Tennis In The Time Of Covid-19 - UBITENNIS
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Tennis In The Time Of Covid-19

There will be tennis again, but along the way there should be memories of triumphs that rise above the challenges that these times engender. Existence can hinge on more than tennis, but the game will survive a pandemic with a lot of patience and ingenuity.

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By Cheryl Jones

It’s April. Tennis hasn’t been cancelled, but it’s been sidelined by something much bigger than the sport itself. The Covid-19 virus has taken center stage. It’s doubtful that Rafael Nadal will be taking his yearly bite out of the Coupe des Mousquetaires, even though Roland Garros has merely been rescheduled for September. Paris’ delay could eventually lead to cancellation, gauging the way things are now. Roger Federer is likely having mixed feelings about the cancellation of most major events that he was planning to skip anyway, having had knee surgery quite recently. Andy Murray has probably been weighing the events of the day, trying to decide if he should retire and become an expert on the rare species of bats that have taken up residence on his property – or maybe not.

 

There’s a likelihood that the stars of the tennis world are doing just what everyone else is doing – sheltering in place, reading that book that’s been on the shelf gathering dust, or maybe like Federer trying to hit balls against a wall to get back into condition. Of course it is snowing and windy and cold in Switzerland this time of year, but as Chaucer once said – time waits for no man. Evidently, not even Roger Federer.

Having a good deal of time on my hands, having read three of those dusty books and missing tennis, my mind began to wander. I thought about others that were confined to their homes, much as I am here in Southern California. Because this was a rather unplanned sequestering, most folks have had to make-do with what they have on hand.

Last week, ESPN, hungry for sports news, where thanks to the virus, none exists, showed Federer hitting balls against a backboard on his private court. I imagined that he had to make sure there were no gut strings involved that would grow gummy in the wet and wild weather. Then I thought, what if his supply of synthetic strings ran low? A crafty guy like Federer would have something on hand. He would have known that he needed to rehab and there should have been a way to make that happen. What better way to get in shape for tennis than with tennis?

I imagined that he called his good friend Rafa and the two of them surely would have chatted about the dilemma Roger was having. He needed to rehab, but he had way too much gut and not enough synthetic string. As problems go, this should have been inconsequential, in the scheme of things, but it wasn’t. They both knew that their livelihood should not depend on the lack of suitable manmade product. The chitchat that the two greats exchanged would have been light and airy – How are the kids? How about the newlyweds? How’s the fishing going? Kids are fine; marriage is fine; fishing isn’t what it once was, but life is good. Wait – fishing… Rafa might have remembered that he left a tackle box in Roger’s huge garage. Recalling the contents, he would have said, “Check the stash of fishing line, No?”

A glimmer of hope would have painted a smile on Roger’s face and off he would go to check the garage for the tackle box. Looking in every crevice of the space that was carefully catalogued and organized for convenience, he might finally have spotted the box. It was filled with hooks and lures. Not much in the way of fishing line, but when he moved the top drawer, there under it all, was a supply of fishing line. It would have been cold out there. Roger would have stuffed his pockets with spools of various test weights. (Fishing line is gauged by the size of fish it could be strong enough to reel in.)

He would have jogged back into the house, thrilled with his find. After all, the sporting goods stores were all on hiatus because the places had been declared non-essential businesses. The thought of that had left him muttering about who made those decisions? But, he would have headed for his stringing machine, hoping all the while for a miracle.

He would have tried the 16-pound test line first. It was easy to evenly string the test racquet he had selected. But when he struck a ball, it nearly sliced the little green orb into pieces. By then, his wife, Mirka would have entered the picture and procured the strangely strung racquet for slicing hardboiled eggs to make uniquely cubed egg salad sandwiches. With those snacks, their four kids would have memories to share with their own children, someday. Who but a child of the father of an invention could have been so lucky?

A determined Roger would have moved on to another test case (or test racquet) then. He would next have tried the 40-pound test. The curly string would have been a clear example of over-kill, but he persevered. After it had seemed satisfactory, the excited Federer would have swiftly donned his outside clothing and ambled to the soggy court. In mere seconds, his racquet would have been immune to the wet, icy air. He would have swatted ball after ball toward his anxious opponent – the wall. Satisfied to having solved his pressing issues, at least for the day, he would have again dialed up his Spanish friend. The line would have crackled and a friendly voice would have answered, No?

Yes! Would surely have been Roger’s reply. The two friends would have marveled at their ability to think outside the box, even though the solution had been in the tackle box all along.

There will be tennis again, but along the way there should be memories of triumphs that rise above the challenges that these times engender. Existence can hinge on more than tennis, but the game will survive a pandemic with a lot of patience and ingenuity.

 

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It Isn’t Just Football Who Are Mourning The Loss Of Diego Maradona

The world of football has lost one of its icons and tennis has lost a loyal fan.

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Diego Maradona (image via Sky Sports Tennis Twitter)

It was during the 2013 Dubai Tennis Championships when Diego Armando Maradona stated that tennis was his second favourite sport after his beloved football.

 

The Argentinian sporting icon was a passionate and enthusiastic follower for more than 30 years until his death on Wednesday due to a heart attack. Regularly he would be seen watching matches in crowds at various tournaments. One of the earliest anecdotes took place in 1984 when he turned up to watch the French Open final and cheered on John McEnroe, who was taking on Ivan Lendl. Swiss journalist Rene Stauffer was sitting next to him and remembers the iconic figure ‘cheering like crazy.

Of course it was his fellow countrymen and women who Maradona was most interested in supporting. One in particular was Juan Martin del Potro who won the 2009 US Open. He once joked ‘Next week I’ll be the one training del Potro myself. I will ask Franco Davin to step aside and Diego will train del Potro.‘ He appeared to have a great amount of respect for the former world No.3 who is one of thousands mourning his death.

I feel that you return to the place that belongs to you, HEAVEN. For me you will never die. Rest in peace,” Del Potro wrote on Twitter.

After retiring from professional football in 1997 Maradona encountered his own personal demons as he battled with health issues and drug addiction. Nevertheless, his passion for sport never suffered. Attending various Davis Cup ties, he was usually seen shouting and cheering for his countrymen. He even had his own VIP box sporting his country’s flag with the words ‘The Maradona family is here‘ during the 2017 final between Argentina and Croatia.

Despite his calibre, Maradona said that he was star struck to meet some of tennis’ top names. One of those was former world No.1 Caroline Wozniacki who got talking to him during the Dubai Tennis Championships seven years ago. At the time Maradona was an ambassador for the Dubai Sports Council (DSC).

“I had the pleasure to meet Caroline Wozniacki. She is one of the top players and she is very beautiful and a very nice girl,” he said. “Despite her ranking and all her achievements, she came to say hello to me, although I’m the one who wanted to get up and go and greet her.”

As for the three giants of men’s tennis, Maradona cheered them on and spoke to them on numerous occasions. Wheather that was in person or via video message.

For Rafael Nadal this year marks the 10th anniversary of when the two spoke with each other at the ATP World Tour Finals in London. When the news broke of Maradona’s death he was one of the first to pay tribute.

“One of the greatest sportsmen in history, Diego Maradona, has left us. What he did in football will remain. My deepest and most heartfelt condolences to his family, the world of football, and to all of Argentina.” He wrote on social media.

It was in the same tournament as Nadal when Novak Djokovic once said ‘to have him as a supporter is an incredible honour and a pleasure.‘ A few months on from that, the two briefly spent time together in Abu Dubai as the Serbian conducted his off-season training.

One of Maradona’s final interactions with tennis before his death took place last year when Roger Federer played an exhibition match in Buenos Aires. In a video message broadcasted on the screens of the stadium he said to the Swiss ‘you were, you are and will be the greatest. There’s no other like you.‘ Words that brought tears to the eye of the 20-time Grand Slam champion. Originally the two had planned to meet in person but were unable to due to Maradona’s health.

It was just three weeks ago when world No.9 Diego Schwartzman spoke out about the influence the footballing great has had on his country. The two never met in person but like many others, he was an idol for the tennis star.

“He’s been a sports idol since I was a kid. I’ve seen it on YouTube, not only, I’ve seen it on TV too. I’ve never seen him for real. He’s one of my soccer idols and I love soccer.” Schwartzman said.
“Wherever we go, everyone knows Argentina thanks to Maradona! This is the reason why I have the first name, Diego.”

Argentina has declared three days of national mourning following Maradona’s death.

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The ATP Finals Exceeded Expectations But There Was No Changing Of The Guard

Daniil Medvedev has shown how a player outside of the Big Three can shine at one of the most significant tournaments in men’s tennis but it is wrong to read too much into this achievement.

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Daniil Medvedev with the Nitto ATP Finals trophy (image via https://twitter.com/DaniilMedwed)

On Sunday afternoon the 2020 tennis season ended with a pulsating showdown between two of the biggest names outside of the formidable Big Three.

 

Daniil Medvedev held his nerve to fight back and edge out Dominic Thiem in an enthralling roller-coaster encounter that lasted almost three hours. Besides claiming the biggest title of his career to date, the Russian has become only the fourth player in history to defeat the world’s top three players at the same tournament, following in the footsteps of Boris Becker, Novak Djokovic and David Nalbandian.

In the aftermath of Medvedev’s victory came the inevitable question – is this the start of a new era in men’s tennis? For over the last decade the Tour has been dominated by Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Between them they have won 57 Grand Slam titles and shared the No.1 position continuously since August 2017. In fact, since February 2nd 2004, Andy Murray is the only other player outside of the trio to have held the top position.

“Hopefully all of us young guys will keep pushing and will have some great rivalries,” Medvedev told reporters on Sunday.
“Hopefully we can be there for a long time, maybe pushing the other generations back because that’s how we can be close to the Top 3.”

Medvedev’s emphatic performance at the end-of-season event showed that he has what it takes to scale the top of the game but recent history suggests that too much shouldn’t be read into it. Remarkably no member of the Big Three has won the event since Djokovic in 2015. Instead there have been five different champions most recently with each of those years raising hopes that there could be a changing of the guard on the Tour.

However, those hopes have never fully materialised. Prior to Medvedev, the four most recent ATP Finals champions have failed to win multiple titles the following year. In the case of 2017 winner Grigor Dimitrov, he hasn’t won a trophy of any sort since.

ATP Finals championTitles won over the next 12 monthsBest Grand Slam run over next 12 monthsYear-end ranking 12 months later
Andy Murray (2016)1French Open SF16 (down 15)
Grigor Dimitrov (2017)0Australian Open QF19 (down 16)
Alexander Zverev (2018)1French Open QF 7 (down 4)
Stefanos Tsitsipas (2019)1French Open SF 6 (no change)


It can be argued that the numbers above fail to tell the full story. For example Andy Murray’s injury woes started to hinder him the year after he won the tournament and Tsitsipas’ season has been marred by the COVID-19 pandemic. Although it does illustrate that staying at the very top of the game on a consistent basis without beng a member of the Big Three is a tough ask, raising questions about if the landscape of men’s tennis will ever change before Djokovic and co retire?

“There is going to be a time when they are not around anymore, then it’s going to be so important to keep all the tennis fans and to keep them with this great sport,” world No.3 Thiem explains.
“I think that’s our challenge, that we perform well and play great in big tournaments to become huge stars ourselves.
“It’s super important for tennis in general because they (the Big Three) gave so much to the sport. That’s our challenge to keep all those people with tennis and to maybe continue their story.”

Thiem boasts the honour of having at least five wins over every member of the trio, something  that has only ever been achieved by Murray. In London he defeated both Nadal and Djokovic which was something Medvedev also managed to achieve during the same week.

Veteran journalist Steve Flink perhaps is one of the most knowledgeable figures when it comes to the evolution of men’s tennis in the Open Era. His work in the sport dates back to 1972 when he was a statistician covering the US Open for CBS and working alongside the iconic Bud Collins. In a video chat with UbiTennis, Flink notes the recent shortcomings by ATP Finals champions but is hopeful that 2021 could be different.

“I don’t think we should put too much stock on this. On the other hand, Medvedev has ended the year strong and Thiem has now finally won a major at the US Open. You have to believe that these two guys will be threatening (for titles) next year with Thiem challenging for his second major and Medvedev to maybe win his first. So maybe there will be some more equity in men’s tennis,” he said.

Only time will tell about what may happen next year and if Medvedev’s ATP Finals triumph will have any impact at all. The only certainty is that more people are starting to talk about the other guys and that is a victory in itself for the future of the sport.

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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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