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Coronavirus Risk Not Severe Enough To Deny Struggling Players Earning Opportunities

Most tennis players struggle to break even during an average year, so they desperately need opportunities to earn money in 2020.

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Danielle Collins at the 2019 Australian Open (photo @Sport Vision - Chryslène Caillaud)

According to a 2015 professional circuit review by the ITF, it costs the average tennis player about $160,000 per year (including coaching costs) to compete.

 

By anyone’s estimation, that is a lot, so it should come as no great surprise that only around 160 men and 150 women earned enough in 2013 to break even from prize money alone.

Even though prize money has increased a bit since then, most professional players still do not have a lot of money in the bank to fall back on when times are hard. And a total suspension of the tennis tours due to a global pandemic is about as difficult as it gets.

However, the number of people infected with coronavirus is falling all the time, and the risk level associated with the disease is rapidly dwindling, so it is now time for professional sport to resume.

Naturally, precautions are needed. But sports such as football have shown exactly how to put these in place in order to hold events safely. Admittedly, tennis is one of the most complicated sports to organise responsibly due to its global nature.

Despite this, the ATP, WTA and ITF governing bodies have a responsibility to enable players to have the opportunities they need to earn enough money to pay all of their living costs.

That is why, whatever you have heard some of the top players say about it, the USTA is doing the right thing by continuing to plan for the US Open to take place on the dates it is scheduled for, from 31 August to 13 September.

Vickery Speaks Out

Sachia Vickery, the World No.158, summed up the situation in the most effective way when she responded to comments made by Novak Djokovic that it would be “impossible” to play at Flushing Meadows due to the restrictions imposed by the USTA.

“He should go and play a 60k (lower-level ITF tournament) in Troy, Alabama and then come back and let us know how hard the conditions are,” Vickery told Sky Sports.

“It’s a little selfish to say that in a way because there are so many players who cannot afford to have seven or eight people travel with them in their team. Most of us are used to travelling with just one or two people.”

The American later added on Twitter, “Make no mistake he (Djokovic) has earned everything he’s worked for in his career and he’s incredible , my point is not all players have the luxury of traveling with an entire entourage so if they have to make a few restrictions in order for everyone to make a living it’s understandable.”

Danielle Collins, the World No.51, expressed a similar view in an Instagram story post. “No one has been able to play sanctioned events or make money since February,” she said. “This is a massive opportunity for players to start making money again, and here we have the top player in the world saying only being able to bring one person with [him] will be too difficult.”

Top Players Do Not Have Money Concerns

Novak Djokovic (photo by chryslène caillaud, copyright @Sport Vision)

Collins’ last point about Djokovic being the top player in the world is an important one because it is obvious that the Serbian does not have to worry about money. He can decide whether or not to compete based entirely on whether he feels comfortable doing so.

Furthermore, the decisions made by Djokovic and other players about whether to compete when tennis resumes should not be criticised. They should be free to make whatever choice they want. However, top players should not go around telling the media about all the reasons why tournaments should not take place because their negative views on the matter do not help anyone.

They can think they want about the situation, but they should keep it to themselves and let the rest of the tour get on with the business of earning enough money to live by.

As Boris Becker put it when he spoke to Eurosport Germany’s Vocal Podcast, “I am concerned about the profession of a tennis player. Not about the first hundred players of the world, who hopefully have enough money in their accounts and don’t need next week’s prize money. But a thousand players, who also call themselves tennis pros, they have nothing to work for at the moment. If this break lasts any longer, they will have to look for another job. They have to feed themselves and pay the rent.”

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Australian Open Daily Preview: Opportunities Abound in the Bottom Halves of the Draws

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Felix Auger-Alisassime earlier this week in Melbourne (twitter.com/AustralianOpen)

In the bottom half of the women’s singles draw, only nine of the 16 seeded players have survived the first two rounds.  And of the players remaining, only two have won a Major (Halep, Swiatek).  In the bottom half of the men’s draw, 10 seeds remain, and again only two Slam champs (Medvedev, Cilic).  There is plenty of room for new names to make extended runs into the second week of this Major.

 

Each day, this preview will highlight the most intriguing matchups, while outlining the other notable matches on the schedule.  Saturday’s play will begin at 11:00am local time.


Aryna Sabalenka (2) vs. Marketa Vondrousova (31) – Second on Margaret Court Arena

It would usually sound ridiculous to say it’s quite shocking to see the second seed reach the third round, but that’s the case with Sabalenka, who has persevered despite the embarrassing service issues she’s currently enduring.  However, Vondrousova will be a considerable step up in competition, as Aryna’s first two opponents were ranked 100th or lower.  And Marketa arrives with a lot of confidence.  The 2019 Roland Garros runner-up was the Olympic Silver Medalist six months ago in Tokyo, and followed that up by achieving three semifinals between September and October.  She’s yet to drop a set this week, which includes a victory over one of the WTA’ fastest rising players, Ludmilla Samsonova.  While Sabalenka leads their head-to-head 2-1, which includes a straightforward win last March in Miami, that was well before her serving woes.  Through four matches in 2022, Aryna has averaged nearly 18 double faults per match.  If that continues on Saturday, Vondrousova will surely take advantage and advance.


Felix Auger-Aliassime (9) vs. Dan Evans (24) – Not Before 5:00pm on John Cain Arena

This is a rematch of the championship match from a warm-up event on these same grounds a year ago.  On that day, both men were vying for their first ATP title.  Evans met the moment, comfortably winning 6-2, 6-3.  For Auger-Aliassime, that’s one of eight finals he’s reached in his career, and he’s yet to even win a set.  However, Felix is the much more accomplished player at Majors, having achieved his first quarterfinal in July at Wimbledon, and his first semifinal in September at the US Open.  Dan is yet to advance that far at a Slam.  The Canadian has complicated matters for himself this week, playing two grueling matches, averaging four hours on court each day.  By contrast, Evans received a walkover in the last round, and spent less than two hours winning his opening round in straights.  Despite all that, I expect Felix to recover fairly well, and be able to dictate play against the British No.2. 


Iga Swiatek (7) vs. Daria Kasatkina (25) – 7:00pm on Margaret Court Arena

This should be a compelling matchup between two aggressive players with plenty of variety and high tennis IQ’s.  And they are both in excellent form.  They have combined to allow their opponents only 16 games through eight sets thus far.  And both accumulated some solid wins heading into this event: Swiatek defeated Leylah Fernandez and Victoria Azarenka, while Kasatkina beat Sofia Kenin and Garbine Muguruza.  Their only previous meeting occurred last June on the grass of Eastbourne, with Kasatkina prevailing in three.  That was part of a resurgent season for the 24-year-old Russian, who started the year ranked 72nd, but ended it ranked 26th.  Yet Daria has not advanced beyond this round of a Major since Wimbledon 2018, while Iga was the only WTA player to reach the fourth round at every Slam last year.  And when Swiatek starts dominating as she has this week, it’s extremely challenging to deter her.


Andrey Rublev (5) vs. Marin Cilic (27) – Last on Margaret Court Arena

After competing in an exhibition event last month in Abu Dhabi, Rublev was one of many players to test positive for COVID-19.  After quarantining and recovering, he has described how physically spent he was after practicing in the days leading up to this fortnight.  But he has been dominant through two rounds, dropping only 13 games across six sets.  And the Russian has recently owned his rivalry with Cilic.  While Marin claimed their first meeting, which was seven years ago on clay while Andrey was ranked outside the top 200, Rublev has taken the last four.  All of them have been on hard courts, and three of them were decided in straight sets.  However, since last June, Cilic has been playing his best tennis in years.  He won Stuttgart, and reached back-to-back finals in Russia.  I expect the 2014 US Open champion to make this a highly competitive affair, yet Rublev’s fire power should enable him to prevail.  On what is forecast be another scorching day in Melbourne, his groundstrokes will be even more punishing.


Other Notable Matches on Saturday:

Stefanos Tsitsipas (4) vs. Benoit Paire – Tsitsipas overcame an impressive challenge from Sebastian Baez on Thursday night, while Paire upset Grigor Dimitrov earlier in the day.  The Greek is 3-1 against the Frenchman, and has only lost seven games in their last five sets.

Daniil Medvedev (2) vs. Botic van de Zandschulp – This is a rematch from the US Open quarterfinals, where Medvedev downed the Dutch qualifier in four.  Medvedev was not pleased with how certain members of the Aussie crowd treated him on Thursday while facing Nick Kyrgios, and I’m curious to see if they continue to bother him on Saturday.

Simona Halep (14) vs. Danka Kovinic – Halep’s set scores thus far have been 6-4, 6-3, 6-2, and 6-0.  The 2018 finalist is looking fully healthy after injuries sidetracked her last season.  Kovinic upset another Major champion, Emma Raducanu, on Thursday. 

Roberto Bautista Agut (15) vs. Taylor Fritz (20) – Bautista Agut lost only four games in the second round.  Fritz is yet to lose a set, and soundly defeated fellow American Frances Tiafoe on Thursday.  Roberto is 5-1 against Taylor, and has claimed their last three encounters in straight sets.


Saturday’s full Order of Play is here.

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Australian Open: Italy’s Matteo Berrettini edges past talented Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz in five sets

Matteo Berrettini outlasted Carlos Alcaraz to reach the Australian Open second week.

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Matteo Berrettini (@WeAreTennis - Twitter)

Number seven seed Matteo Berrettini defied the bookies to beat Spain’s rising star Carlos Alcaraz at the Australian Open.

 

Rod Laver Arena was treated to a stunning five sets of tennis as Berrettini came through 6-2, 7-6 (7-3), 4-6, 2-6, 7-6 (10-5).

After 4 hours and 10 minutes, the Italian goes on to face Spain’s Pablo Carreno Busta in round four.

A sublime lob from Alcaraz at 2-1 up in the first set, showcased exactly what Berrettini would be up against.

This was arguably more of a fourth-round or quarter final match-up, considering the high calibre of both players.

But at 2-2, last year’s Wimbledon finalist turned the screw and broke the El Palmar native gobbled up his first break point and consolidated the break to move 4-2 up.

Berrettini was flying as he snatched the double break, winning five consecutive games to tie up the first set 6-2.

The Spanish number four (behind Rafa Nadal, Roberto Bautista Agut and Carreno Busta) began the second set nervously as he was clinically broken by the 25-year-old Italian.

Berrettini soon forged a 4-2 lead but was pegged back by the Spaniard who won three consecutive games to move 5-4 up.

Both players served impeccably taking the second set to a tie-break where Berrettini produced one of the shots of the match at 3-1 up, a thundering backhand winner down the line, leaving Alcaraz stranded.

Four set points down Alcaraz ripped a stunning forehand winner but it wasn’t enough as Berrettini nicked the set 7-3.

All of a sudden, momentum shifted in the third set as Alcaraz produced some sublime tennis, breaking in game nine and taking the third set 6-4.

At 2-1 down, it was Alcaraz’s turn to win five successive games as he secured the double break, with the wind in his sails, he had stormed back from two sets down to level the match.

The fifth and final set went on serve, but the world number seven had just enough in the tank to win the super tie-break 10-5, and see off the sleeveless Nadal protégé in a thriller.

After the match, Berrettini was full of praise for the 18-year-old.

“Unbelievable, when I was 18, I didn’t even have my first ATP point. He’s impressive and can only improve playing matches like this,” he said.

“He’s shown everybody his potential, so congrats to him.”

Legends of the sport Mats Wilander, a seven-time Grand Slam champion and Eurosport commentator Alex Corretja predicted big things from the Spanish prodigy.

Wilander said: “He’s unbelievable in pretty much every department. Physically he’s so strong already. He’s so fast on the court.

“Emotionally he’s as excited as Rafael Nadal, and I really think this kid is going to be number one in the world because he won’t stop until he’s at the top of his game.”

Corretja added: “Alcaraz is showing you can be young, but you can be brave. You can show the world you can be humble but at the same time you can be ambitious,” he said.

“He works crazy to become the best in the world, and as Mats said, he wants to be the number one in the world, and I honestly believe he will achieve it. He will win Majors.”

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Home hope Ash Barty stays on course to win the Australian Open

Ash Barty has cruised into the second week at the Australian Open without dropping a set.

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Ash Barty (@TennisAustralia - Twitter)

World number one Ash Barty comfortably confirmed her place in week two of the Australian Open beating Camila Giorgi 6-2, 6-3.

 

In recent seasons, Barty had been weighted down by expectations on her home territory.

This was far from the case against Giorgi as Barty snuffed out any chance of an upset with a near fault-less performance.

Both players came out striking the ball well, but it was the top seed that broke first racing into a 2-0 lead.

Giorgi was landing some stunning groundstrokes, but this was not enough to stop Barty, who broke again at the end of the first set to clinch it 6-2.

The Australian held to love at the beginning of the second set as the Italian looked to find a way back into the match.

Barty began to find her groove and moved her opponent around the court with some sublime shot making.

The Italian kept things interesting but was eventually broken as the top seed took a 4-2 lead.

With the crowd behind her, Barty continued to hold serve, engineering three match points, but she only needed one.

After the match, Barty chatted to former champion Jim Courier and had this to say.

“Yeah, I thought tonight was really clean. I thought I looked after my service games really well. I did well to come out of a really tricky one at love-40 down. Overall, a pretty good performance I think,” she said.

The home favourite also praised Giorgi’s performance.

“Yeah, I thought I was out of my weight class, that’s for sure. The way she hits the ball and can control the centre of the court is incredible.

“It was my job to get her off that baseline, whether it was short, or it was deep, or it was out of her strike zone.

“It’s tough when you’re up against the wind but I think I was able to use my slice effectively,” she said.

A much tougher test awaits the Aussie in American star Amanda Anisimova, as the 20-year-old stunned four-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka in three sets.

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