What Does The Shocking French Open Announcement Mean? Could Rome Fill In The Gap? - UBITENNIS
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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.

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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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Laver Back In the Conversation For Greatest Player?

Daniil Medvedev thwarted Djokovic’s Calendar Year Grand Slam ambitions and is ready to take over as the best in the game.

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Who’s the greatest player ever?

 

How about Rod Laver, the owner of two Calendar Grand Slams?

Or what about Rafa Nadal, the owner of 21 major singles titles (including Olympic Gold)?

Or what about 20-20-20-Laver?

HOW DOES 20-20-20-LAVER SOUND?

Since Novak Djokovic failed in his bid to win a Calendar Grand Slam on Sunday, I nominate the last of the three possibilities. 20-20-20-Laver sounds like a winner.

For Djokovic just to enter the conversation was a major achievement, and that was spurred by the Serbian’s bid for a Calendar Grand Slam.

Daniil Medvedev ended that conversation on Sunday, at least for now, with his straight-set 4-4-4 dismantling of Djokovic in the U.S. Open final.

DISAPPOINTING YEAR FOR NOVAK

As 2021 turned out, it was a really disappointing year for Djokovic, even though he won the year’s first three Grand Slam events. Most players would be out celebrating if they won three Grand Slams in one year.

The loss to Alexander Zverev in the Tokyo Olympics ended Novak’s Golden Grand Slam. And then Medvedev took care of the Calendar Grand Slam talk and the possibility of Djokovic breaking a 20-20-20 deadlock with Nadal and Roger Federer.

So, what’s next? I doubt that Novak is planning to skip the Australian Open in January. Even that one won’t be easy for Djokovic as a result of what has happened in late summer.

NO PICNIC DOWN UNDER FOR NOVAK

Djokovic has practically owned the Australian Open with nine titles in Melbourne, and eight of the last 11. But Medvedev and Zverev will be major obstacles for Djokovic in Melbourne, along with Stefanos Tsitsipas.

The Australian Open isn’t likely to be a picnic for Novak, even if Federer and Nadal skip the trip. If so, Federer and Nadal will be leaving the Australian Open in capable hands.

Things should start heating up by the quarterfinals Down Under.

By the way, Djokovic is 34 years old. That’s about the age Nadal started having trouble winning Grand Slams.

A DOMINANT VICTORY FOR THE RUSSIAN

Medvedev beat Djokovic at just about everything he tried on Sunday. Djokovic was never in the game on serving competition or powerful forehands.

Those areas belonged to the 25-year-old Russian.

And movement? On this day, Medvedev had a picnic. The 6-6 first-time Grand Slam winner was everywhere with his amazing quickness. Djokovic couldn’t put a dent in his baseline defense.

Medvedev even out-did Djokovic in the Serbian’s usually solid drop shot department, pinning  even more disappointment on Novak.

Novak even caused a ball girl to change directions during the match as he swung his racket near the surface in  frustration after losing a point. Later, he punished his racket by smashing it into the court and destroying it.

MEDVEDEV’S SERVE MADE THE DIFFERENCE

The key to the relatively easy win for Medvedev was his serve. He was a perfect 15-for-15 on first-serve points in the opening set.

Medvedev obviously had little trouble with his serve until he was ready to end the match. With Medvedev owning a match point at 5-2 in the third set, the crowd tried to help Djokovic. Only then when the crowd got into the act of trying to break Medvedev’s attention did he double-fault twice in a row before netting a forehand to give Djokovic the game.

But in the final game of the match, Medvedev was ready for the crowd attack, although he double-faulted another match point away before ending the match with a big serve out wide for a 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 victory. Djokovic managed only to hit the bottom of the net with his backhand return.

And suddenly, the tall Russian looks like the best player in the game.


James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award as the tennis columnist for the Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier newspapers. A 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com

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Raducanu Proved She’s The Better Player

The British sensation shocked the tennis world – can she keep it up in the coming years?

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They played in the largest tennis stadium in the world.

 

They were teenagers. They achieved a dream early in their careers.

It just as easily could have been a junior championship a year earlier in their careers.

Only a few people would have been watching then. Such an event might not even have drawn newspaper coverage.

REAL LIFE NOW SETS IN

This meeting was much bigger and more important. The two participants would be $2.7 million richer between them before the day ended. They would become famous the world over, at least for now.

But this was Saturday, 9/11/21.

Real life now sets in. There probably are at least 100 other players in the world who are just as outstanding as Emma Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez. Yet, most of them will never be involved in a Grand Slam singles final.

NEVER TO BE FORGOTTEN

What Raducanu and Fernandez accomplished will never be forgotten, always listed in tennis annals.

England will always be proud of its new Grand Slam champion. At long last, Virginia Wade has company.

And Canada will never forget its feisty Grand Slam runner-up.

They stood the test while other more touted and talented players buckled at the knees. High-ranked players crumbled at the thought of losing to a mere teenager.

Next time, that advantage probably won’t exist.

BRITISH 18-YEAR-OLD WAS THE STRONGER PLAYER

Raducanu and Fernandez played the final like the teenagers they are.

Raducanu came close to making it a one-sided result when she held match point twice with a 5-2 lead in the second set. But Fernandez did not give up on her left-handed game that Raducanu had conquered before in the junior ranks.

After losing both points and the game to make the match closer, Raducanu fought off a pair of break points in the next game before making good on her third match point for a 6-4, 6-3 victory.

The British 18-year-old generally outplayed the 19-year-old Fernandez most of the 111-minute final. Raducanu had more firepower on her serve and ground strokes.

RADUCANU A PERFECT 10

Raducanu played like a tour veteran, even if it was only her fourth tour-level event. It was her 10th straight win without dropping a set, counting her three wins in qualifying just to get into the main draw. No women’s qualifier before even had advanced to a Grand Slam final.

She has the game to win consistently on the tour, but probably not strong enough to challenge the Top 10 players and Grand Slam titlists right away. She’s now no longer under the radar. Everyone wants to beat a Grand Slam champion.

This may have been just a one-shot opening that Raducanu took full advantage of to win a Grand Slam title.  Just in case the road ahead gets bumpy, she might want to be thrifty with the $1.8 million payday.


James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award as the tennis columnist for the Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier newspapers. A 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com

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Novak Djokovic Was Pushed To An Amazing Performance

Zverev fell just short of beating the world N.1, and now Medvedev is the last obstacle still standing on his path to a Calendar Year Grand Slam

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Novak Djokovic was simply amazing Friday night.

 

True, he made a few mistakes against Alexander Zverev, but not when they counted most.

Zverev also was superb, but his mistakes came when they counted really big.

For those reasons, Djokovic is getting ready to play for the unthinkable. No one had thought much about a Calendar Grand Slam until back in June when Djokovic shocked the tennis world with a victory over Rafa Nadal at the French Open.

By the time Wimbledon came around without Roger Federer and Nadal in the field, the odds were high that Djokovic actually could achieve a Calendar Grand Slam. And then he won Wimbledon and in the process turned the race for most Grand Slam titles into a 20-20-20 battle.

ZVEREV CAME CLOSE TO SPOILING THINGS

When Federer and Nadal pulled out of the U.S. Open, all of Djokovic’s goals except a Golden Grand Slam when he lost to Zverev at the Olympics were in play.

Nearly two weeks later, Djokovic is one victory away from breaking out of the 20-20-20 deadlock as well as completing a rare Calendar Grand Slam.

Zverev pressed Djokovic into playing his very best to escape with a 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 victory in the U.S. Open semifinals. Only a cold start to the fifth set chilled Zverev’s hopes of spoiling Novak’s dreams.

Even after losing the first five games of the fifth set, Zverev still came close to making things interesting by winning the next two games and going to 30-30 in the eighth game.

MEDVEDEV HAS THE GAME TO WIN

Zverev’s improving game, and his big strokes and serves probably were enough to make Novak hope he won’t have to face Zverev’s hard balls again in January at the Australian Open.

That leaves only Daniil Medvedev between Djokovic and immortality.

Medvedev will have to be at his best to beat Novak. The slender 6-6 Russian can’t afford even a brief meltdown if he is to take Djokovic to the wire.

Medvedev appeared to be in awe of Djokovic when the two met in  this year’s Australian Open final.  Djokovic won that one easily in straight sets.

DANIIL IS DUE TO MAKE HIS MARK; IT’S HIS TIME

Medvedev’s game is a piece of work. He is completely unpredictable.

His whip forehand is one of the best shots in tennis. He backs it up with incredible movement.

It all depends on whether Medvedev can stick with Novak until the end. If Medvedev is still there, Novak likely will feel the heavy legs from his 214-minute bout with Zverev.

Not even Djokovic can out-move Medvedev. And the Russian’s uniquely quick serve has plenty of pop. He is due to win a Grand Slam.

But Medvedev will have to pull off a miracle against one of the smartest and slyest players tennis has ever seen if he is to win this U.S. Open.


James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award as the tennis columnist for the Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier newspapers. A 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com

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