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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COMMENT: Rafa At His Best Was Way Too Much For Novak To Handle

The long-time tennis columnist for the Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier newspaper, James Beck, gives his take on the French Open men’s final.

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Rafael Nadal (image via https://twitter.com/rolandgarros)

This French Open was all about Rafa Nadal.

 

Even the new women’s French Open champion, 19-year-old Iga Swiatek, is one of his fans.

Matching Roger Federer’s record 20 Grand Slam singles titles was pretty special in a year filled with the deadly coronavirus. The fact that possibly the sweetest victory of his long career came against longtime rival Novak Djokovic made it even more special.

Djokovic still stands three Grand Slam singles titles shy of the record number of 20. Only now, Novak  has to chase both Nadal and Federer for the all-time record.

NOVAK DIDN’T LOOK HIMSELF

Of course, Djokovic didn’t look himself in his 6-0, 6-2, 7-5 loss to Nadal on Sunday on the red clay of  Roland Garros, especially in the first set and maybe the second one, too.

Nadal obviously had something to do with that. Rafa played one of his best Grand Slam matches ever. He humbled Djokovic in much the same way he has totally dominated Federer in a couple of Grand Slam finals.

Nadal would not surrender even a point without a fight as he wore down the Serbian Wonder. Nadal actually out-moved and out-hit Djokovic. Nadal always seemed to be one move ahead of Djokovic, even during Novak’s usually dominant drop-shot attack.

DJOKOVIC’S DROP-SHOT ATTACK APPEARED TO SET RAFA ON FIRE

Djokovic came out drop-shotting as he attempted to frustrate the Spanish left-hander one more time with his deft drop shots. But Djokovic’s early strategy backfired as the strategy appeared to put even more fire into Nadal’s veins.

Nadal was ready for the drop shots this time, moving in quickly to repeatedly pass Djokovic down the backhand line or executing perfect slice backhands almost directly cross-court that Djokovic had no chance to return.

Obviously Nadal has been seriously practicing on his drop-shot returns. He also seemed to concentrate on hitting baseline shots with more air than usual, making them drop down closer to the baseline. He also used a heavily sliced backhand on balls near the surface line that hugged the net and stayed low, causing Djokovic to get low and  to hit up on balls just off the clay surface.

But at any time, at the slightest opening, Nadal turned his forehands and backhands into weapons of power.

NADAL’S TOUGHEST FINAL BECAME ONE OF HIS EASIEST

Yes, this was supposed to be Nadal’s toughest French Open to win, due to the cooler weather this time of the year in Paris and slower court conditions. And there also was the added pressure of going for Grand Slam title No. 20.

But the heavy court conditions seemed to be in Rafa’s favor, not Novak’s. And Nadal handled the pressure situation as if it was a walk in the park..

Nadal repeatedly pounded outright winners off both wings as Djokovic could only watch.

THE CLOSED ROOF MIGHT HAVE EVEN HELPED RAFA

Rain was in the forecast, so the new Philippe Chatrier Stadium roof was closed this time for its first men’s final. That solved the problem of heavy shadows that seemed to frustrate Sofia Kenin a day earlier in her one-sided women’s final loss to Swiatek.

Everything was perfectly aligned for Rafa on this day.

Even usual Djokovic fan John McEnroe was chatting from Los Angeles on the TV telecast that “Rafa is in the zone.” In the second set, McEnroe referred to the match as not even being competitive at the time.

Johnny Mac was simply telling it like it was. Nadal simply was the far superior player on this day.

James Beck has been the long-time tennis columnist for the Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier newspaper. He can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com.

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Rafael Nadal Excels Once Again At His Beloved French Open

The king of clay dominated his match against world No.1 Djokovic to continue what will perhaps be the most dominant run at a Grand Slam tournament in history.

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Rafael Nadal (image via https://twitter.com/rolandgarros)

Records are meant to be broken, and almost all existing ones will indeed be broken over the next century.

All but one, though, because no one will ever win the French Open 13 times or amass 100 victories with just a pair of defeats over a 15-year span like Rafa Nadal has done. The Spaniard thoroughly and utterly dominated Djokovic, even from a tactical perspective, a feat that could be hardly predicted. As a matter of fact, the Eurosport crew, made of full-on or borderline Hall-of-Famers like McEnroe, Wilander, Courier and Henman, foresaw that the Serbian, who has a more complete and varied repertoire of shots, would have finally dethroned Nadal in Paris, aided by the perks of a heavy court to counter his opponent’s vaunted-and-yet-blunted topspin groundstrokes. Moreover, the final was played under the roof of the Philip Chatrier stadium, another element that was thought to work in the world number one’s favour, since he usually annihilates the competition when playing indoors. 

 

Well, they were all wrong, we were all wrong, especially vis-à-vis the proportions of the scoreline. Djokovic had never been beaten so harshly in a Major final; what’s more is that Nadal could have actually trundled his way to an even bigger triumph, since he was leading 3-2 with a break in the third set before losing his serve for the sole time – he also had a break point at 4-4 to serve the match out a few minutes earlier than he ended up doing, when Djokovic double faulted at 5-5 to concede for good. Up 6-5 40-0, the King of Clay aced out the tournament in style with a typical southpaw slice serve, leaving Djokovic agape once more before falling to his knees – he would later give way to tears during the Spanish national anthem.

What are the reasons behind such a blowout, aside from journalistic clichés such as “Rafa was at his best, and it just wasn’t Novak’s day”?

  1. Djokovic’s serve was appalling. He seldom put a first serve in play. The first two times he got broken, he was 2 out of 8 and 1 out of 6, respectively. He fought valiantly for 33 minutes, but after falling 4-0 behind he managed to lose his serve again after springing to a 40-0 lead…
  2. He got a little too enamoured of the drop shot (he hit 35 against Tsitsipas, about 30 against Nadal), failing to realise that the quick nature of those points doesn’t give him enough rhythm and control with his groundstrokes. If a player like him, who thrives in long and asphyxiating exchanges based on moving the opponent, loses the habit to go over nine shots, he will end up suffering against Nadal, a player who pretty much never misses – just three unforced errors in the opening two sets.
  3. While the Spaniard’s signature shot is his forehand, during the final he wreaked havoc with the slice backhand as well. The shot landed low and short, forcing Djokovic to take a few steps forward in no-man’s land (the area between the service line and the baseline), offering him an uncomfortable look on which it was very difficult to inject pace. 

The outcome was that Rafa won his favourite tournament without dropping a set for the fourth time after already doing so in 2008, 2010, and 2017. Jannik Sinner was the only one who got to at least try serve out a set against him – if the Italian was able to do that at 19, who knows how good he’ll become in the next few years, since his performance didn’t happen by chance.

Roger Federer, who was in Milan during the weekend when his frenemy equaled his record tally of 20 Majors (Djokovic is at 17), immediately took to social media to comment on Nadal’s win: “I have always had the utmost respect for my friend Rafa as a person and as a champion. As my greatest rival over many years, I believe we have pushed each other to become better players […]. I hope 20 is just another step on the continuing journey for both of us. Well done, Rafa. You deserve it.”

Nadal replied during his press conference: I think, as everybody know, we have a very, very good relationship. We respect each other a lot. At the same time in some way I think he’s happy when I’m winning and I’m happy when he’s doing the things well. I never hide that for me, I always say the same, that I would love to finish my career being the player with more Grand Slams. But in the other hand I say, okay, I have to do it my way. I did my way during all my career. In terms of these records, of course that I care. I am a big fan of the history of sport in general. I respect a lot that. For me means a lot to share this number with Roger, no? But let’s see what’s going on when we finish our careers.”

In 1930, Italian cyclist Alfredo Binda was offered a huge sum to withdraw from the Giro d’Italia after winning it for five years in a row. Will it happen to Rafa Nadal in Paris too? It looks like the only way to stop him.

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Editorial

The Man-Machine? Djokovic wants Hawk-Eye to replace line judges for good

Sixteen unseeded players will feature in the singles draw at the French Open – however, the Big Three (Djokovic, Nadal and… Thiem) have been gliding past the competition. The Serbian (just 15 games lost, and no sets) would do away with linesmen and lineswomen in the name of technological progress. I agree with Muguruza though – Hawk-eye on clay is necessary, but not for every single call.

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Ten out of sixteen players in the women’s draw are not seeded, a huge number for a tournament with 32 seeds: Collins, Ferro, Zhang, Siegemund, Badosa, Swiatek, Trevisan, Garcia, Podoroska, and Krejcikova. This means that at least two matchups, Siegemund-Badosa and Podoroska Krejcikova, will beget a surprise guest in the list of Final Eight invitees. It’s not something that happens at every Major – one Cinderella story, perhaps, but not two.

 

In the men’s draw, the dark horses amount to six: Sinner, Sonego, Altmaier, Korda, and Gaston. However, there is no match slated between two of them, so they could theoretically all bow out between today and tomorrow – it is a statistically more conventional amount, and, at any rate, it was widely anticipated that this would be a peculiar Slam. The favourites in the men’s draw, however, are still competing, with Djokovic losing no sets and 15 games, Nadal zero and 19, Thiem nil and 28, probably due to a much tougher draw (Cilic, Sock and Ruud are all better than Ymer, Berankis, Galan, Gerasimov, McDonald and Travaglia).

THE REASONS BEHIND SO MANY UPSETS

According to Garbine Muguruza, who had just lost to Collins and was therefore quite sensitive on this theme (especially because she has actually won a “normal” French Open in the past), the singular conditions of the fortnight are levelling the competition, allowing for more shakeups. It is indeed a good point, although it doesn’t seem to apply to those who are literally off the charts like the aforementioned three krakens of the men’s draw, although it should be highlighted that four more players haven’t lost a single set so far – Schwartzman, Dimitrov, Altmaier, and Sinner. 

WHO LOST THE FEWEST SETS AND GAMES (MEN’S EDITION)

As already mentioned, Djokovic has dropped a meagre 15 games in three matches, followed by Nadal with 19, Dimitrov and Schwartzman with 22 (the Bulgarian has played one fewer set due to Carballes Baena retiring), Thiem with 28, Sinner with 31, and Altmaier with 38. Carreno (34 games) and Fucsovics (31) have dropped one set. Tsitsipas (32), Korda (40), Zverev (46), Khachanov (also 46) and Sonego (51) have conceded a couple. Rublev lost three sets (48), and Gaston four (49).

Today’s matchups are, in the bottom half of the draw:

  • Sonego vs Schwartzman 
  • Gaston vs Thiem 
  • Zverev vs Sinner 
  • Korda vs Nadal.

And here’s tomorrow’s fourth rounds:

  • Djokovic-Khachanov 
  • Carreno Busta-Altmaier 
  • Fucsovics-Rublev 
  • Dimitrov-Tsitsipas.

My predictions for the quarter finals are:

  • Schwartzman vs Thiem (I hope to be wrong for chauvinistic reasons)
  • Zverev vs Nadal (Ibid.)
  • Djokovic-Carreno (what a rematch, after what happened last time)
  • Rublev-Dimitrov.

The 16 survivors spring from 12 countries (Italy, Spain, Russia and Germany have two representatives, Serbia, Austria, Greece, Hungary, Bulgaria, the US and Argentina have one each) – 14 of them are Europeans, two are from the Americas.  

WHO LOST THE FEWEST SETS AND GAMES (WOMEN’S EDITION)

Four ladies are still perfect in terms of sets lost, and will square off in the fourth round: Halep (12 games lost) and Swiatek (13) will meet today, while Kvitova (22) and Zhang (30) will do it tomorrow. Svitolina (21) and Podoroska (19) have dropped one set. Everyone else is at two sets lost: Garcia (37), Krejcikova (35), Jabeur (35), Ferro (33), Badosa (30) Collins (29), Trevisan (28), Siegemund (28) Bertens (27), and Kenin (26). 

Today’s matches are will involve the top half of the draw:

  • Halep-Swiatek 
  • Trevisan-Bertens 
  • Svitolina-Garcia 
  • Podoroska-Krejcikova 

As for the bottom half, the bouts are:

  • Jabeur-Collins 
  • Ferro-Kenin 
  • Kvitova-Zhang 
  • Siegemund-Badosa.

The Europeans will be 11 (France and Czechia have two players each, while Italy, Germany, Spain, Romania, Poland, Ukraine, and the Netherlands have one). The rest of the world is represented by the US with two, and by Argentina, China and Tunisia with one. No country has four players left, with four European nations sporting three – Italy, France, Spain and Germany. 

HAWK-EYE VS HUMANITY

A common theme of Week 1 has been the players collectively calling for the use of Hawk-Eye on clay. Several have been hurt by wrong calls, like Mladenovic, Shapovalov, Trevisan, Sonego, Fritz, and more. Djokovic has been the most outspoken: he wants to get rid of human linesmen and lineswomen – “That way, I won’t risk striking anybody else,” he humorously and self-deprecatingly said before adding, “I understand that this is a supplementary cost for the organisers, but the progress in modern technology should allow to do it.” To be fair, a mistake at a crucial moment can cost millions to the victim. 

Garbine Muguruza is in favour of the use of Hawk-Eye, but not of the riddance of linespeople. “I’m traditional, I like having human beings around me and not just machines – tennis courts would have no atmosphere left.” For what it’s worth, I tend to agree with her, especially because of the tens of thousands of umpires, linesmen and lineswomen who volunteer all around the world in junior events, Futures and Challengers (and would continue to do so, not every tournament can afford to pay for electronic judges), hoping perhaps to one day reach the big leagues. Nole’s idea would deprive the game of so many impassioned enlistees and valuable professionals who wouldn’t even get into the game, since their dream career wouldn’t exist anymore. This also means the definitive loss of many jobs in each country, and that the quality of professionals would go down.  

My impression is that the Co-President of the PTPA hasn’t really thought through the practical consequences of the choice he’s advocating for. I will tell him that the first chance I get. At the same time, I would like to remind the French Open officials that they do have the money to implement the Hawk-Eye technology on each court, although perhaps that’s a conversation for a time when more than a thousand daily fans will be allowed through the turnstiles. Not all events, even on hardcourts, have the same fortune, for instance those who don’t even refund the people who had already bought the tickets for an event that was played behind closed doors…  

Article originally published on Ubitennis.com and translated by Tommaso Villa.

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