Australian Open 2020: Two Weeks At Melbourne Park, From A to Z - UBITENNIS
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Australian Open 2020: Two Weeks At Melbourne Park, From A to Z

Some final notes about the first Major of the year, letter by letter

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After 17 intense days spent at Melbourne Park, the time has come to look at what this last Major tournament has left us. The final day of the 2020 Australian Open was a very pleasant summer day that ended with a 4 hours, 10 minutes final between Novak Djokovic and Dominic Thiem and was a far cry from the almost dramatic first days of the qualifying tournament, three weeks earlier, when Melbourne was the most polluted city on the planet and there were talks of postponing or canceling the event because of poor air quality caused by the raging bushfires that have devastated the country throughout the summer.

 

We are going to make an alphabetised list of (almost) all the memories we are taking back from the tournament as we are flying halfway around the world to our respective homes, hoping not to forget anything.

A for ATP Cup – the ‘rookie’ team competition that has inaugurated the 2020 men’s tennis season has provided a very similar format to the new Davis Cup Finals, but with a better position in the calendar and less pathos due to the lack of tradition. It also gave us a lot of good tennis, perhaps even too much, as Australian n.1 Alex de Minaur was forced to withdraw from the Australian Open due to an injury that occurred in Sydney during the final stages of the ATP Cup. It was the first edition, we all need to adjust to the competition, including the players, who will need to get their priorities right: sometimes representing their country makes them overplay and Demon’s misfortune will need to serve as a warning for future years.

B for Barty – Ashleigh got to her home tournament as no.1 in the world and Australian newspapers went nuts over it. Even before getting to Melbourne she said: “I’m sick of seeing my face on the front pages”. She’ll probably have to get used to it. Her tournament ended in the semis, beaten by the eventual champion Sofia Kenin. “I had set point in both sets, so I was two points away from winning the match in straight sets”, said Barty in the post-match press conference, as she was holding her 12-week old niece Olivia. “Because there are other important things in life”.

C for Margaret Court Smith – Tennis Australia has decided to officially celebrate the 50th anniversary of her 1970 calendar Grand Slam, despite her convinced homophobic opinions do not align with the position of the Australian Federation. She has given a replica of the women’s singles trophy, but was not allowed to speak at the ceremony (a pre-recorded video was played instead) and American Lindsay Davenport was preferred to her for the trophy presentation on women’s final day. Tennis Australia tried to work both sides of the street but ended up disappointing almost everyone.

D for Dad – Women’s champion Sofia Kenin owes her career and her tennis to her dad, who left Russia in the 1990s to give her daughter the “American Dream” and has been her coach since the very beginning. Alexander Kenin got to New York with a few dollars in his pockets and worked as a taxi driver to raise his daughter and allow her to play tennis. More or less like Yuri Sharapov got to Florida many years before with her young daughter Maria.

E for Eight – Novak Djokovic enters the very exclusive club of players who have won at least eight times a Grand Slam tournament. Roger Federer has won eight Wimbledon, and Rafael Nadal has triumphed at Roland Garros an unbelievable 12 times. Another astonishing record he shares with the players that have monopolized tennis for over 15 years: since 2004, they have won a combined 56 Grand Slam titles out of the 65 tournaments player.

F for France – Three out of four semi-finalists in the boys’ tournament were French players, including the two finalists. No. 1 seed Harold Mayot defeated fellow countryman Timo Legout in the semi-final and won the title beating his long-time friend Arthur Cazaux in the final.

G for GreenSet – the new surface has been introduced this year at the Australian Open, replacing the Plexicushion that had been used since 2008. Courts resulted considerably slower, especially due to the combined effect of the new, rougher surface of GreenSet courts and the new Dunlop balls (introduced in 2019) that become very big after a few games, making hitting winners very complicated. Furthermore, during most of the 2020 Australian Open, temperatures remained unseasonably mild, slowing down the playing conditions even further and therefore creating a lethal mix for attack players.

H for Hosts Drama – Australian Open TV hosts and former champions John McEnroe and Martina Navratilova staged an original protest after a Legends’ match on Margaret Court Arena, advocating for a change to the name of the venue, motivated by the homophobic views professed by Court. Navratilova tried to make a speech using the umpire’s microphone but was cut off, then together with McEnroe unrolled a banner suggesting that the building be named after Evonne Goolagong. Tennis Australia reprimanded the two legends saying they had broken protocol: both Navratilova and McEnroe apologized and the incident was closed without consequences. Given Tennis Australia’s stickiness for rules, any other “perpetrator” with a lesser pedigree would have probably been de-credentialed and banned from the tournament.

I for Italians Slayer – American player Tennys Sandgren reached the quarterfinals where he squandered seven match points against Roger Federer by eliminating the Top 2 Italian players of the ATP Ranking; Matteo Berrettini, world n. 8, in the second round and Fabio Fognini, n. 12, in the Round of 16.

J for John Millman – The 30-year-old player from Brisbane proved his win over Roger Federer in 2018 over Roger Federer was not an accident when he forced once again the Swiss maestro to pull out a special performance in his second-round victory by 10-8 in the fifth set tiebreak. Millman was leading 8-4 in the decider but lost the final six points allowing Federer to continue his 15th semifinal run at the Australian Open.

K for Kenin – born in Moscow and raised in Florida, the 21-year-old stunned the world becoming the 11th different lady Grand Slam champion in the last 13 tournaments. She spectacularly turned the tables on Muguruza in the final by coming back from 0-40 on 2-2 in the deciding set with four winners and one ace. From that moment onwards she had won over the crowd’s support, after they had been cheering for her opponent during most of the match. That performance confirmed her reputation as a clutch player after she had come back from a set down in the Round of 16 against teenage sensation Coco Gauff and had edged out home favourite and world no.1 Ashleigh Barty in the semi-final canceling a set point in each of the two sets.

L for Legacy – The news of Kobe Bryant’s tragic death hit the tournament quite hard: before his marquee match with Nadal, Nick Kyrgios warmed up wearing the retired Los Angeles Lakers n. 24 jersey; Novak Djokovic recreated a “KB 24” black symbol on his warm-up jacket, as Bryant was one of his mentors; Naomi Osaka kept posting on her social media very sad statuses and seemed to be hardly coping with the grief the entire world was experiencing.

M for Muguruza – After splitting up with her coach Sam Sumyk and returning to the cares Conchita Martinez, who had already led her to a Wimbledon title, Spaniard Garbine Muguruza has returned to a Major final after that Wimbledon and, more importantly, has been able to show that her power game is still there, it just needed to be allowed out again. She was just a few games away from her third Grand Slam title, stopped only by Kenin’s fury and determination. But her return to the big stage is good news for the WTA world: she had already been invited by Vanity Fair to the Oscars a few years ago, and women’s tennis desperately needs mainstream characters since the current ones are on their way to retirement (or already there).

N for Nick Kyrgios – The old brat that swears at umpires and smashes racquets seems to have remained in 2019. In this 2020 we have been treated to a new and improved version of Nick Kyrgios, who has enjoyed once more the team spirit he loves so much both during the Davis Cup Finals and again for the ATP Cup, starting a charity contest that has so far raised over 5 million dollars in favour of the populations hit by the terrible fires in Australia. His match with Rafael Nadal during the Australia Day weekend received more media attention than the semifinals – eventually Nadal’s game proved too much for him, but if Nick from Canberra can keep up this positive attitude, he can be a great addition to the men’s circuit.

O for Ons Jabeur – the first Arab woman to reach the quarterfinals in a Major tournament, and one that can play a very complete tennis. Ons from Tunisia had people stay up very late (or get up very early, whichever way you want to see it) to follow her matches on TV and hopes she can lead the way for other Arab players who don’t have rich federations behind them: “I am 100 percent a product of Tunisia” she proudly claimed after her Round-of-16 win over Qiang Wang. After an early loss during the final tournament of the 2019 season, she gathered her team and she said: “I want more, I want the Top 20 and I am ready to put in whatever work is needed”. She kept her promise, and results followed.

P for PM – the abbreviation “PM”, usually followed by a number, stands for “particulate matter”, and the number indicates the size of the particulate in question. This relatively obscure scientific indicator became very popular among everyone in Melbourne during the qualifying week when the Australian metropolis became the most polluted city in the world, with concentration of PM 2.5 arriving close to 1000 (anything above 300 is considered “hazardous”). Slovak player Dalila Jakupovic was forced to retire due to breathing issues that occurred during the air emergency when all normal outdoor activities were stopped by the city of Melbourne but Tennis Australia decided to continue playing. “Would they risk it with Federer, Nadal or Djokovic?” some qualifying players said on social media, feeling they were being considered as B-class human beings. Fortunately, it all dissolved in the air (quite literally) when it started raining a couple of days later, but Tennis Australia did not have its finest hour.

Q for Qiang Wang – the Chinese player scored the most important win of her career sending Serena Williams packing in the third round. Serena was the usual sore loser (“I can’t make as many mistakes as I have made today, it’s not professional”), but Wang played a very smart match forcing the American to take too many chances on a bad day.

R for Record – the 2020 Australian Open broke the 800,000-spectator barrier (812,174 to be precise) for the first time, firmly placing itself as the best-attended tennis event in the calendar. Great facilities, a permanent party atmosphere contribute to make this tournament one of the fans’ favourites.

S for Southbank – after many years staying in the Central Business District, accommodation availability issues made us switch to the residential neighborhood of Southbank, South of the River Yarra. It was a very pleasant surprise: very convenient to Melbourne Park, full of good restaurants, bar and supermarkets, it made our commute a relaxing diversion from the long days at the venue.

T for Thiem – those two break points at 2-1 in the fourth set during the final were probably his chance to take home the Australian Open trophy, but it wasn’t meant to be. The slow surface probably helped his tennis, but he deserves full credit for the wins over Nadal in the quarters and Zverev in the semis.

U for Ubaldo Scanagatta – the flamboyant Chief Editor of Ubitennis was interviewed during the morning show of Channel 9, the Australian TV host of the tournament, and was specifically requested by Djokovic to ask him the first question during the post-final press conference. Need we say more?

V for Victoria Jimenez Kasintseva – Andorra got on the map of Grand Slam winners thanks to this 14-year-old girl who won the girls single’s title. She moved to Barcelona a couple of years ago, and now trains in her dad’s academy in Catalunya, but he still proudly represents the Pyrenean country where only one indoor court exists.

W for Wozniacki – Caroline Wozniacki ended her career in Melbourne with a third-round defeat to Qiang Wang. “I find it befitting that my last match was a three-setter and my last point was a forehand unforced error,” said the Dane immediately after the match. Her departure from the WTA Tour gave us all one more reason to sing “Sweet Caroline” and get all teary and emotional.

X for eXtreme heat rule – a few years ago Tennis Australia decided to introduce a deterministic rule to determine whether play should be suspended due to excessive heat, as a result of increasing complaints about the decisions by the tournament referee. This rule establishes that, if a certain index resulting from a combination of temperature, humidity, wind and sun activity reaches the level of 5 all play needs to be suspended on external courts and all matches on show courts should be played indoor. However, during women’s semifinals Thursday all matches were stopped on outside courts while girls on Rod Laver Arena kept playing outdoors on a scorching day when said index remained at 4.9 for several hours.

Y for “You’re the voice” – the iconic song by John Farnham was heavily used by the Australian Open DJs to fire up the crowds during changeovers and medical timeouts. And so was “YMCA” by Village People and… “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond. Since they had to buy the rights for Caroline Wozniacki’s last match, they had to sweat their asset…

Z for Zverev – after the spectacular meltdown showcased during the ATP Cup, the young German reached his first Grand Slam semifinal and showed great improvements in his serve, now a potentially lethal weapon that could very soon deliver him to even more prestigious goals.

 

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Robin Soderling: “People always remember when I beat Nadal at Roland Garros. It was a great feeling”

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Former Swedish player Robin Soderling remembered the worst period of his life during an interview with Behind the Raquet website. Soderling was diagnosed with mononucleosis, an illness that forced him to miss the US Open at the last minute. He decided to take more time out of tennis and withdrew for the rest of the season and from the 2012 Australian Open.

 

Soderling has not played a tour level match since he won the 2011 Swedish Open in July 2011. He was at the peak of his career and was ranked world number 5 at the time. At the age of 26 he was ranked inside the top 5 for more than 50 consecutive weeks.

Soderling spoke to Noah Rubin for Behind the Raquet telling how he lived through this period and how hard was to go from beating Nadal at Roland Garros to the difficult times, when he was not able to get out of bed.

“It was extremely difficult to make the decision to retire. I played my last match when I was 27 years old. In my head I had many more years left in tennis. I was at the peak of my tennis career when I got sick with mononucleosis, which was around two years before I retired. For a long time before I was diagnosed I was stressed, tired and rundown. Through this all I kept playing, I became sick all the time because my immune system was weak, but I kept pushing. Deep down in my mind I knew something was wrong. Even though I was playing well, it was all up and down, until I got mononucleosis. I feel like the combination of my bad immune system and seriously overtraining affected me. Doctors said I first got it in Indian Wells in 2011. It was not too bad at the beginning but got worse after my last tournament in Bastad. I did not leave my house for six months. After about a year I would begin to feel better. I would train a little, up the intensity, and then the symptoms would come back. I would get so tired and the fever would come back. When I made the decision I could finally accept it and figure out how to live my life again. It was a weird feeling during my first six months after my career because I did not care about tennis. Later, I started to watch tennis on TV and saw the players I was playing against then. I started to want to be on the track again, competing. After so long, It already felt like too much time had passed to come back and did not have the energy to do it either. There are times when I blame myself, when I wish I could take a step back and not take things so seriously. I lived in that bubble where everything was tennis. Now I see it only as a sport. My problem was that I did not have that on/off button. I could not change my mindset between games, practice sessions, and time off the track. There are no times out of season in tennis. It is a sport that does not allow you to disconnect and even on vacation you have to take care of your body”.

Soderling played the best match of his career on 31 May 2009, when he upset the “King of Clay” Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros 2009. Only Novak Djokovic managed to repeat this feat in 2015.

“People always remember when I beat Nadal at Roland Garros 2009. It was a great feeling. I don’t think anyone in the world expected me to win that match. It was strange, because right after the match, I realized it wasn’t the final. I wanted to be focused because if you relax, you easily lose a match. People always bring up when I beat Rafael Nadal at the 2009 French Open. I did not want to be that guy to beat Rafa but then lose in the finals. I just wanted to stay focused because if you relax even a little bit you lose a match, like a Grand Slam final, easily. At the time I did not realize how big of an accomplishment it was. I remember getting back to the locker room and having about 350 text messages. It kind of started to hit me that this was a big thing. I appreciate all the support I got that day and still get for winning that match but the bigger story is Nadal. We will never see someone winning 12 Roland Garros titles again”.

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Mats Wilander: “Novak Djokovic is the biggest loser during the interruption due to the coronavirus pandemic”

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Former Swedish tennis legend Mats Wilander talked about the consequences of the coronavirus on tennis during an interview to the French sports newspaper L’Equipe. Wilander recognized who are the possible winners and losers of the coronavirus pandemic that is plaguing the entire world.

 

Wilander said that Novak Djokovic is the biggest loser in the interruption. The 17-time Grand Slam champion won the first edition of the ATP Cup, his eighth title at the Australian Open against Dominic Thiem and the ATP 500 title in Dubai beating Stefanos Tsitsipas.

“It’s a shame that is everything in the world and also in tennis. I miss live tennis. It would have been the most important period of the season with Indian Wells, Miami, Rome, Roland Garros and Wimbledon. We are missing the best period of the season. It’s terrible for all tennis fans. Players may have the chance to train, but the biggest challenge is to find the motivation, because they don’t know exactly what they are training for. It’s like the 2018 Wimbledon semifinal between Anderson and Isner. We don’t know when this situation will end”.

The season has been suspended until 13th July and there is a big question mark over the planned resumption next summer. Even top 10 players cannot train on the tennis court, because there are exit restrictions in large parts of the world.

“Djokovic had not lost a game this season and only the coronavirus has been able to curb his momentum. The Serb is the biggest loser during the interruption. I think that other possibly affected players have also been the most outstanding tennis players of the Next Gen, since they were facing a great opportunity to approach the big three and be able to fight them in some Grand Slam. I was confident that the young promises were going to have a great year. I thought 2020 was going to be the year of the youth. They have progressed a lot in training and tennis players like Shapovalov, Tsitsipas and Auger Aliassime will grow playing the maximum number of matches. When you are young, training does not interest you much. All you want is to spend almost four hours on a tennis court and fight for victories against better tennis players than you”.

 Wilander thinks that few tennis players are the beneficiaries of the long break.

“I think the only players who can take positive things out of this situation are those who ended up injured after the Australian Open. When all this returns to normal, everyone will start from scratch, but right now it is impossible to know when it will be. Many players are preparing physically at home to not lose their physical shape, but they know that it is very difficult for them to play again this season. The most complicated thing is to stay motivated”.

Fans will miss the opportunity to see Roger Federer and Serena Williams, who are near the end of their careers. After the cancellation of the grass season, Federer announced that he will play in Halle and Wimbledon in 2021, but it remains to be seen how many months the Swiss Maestro will be able to play in these uncertain times.

“Many people will think that young players have been the most affected because they lose the opportunity to play against the best players on the circuit, but I have another theory. Fans are also the losers. The pandemic has caused us to miss the opportunity to see Federer and Williams on the track since for them time is not their friend, knowing that they are almost at the end of the careers.”

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Stefanos Tsitsipas: “I will miss Wimbledon and I can’t wait to 2021”

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Stefanos Tsitsipas said that the Wimbledon cancellation news was just an April fool after organizers of the famous British tournament called off their Grand Slam event due to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic and public health concerns.

 

Tsitsipas made his debut at Wimbledon in 2017 and reached the fourth round in 2018. He lost to Stefano Travaglia in the opening round at Wimbledon last year, but he bounced back winning the ATP Finals in London.

This year Tsitsipas won the Marseille title for the second consecutive year and lost the Dubai final against Novak Djokovic in Dubai. He lost to Milos Raonic in the third round at the Australian Open. At the inaugural edition of the ATP Cup in Australia he beat Alexander Zverev and lost to Denis Shapovalov and Nick Kyrgios.

Tsitsipas was the first Greek player to break into the top 5 and the first player from his country to reach a Grand Slam semifinal at the Australian Open in 2019. Last year he scored the biggest win of his career against Novak Djokovic in Shanghai and won three titles in Marseille and Estoril. He finished runner-up to Roger Federer in Dubai and to Dominic Thiem in Beijing.

“I went to bed thinking this was all a bad April fools joke but I woke up today to find that Wimbledon is actually cancelled. I will miss this special event and I can’t wait to 2021. Stay home. Stay sane”, wrote Tsitsipas in a Twitter post.

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