Tennis Braces Itself For Potential Coronavirus Chaos - UBITENNIS
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Tennis Braces Itself For Potential Coronavirus Chaos

No tennis player have tested positive for the virus, but the world of tennis could face multiple challenges over the coming months.

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A number of upcoming ATP Challenger Tour events in China, including Zhuhai (pictured), have been cancelled. (IMAGE: atptour.com)

In a recent interview with ESPN China’s top player says he starts conversations by stating how many days he has been out of his country.

 

World No.136 Zhizhen Zhang continues to play on the tour around the world as his homeland deals with a serious disease that has now been declared as a global epidemic by the World Health Organisation. Coronavirus, which also goes by the name of Covid-19, has claimed the lives of more than 1000 people worldwide with the majority of the fatalities being in China. Officials believe the outbreak originated at a food market in Wuhan where the illegal trade of wild animals takes place.

“Whenever my parents call me, all they tell me is to not come back now,” Zhang told ESPN. “They want me to stay away from home and stay safe.”

Zhang is currently playing in India on the Challenger circuit, but lost his opening match in Bengaluru earlier this week. Due to his nationality, any signs of illness alert the doctors and those around him. As he recently found out.

“I visited the tournament doctor’s room because I was feeling uneasy and running a bit of a fever. When he learnt I’m from China, he was worried. Since I didn’t have a cough and I’d been out of the country for a while, it helped put everyone at ease,” the 23-year-old said. “Now wherever I go, when I tell people I’m from China, I make sure I add that I’ve not been to the country in two weeks.”

It isn’t just Asia, where there are concerns about the illness and how it can affect the world of tennis. Cases have also been identified in the UK, USA and Spain. However, it believed those infections was started by somebody who had travelled to the region.

In South America the Buenos Aires Open is currently taking place. This year’s field features six top 40 players, headlined by world No.14 Diego Schwartzman. They may be a long way away from China, but concerns remain.

“I was a little relieved to leave the Australian Open at the end of last month, because I knew it was a matter of days or weeks before the first case of coronavirus arrived. We were just a few hours by plane from the infectious outbreak in Asia.” La Nacion quoted Guido Pella as saying.
“We suffered the issue of forest fires (in Australia) which was terrible for everyone, but then the coronavirus approached. We are living a difficult and sensitive moment in the world.”

Horacio Zeballos is one of many parents on the tour who travel with both his wife and children to certain tournaments. The top seed in the men’s doubles tournament says he is always mindful of germs when going to various countries. A mindset he had before the Coronavirus outbreak.

“We try to have extreme cleanliness and always travel with alcohol gel. My wife is constantly washing the hands of the boys, mostly at airports. Then, we take some measures as not to put the suitcase on top of the bed to undo it or leave the stroller, which walks through all the streets, outside the room. With regard to the Coronavirus we do not take any action yet.” He said.

Tough times for Asian tennis

Venue of this week’s WTA Thailand Open

A series of tournaments have already been cancelled in China. Including multiple Challenger tournaments as well as a regional Fed Cup tie being moved to Dubai. Many understand that reason as to why, but nevertheless it is a financial issue for some on the tour.

World No.289 Sasikumar Mukund had planned to play no fewer than five tournaments in China over the next two months. Now they are cancelled, he has been left in limbo. The country was set to hold 14 Challenger tournaments in 2020.

“I don’t have a schedule, where can I plan next?” Sasikumar told The Hindu’s Sportstar on February 6th. “The tournaments got cancelled last Tuesday. For now the plan is to stay in Europe. I don’t know what’s going to happen going forward. The Olympics are at stake if it goes on like this!”

Officially cancelled
-Qujing CH 50 (Week of 2 March 2020)
-Zhuhai CH 80 (Week of 9 March 2020)
-Shenzhen CH 90 (Week of 16 March 2020)
-Zhangjiagang CH 80 (Week of 23 March 2020)
Strong chance of being cancelled/moved but not confirmed
-Taipei CH 125 (Week of 30 March 2020)
-Nanchang CH 80 (Week of 6 April 2020)
-Changsha CH 80 (Week of 13 April 2020)
-Anning CH 125 (Week of 20 April 2020)

If the outbreak isn’t contained later this year for whatever reason, the tennis calendar could be thrown into chaos. After the US Open, China will host a series of prestigious tournaments that will feature the best players in the world. Including the WTA Wuhan Open, which is the city where Coronavirus is said to originate from. In total the country will host eight WTA events between September and November, including the prestigious WTA Finals. On the ATP Tour four events are scheduled to take place during that period with the most high-profile being the Shanghai Masters.

It isn’t all doom and gloom for tennis in the region. This week the Thailand Open is taking place that features world No.4 Elina Svitolina. According to The Bangkok Post, officials have sprayed the venue with ‘environmentally friendly products’ to relieve fears about the virus.

“We want to show to the world that Thailand is safe after the coronavirus outbreak [in China],” said Suwat Liptapanlop, chief adviser of the organising committee.
“We want to tell foreigners that they can come to Thailand because this is a safe place.”

Another talking point concerns the Olympic Games, which will get underway on July 24th. Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Simona Halep are just some of the players who will be bidding to claim a gold medal in Tokyo. Japan has recently pledged to use 10.3 billion yen ofd the country’s budget in the fight against Coronavirus.

“I want to again state clearly that cancellation or postponement of the Tokyo Games has not been considered.” 2020 Games chief Toshiro Muto told reporters on Wednesday.

Tennis officials are hoping that they can take the same stance as Muto later this year during the Asian swing of the season. But for now it remains a nervous waiting game to see how much worse it will get.

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US Open: Shelby Rogers Delivers; Serena Still A Threat To Win 24th Major

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Serena Williams - US Open (photo Twitter @usopen)

After all of these years of playing in the U.S. Open, Shelby Rogers is finally a seeded player.

 

The Charleston, S.C., native has been playing America’s premier tennis event almost continuously since her debut in New York in 2010. She’ll turn 30 years old in a few weeks and has worked her way up the rankings to 31st in the world.

That’s a big achievement from the little girl who hung on the fences more than two decades ago to watch her older sister Sabra play high school matches that eventually led to an Al-American career for Sabra at Emory University. Sabra became a psychologist and, of course, is one of  Shelby’s biggest fans.

LOOK OUT FOR ROGERS?

Rogers took the direct route. She didn’t play high school tennis, but left the classroom before high school to train in tennis, study online and play the junior circuit. She turned pro in 2009 at age 16.

Monday evening at the Billie Jean King Tennis Center, It took Rogers awhile to start living up to her ranking. But once she turned the corner after dropping the first set in nine games, Shelby started looking like a seasoned top 30 player.

Rogers sort of blew The Netherlands’ slim Arantxa Rus away, taking a 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory in the opening round of the U.S. Open. Rogers especially played the deciding 28th game of the match like the veteran pro she is. She hit one long forehand and netted one ball in that game, but otherwise she rode her big serve to victory in the clinching game. At 40-30, she delivered a huge first serve down the middle that Rus couldn’t put into play.

WOMEN’S RACE TO TOP PRIZE WIDE OPEN

The way things are on the women’s tour these days, with no true leader while once-amazing top-ranked Iga Swiatek tries to regain her dominance, anything is possible.

Yes, even finally a 24th Grand Slam title for Serena Williams.

But this is about Shelby Rogers. She is playing the best tennis of her career nearly a decade and a half after her life as a professional tennis player started.

With any kind of luck, Rogers could leave New York ranked among the top 25 players in the world, or maybe higher if she continues to serve and play the kind of big-ball tennis she played  in the last 19 games Monday night.

WHO’S NEXT IN LINE

So, what’s after Swiatek, who started the year on fire with a long unbeaten streak that went through the French Open and rewarded her with as many points as the confined totals of the Nos. 2 and 3 players. Of course, Ashleigh Barty’s retirement after winning the Australian Open opened the door for Swiatek’s rise to the top.

And then Wimbledon’s grass took care of Swiatek.

Nos. 2-5 Anett Kontaveit, Maria Sakkari, Paula Badosa and Ons Jabeur are all outstanding players, but none currently fit in the great column. They appear to be waiting in line for Swiatek or another Barty-like player to step forward to rule the women’s tour.

WHAT ABOUT UKRAINE’S DARIA!

Then there are almost totally unknown players such as Ukraine’s Daria Snigur. I hadn’t given Snigur much chance at all on the pro tour until her shocking U.S. Open first-round victory over multi-Grand Slam tournament winner and seventh-ranked Simona Halep. 

The last time I had thought about Snigur was when she upended Charleston’s Emma Navarro in the Junior Wimbledon semifinals and then won the Junior Grand Slam tournament.

At Junior Wimbledon in 2019, I thought Navarro, who also is now on the WTA Tour and is currently ranked 145th in the world, would roll past Snigur the way she had in the 2019 Junior French Open quarterfinals. But Snigur is so deceptive with her ground strokes that strike like lightning, she dominated Navarro at that Junior Wimbledon.

So, maybe the currently 124th-ranked Snigur may be ready to make a mark on the tour after scoring her first tour victory by defeating Halep.

NO NOVAK, BUT RAFA IS THERE

Without Novak Djokovic, the men are about as unpredictable as the women, with the exception of one player. Rafa Nadal, of course, entered this U.S. Open, with a perfect 19-0 record this year in Grand Slams.

Daniil Medvedev is the defending champion at the U.S. Open, but even though he is ranked No. 1 in the world, it’s a long road to the final for the Russian. Medvedev hasn’t always been predictable.

And already, No. 4 Stefanos Tsitsipas has been eliminated by a complete unknown, Daniel Elahi Galan.

Wow! The Greek star probably was about as much of a favorite as Medvedev.

And poor Dominic Thiem was cast on an outside court. And he lost. Just a couple of years ago, Thiem was winning the U.S. Open.

My top five picks in order would be: Nadal, Jannik Sinner, Nick Kyrgios, Medvedev and Andy Murray. Yes, Andy looks pretty fit.

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James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award  for print media. A 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com. 

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Will Rafael Nadal Keep The Grand Slam Winning Feeling Going In New York?

Rafael Nadal has injury doubts heading into his search for a 23rd grand slam title in New York.

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Rafael Nadal (@usopen - Twitter)

Rafael Nadal will look to repeat successes from Melbourne and Paris by answering his doubters with triumph in New York.

 

The Spaniard enters the last grand slam with injury doubts having only just come back from an abdominal injury suffered in his Wimbledon quarter-final against Taylor Fritz.

It was injury that saw his calendar grand slam dream come to an end and ever since then has been recovering in the hopes of finishing the grand slam year strong in New York.

However in his first match back Nadal was defeated in three sets to Borna Coric in New York which has put doubts on whether the Spaniard can be a threat in the US.

Nadal will likely not have to worry about Novak Djokovic but a victory in New York could see him be world number one with current number one Daniil Medvedev defending the title.

The likes of Medvedev, Carlos Alcaraz and Stefanos Tsitsipas will be standing in Nadal’s way and if the Spaniard isn’t match-fit then he could face an early exit.

However as tennis pundit Barbara Schett pointed out, ruling out Nadal at this stage would be foolish and the Spaniard always raises his level at the grand slams, “The match is always different from practice,” Schett told Eurosport.

“And whoever had an abdominal injury and a tear on the abdominal muscles knows how it feels. You have to be extremely cautious. You’re worried that you’re going to reinjure it again.

“And I think that’s what we’ve seen on Wednesday. When he played against Coric, he was a little bit uncertain how the body was going to hold up. And for sure he’s going to feel better and better.

“If there’s no damage to the abdominal muscle, then he still has a week and a half to improve his health, to improve the trust also that he can extend and he can’t bend on the serve because that’s the trickiest shot, the serve and the smash.

“When that is the case, Rafa Nadal certainly can be dangerous again at the US Open. I mean, he’s so fired up at every single Grand Slam. We’ve seen this year playing the best tennis of his life. You can never, ever write him off.”

Nadal is currently undefeated at grand slams and if fit, the Spaniard will certainly fancy himself to win another seven matches at the US Open this year.

Whatever it should be interesting to see if Nadal improves before the US Open with the tournament starting on the 29th of August.

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Does WTA Need A Top Rivalry To Drive The Sport?

Iga Swiatek is the WTA’s dominant world number one but does she need a rival in order to drive the sport to new heights.

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Iga Swiatek (@TennisHandshake - Twitter)

The WTA has a dominant world number one and a variety of talented players on the tour but the one thing it’s lacking at the moment is a top rivalry.

 

First of all it was supposed to be Bianca Andreescu and Naomi Osaka, then Ash Barty and Osaka and also Barty and Iga Swiatek.

However none of these match-ups created a top rivalry over a long period to generate an overwhelming amount of interest.

After Barty’s shock retirement, many people were left disappointed at the fact that her and current dominant world number one Iga Swiatek could not compete for the sport’s biggest titles in a fierce rivalry.

Now Swiatek sits at the top of the WTA rankings with almost a 4,000 point lead at the top. The rest of the field are very talented and that in itself is an intriguing aspect of the WTA’s appeal.

But the one thing the women’s game lacks is a top rivalry to generate a hype that the ATP clearly has right now.

As Mark Petchey said it’s an issue that needs solving soon as every sport has one, “Rivalries drive the sport. What they do is make sure that it manifests itself in a big polarisation of a large fan base, against another one,” Petchey was quoted as saying by Tennis365.

“You look across the board, over F1, look at the tribal nature of AFL, of Premier League football here. It’s a huge part of what you need to have a successful sport. That is the one thing that is missing from the women’s tour at the moment, is a superb rivalry, with a little bit of edge.

“That’s why I say I’m sad that Ash pulled up stumps, because I think that rivalry could’ve developed with Iga in that way. Would it have been quite as intense as the Rafa-Novak and Roger-Novak rivalries? Probably not. But it would have been there. Going into every major saying that you’re not looking forward to a specific clash potentially when the draw comes out, does hurt the tour a little bit. 

“You can’t keep saying ‘oh, anyone can win it’. Because you’re just not tagging anybody… you’re not setting the scene for something amazing that’s going to happen, a nice little volcanic eruption right at the back-end of a major. They need some people to be a bit more consistent and getting through, because that’s what will be a massive driver for the WTA.”

It’s hard to argue with those points of view from Petchey as rivalries are what are talked about for decades after players have retired.

It will be interesting to see whether Swiatek will continue to dominate the rest of the field or whether someone can build a rivalry with the Pole heading into the remainder of the season.

The next big WTA event of the year will take place at the Rogers Cup in Toronto on the week of the eighth of August.

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