The Tournaments At Stake: Madrid Is A Go, Rome A Definitely Maybe - UBITENNIS
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The Tournaments At Stake: Madrid Is A Go, Rome A Definitely Maybe

Angelo Binaghi, the president of the Italian Tennis Federation, seeps optimism. However, there might be just one Master 1000 spot before Paris, were the French and the US Open to both take place, and in that case the Spanish event would prevail.

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Rafael Nadal - Conferenza Roma 2019 (foto Roberto Dell'Olivo)

On Friday, Angelo Binaghi held a press conference to spread his (incautious?) optimism vis-à-vis the Internazionali d’Italia will be taking place in the latter half of September. Honestly, I don’t think he did it exclusively in order to eschew the refunding this year’s tickets, although, as a former PM used to say, to think ill of somebody is a sin, but it’s often the right thing to do.

 

Let me say that I dearly hope his buoyant predictions come true, for his own sake and for those of the Italian Federation, of UbiTennis, of myself, and of all tennis fans. However, it only seems right to go back to my Crystal Bald persona to obsequiously point out that:

  1. The clay season depends on the decision that will be made (collegially) by the US Open and the by the Master 1000 of Cincinnati, the apple of the USTA’s eye, as reported by L’Èquipe, the French sports newspaper, and by our own Vanni Gibertini.
  2. As of today, the Canadian Open is looking a ton shakier than Cincinnati does, and not just because it takes place a week earlier, allowing less time to gauge a potential decrease in the virus’s virulence (as many have speculated), but also because of the stance of the Canadian government on the Covid-19 situation. At the same time, though, were the US Open to be cancelled, no European standout would fly to North America to play solely in Cincinnati – a risky trip for the sake of a then senseless event.
  3. The widely held opinion is that Flushing Meadows will happen.
  4. While Binaghi is pushing to host the Italian Master 1000 event at all costs, regardless of the time of the year (maybe even moving it to Milan or Turin as an indoor tournament), the ownership of the Mutua Madrilena gig is of the unmovable opinion that the event must be played before the French Open, or else, sayonara to next year. Rumour is that there’s a chance that 50% of the usual crowd might be allowed in the Caja Magica – the futuristic building would allow for an easier adherence to the restrictions of the pandemic, something that would be a lot more complicated to pull off in Rome’s antiquated, albeit beautiful, spot.
  5. After perusing among folks with knowledge of the status of things (as I did myself), L’Equipe is reporting that the US Open will take place in the usual spot, between August 31 and September 13 – the likelihood of this happening has dramatically increased over the last 10 days. Inevitably, such punctuality and zest would open just one Master 1000 spot between New York and Paris.
  6. Think about it: how could the Flushing Meadows finalists precipitously fly to Europe to play a Master 1000 event that would begin literally the day after the North American showdown? How could they slither their way through post-match treatments and jetlag in order to play, possibly without fainting, on Wednesday at the latest?
  7. Madrid wouldn’t be game to this arrangement. Ion Tiriac’s tournament would be at the very concrete risk of not having a pair of big names, names that at that point would probably be the biggest, i.e. the US Open finalists who would have to perform a hard-clay switch over a 48-hour span. Even Rafa Nadal, who is the defending champion in New York and who would certainly struggle less than others to find his feet on the beloved red dirt, even he wouldn’t likely take such a risk only for the pleasure of playing in front of a home crowd. Needless to say, Madrid’s sponsors wouldn’t be enthusiastic of the arrangement either, were the tournament orphaned of Nadal himself or of another brace of marquee draws.

Intermission now. Thanks to a few exclusive sources from the organising team of Madrid, I’ve been told that a plan (with a current deadline set at June 15) is being developed in order to solve these logistical issues. The main points are as follows:

  • Both Madrid and Rome would axe eight main draw spots, going from 56 to 48, allowing more scheduling flexibility and allowing the 9-16 seeds to play five matches instead of six;
  • Madrid’s final would take place on Tuesday rather than on Sunday. This means that the best players (and that includes the US Open finalists) could play as late as Friday, which is still not ideal, but a great improvement in the effort to convince the players to fly in on such short notice;
  • Rome would start on the same day, albeit with no TV coverage in order to give the spotlight to the Madrid final – matches in Italy could be broadcast from Wednesday onwards;
  • Consequently, Rome’s final would take place on Monday, potentially a thorny issue, since the French Open is slated to start on Sunday. However, that overlapping would be far less problematic, because the two tournaments have different broadcasting arrangements, and could theoretically coexist on the cathode;
  • Both Madrid and Rome’s prize money would go down a cliff, understandably, seeing a 40-50% decrease, but that’s something athletes will need to get used to in all sporting domains.

what would happen if the pandemic struck again during the US Open?

A contingency plan is therefore being discussed, a very reassuring fact. However, there are a few issues that could still be problematic in this unpredictable year, so, going back to my bald-pated pessimism:

  1. Madrid’s worst fear is that New York ultimately takes place and that players, who are currently not thrilled about flying to the US (their fears are definitely not unfounded), would all end up going anyway, perhaps changing their mind halfway through July, at the latest available opportunity. Sure, the re-structuring of the calendar would work in their favour, but I think it’s fair to assume that a certain quantity of withdrawals could still happen.
  2. The challenge would then be to convince every sponsor that the best players would all play in Madrid anyway, not an easy reassuring pitch, although the current plan seems to work in that direction.
  3. What if someone were to get infected in New York though? Play would be instantly halted, and that wouldn’t be a good look for Madrid, where millions would have already been spent. As things stand, the current loss for a cancellation shouldn’t go over 4/5 million pounds, including marketing expenses and personnel. However, the real financial wormhole would get to be the amount of revenues that have already been budgeted, and the same would happen in Rome, as Binaghi laments every time he gets a mic under his nose.
  4. In the event of a single Master 1000 space becoming available between New York and Paris, Madrid’s brass is extremely confident that, when push comes to shove, ATP and WTA would favour them over Rome. This would be a no-brainer especially for the WTA, since Madrid is one of the few combined events (along with the Slams, Indian Wells, and Miami) with a “non-discriminating” prize money – in short, men and women make the same amount.
  5. At the same time, Madrid’s revenues on the men’s side far exceed those of Rome: the Italian prize money amounts to 9,243,818 euros, 5,791,280 for the men, and 3,452,538 for the women. Madrid’s own bounty is of 13,072,320. Even after the even split, Madrid would still be offering 744,880 euros more than Rome, hardly an inconsequential number – disclaimer, these are the regular amounts, which, as seen, could be heavily reduced, but, even in that case, the principle would stay the same.
  6. It should also be added that, according to Andrea Gaudenzi’s recent statements to the press, the ATP is trying to work towards a fairer distribution of income. Sure, he and ATP CEO Massimo Calvelli are Italian, but that’s actually one more reason why they should try to make a decision that couldn’t run into chauvinism accusations. Therefore, it seems extremely unlikely that the ATP would choose Rome over Madrid.
  7. Anyway, the plan is still quite a tight fit, so, if the US Open does indeed take place, it cannot be ruled out that Rome might have to take place after the French Open, thus losing quite a bit appeal-wise. Binaghi’s dream of having the Internazionali d’Italia take place right before Paris (God knows how much I wish to be wrong; it certainly wouldn’t be in UbiTennis’s best interests) could vanish.
  8. The best hope for Binaghi and the Italian Federation (whose finances would suffer grievously in the event of a cancellation, since over 60% of annual revenues come from Rome) could then be that the North American swing doesn’t happen at all, including the US Open, although that would certainly not be ideal for our readers. With no American hardcourts, the clay season could be salvaged almost in full, which means that both Madrid and Rome would be a go with no further ado. The latter point is also the ATP’s current aim, i.e. to have both Masters 1000 take place. The ATP brass has always declared that the Slams are the absolute priority for tennis – however, the US Open is managed by the USTA, not by the ATP.
  9. It would also be interesting to see what would happen to the Bercy tournament, slated for November 2: the French Open is supposed to be over by October 11, so would it make sense for the players to go back to the same city just three weeks later, when so many other places would have lost their own slots? What if Bercy’s week became the perfect week to make it up for Rome’s disappearance from the French Open’s build-up season, or, if everything goes according to plan, for some other important event? But, if that opportunity were to materialise, where would the event take place? Which Italian arena would be available?

Ubaldo

P.S. Many have noted that the Masters 1000 tournaments, rather than weep in the anguish of no revenues, should have considered putting in place a pandemic insurance like Wimbledon did. That’s all hindsight thinking though, since, throughout a 52-year-long Open Era, nothing like this had ever happened. Moreover, Wimbledon’s way of business is different, as it’s basically an LTA charity, and can afford to spend 180,000 pounds a year, whereas a private investor like Ion Tiriac would never dream of it – he even refused to spend 130,000 pounds for a terrorism insurance after Madrid was attacked.

Article translated by Tommaso Villa

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Former Roland Garros champions and five top 20 players to highlight a great edition of the Ladies Open in Palermo

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The Ladies Open WTA International in Palermo will be the first tournament to be held next August since last February.

 

The Italian tournament will feature a great line-up which includes two confirmed past Roland Garros champions Svetlana Kuznetsova and Jelena Ostapenko and five top 20 players. There is a good chance that 2018 French Open and 2019 Wimbledon champion Simona Halep could be added in the field.

“We are glad about Simona Halep’s great interest in Palermo Ladies Open. We will be waiting for her at the Country Club for an historic edition of the Palermo tournament. We have been in contact with Halep’s manager for some time. We have been talking for days about her potential participation in Palermo. She is one of the best players in the world and her presence would contribute to make an already high-level tournament extrahordinary. We will leave our doors open to her for as long as possible, as well as for other top ten players that will want to resume their season in Palermo”, said tournament’s CEO Oliviero Palma.

The other stars who have signed up to the Ladies Open are 2019 Roland Garros champion Marketa Vondrousova, two Grand Slam semifinalists Elise Mertens (2018 Australian Open) and Anastasija Sevastova (2018 US Open), Aryna Sabalenka (winner at the Wuhan Open in 2018 and 2019, WTA Elite Trophy in Zhuhai in 2019 and Doha in 2020) and Elina Rybakina (winner in Hobart and finalist in St. Petersburg and Dubai in 2020), Dayana Yastremska (winner of three tournaments in Hong Kong in 2018, Thailand and Strasbourg in 2019).

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Lorenzo Sonego and Liudmila Samsonova lift the titles in Perugia

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Lorenzo Sonego and Liudmila Samsonova won the Zzz Quill Tennis Tour in Perugia. Sonego followed up his Italian title won the previous week in Todi with a 3-6 7-6 (7-1) 6-4 win over Croatia’s Viktor Galovic (world number 269 and number 7 seed) in the final of the Perugia tournament.

 

“Galovic started very well. It was difficult to adjust to his game and improve during the match. I maintained the right attitude and I managed to win the title. I enjoyed two fantastic weeks in Todi and Perugia. This confirmed my good work in training in the past two weeks. I gave my best and I am confident for the rest of the season”, said Sonego.

World number 117 Liudmila Samsonova won the women’s title came back from one set down to beat world number 307 Stefania Rubini 4-6 6-4 7-6 (8-6) in the women’s final after saving two match points.

“I won a very tough final with a lot of ups and downs. I am happy that I played many matches. It was one of my goals on the eve of the tournament. I showed that I am able to keep the level of my tennis high, when I play focused”, said Samsonova.   

 

 

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[EXCLUSIVE] Brandon Nakashima: “I Love Federer, But My Game Resembles More Djokovic’s”

Nakashima speaks to UbiTennis about his liveliest memory of training with Nadal at Wimbledon. The duels he had with Lorenzo Musetti and Tseng Chun-Hsin, the high praise for Sebastian Korda and Hugo Gaston. Why he doesn’t like clubbing and what his new coach Pat Cash has been advising him to do.

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The latest instalment of UbiTennis’ video series sees Ubaldo Scanagatta and Steve Flink speak with Brandon Nakashima. An 18-year-old American tennis star born on August 3, 2001, who goes by the nickname B-Nak.

 

He is at No.220 in the ATP Rankings (with a career best at 218) and is second-best among those who were born in 2001, trailing only Jannik Sinner. His surname is of Japanese origin, but it was his Vietnamese maternal grandfather who initiated him to the game of tennis when he was three. He is 1.85 metres tall and weighs 78 kilograms. He was born in San Diego, and his father Wesley was also born in California – his parents are both pharmacists. He played for the University of Virginia, where he was the Freshman of the Year for the Atlantic Coast Conference, before moving on to the pros.

Since Delray Beach, in February, he’s been working with Pat Cash, immediately reaching the quarter finals and beating four Top 100 players. His best shot is his two-handed backhand, and his favourite player is Federer. A superb athlete, he is considered the best American prospect. He is self-described as shy, but he actually isn’t that much, once he gets going. He loves sushi, but also admits to having a sweet tooth. Given the status of some of his victims, it can be assumed that he’s already better than his ranking.

VIDEO SCHEDULE

Minute 00:00: Introduction and recap of his highest-profile wins.

03:40: His behaviour during the Covid-19 pandemic: “I wear a mask whenever I’m outside. I’ve been trying to stay cautious as much as possible in public areas”. He also appreciates the chance of being able to train at some local private courts.

05:07: The special relationship with his grandfather: “My mom’s dad is from Vietnam. He first started to get me out on the court when I was about three and a half years old, just feeding me balls at a local park and from that time onward I started practicing more and more everyday”.

06:45: Bonding with his main coach, Pat Cash, during the pandemic.

07:38: Cash claims he noticed immediately Brandon’s “extraordinary racquet control” – does he think that this is his best quality too?

08:42: Their first meeting: “We had a couple of mutual friends; at the time I had just turned pro and I was looking for a good coach…”

11:53: His idols growing up: “I always liked to watch Federer play, but I think now my game is more similar to Djokovic’s”.

12:40: The experience of hitting with Nadal: “A couple of years ago I was playing the junior Wimbledon tournament…”

14:36: His thoughts on the best future prospects…

17:20: His transition as a pro aged only 17: “It was crucial on and off the court for me to go to college and to then play a full season at 17 [Editor’s Note: at the University of Virginia], it helped my game and made me mature as a person. I’d advise most players to go to college and get that experience…”

19:45: Recapping his best junior Slam results.

21:25: Developing his game with Pat Cash: “During these training blocks here in California, we definitely decided to work a lot on the transition and net game to add more variety into my game…”

23:55: What are his current plans? “It’s tough to plan tournaments right now since we don’t know when or if they’re even starting…”

25:35: How does he feel about the issue of playing behind closed doors? “It will be interesting, everybody is so used to people watching, so I think most players will find it maybe a little weird at the beginning…”

26:47: His off-court life: “I try to relax and have fun. I like playing other sports, on days off I play golf with friends or relax at home watching TV, just getting the mind away from tennis. I don’t like going to dance or clubs, it never was my type of feeling of going out; I like a more chill state with my friends.”

30:04: His knowledge of tennis history.

31:30: Where does Brandon see himself in 2022/23? “The goal is to keep improving my results and my rankings, and maybe…”

33:20: After the Big Three era, who is his pick to become the next world N.1?

36:10: Pat Cash’s most frequent tip: “I have to train to get ready for the Slams…”

Article written and translated by Tommaso Villa

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