Elena Rybakina Is Really Special - UBITENNIS
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Elena Rybakina Is Really Special

Let’s take a look at the most improved player of the 2020 season, who has reached the final in four tournaments out of the five she’s competed in.

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One of the most fascinating things in tennis is witnessing the ascent of special players. Whether they do it gradually or out of the blue, young athletes experience a breakthrough and emerge from virtual obscurity, revealing themselves to the world.

 

I’ve mentioned special players because, in order to reach a higher plateau (that of champions), it is necessary that the stars that aligned to propitiate their emergence stay that way for quite some time. Astrological metaphors aside, the careers of up-and-coming sportspeople are laden with unpredictability and with setbacks that might shatter the prospects of the most promising ones. Timing is essential to avoid health issues, injuries, or even growing pains that might be acceptable and expected at other times, but that might compromise an entire career if occurring at the worst possible moment.

This long premise is needed to approach what Elena Rybakina has done in 2020, because it’s the token of a special player. And if she’ll be able to keep up with what she’s accomplished over the last few weeks, then we will be able to say that we were all witnesses to the surge of something even bigger, perhaps a Top 10 player, perhaps a champion.

In order to talk about her, I need to go back to her beginnings. Setting up the table, perhaps perfunctorily, is essential to understanding her growth and evolution, which have transformed her into the unique player she is today.

Rybakina’s beginnings

Elena Rybakina was born in Moscow on June 17, 1999, and started playing tennis at six. She’s said in an interview that tennis was a “second choice” because of her height: she dabbled for a bit with gymnastics and ice skating, but every coach told her clearly that she was too tall to be a standout (well, if you’re tall you do stand out, but I don’t think that the irony translates in Russian as well). At her first ice skating training, all newcomers were split into two groups: those who could hope to reach official competitions, and those who could only do it for fun – Elena ended up in the latter.

Racquets and fuzzy balls then became the default option, but, while initially a rebound game for the heartbroken child, tennis soon became the real love affair for Elena. She very simply enjoys playing, and such enjoyment has remained through the years, even when sacrifice and hard work became staples in order to reach loftier heights – tennis is still a game to her.

After a few local tournaments, here comes the big stage of international junior tournaments. As an understudy, Rybakina’s career was marked by good-yet-not-too-good results. She played quite a lot (95 wins, 35 losses), and after a few bouts she began to be called up for team competition by the Russian federation, becoming an athlete of national interest.

She then reached the junior Top 100, but didn’t become a household name till the very end of her junior career. In 2017, she reached the semis at the French Open, the quarters at Flushing Meadows, and above all won the Bonfiglio Trophy, a Grade A tournament (just as important as a Major), in May. At the Milan event, she beat Wang Xiyu in the second round, and Iga Swiatek in the final, although it should be noted that the Pole is two years younger than Rybakina.

The Bonfiglio final can still be watched on YouTube: that day, Swiatek leapt out of the blocks, finding herself ahead with a score of 6-1 6-5, and about to serve the match out. At the decisive moment, though, she couldn’t seal the deal (especially because of a high double fault tally), paving the way for Rybakina’s 1-6 7-6 6-3 comeback win. Therefore, the takeaway was that Swiatek was more talented albeit more mercurial, and that she was the one who would leave a mark on women’s tennis.

Thanks to the results she racked up over the last few months as a junior player, at an age when most of her peers had already turned pro, Elena reached her highest ranking at N.3 in December 2017. Throughout her junior days, she trained at the Spartak Moscow club under Andrey Chesnokov (who needs no introductions) and Evgenia Kulikovskaya (former world N.91 in 2003), while her fitness regiment was managed by Irina Kiseleva, former modern Pentathlon world champion. Obviously, they weren’t her exclusive coaches, but rather mentored the whole young crux of the tennis club.

Meanwhile, Rybakina found her feet at the ITF level, and, like with her junior career, she didn’t stand out as particularly precious, but rather matured at a steady pace. At the end of 2017, she was the 420th player in the world, and suited herself for one more season of ranking-climbing. In 2018, she won a 15K in Kazana, while also debuting on the WTA Tour thanks to a wildcard for the St. Petersburg indoor event. There, she reached the quarter finals by knocking out in a major upset the then world N.7 Caroline Garcia (2-6 7-6 6-4) before bowing out against Julia Goerges. The 125 points she earned represented a shade less than half of her season’s haul, and boosted her ranking up to the 191st spot.

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Anastasya Pavlyuchenkova is ready to play in November if the season is extended

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Anastasya Pavlyuchenkova said that she would be ready to play in November and December, if the season is extended once the WTA circuit resumes after the long suspension due to the coronavirus pandemic.

 

The season may be extended to November to make up for the events, which were called off due to Covid-19.

Pavlyuchenkova opened her 2020 season with early defeats against Petra Kvitova in the first round in Brisbane and Ashleigh Barty in the second round in Adelaide. The Russian player produced a major upset when she beat Karolina Pliskova in the third round at the Australian Open, scoring her first win in seven head-to-head matches over the former world number 1 player. She came back from a set down to beat Angelique Kerber reaching the sixth Grand Slam quarter final of her career. In the quarter final Pavlyuchenkova lost to former Roland Garros and Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza. She recently split with 53-year-old French coach Sam Sumyk.

Pavlyuchenkova is a former world number 1 player and won two junior Grand Slam titles at the Australian Open and at the US Open in 2006. She lifted twelve singles titles and five doubles titles on the WTA Tour.

“If it is necessary to play in December, I will be ready. In any case it is necessary to change to change this calendar where we play without stopping from January to November. We have announced a resumption date but there is no agreement. Everything can change. It does not look like as an offseason at all as some say because the only thing that I can do is to motivate myself physically and hit the ball because I am lucky that I have a court not far from home. Some people can’t even do all that”, said Pavlyuchenkova to TennisActu Website.

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Tour Suspension A ‘Dire And Bleak’ Situation For Players, Warns Johanna Konta

The world No.14 also comments on the decision to move the French Open to September.

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British No.1 Johanna Konta admits that any system put into place to financially support players in the wake of the tour suspension will only have a ‘minimal’ effect.

 

Tennis is currently at a standstill due to the Covid-19 pandemic with doubts cast over when play will resume again. As a consequence, many players are looking into alternative ways to generate an income. Unlike team sports where athletes have a contract, those in the world of tennis are essentially self-employed. Meaning they will only earn money in the sport if they play at tournaments. Although the top players have the luxury of endorsements to also support them.

Weighing in on the situation, Konta has described it as ‘fire and bleak.’ She is one out of 90 female players to have made more than $100,000 in prize money this year before the tour was suspended. Her current earnings for the season stands at $105,703.

“The reality is that there is no tennis player earning any money right now; all the tennis players have taken a 100 per cent salary cut,” Konta told The Evening Standard.
“Everyone is trying to find the best way possible to stand by a team and support the people you work with and feel close to while not bankrupting yourself.
“[A support system] is being worked on right now, but the reality is that even if it is possible – and let’s hope it is – it’s going to be very minimal.
“It’s a very bleak and dire situation especially for the lower ranked players.”

In light of the financial concerns, world No.371 Sofia Shapatava recently set up an online petition on change.org calling for support from the ITF, WTA and ATP. More than 1300 people have signed the petition.

“I started the petition to help tennis players to be heard by ITF, after I talked to many of the people I know and about their plans for the next three months, I realised that some people won’t even be able to have food,” Shapatava told the AFP News Agency.
“My problem is that my sport will die as it is, it will die, because players who are ranked lower then 150th in the world will not be able to play.”

In comparison to Konta, Georgian player Shapatava has made $2,896 so far this season. That works out as 0.09% of what prize money leader Sofia Kenin has made ($3,012,043). Kenin is one of four players to earn more than a million in 2020 on the women’s tour. The other are Garbine Muguruza, Simona Halep and Ash Barty.

The WTA have said they are looking into the possibility of extending this year’s calendar is order to provide players with more earning opportunities when the sport resumes.

French open approach disappointing

Konta has also criticised the French Tennis Federation (FFT) over their management of the French Open. Officials at the FFT recently announced that the major would be delayed until September due to the Covid-19 outbreak. A move that caught many off guard, including some governing bodies. Konta reached the semi-finals of the French Open last year after previously losing in the first round four times in a row.

“It’s a really sad situation and it’s very disappointing for them to release their decision in the way that they did,” she said.
“It’s not the act itself, but the manner which was disappointing to everybody in the tennis community. It’s left a sour taste in a lot of people’s mouths.”

Lionel Maltés is the economic director of the FFT. He has defended their approach to the situation by saying the organisation had no choice but to act. Arguing that their (the FFT) first priority is French tennis. The controversy surrounding the date change is that it will take place a week after the US Open ends. Leaving players with little chance to prepare for the switch of surfaces.

“The decision was not made overnight, it was far from an outburst. We had been clear for some time that it was going to be impossible to play the tournament on the established dates and we knew we had to do something.” Maltés recently told French newspaper L’Equipe.
“There was no hint of conversation collective with the other Grand Slams so we did the only thing we had to do for French tennis. Don’t doubt that Wimbledon and US Open would have made the same decision if they could. In fact, other tournaments have backed us up by saying they understood us and that if they had been in our position, they would have done the same.
“We were aware that we would be highly criticized for this, but the safeguard of French tennis is above all,” he added.

The French Open was scheduled to run from 24 May to 7 June. Officials are now hoping that the tournament will start on September 20th.

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Amelie Mauresmo Fears 2020 Season Is Over, But Becker Disagrees

Two former world No.1 disagree on what will happen to the sport this year, but what is the current stance of the governing bodies?

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Former world No.1 Amelie Mauresmo has said she is doubtful that there will be any more competitive tennis played this year due to the covid-19 pandemic.

 

Both the ATP and WTA tours are currently suspended until June 8th due to the deadly virus. According to the John Hopkins University there has been an estimated 800,000 cases of Coronavirus globally that has killed over 37,500 people. The disease is particularly dangerous to the elderly and those with pre-existing medical problems.

In light of the epidemic, it is likely that the Wimbledon Championships will be officially cancelled later this week following a series of emergency meetings. Making it the first time the grand slam has been scrapped in peace time. Wimbledon wasn’t played 10 times during the first and second World Wars. It is expected that a decision concerning a potential extension of the tour suspension will be made after the announcement.

Weighing in on the situation, two-time grand slam champion Mauresmo believes officials could be soon forced to cancel the entire season. Echoing similar comments that were previously made by Craig Tiley, who is the chief of Tennis Australia.

“I think that we are going to have to draw a line under the 2020 tennis season.” Said Mauresmo.
“The international circuit = male and female players of all nationalities including their coaching staff, spectators and people from all over the world who bring these events to life.
“No vaccine = no tennis,’ she added.

Due to the unpredictability of the epidemic, it is unclear as to when life around the world will return to normal. However, not everybody is thinking the worst when it comes to tennis this year. German legend Boris Becker has called for an end to what he describes as ‘doom and gloom.’

“We should stop with all this doom and gloom — of course tennis will be played this year,” he tweeted in a reply to an article concerning Mauresmo comments.

Looking beyond Wimbledon, two grand slam tournaments are still hoping to take place this season. The US Open is scheduled to get underway on August 24th in New York. Although the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, which hosts the tournament, has been turned into a 350-bed hospital to help New York cope with the Covid-19 outbreak. Meanwhile, the French Open is optimistically intending to play their event the week after the US Open concludes.

What are the governing bodies saying?

In regards to planning for the future of the tennis season, the women’s Tennis Association (WTA) has shed some light on their potential plans. In a statement sent to Reuters News Agency on Tuesday, they are pondering the possibility of extending the calendar beyond the first week of November. Allowing more tournaments to be played and therefore more players can earn money.

“The WTA is diligently working with our tournaments to maximize earning possibilities when the professional tennis circuit is able to resume and is considering an extension to the current 44-week season to enable more tournaments to take place,” the WTA statement reads.
“It is our sincere hope to return to the court as soon as possible – when the health and safety or our players, fans and staffs can be guaranteed, we will be back competing.”

It is likely the male equivalent, the ATP, is considering similar approaches. Although they have yet to publicly comment on their potential plans. ATP chairman Andrea Gaudenzi admitted on March 24th that it is unknown as to when the tour will be able to resume.

“This is bigger than any sport. The current situation raises many questions which we empathize with greatly, and we are working hard on evaluating all options.” He said.
“Our ability to address any supportive measures will be best guided once we know the duration of the crisis and when the Tour will resume, which remains unknown at this time.“

Finally, the International Tennis Federation is also pondering what their next move will be. The ITF is responsible for the Olympic tennis event, as well as both the Davis Cup and Fed Cup. Later this year Madrid, which has been severely hit by Covid-19 cases, is set to hold the 18-team Davis Cup Finals. Although ticket sales for the event has been halted with a release date yet to be confirmed.

“Due to the current global situation caused by the impact of Covid-19 it is yet to be determined when tickets for the 2020 Finals will go on sale.” Officials said in a statement obtained by the Guardian.

There are also questions concerning how future decisions will be made. The suspension of play saw a joint-statement from the ATP and WTA. A rare glimmer of unity in a sport split up by various governing bodies with their own interests. Although the head of the WTA, Steve Simon, insists that all the relevant bodies are working together on a regular basis.

“It’s very important right now for our sport to be working together. We are in contact on a daily basis with the ATP, as well as the ITF and grand slams. I think the sport is working very well together. There are obviously, when you go through these things, blips in the script.” Simon told The Tennis Channel.

Both the men’s and women’s rankings have been frozen until play resumes.

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