level, gay and bisexual males remain invisible,” Erik Denison from Monash’s Behavioural Sciences Research Laboratory wrote in a 2020 report.
“However, recent research suggests that refocusing the current Rainbow Laces campaign, which is underway, away from professional teams and strongly towards amateur sport settings could help fix these problems. We also need to change the education that is being delivered.”
It is important to take Denison’s conclusion with a pinch of salt as his assessment focused solely on team sports and not tennis. Inevitably, some of his findings might be also applicable to tennis, but it is unclear as to what extent.
If the rainbow laces approach does help the LGBT community to some degree and therefore any potential closeted player, should tennis bosses do more to promote it? UbiTennis has approached three governing bodies to generate their view with all of them saying they would be in favour of allowing players to participate.
“The work Premier League and Stonewall are doing to drive awareness around LGBT inclusion sets a great example, and we would absolutely support any ATP player that wishes to support such an initiative, or personally express themselves,” an ATP Spokesman told UbiTennis.
“We believe that tennis has an important role to play in promoting inclusivity in sport, and across wider society, and earlier this year Tennis United served as a platform for ATP to amplify voices around this important topic. The ATP has directed efforts for positive change across many causes via the ATP Aces For Charity programme, and we are currently reviewing our overall approach in this space.”
Unlike their female counterparts, there is currently no openly LGBT player on the ATP Tour and few historically. Bill Tilden, who won 10 Grand Slam titles throughout the 1920s, struggled with his sexuality during a time where gay sex was illegal and not accepted by society. More recently, America’s Brian Vahaly was a former top 100 player during the early 2000s, but chose to come out after retiring from the sport.
The WTA points out that they have been working with the ATP last season and addressed LGBT topics during their ‘Tennis United’ chat shows which was broadcast online.
“The WTA was founded on the principles of equality and opportunity, along with positivity and progress, and wholeheartedly supports and encourages players, staff, partners and fans’ commitment to LGBT+ initiatives,” a statement reads.
“The WTA supports tournament and Grand Slam LGBT+ projects both logistically and financially, amplifies our athletes’ voices on this topic through the Tour’s global platforms, and increased awareness by incorporating the LGBT+ spirit into our corporate identity in June across our digital platforms.
“Despite the challenges 2020 has presented, this year saw the WTA mark Pride month with a series of podcasts and web articles, interview guests on the WTA & ATP digital show Tennis United from the LGBT+ community, and through WTA Charities collaboration with You Can Play, offer equipment and financial donations and players participate in a virtual panel discussion.”
The International Tennis Federation is responsible for overseeing the running of the junior Tour, Davis Cup, Billie Jean King Cup (previously known as Fed Cup) and the Olympic Tennis tournament. A spokesperson said they would endorse any campaign which would support an equal playing field in the sport. Making reference to their Advantage All campaign which aims to ‘develop and maintain tennis as an equal advantage sport.’
“Tennis has a proud history of its athletes being at the forefront as advocates of positive social change, using their voice and platforms to raise awareness. We would be supportive of initiatives that reinforce the positive message that tennis is an equal advantage sport which is open to all,” UbiTennis was told.
Post-lockdown performance: Djokovic leads the way
Thiem won the most ATP points in the Grand Slams, while Rublev won the most matches. Nole had a more traditional schedule, while Nadal played fewer events but won big – whose approach was better?
It’s been written countless times, but a few days before the start of a new tennis year the truism needs to be busted out once more: the 2020 season was unique in the history of the game, and in some ways it was not one season but rather two, given the five-month chasm blasted by the coronavirus between March and August. The hiatus has caused a temporary ranking reform, which has ensured the permanence at the top even to those who, for various reasons, elected not to play at the restart or underperformed, stifling the rise of newcomers and partially obscuring the competitive nature and meritocracy of the rankings – disclaimer: this is not a criticism, the chosen system was the best possible under such trying circumstances.
For this reason, it is interesting to look at who has done better between August and November, in order to see what the current hierarchies of the game may be and if the results of the last few months can have a predictive value for 2021, especially in terms of reliability. To do so, three metrics were chosen: percentage of wins, total wins and total points.
What follows is a list of the 15 players with the highest winning percentage on the ATP Tour from August to November, with tournaments in which they have won more than half of the games played in brackets:
· Djokovic 82.14 (Cincinnati, US Open, Rome, Roland Garros)
· Rublev 78.79 (US Open, Hamburg, Roland Garros, St. Petersburg, Vienna)
· Zverev 78.57 (US Open, Roland Garros, Cologne 1, Cologne 2, Bercy)
· Nadal 77.78 (Rome, Roland Garros, Bercy)
· Medvedev 76.92 (Cincinnati, US Open, Vienna, Bercy, Finals)
· Thiem (US Open, Roland Garros, Vienna, Finals) and Raonic (Cincinnati, US Open, St. Petersburg, Antwerp, Bercy) 76.19
· Sinner 72.73 (Rome, Roland Garros, Cologne 2, Sofia)
· Hanfmann 70 (Kitzbuhel)
· Bautista Agut 68.75 (Cincinnati, US Open, Hamburg, Roland Garros, Cologne 1)
· Humbert (Rome, Hamburg, Antwerp, Bercy) and Carreno Busta (US Open, Roland Garros, Bercy) 66.67
· Davidovich Fokina (US Open, Cologne 1, Cologne 2, Bercy) and Dimitrov (Rome, Roland Garros, Vienna) 64.7
· Tsitsipas 64 (Cincinnati, US Open, Hamburg, Roland Garros)
Continuity is the main theme here. As you can see, in fact, the six leaders are all part of the Top 8 of the actual ranking, a sign that the best have substantially continued to amass victories, including Rublev, who earned his place in the Finals from August onwards but at the same time had already won two tournaments (Doha and Adelaide) at the beginning of the year – the fact that these players would keep pacing the competition isn’t to be overlooked or taken for granted, as it indicates a constructive approach to the months of the tour’s hiatus.
The only intruders at over 70 percent are Milos Raonic, who if healthy proved to be still competitive at the highest level (he did well particularly at Cincinnati/New York and Bercy), Yannick Hanfmann, buoyed by the great tournament played in Kitzbuhel but still a solid performer even when the match sample extends to qualifiers and Challenger (he won two thirds of the total matches he played) and Jannik Sinner. The Italian finished the season by winning 13 of his last 16 bouts (one of the defeats was a retirement, while the others came against Nadal and Zverev) and demonstrated a great continuity that bodes well for the future, especially considering that, after a slow start in New York, the South Tyrolean has begun his rise on his least favourite surface, clay, and this is perhaps the most comforting element for him.
His ascent is even more evident when looking at the 15 players who have won the most matches on the ATP Tour, in which he comes up in fifth place:
· Rublev 26
· Djokovic 23
· Zverev 22
· Medvedev 20
· Thiem, Tsitsipas, Raonic, Schwartzman and Sinner 16
· Nadal, Humbert and Carreno Busta 14
· Shapovalov 13
· Mannarino and Coric 12
Sinner is not the only Next Gen player to appear in one of these standings (two names of up-and-coming standouts but perhaps not yet too well known, and whose presence in these lists can therefore somewhat surprise, are those of Alejandro Davidovich Fokina and Ugo Humbert), while the presence of players over 30 years old (other than Nadal and Djokovic, ça va sans dire) is beginning to peter out – the only additional names are those of Bautista Agut and Mannarino.
To summarise, in any case, the relationship between the two data is represented in the following graph, which includes those who have won at least 60 percent of their matches:
The first thing that stands out is that the same players occupy the podium in the two categories, with Djokovic and Rublev taking the lead in one list each and Zverev right behind them in both. However, while Nole plays and wins almost exclusively at the top tournaments (Masters 1000 events, the Slams and the ATP Finals), the Russian and the German have diversified a little more: Rublev has won 15 games (out of 15) in the three 500 tournaments he’s entered, more of half of his grand total of 26, while Sascha (who nonetheless reached two big finals at Flushing Meadows and Bercy) pumped up his tally with eight consecutive victories in the Cologne fortnight, a double tournament created almost exclusively for his benefit.
By virtue of this bottom-up and more subdued approach of the two, things change when looking at the 15 leaders for total points, with Zverev slipping to fifth and Rublev to sixth:
· Djokovic 3870
· Medvedev 3545
· Thiem 3260
· Nadal 2940
· Zverev 2690
· Rublev 2565
· Schwartzman 1750
· Tsitsipas 1735
· Carreno Busta 1360
· Raonic 1275
· Shapovalov 990
· Sinner 865
· Coric 850
· Ruud 740
· Humbert and Bautista Agut 720
What is striking in such a temporally circumscribed ranking is that the two Grand Slam winners (who thus received 2000 points each) do not occupy the top two places, something that tells us a lot about how physically costly it is to clinch those seven, three-out-of-five matches. After winning the US Open, Thiem (who led in both the second half of 2020 as well as in the season as a whole for ATP points notched at the Grand Slams) missed Rome, ran out of steam in the fifth set against Schwartzman in Paris, played Vienna while smarting from a foot issue, missed Bercy, and played his best again only at the O2 Arena over two months later; Nadal, on the other hand, chose (rightly) to focus on his favourite Grand Slam, winning a relatively small number of matches but clearly getting what he wanted from his scheduling philosophy – except perhaps getting a big indoor title after 15 years.
Both are surpassed by Medvedev, who had a performance in some ways opposite to that of his compatriot Rublev: in 500-point events, he had a record of just three wins and as many defeats, while he won 17 matches out of 20 in the Masters 1000, the Slams and the ATP Finals (10 out of 15 for Andrey).
That said, it can be noticed how Djokovic leads both in percentage of wins and in total points. It is therefore funny that some might consider the post-lockdown campaign as a failure for Nole, because, while it is true that he has not managed to get closer to Federer for total Slams won (indeed losing ground to Nadal) nor to equal the Swiss’s wins at the ATP Finals, he has still won two Masters 1000 (in major events he has won 21 matches, more than everybody else, and is second only to Medvedev in terms of winning percentage, 85 percent to 84) and has secured his sixth year-end N.1 crown, equalling Sampras’s Open Era record and getting closer and closer to the record for the most weeks spent at the top. Nevertheless, the question naturally arises as to which approach was better, whether the more traditional one of the Serbian or the more calibrated one of Nadal, who decided to pace himself by playing (and winning) only one Grand Slam – the answer can only be subjective in this case…
But let’s go back to the initial questions: are the rankings of these three months a faithful representation of the hierarchies of men’s tennis? Can they give us indications for the future? As always, the answer is not Manichean. On the one hand, the manifest superiority of the top players who played was mentioned, validating their position of pre-eminence, and this would seem to suggest that the status quo of the elite of the game is consolidated, and it probably is.
On the other hand, however, there are equally obvious caveats, represented by the absence of many great players and by the psycho-physical conditions of others, which was so underwhelming that it cannot objectively be considered as a long-term trend. Since August, four top 100 players have never played: Federer, Kyrgios, Tsonga and Pouille. Others have not won a single match: Basilashvili (zero out of nine!), Monfils and Querrey haven’t gotten on the board at all, while those who have won matches but not on the main tour are Chardy, Sousa, Ymer, Kohlschreiber and Mager.
In the ATP Top 50, moreover, several players remained far below their standards, often for specific reasons: among them Fognini (recovering from a double ankle surgery), Paire (whose lack of effort during the lockdown was never in doubt), Edmund, and to a lesser extent Goffin, the only other Top 25 in addition to Fognini and La Monf to win less than half of his matches – in his case, wedding preparation and the subsequent positivity to Covid-19 are the probable causes.
In summary, therefore, many players have had to take this phase (in spite of themselves) as a transitional period in which to solve their physical issues with the comfort of the new ranking, while for many others it is possible that the motivations have languished, both for the security provided by the rankings and for the absence of the public – for others, their conduct during the hiatus may not have been professional enough. In addition, the distribution of tournaments in terms of surfaces was a little different than usual, with no grass events, a much lower percentage of outdoor hardcourt tournaments and likely unique conditions on clay – players who did well especially indoor, such as Mannarino, or on the “heavy” red clay of last autumn, may not be able to repeat the same results in 2021.
The sum of these factors therefore suggests that the decline of the underperformers can only be temporary, even if it should be emphasized that many of the players listed among the inactive or among those with a negative performance are most likely in the twilight of their careers, and as mentioned the players over 30 who have been doing well since August are not many – it is possible that the long break spelt doom on most of the ATP Tour’s veterans.
CHALLENGER AND QUALIFICATIONS
Finally, let’s take a brief look at who has been particularly solid in the ancillary areas to the main tour. Below is a graph that correlates total wins and percentage of those who, including qualifiers and Challengers, have achieved 60 percent wins:
With the exception of Stan Wawrinka, who decided to play the two Prague Challengers instead of travelling to New York, ending up facing opponents well below his level, and Ricardas Berankis (too few matches to make an evaluation), the others (Cecchinato and Martinez in particular) have all won consistently, often finding exploits in the major circuit as well. And in 2021, having clinched so many matches could push them to rise further in the standings, because a win’s a win at any level, and finding continuity and self-esteem in a phase with so few tournaments could give them an advantage, even if, it is urgent to repeat it, conditions could be very different in 2021.
Article translated by Andrea Ferrero; edited by Tommaso Villa
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