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Tennis Shift Its Focus To Domestic Tours Amid COVID-19 Uncertainty

As anxiety grows over the chances of the 2020 season being resumed, some federations are taking things into their own hands to fill the void.

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By the end of the year it is possible that the likes of Rafael Nadal and Co will be returning to competitive tennis but it may not be in the way many expect.

 

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the sport to a standstill since March with doubts also being raised over its potential return date of July 13th. Highlighted by the recent decision to suspend the WTA Rogers Cup until 2021. Part of the venue of the Billie Jean King Tennis Center, which is set to host the US Open during the summer, has been turned into a temporary hospital to help New York cope with the virus. Meanwhile, both the ATP and WTA are looking into various scenarios which will allow them to resume the Tour again. Although neither of them have a start date.

Unlike the Premier League or the La Liga, is it a lot more complex for tennis to get going again. The prospect of holding an event featuring players all over the world has many questions. Due to different countries having their own policies to fight the pandemic, some players may have less travel restrictions than others. Furthermore, there are concerns about the risk of the virus being spread among players. Former world No.1 Amelie Mauresmo said she believes the Tour can’t resume safely until a vaccine is created.

Amid the uncertainty, national tennis federations are exploring other options. Newspaper Marca have reported that the Royal Spanish Tennis Federation (RFET) is hoping to host a domestic men’s tournament that features their best players such as Nadal. The idea being that their players will be able to build up their match fitness again during the suspension. It has been reported that RFET vice-president Tomas Carbonell is planning for 8-10 tournaments to take place at clubs and academies across the country.

The plans have since been confirmed by world No.97 Alejandro Davidovich Fokina. In an Instagram live chat on Monday, the 20-year-old described it as a ‘private national circuit.’ On the ATP Tour there are nine Spanish players in the top 100.

In Latin America the Argentinian tennis community is also pressing ahead with a similar event. La Nacion have reported that a WhatsApp group, including both players and coaches have mentioned a national tournament as a way to support them during the pandemic. Kevin Konfederak, who is the coach of world No.35 Guido Pella, believes that event will act as a motivation.

“It is likely that in a moment here we will have the clubs open, but we will still not be able to travel. So, a local tournament can act as motivation and training. It would be good to put it together with the (Argentinian tennis) Association,’ he said.
“There will be no economic incentives for ATP, of course, but imagine how nice it is for a boy who usually plays Futures rankings, to see himself in the same box as an elite player.’
“We are going to make a document with a potential competition system and we will present it in the AAT. There is no date why not we know, but we do want to have something armed by the time we are free. Taking health precautions, with health as a priority.”

Other countries considering a similar approach include the Czech Republic. Last week, two-time grand slam champion Petra Kvitova returned to training after the Czech government reopened sports grounds to ease its COVID-19 measures.

“Frankly, it feels very weird, motivation is at zero right now, and I don’t know what to aim my training at,” Kvitova said in a recording provided by her Sparta Prague club.
“So I’m rather trying to keep my body in shape,” the world number 12 added.

The idea of putting on a domestic event is undoubtedly more straightforward due to the travelling of players. For example on Monday Spain allowed some construction workers to return back to their jobs. Something other countries have not done due to being in different stages of the pandemic. It will be months before every country is at the same level.

Although none of these events have been publicly given the green light, they do echo the same view. Which is the chances of the ATP/WTA Tours resuming in July are low.

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Matteo Berrettini reaches his second Masters 1000 semifinal

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Matteo Berrettini has reached the second Masters 1000 semifinal of his career with his 5-7 6-3 6-0 win over Cristian Garin at the Madrid Mutua Open at the Caja Magica. 

 

Berrettini fought back from 3-6 1-3 down by winning 11 consecutive games to take the win in the third set. 

Garin earned an immediate break in the first game, but Berrettini broke straight back to draw level to 1-1. Garin won seven consecutive points from 5-5 15-30 to claim the first set 7-5 with a break in the 11th game thanks to a backhand passing shot. 

Garin went up a 3-1 lead in the second set with a break in the third game. Berrettini broke back in the sixth game to draw level to 3-3 with a forehand winner on the break point. 

Berrettini earned his second break to take a 5-3 lead, when Garin made three unforced errors. The Italian player served out 6-3 at love with an ace.

Berrettini broke serve in the first game and saved two break-back points in the second game to hold serve for 2-0. Berrettini earned his double break in the third game, as Garin made two consecutive unforced errors at 40-40. Berrettini held serve at duece to race out to a 4-0 lead. Garin missed four game points in the fifth game before dropping serve to trail 0-5, when he committed a double fault and an unforced error. Berrettini served out the third set at love with his 14th ace after 2 hours and 6 minutes to secure his spot in his first Masters 1000 semifinal since Shanghai 2019.    

“I am really proud that I came back from not an easy place mentally after my injury. I really worked hard. There were days. There were days where I wasn’t really feeling into practice because I felt like kind of there was a lot of work to be done. Sometimes I was feeling kind of unlucky that I got injured again. It was just tough, but I came back stronger in Belgrade. For here, I proved to myself that I am strong inside”, said Berrettini. 

Berrettini will take on Casper Ruud in the semifinals. They will battle for a spot into their first Masters 1000 final. Ruud beat Berrettini in the quarter final in Rome last year. 

“I think he is a great player, especially on clay. He has been playing really good, really solid so far this season. We always had tough matches. Last year in Rome it was a really tough match. Still if I think about it, it hurts. I am really looking forward to get my revenge, not in a bad way, but just in a way that’s in a sport way”, said Berrettini. 

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Casper Ruud reaches his third consecutive clay Masters 1000 semifinal

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Casper Ruud beat Alexander Bublik 7-5 6-1 to reach his third career Masters 1000 semifinal at the Madrid Mutua Open after advancing to this stage in Rome in 2020 and Monte-Carlo in 2021. 

 

Ruud backed up his win in the third round against Stefanos Tsitsipas on Thursday with a straight set win over Bublik. Ruud won 8 of the final nine games and hit 19 winners to seal the win in 69 minutes. Ruud hit nine forehand winners to just two unforced forehand errors.

Ruud broke Bublik in the 11th game on his fourth set point to take the first set 7-5, as Bublik was serving at 5-6. The Norwegian player broke twice in the fourth and sixth games to claim the second set 6-1 in 69 minutes. 

The son of former Norwegian player Christian Ruud has not broken yet and faced his first break point this week against Bublik. 

Ruud becomes the seventh unseeded ATP player to advance to the semifinals in Madrid. He will face either Matteo Berrettini or Christian Garin in the semifinal. 

 “It’s a great feeling. It’s my third Masters 1000 semifinal and my third in a row on clay. I am just playing the tennis of my life for the moment and I am enjoying it. I have just had an unbelievable motivation to play the European clay swing and when we didn’t get to play it last year, I was very sad. I think I have just double motivation compared to last year”, said Ruud.

Ruud will move up to at least world number 16 in the ATP Ranking next week. 

“I did a lot of good work when we had the corona break last year. I trained really hard on the weekdays and took the weekends off. I think that worked well. When we started well, I felt good again. I think I am a much better player mentally, physically and playing-wise as well. I am hitting the ball and playing the heavy clay-court game that I like to play”, said Ruud. 

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Aryna Sabalenka beats Anastasya Pavlyuchenkova to set up a re-match of the Stuttgart final against Ashleigh Barty

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Aryna Sabalenka has reached her third final of the season with a 6-2 6-3 win over six-time Grand Slam quarter finalist Anastasya Pavlyuchenkova in the semifinal of the Madrid Mutua Open. 

 

Sabalenka earned her first break to take a 3-1 lead. She hi a series of forehands in the final game to close out the first set 6-2. 

Sabalenka raced out to a 4-0 lead with a double break. Pavlyuchenkova earned her first break points, but Sabalenka held serve for 5-0. Pavlyuchenkova pulled one break in the seventh game and held serve to claw her way back to 3-5. Sabalenka hit two backhands to earn her first match point and sealed the win with her fourth ace .  

Sabalenka has extended her win-loss record to 23-6 (including 9-1) this year. She has won the opening tournament of the season and lost the Stuttgart Porsche Grand Prix final to Ashleigh Barty. 

Barty and Sabalenka will meet again in the Madrid Mutua Open this week in the re-match of the Stuttgart final

The Belarusian player has not dropped a set this week. The Belarusian player won 73 % of her second service points and converted four of her break points against Pavlyuchenkova, who had won their only previous head-to-head match in Toronto in 2019. 

“I think my game has improved a lot on the clay court. For sure, it’s given me some confidence, but there are still so many things to work on. I am just really with my level here in Madrid. I think from the side it looks like everything is going my way. Some games I did not feel my serve. Some games something wasn’t working. It’s always part of the process, but I am really happy that from the side, it looks like everything is going my way”,said Sabalenka. 

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