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.
The Corona Impasse: What Effect Will It Have On The Careers Of Federer, Williams, The Bryans, Nadal, and Djokovic?
We’ve witnessed the retirement of several players over the last two years (Berdych, Ferrer, Almagro, Baghdatis, …). Many thought that the same would have happened in 2020, but that might not be the case any more.
Caveat lector. All those who, after reading the title, are about to accuse me, to accuse us of click-baiting, those are invited to refrain from reading.
We are simply trying to discuss themes that we notice to be in the minds of the fans, and we are trying to relieve them from the more or less catastrophic updates they are bombarded with on a daily basis, at a time when actual tennis will be off limits for God knows how long.
I also warn those who are still reading, out of intellectual honesty, that I have no evidence to support the hypotheses I’m going to make in the few lines – however, I’m relying on predictions coming from inside the tennis microcosm. Most of these were made very recently, I might add, up until the cancellation of Indian Wells (feels like a century ago already!), and they appeared extremely reliable. Said predictions obviously don’t apply anymore, but I still think that some friendly and useful debate might spring, starting from a few considerations floating in my brain.
I’d like to begin by reminding the readers that, between 2019 and the dawn of the 2020 season, the unexpected Kim Clijsters comeback was counterpointed by many retirements of noted players, starting with a pair of perennial Top Tenners, David Ferrer and Tomas Berdych, joined in tennis Benidorm by Nicolas Almagro, Marcos Baghdatis (all former Top 10 players), but also Victor Estrella Burgos and Max Mirnyi, and that’s just on the men’s side.
As for females, the obvious star is Maria Sharapova, but also Sweet Caroline Wozniacki and Dominika Cibulkova. In 2018, we said goodbye to Tommy Haas, Francesca Schiavone, Roberta Vince, Karin Knapp, Nadia Petrova, Gilles Muller, Florian Mayer, Mikhail Youzhny, and I’m probably forgetting more and more.
But what was going to happen over the rest of the 2020 season and beyond? How many would have ridden off into the sunset this year?
Well, the twin rulers of doubles, Bob and Mike Bryan (119 and 124 titles, respectively) announced that they would stop after the US Open, after spending 438 weeks, as joint leaders of the ATP Rankings (although Mike actually spent 506 weeks at the top), with a streak of 139 consecutive weeks – record on record. Bonus one: they also concluded ten seasons as the world’s best. We know what’s going on in New York, and so the US Open might not take place, even if postponed.
Pedalling backwards, after the 41 years of age of the Bryans (they’ll turn 42 on April 29) we find Venus Ebony Williams, who turns 40 on June 17.
Despite winning 7 Slams out of 16 finals (5 at Wimbledon), Venus reached the N.1 spot on three different occasions but for a meagre total of 11 weeks, a chasm between her and Serena, who’s been on the throne for 319 weeks (nine more than Federer!) and has surely prevented her from doing it herself on more than one occasion.
A year ago, Venus implied to me that her goal was to play in the Olympics once more. Having already bagged four gold medals (like her sister), once in singles and thrice as a pair (with a mixed doubles silver medal on the side), Venus is the only tennis player who can boast a medal at four different Olympics (from Sydney onwards), and if she’d gotten one in Tokyo her record would have probably become even more unbreakable – let’s remember that she and Serena never lost a Slam final in the doubles.
Her spirit wasn’t broken by two defeats she suffered against a girl who might be her daughter (Coco Gauff beat her at the Championships and in Australia), at least not to the point of declaring herself ready to hang her racquet. However, even if the rankings are frozen by the virus, she’s now stuck at the 67th spot, and I’d be extremely surprised if the postponement of the Tokyo Games hasn’t made her call it a career.
Speaking of Tokyo, we know that the Olympics are now delayed till 2021 (even though the Japanese don’t want the 2020 branding to end up in a waste-bin), but we don’t know exactly when they’ll take place. Some think they might happen in June (when the UEFA Euros will also be played); some say March, when the simultaneous progress of the Sunshine Double would effectively behead the tennis event in Japan or spell a second doom for at least one event; some say they will happen in the same dates that were slated this year.
PAGE 2: WILL ROGER FEDERER AND SERENA STILL BE PLAYING IN 2021?
Will the ATP and WTA Retaliate Against The French Open?
The French Federation is at fault, but not too much. Was Rafa Nadal selfish? What about Roger Federer? This isn’t the first civil war in tennis history.
The French Open’s surprise move was bound to instigate a long streak of reactions, after postponing the tournament to September while stomping on over ten ATP and WTA events plus the Laver Cup. The president of the FFT, Giudicelli (who’s from Corsica like Napoleon), must have foreseen this backlash, and the same goes for tournament director Guy Forget. They decided to reserve the first available dates at all costs, and therefore went straight to their goal, thinking that the many powers-that-be in tennis wouldn’t like it, but that many players perhaps would, because those who aren’t invited to Boston’s Laver Cup would hardly give up a Slam’s prize money – the Slams are the only Slams that guarantee at least £35,000 to first-round losers.
THE USUAL SCHEDULING ISSUES
As I wrote a few minutes after learning about this shocking piece of news, this was a selfish decision, announced in a very arrogant and typically French way. I also agreed with Vasek Pospisil’s wording for it, although he was wrong in saying that nobody had been notified beforehand. It was also a sort of war declaration on the tennis establishment, or – at the very least – a clear provocation meant to cause a re-structuring of the season’s schedule. Such re-structuring has been invoked for years by those same governing bodies that rule the game, ma each of them would like to give it a shape that suits exclusively their own interests – of course, an accord was never reached.
POSSIBLE PLAYER RETALIATION
Maybe the challenge that the FFT has posed to the ATP, the WTA, Tennis Australia, and the USTA – not so much to Wimbledon, which always maintains some kind of detachment, embodying the French phrase “noblesse oblige” – will backfire, coming back to bite them like a boomerang, a weapon that the Aussies know very well. There are various forms of retaliation that the players could put into practice (either ATP or WTA members).
Number one: a full French Open boycott come September. Number two (which would materialise after they realise that unanimity cannot be reached in the union like it happened at the 1973 Championships, since many players would be bent on playing after so many cancellations, as Andrey Rublev clearly said: “It’s better to play in a Slam than not. We have no wages – if you don’t play, you don’t make a living”): let the tournament be played with no ATP points at stake. Number three: threaten to take away these points from the 2021 edition as well (the other Slams would probably enjoy that). Number four: cancel the Paris Masters, which also belongs to the FFT and gives another marquee event to the Ville Lumière.
On the other hand, the FFT could receive some unexpected aid from those clay events that were cancelled due to the Coronavirus outbreak, events that could experience a resurgence should the Olympic Games and the whole North American summer swing be postponed – who knows what shape the Big Apple will be in come late August? This would be the ultimate embodiment of the Latin phrase-turned-zero-sum-game, mors tua vita mea. And that would mean that Rome – if yet out of the lockdown – and the other clay capitals could get back in play, more than happy to function as a prologue for the autumnal French Open, even after having thought the worst things about Forget and Giudicelli’s move.
On a side note for Italy, it looks a lot less likely that Turin or Milan could take the place of Bercy in November, cancelling the ATP Next Gen Finals in concert with the ATP… Today the Italian Federation is having a conference call, and I would bet on a neutral stance on the matter. I don’t expect any condemnation for the behaviour of the French, due to the fact that if the Italian management will see an opening for later play (may it be August, September, or October), before or after the Paris Slam, they will certainly not throw it away by souring the relationship with the FFT.
NADAL’S SILENT ASSENT
Going back to the French revolutionary move – after all, who has more rights than the French to spark a revolution? – there’s no doubt that it appeared as a unilateral move at a time when this pandemic should suggest more solidarity. They obviously got the assent of their king, Rafa Nadal, that’s almost a due act. If Rafa had said no from the get-go, their stance would have looked a whole lot weaker. Forget and Giudicelli told the world that Nadal said yes, and his silence is looking like a confirmation. Can we therefore criticise Rafa’s selfishness (for instance, he supports the Davis Cup, organised by the ITF and Gerard Piqué, only as long as it takes place in Madrid)? Of course we can, but on the other hand what should we say about Federer and of his brainchild, the Laver Cup, which from nowhere has snatched up a week of the ATP season (a week that would have been useful to the Davis Cup, which was so crammed that if forced crazy finishing time throughout the whole week last year)?
THE CHOICES OF THE ATP: BRAVO TO GAUDENZI AND CALVELLI
I can only imagine how happy can be Andrea Gaudenzi and Massimo Calvelli, the new ATP top dogs, to find themselves in the midst of a melee that involves two of the three best players in the world along with every other party – we can only express our sympathy for these unlucky men. To have to deal with this virus-induced mess in your first year in charge, with the conflicting interests of the tournaments and the selfishness of everybody, wasn’t even remotely imaginable. It’s something that literally could not be wished on your worst enemy. They’ve been brave, they’ve taken well-pondered decisions, and for the time being I applaud them, for what it’s worth. Perhaps American, French, or British CEOs wouldn’t have taken such decisive action against the Coronavirus. The examples set by Trump, Macron, and Johnson – I apologise for the momentary field invasion – lead me to believe that this would have been the case. As for the Germans… well, I apologise for this too, but they sure have a much more cryptic way to release their death toll, and a much trickier one for that matter, perhaps in a cunning attempt to save their own economy.
LAVER CUP, ATP CUP, AND WIMBLEDON’S STRENGTH: MAYBE THE FRENCH OPEN IS AT FAULT, BUT NOT TOO MUCH
Now, going back to stuff I’m definitely more knowledgeable about… if I were the FFT’s attorney – pretty tough gig these days – I would claim that the Australian Open and the US Open have always promoted their own interests above all else, more or less jointly, de facto co-opting the organising of the Laver Cup even before they were slated for play in Chicago and Boston, thus establishing an exclusive partnership with Tony Godsick and Roger Federer. Tennis Australia, moreover, has pretty much created the ATP Cup, an event that has the firepower to kill the Davis Cup forever, both in its original and in its Piqué format. So, glass houses…
Wimbledon, thanks to its prestige and tradition, has always managed to be considered the biggest Slam, despite being played on a seldom-utilised surface like grass. If the AELTC had acted like the FFT did, I think it would have drawn much less cornering criticism. As things stand, the French Open is becoming the weakest among the Slams, after many years in which the Australian Open was the smallest child at the table, and this will inexorably happen if everybody else will turn against them – the possibility that Indian Wells and Miami took over those dates was real, as they can count on the support of the US Open, of IGM, of the USTA, and of several American management companies. After Brexit, the French Open is pretty much the last European stronghold, and all European clay events rely on its prestige, which has been thinning year in and year out in favour of the hardcourt swings that Americans and Aussies love so much.
Brad Stine, who coached Jim Courier at his peak, told the New York Times: “In such a wretched year, the possibility of playing two Slams, even if just a week apart from each other, would be like a gift from the heavens!”
THE GAME’S POWER STRUGGLES
So, after our website has reported all sorts of opinions on the matter (even diverging ones within the FFT), I’d like to conclude on the same ideas as the other day. It could very well be that there’s a silver lining in every cloud. Power struggles have always happened in tennis: I remember the WCT v ATP and ITF kerfuffle in the early 70s, the one between ITF and the Team Tennis league organized by Larry King and Billie Jean King in various American cities (Jimmy Connors wasn’t allowed to play the 1974 French Open because of it, which prevented him from going for the Grand Slam), and I can even remember, further back, the conflict between Jack Kramer’s professional tour and the ITF-supported shamateurism… which prevented Ken Rosewall from playing in 44 Slams over 11 years!
If there was just one governing body, things would certainly be better off, but no one will ever want to give up even the tiniest claim to power, and this is the real problem in tennis – after that, much more heinous, of Covid-19.
What Does The Shocking French Open Announcement Mean? Could Rome Fill In The Gap?
The postponement of the French Open is a provocation (or even a war declaration) to start a discussion on the current season calendar.
Everyone was caught off guard (ATP, WTA, and all the players included) when the French Federation shockingly announced, at 3:48 pm, that the French Open would be postponed from May to the fortnight between September 20 and October 4 – everyone except perhaps the ITF, whose VP, Bernard Giudicelli, is also the president of the FFT (Fédération Française de Tennis). We’ll see whether this announcement is a war declaration on the ATP and the WTA, and not just an unsolicited act of defiance to instigate a re-thinking of the season’s schedule, whose main objectives are a) to prevent Indian Wells and Miami from snapping up the same dates, as it seemed it might happen; and b) to reserve one more week for the Davis Cup (also organised by the ITF) to the detriment of Roger Federer’s brainchild, the Laver Cup, which would have allowed many top players to cash in huge participation bonuses between September 25-27 in Boston.
Can the FFT wage war against every single player while counting exclusively on the support of the ITF and on its prestige as a Slam? The ATP became so strong as a union, in 1973, due to a much less high-handed power move, namely the decision of about 80 of the best 100 players to boycott Wimbledon as a protest against the Yugoslav Federation, which had banned on of their own, Nikki Pilic, for refusing to play in the Davis Cup (which he played for free) in favour of his own tournament scheduling.
This shocking announcement also means that the Internazionali d’Italia in Rome are all but certain to be cancelled. After every Italian commentator and politician has chastised the recklessness of their French and British counterparts in underestimating Covid-19, it would take some nerve, and some craziness too, to host the event as usual.
Sure, last year the Italian Federation notably tried every trick in the book in order not to refund Wednesday’s ticket holders after the rain cancellation occurred, but at the same time it will likely be the government that will make the same call as the French one, since the Internazionali should have begun on May 10, a fortnight before the French Open – and this doesn’t include the qualifying matches, which should have taken place during the previous week.
Unless there’s a major twist: what if the Internazionali d’Italia swoop in and take the place of Paris? They could start two weeks later than usual, hoping that the effects of the Coronavirus will have subsided by then. It would be a desperate move, but why not try? The ATP would definitely not dislike it, and Binaghi (president of the Italian Federation) could go for it to salvage as much as he can.
Giudicelli’s announcement has surprised us all, even though some warning signs had been flashed after the governmental decree of French president Emmanuel Macron (and of Home Secretary Cristophe Castaner), which stopped all ongoing construction works, leading to belief that the French Open would have been canned as well. The new retractable roof built on the Philippe Chatrier Stadium should have been inaugurated on May 23 in grand style, a gargantuan structure made by 16 wings weighing hundreds of tonnes each – that’s very much off the table now. The construction embargo is supposed to last at least 15 days for all “non-essential matters,” but the decree is also subjected to an extension, emphasising the importance of smart working.
As a matter of fact, the Roland Garros’s gates stayed shut on Tuesday morning, cranes were left in the middle of the footpaths, and the 600 workers usually engaged in the construction’s finishing touches were all but gone. The measures adopted by the French government led the FFT’s brass to declare that “it is impossible for us to remain within our deadlines.” Their statement also added that “the whole planet is experiencing the Covid-19 health crisis. In order to ensure the health and safety of everyone who is involved in the planning of the event, the FFT has decided that the 2020 edition of the French Open will take place from September 20 to October 4.”
September 20 means exactly a week after the conclusion of the US Open, marking a harsh, unprecedented switch from Flushing Meadows’ hardcourts to the red clay of Paris – what will be Rafa Nadal’s priority in that case? He defends 4,000 ATP points between the two events! At the same time, only two weeks separated the French Open and Wimbledon for years, and the transition between surfaces was a lot trickier…
What is really news is how the tournament is stepping on the Laver Cup’s Bostonian toes, something that has never happened in the history of the game. The only comparable revolution in terms of scheduling happened between 1977 and 1985, when the Australian moved from January to December, along with some minor tinkering – some will remember that for many years Rome took place after the French Open, for instance.
So, is this an incredibly brave or an incredibly reckless move? We’ll see. What’s certain is that the FFT, judging from the first reactions of the players, hadn’t let anyone know about their plan, not even board members like the Canadian Vasek Pospisil (one of the most rebellious against the status quo), who commented: “This is madness! No communication with the players nor the ATP. We have ZERO say in this game. It’s time.”
The last sentence obviously means, “it’s time for the players to take action.” How will they react, especially considering that they’ve been complaining for years about the small share of profit that in their opinion they’ve been making off the Slams, whose revenues are constantly off the charts? A subterranean war has been going on for years between the various governing bodies of the game. Now it’s in the open, and we’re going to witness some fireworks.
The FFT’s statement continued with these words: “It’s impossible to know what the situation will be like on May 18 [when the qualifying matches were supposed to start],” alluding again to how the containment strategy devised by Macron makes it impossible to make it on time with the various preparations.
“The FFT has made the only choice it could in order to salvage the 2020 edition of the tournament while acting responsibly and protecting its own employees. This is a momentous time in the history of the tournament, since the modernisation of the main stadium had made it clear that the event was sustainable in the long run, and the FFT was happy to keep going in that direction. Thus the French Open will take place between September 20 and October 3. The decision was made in the interest of the players’ community [we’ll see whether the players themselves will interpreti t the same way, and we’ll also see what the directors of tournament taking place in that period will have to say], whose scheduling has already being disrupted, and in the interest of the many fans of tennis, and of the French Open.”
“We made this hard and brave decision in the midst of this unprecedented situation, which has taken a very serious turn over the last weekend. We are acting responsibly, and we need to work together to ensure the health and safety of all,” Giudicelli said. “We have promptly announced that all tickets will be refunded or swapped with others reflecting the scheduling change. We will later release information on the matter.”
It’s clear that there are incredible sums at stake, sums that the FFT doesn’t want to lose after investing so much in the modernising of the tournament’s premises. If I’m not mistaken, every edition of the French Open grosses a shade under 100 million Euros – hardly a trivial matter, and hardly something that can be easily given up. And also, given up in favour of whom? Of the Asian swing events? Actually, the FFT is also going against one of its own events, the ATP 250 tournament in Metz, in addition to the St. Petersburg tournament, three other 250 events, a WTA Premier 5 in Wuhan, and a Premier Mandatory in Beijing.
But perhaps every cloud has a silver lining, as it’s happened with many semi-desperate situations before. Maybe the absurd current calendar will be reformed in a way that John McEnroe said would have happened only if tennis had a commissioner like those in American sports leagues. To this day, ATP, WTA, and ITF have never allowed for a sensible scheduling of the season – it suffices to remind ourselves of what happened with the new Davis Cup by Piqué/Rakuten and the ATP Cup, a divide in which the Australian Federation has basically triple-crossed everybody, being a member of the ITF but also the ATP Cup’s host and the co-organiser of the Laver Cup! That’s some balancing trick they pulled off, and also a sheer example of opportunism. Covid-19 is clearly the priority, but as usual money talks as well, even when everybody hides behind ideological façades.
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