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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REPORT: Madrid Open To Be Axed Amid COVID-19 Concerns In Latest Setback For Tennis

Hopes of Spain holding their top tennis event in 2020 are over.

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The world of tennis is set to suffer another severe blow with multiple media sources confirming that organisers of Spain’s most prestigious tennis tournament will officially cancel their event on Tuesday. 

 

The Mutua Madrid Open will be removed from the 2020 calendar following a meeting involving tournament owner Iron Tiriac. Recently doubts have been cast on the event after local health officials called for it to be suspended due to a spike in COVID-19 cases. Although the final decision was up to Tiriac and his team. It had been due to take place between September 12 to 20, following the conclusion of the US Open. 

“We have to be realistic now, we have to accept that health is always the priority. We must not endanger anyone, neither the fans, nor the players, nor the staff, all those who come to Madrid in September,” tournament director Feliciano Lopez told L’Equipe over the weekend. 

Spain has seen their rate of COVID-19 cases rapidly rise since the country ended its lockdown. According to El Pais, the number of cases recorded within 24 hours is eight times the amount compared to 40 days ago. Rising from 334 (June 20) to 2,789 (between July 29 and 30). On Friday July 31st there were 3092 new cases in the country in what is a post-lockdown record.

Held at the Caja Magica, the Madrid Open is a key event for both men and women. It is currently classed as a Masters 1000 for the men and as a Premier Mandatory for the women. Last year each of the singles champions took home €1,202,520 in prize money. It was originally set to be played in May but was postponed due to the pandemic.

The demise of Madrid this year is another setback for what is becoming a rapidly thinning 2020 tennis calendar. Within the past two weeks China has confirmed that they will not be hosting any tournaments this year, Japan’s scrapped it’s premier women’s event and the Italian Open has been advised to not allow any fans to their event this year. 

As a result of the latest development, only two WTA clay-court events will take place after the US Open leading up to Roland Garros. They are both set to get underway on September 21st in Rome and Strasbourg. As for the men, Rome will be their only point of call. 

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Serena Williams leads a high-quality line-up in Lexington

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Twenty-three time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams will be the top seed at the inaugural edition of the Lexington Open from 10th August 2020 on the same week as the Prague Open. The Lexington Open will be the first US tournament of the US hard court season, which will continue with the Western and Southern Open and the US Open, which will be held in the same venue at Flushing Meadows in New York. 

 

Serena was very close to tie Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam titles, but lost four times in a Major final after giving birth to her daughter Olympia. 

The US legend will play her first match since she hepled the US team beat Latvia in the Fed Cup last March in Everett. There Serena beat Jelena Ostapenko but she was defeated by Anastasija Sevastova. 

Williams will lead a star-studded line-up, which features this year’s Australian Open finalist and former Roland Garros and Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza, Aryna Sabalenka, Sloane Stephens, Johanna Konta, Amanda Anisimova and Yulia Putintseva, Ons Jabeur, Victoria Azarenka, Heather Watson and US rising star Cori Gauff. 

Sabalenka won two consecutive editions of the Wuhan tournament in 2018 and 2019, in Shenzhen in 2019, the WTA Elite Trophy in Zhuhai in 2019 and the Doha final in 2020. 

Stephens won her first Grand Slam title at the US Open in 2017 and reached the final at 2018 Roland Garros. She finished runner-up to Elina Svitolina at the 2018 WTA Finals in Singapore. The US player lost to Canadian teenager Leylah Annie Fernandez in Monterrey in her last WTA Tour match before the pandemic. 

Amanda Anisimova won her maiden WTA title in Bogotà in 2019 in her first professional tour tournament on clay. Last year the young US player beat Simona Halep en route to becoming the youngest semifinalist at the French Open since 2006. This year Amanda lost to Serena Williams in the semifinal in Auckland last January. 

Johanna Konta reached the French Open semifinal and the Rome Final in 2019. The British player enjoyed her best year in 2017, when she won the Miami title and reached the Wimbledon semifinal rising to her best ranking at world number 4. 

The Top seed Open will be the first WTA tournament to be played in the United States since the coronavirus pandemic swept across the United States. The Kentucky tournament will feature a 32-player singles draw and a 16-player doubles field. 

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Kremlin Cup Becomes Latest Tournament Thrown Into Uncertainty

Will there be tennis in Russia this year?

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There could be a new blow to both the ATP and WTA Tour’s with officials admitting that the venue of Russia’s top tennis tournament is yet to be approved.

 

The Kremlin Cup in Moscow is one of three events to be currently included on the provisional WTA Calendar beyond the French Open along with Seoul, South Korea and Linz, Austria. This year’s 2020 tennis season has been hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic which has brought the sport to a standstill since March. Due to the virus all events set to take place in China later this year have been axed which includes the season-ending WTA Finals.

Shamil Tarpischev, who is the president of the Russian Tennis Federation, has said hopes of the Kremlin Cup taking place in 2020 depends on one venue in Moscow which he describes as the ‘only option.’ The tournament was held at the Olympic Stadium between 1990-2018, but it is currently going through a two-year renovation. Last year it took place at a temporary location at the Krylatskoye Ice Palace.

However, Tarpischev said the only place the tournament can be hosted in 2020 is at the CSKA track and field arena. The federation has already applied to use the venue but they are yet to get the necessary authorisation.

“CSKA is overcrowded, and therefore they have not given us an answer yet,” The Russian tennis chief told Tass news agency on Wednesday. “We are waiting for a decision in the near future, we sent all the letters. But this is our only option – there is nowhere else to play [VTB Kremlin Cup] this year.

Should they get the green light, officials intend to hold the men’s and women’s tournaments separately instead of their original plan of a combined event. Tarpischev has said the ATP event will take place from October 19 to October 25. Although this is yet to be confirmed by the ATP, who have not published their calendar for events taking place after September. Meanwhile, the women’s event is set to take place during the first week of November (2-8).

The Kremlin Cup is currently classed as an ATP 250 event for the men and a Premier for the women. Andrey Rublev and Belinda Bencic are the reigning champions.

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