Former world No.1 Serena Williams has said the ongoing suspension of the WTA Tour has enabled her to get back into top shape as she eagerly awaits returning to ‘real tennis.’
All professional tournaments have been suspended since March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, Williams hasn’t played on the Tour since her third round loss at the Australian Open back in January. She started 2020 in winning ways after claiming the Auckland Open title in what is her first piece of silverware since becoming a mother.
“I really look forward to getting back on the court,” Williams said during an Instagram Live workout session with her sister Venus on Tuesday.
“It’s what I do best. I absolutely love playing.”
It is still unclear as to when the Tour will start going again with the current resumption date of July 13th expected to be delayed again in the coming weeks. The United States Tennis Association is currently looking into how or if the US Open will take place later this year with a final decision expected next month. Over 20 tournaments have already been cancelled or suspended, including Wimbledon being axed for the first time since 1945.
Despite the sport coming to a halt, Williams believes it has helped revive her body. The American will turn 39 in September and is the second oldest player in the top 100 after Venus. She is chasing after a record-equalling 24th grand slam title in order to level with Margaret Court, but last won a major trophy at the 2017 Australian Open. Williams had been runner-up in four out of the last seven grand slam tournaments played.
“I felt like my body needed it, even though I didn’t want it,” she explains about the break.
“And now I’m feeling better than ever. I’m feeling more relaxed, more fit. Now I can go out and play real tennis.”
However, tennis great Martina Navratilova believes the current situation is ‘time lost’ for Williams and the other older players on the Tour. Navratilova, who claimed a total of 59 grand slam titles during her career, believes the break could have an impact on the former world No.1 and her legacy in the sport.
“For players like Roger Federer and Serena Williams, it’s time lost,” she told laureus.com. “Particularly Serena, Wimbledon being her best chance to break Margaret Court’s record. She’s stuck on 23 and tries to get to 24, maybe 25.
“It’s an opportunity lost when you’re not getting any younger. If I was sitting in that position I’d be going nuts that I can’t play.
“Everybody’s in the same boat, but for the old players like Roger and even Rafa (Rafael Nadal) and particularly Serena, it’s more difficult, no doubt about that.”
Williams has won a total of 73 WTA titles so far in her career and has earned more prize money than any other female tennis player in history.
Ice Hockey Great Gretzky Heaps Praise On ‘Truly Remarkable’ Bianca Andreescu
The tennis star has been branded a ‘hero’ for children in Canada by one of her country’s sporting icons.
Reigning US Open champion Bianca Andreescu has been praised for her work ethic by one of Canada’s greatest ice hockey players of all time.
Wayne Gretzky said he has been impressed with the world No.6 ever since watching her breakthrough run at the BNP Paribas Open last year. Where Andreescu defeated five seeded players en route to the title. At the time she was only able to enter the main draw of the event with the help of a wild card. Last year Andreescu scored eight wins over top 10 players and claimed three titles overall. Including her maiden grand slam at Flushing Meadows.
Speaking on Tennis United, Gretzy has hailed the 19-year-old for how she has been able to handle the pressure placed upon her at such a young age. Andreescu have already achieved a series of milestones for Canadian Tennis. Including being the first to win a grand slam title in singles and the highest ranked female player from Canada in WTA history.
“I remember watching her first match [at Indian Wells] and thinking that’s one of the hardest working athletes I’ve ever seen in my life,” said Gretzky.
“She went on to win the tournament and then, at the US Open, to play in front of all those fans and everyone cheering the American girl (Serena Williams) – and one of the greatest athletes of all time – was pretty special. My hat goes off to her for how she handled herself and how she handled the pressure.”
Gretzky is particularly impressed with how the tennis star has coped with life in the public eye and dealing with the media. Something he has plenty of experience in. Gretzky, who played in the NHL for 20 seasons, has been labelled as the “the greatest hockey player ever” by many pundits. The four-time Stanley Cup winner has scored 894 goals in the NHL which is 93 more than any other player in history.
“The thing that impressed me most about her – and I’ve said this to a lot of people – is not how good she is or how hard she works but how she handles herself with the media. She handled herself with such poise, she was so humble, so appreciative,” he said.
“I don’t think we could have a better hero in our country for young kids. She’s truly remarkable and deserves all the credit she’s getting.”
Andreescu hasn’t played a match since the WTA Finals last November due to a knee injury. She is set to return to action next month at a 16-player event set up in Charleston. The Credit One Bank Invitational, which is taking place during the Tour shutdown, will begin on June 23rd.
How I “Discovered” Gabriela Sabatini And She Umpired One Of My Matches
A wildcard at Santa Croce due to a weird homonymy bungle. A Country Club final with Botswana at stake, and yet never visited. The sportsmanship of wheel-chaired interview after an unexpected loss.
It seems impossible to me that Gabriela Sabatini is already turning 50. And also – go ahead and call me a sexist macho who gets diverted from the technical analysis of a player in order to dwell on her looks – it seems impossible to me that she can still as dazzling in her raven head. Actually, she might be even more beautiful than she was when she used to bewitch us with her magnificent one-handed stroke despite a bit of an androgynous gait, as if she’d just dismounted from her steed – she had built a broad pair of shoulders as well, in order to keep its harness in check.
It just seems impossible because I heard about Gabriela when she wasn’t even 14, and I witnessed one of her matches when she was 14 and a month. From that day onwards I have always cherished her, while keeping a respectful distance. Firstly, because in some way I felt as if I’d discovered her (even if it isn’t true), and, secondly, because she is the only world-famous tennis player who’s ever sat on the umpire chair to officiate one of my matches in their entirety! Factor in the fact that she came into the world on May 16th (St. Ubaldo’s day), and it should become clear why I never forget about her birthday.
As I mentioned, Gabriela wasn’t even 14 when Guillermo Salatino, an Argentinian friend and colleague, called me from Buenos Aires: “My dear Ubaldo, I need you to do me a big favour. There’s a girl here with otherworldly talent, she is yet to turn 14 but I promise you she’s phenomenal. She really wants to play at Santa Croce [Editor’s Note: a junior tournament in Tuscany], but her ranking isn’t high enough to enter the draw, so she is going to need a wildcard to do it. Trust me, she’s 100% worth it!”
Personally, I utterly and completely trust Guillermo and his tennis savviness. Before he became a great journalist, a TV and radio broadcaster for ESPN South America, he was an excellent player, among the Top 20 of his country. Thus, I called the deus ex machina of the Santa Croce event, Mauro Sabatini, a man of extraordinary passion, without whom the tournament would have never seen the daylight. I asked him whether said wildcard could be given to Gabriela, telling him about Salatino’s forecast for her.
As I was trying to play the Italian-roots card (Her grandparents emigrated from Potenza Picena, in the province of Macerata…) he immediately stopped me: “My dear Ubaldo, could I ever deny entry to a player who shares my surname?” Then he erupted in laughter – a great man.
I’ll cut it short. Gabriela arrived in Tuscany in April, if I remember correctly, and dominated the event, winning an all-South American final – her Brazilian opponent, Dias, hardly had the same career though. Mauro Sabatini was so amazed he would have adopted her if he could! He thanked me every single time we met, even if I hadn’t done much – all I’d done, really, was asking him for a favour – but I have to say that Gabriela herself has thanked me more than once for that little push, even years later.
About a month later, Gabriela triumphed, under my curious gaze since I had not been present at Santa Croce, at a slightly more important junior event, none other than the French Open. At 14. Guillermo Salatino’s hunch was indisputably right, and it made me feel like a bit of a talent scout, albeit not at the same level as my peer’s. A couple years prior, so many of us were there, in Paris, in the press room of Court No.3 (which doesn’t exist anymore), marvelling at another wonderkid, a 12-year-old blondie, slender like reeds but with legs that were already long and a scary forehand – her name was Steffi Graf.
One-year Flash forward, to the April of 1985. Gabriela Sabatini was in Monte Carlo during the men’s tournament, which would be won by Ivan Lendl against Mats Wilander. I seem to recall that a junior event was taking place, either in the princedom itself or nearby on the Cote d’Azur.
As usual, the Country Club was hosting a tournament for journalists, and the final was between Guillermo Salatino and yours truly. The format was a single set to nine games. The winner’s prize was a trip to Botswana for two, paid for by a Monegasque travel agency, while the runner-up’s reward was an Ebel watch – a princely loot, as befits such a land.
That morning Gabriela showed up as well, delightful and incredibly sweet. The match wasn’t slated for the main court, obviously, but rather on one those terraced ones, up above the club. The closest and coziest seat was perhaps the umpire chair, and, for inexplicable reasons, it was Gabriela herself who ended up climbing it.
The match began. Gabriela, always shy but with a radiant smile, whispered the scores. I was appalling out of the gates: “3-0, señor Salatino!” As we switched sides, I told Guillermo: “Remember to send me a postcard from Botswana!”
“4-3 señor Scanagatta!” said Gabriela at even lower frequencies, but she looked like she was having a whale of a time, watching those two Over-35 blokes turn red like tomatoes while giving their all with their outdated game under the Monte Carlo sun.
“Ubaldo, you’re the one who’ll have to send that postcard,” panted Guillermo, to which I retorted: “I’d rather send it to Gabriela!”
We chugged along till the tie-break, at 8-8. I’m pretty sure I saved three match points at 6-8 down, but don’t hold me to that, and for sure I won’t be asking Gabriela for confirmation – and yet, somehow, I won.
Comes the denouement. I kept calling that shady travel agency for months, but it disappeared, bankrupting without fulfilling its due. Never been to Botswana, never sent any postcard. On the other hand, though, Guillermo flaunted his Ebel watch for years. A year later, to be fair, Bernard Noat, the then tournament director, gifted me with an Ebel too… and is to this day the favourite watch of my wife, Tiziana, whom I began to date the very same year.
About a month and a half after that unforgettable refereeing, Gabriela reached, at 15 years of age, the semifinals of the French Open, the youngest in the history of the tournament.
Other articles will dwell a little more on her sporting achievements, whereas I prefer to end on a further anecdote bonding the two of us. In 1990, I was sent for the first time to the Australian Open by the TV channel I worked for. A very humid and sticky heat, on Rebound Ace hardcourts that were a bona fide carnage for the players’ ankles, often sprained due to their owners’ shoes getting glued to the surface. Gabriela was among the victims, despite her N.2 seed, right behind Graf.
I had booked a TV one-on-one with her at the end of her third-round match. Gabriela had steamrolled past Frazier and Bollegraf, and was expected to do the same against Claudia Porwik, a German. Instead, she tripped during the opening set, and, despite getting promptly bandaged, there was little she could do, losing it with a score of 6-2 and retiring after a solitary game in the second set.
She left the centre court at Flinders Park – back then it was still called like that – on a wheelchair. Now, you tell me who else, man or woman, would have had the strength to show up in the press room after such an upset. But Gabriela showed up as if nothing had happened, and gave the interview she had promised. What an act of sportsmanship, and how amazingly educated had she been by her father Osvaldo – she’s just a fantastic person.
I took it badly when she retired at 26. I was distraught, because I thought it was happening far too soon, but her spark was extinguished. However, just like Bjorn Borg, another who had precariously retired at 26, Gabriela had already spent half her life, 13 years, fully immersed in professional tennis, breathing tennis, dreaming of tennis.
How could I not be fond of her, when, every time I’m lucky enough to run into her, she’s still so nice, so sweet, so caring? 50? I just cannot believe it.
Article translated with the assistance of Tommaso Villa
EXCLUSIVE: Carlos Martinez Outlines Plan For Women-Only Charity Event In Barcelona
Ubitennis speaks with one of the top coaches on the WTA Tour about his plans for a one-off tournament that will feature a series of top 100 players.
Two months have passed since the world of tennis came to a halt with the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells getting cancelled for the first time in its history. Since then no tournament has been played due to the COVID-19 pandemic with many questioning if or when the 2020 season will resume.
In light of the uncertainty, tennis federations around the world have taken matters into their own hands with a series of events being played in accordance with their laws regarding the pandemic. The Czech Republic, Germany, Austria and America are just some of those taking this approach. Meanwhile, in Rafael Nadal’s homeland of Spain, one prominent coach on the WTA Tour has plans for his own event.
Carlos Martinez is a familiar face in the world of women’s tennis. Under his guidance, he oversaw Svetlana Kuznetsova win two WTA titles during 2016 to qualify for the WTA Finals that year. In 2018 he coached Margarita Gasparyan to win the Tashkent Open whilst ranked 299th in the world. Now he is working alongside former top 10 player Daria Kasatkina.
Martinez is organising a 32-player event at the Club de Tenis Mollet on the outskirts of Barcelona. An academy located just over 20KM from the Real Club de Tennis Barcelona, which hosts the most prestigious men’s tournament in the city every year.
“The dates of the tournament will depend on when the tour will start but it will more or less be between the end of July and end August,” Martinez told Ubitennis.
“The format is the same as the normal situation with tournaments, but I will design four groups with eight players and they will all play against each other in the group. Then the first two players of each group will go straight to the main draw. Then they will play quarters, semis and final.”
The tournament is set to feature a field similar to what you might expect to see at a WTA International. Those interested in playing the women-only event includes Kasatkina, Carla Suarez Navarro, Kristina Mladenovic, Marie Bouzkova and Sara Errani. Other players have also expressed interest but their participation depends on travel restrictions. There will be no prize money available with funds instead going to local hospitals located near the venue.
Martinez, who was a former top 200 doubles player on the ATP Tour before switching to coaching, believes events like his are vital for those in the sport given the current situation. Professional tennis tournaments have been given the provision return date of July 13th, but it is speculated that this deadline could be extended over the coming weeks.
“This tournament will be very important for all players because all of them can play a minimum seven matches and maximum 10 so it is the best practice for all of them before the circuit will start again,” he explains.
“After some weeks of practice they need to compete again and the best way is to do it like this. Thinking about my player (Daria Kasatkina) is the best way for her after practicing for a long time.”
‘Kasatkina is a champion’
Fortunately for Martinez, he has been able to continue his work with Kasatkina as best as he can throughout the lockdown. The Russian is currently based in Barcelona and enjoyed a mixed start to 2020 by winning nine out of 16 matches played. Her best run occurred at Lyon Open where she reached the semi-finals. Lyon was one of the last tournaments to take place before the Tour shutdown.
“Daria is fortunately living in Barcelona and it helps a lot because she can come every day to my club and work hard as always,” Martinez said of the world No.66.
“I mix weeks by practicing and few days resting because like this she can come with more motivation. At this moment it is not easy for players to be motivated because they don’t know when they’re gonna play tournaments again. She shows me every day that she is a champion and very ambitious.”
Kasatkina has been ranked as high as 10th in the world back in 2018 and is also a two-time Grand Slam quarter-finalist. Reaching those milestones during the same year she broke into the top 10.
Undoubtedly the 23-year-old Russian will be a key attraction in the upcoming tournament. Martinez’s hope is that the event will not only benefit the players, but Spanish tennis fans as well. Last week the country’s most prestigious tournament in Madrid was meant to be played with uncertainty over its chances of taking place later this year. Meanwhile the upcoming Davis Cup Finals, which is held at the same venue, is also in serious doubt.
“I think that it is very important to organize these kinds of tournaments because it’s a very good opportunity to watch the best players in our country,” he said.
“All of them are travelling all season and it is very difficult for spectators to follow them. Also for the players it is very comfortable and brings them nice emotions where they played a long time ago (on the Tour).’
“But in the end the players like to play big events and travel around the world.”
Whilst Martinez’s event is full of intrigue and excitement, it is by no means a substitute for the WTA Tour. Something he hopes will be returning sooner rather than later.
“In my opinion they have to start as soon as the pandemic will be controlled. If it can be this season better, if not as soon as possible after pandemic,” Martinez concludes.
“All players are a bit nervous because they have no idea and that makes it more difficult.”
For now it is a waiting game to see when the sport will return. However, thanks to the likes of Martinez, officials are trying to fill the void whilst giving something back to society at the same time. Something that has to be commended.
Provisional list of players confirmed for the tournament
- Kristina Mladenovic FRA (No.42)
- Marie Bouzkova CZE (No.47)
- Jil Tiechman SWI (No.63)
- Daria Kasatkina RUS (No.66)
- Carla Suarez Navarro ESP (No.68)
- Arantxa Rus NED (No.70)
- Nina Stojanovic SRB (No.86)
- Sara Errani ITA (No.169)
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