Unanswered Questions Overshadows The Upcoming Return Of Tennis - UBITENNIS
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Unanswered Questions Overshadows The Upcoming Return Of Tennis

The sport finally has a return date, but much tougher obstacles could arise over the coming weeks.

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After four months of speculation the outlook of what professional tennis will look like during the remainder of this year was announced within an hour.

 

It started specifically at 15:00 UK time when the United States Tennis Association decided to broadcast an hour-long online press conference concerning the US Open. Which was given the go ahead yesterday by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. As UTSA CEO Mike Dowse and others spoke, the ATP and WTA decided that it would be a good time to publish their restructured 2020 schedules. Followed by the International Tennis Federation doing the same. On top of that, tournaments then issued their own press releases, including the French Open and their plans. Triggering an information overload for many.

The decision to publish all the information at once perhaps illustrates the complexity of tennis, which is governed by seven separate bodies – ATP, WTA, ITF and each of the Grand Slams. But now the information is out in the open, some aspects are still not crystal clear.

In North America the USTA is confident of making this year’s US Open a success amid the unfamiliar circumstances they are in. Even though their Net Income will be down by as much as 80% compared to 12 months ago. Nevertheless, with the help of their reserves and the relocation of the Cincinnati event to New York, organizers still believe hosting the event is financially viable.

“It’s the right decision for tennis,” said USTA chief executive officer Dowse. “Our fans told us unequivocally they’re excited to see the best players in the world.”

There are still doubts about who may choose to skip New York altogether due to concerns over the COVID-19 restrictions they have in place. Novak Djokovic has previously said he is considering an option where he focuses solely on the European clay-court swing. Meanwhile, Simona Halep is also undecided.

“Given the conditions outlined in the US Open this morning, as of today I do not currently plan to play in NYC,” Halep said in a press release issued to Christopher Clarey from The New York Times.
“However, as we know, this situation is fluid and the conditions may change and improve before the entry deadline in July.’
“I would like to underline that my decision is not set in stone.” She added.

The USTA have previously stated that it is up to players if they want to play at their premier event, but do they have an alternative option? On the men’s tour Kitzburl takes place during the second week of the US Open. Therefore, if somebody like Djokovic would stay in Europe, he could play there. However, this will not be the case.

In a somewhat unexpected decision, the ATP has said that all top-10 players will be ineligible to play in Austria unless they take part in the US Open. A move that somehow contradicts the motion of respecting a player’s right to play at the grand slam or not. The WTA haven’t said if this will also be the case for the Istanbul Open, which takes place during the same week as Kitzbuhel.

It is clear that emotions are high under the current circumstances. As highlighted by Nick Kyrgios and his response to a tweet from the ATP where he describes CEO Andrea Gaudenzi as a ‘potato.’ That comment isn’t as unusual as it sounds, he also called an umpire of one his matches last year the same word.

“Cheers mate, you’ve really looked after the players during this time. Seriously f**k me, how about you have a collaborative effort with us, potato,” he wrote.

Travelling restrictions

World No.2 Rafael Nadal had previously said the Tour shouldn’t go ahead unless everybody is able to freely travel. Something that isn’t the case at present. Ivan Tricario is the editor of ubitennis.es and is based in Argentina. In his country journalists can’t travel internationally until September 13th when their border will potentially reopen. It is even more complicated for the players.

“There are problems for Argentine tennis players to go to the US Open. No one knows how they will do it,” he said via email. “There are private flights but they are very expensive. Some players are not in a position to face it, especially doubles players. Commercial flights would start in mid September.’
“If they access private flights they could only return to Argentina when the pandemic ends.”

Argentina has four top 100 ATP players in singles and seven in the doubles.

Perhaps one solution to help any player that may be in such a situation is to use the fund issued by the USTA. The organization has handed out $3.3 million each to both the ATP and WTA for them to use for what they believe is appropriate. The money is essentially unofficial compensation for the US Open scrapping the qualifying tournaments and reducing the size of their doubles draw. Hitting those who are less financially stable compared to the top players. But again, it is unknown as to what exactly will be done with this money and when.

The other health threat

Players will be delighted to be returning to the court, but how will their bodies cope after months away from the tour? Especially given the tight scheduling of top events with a good level of prize money and ranking points at stake. Within seven weeks (August 22nd – October 11th) there will be three Masters 1000 and two grand slam events.

These concerns are nothing new. In fact Milos Raonic was one of the first to speak about the issue two months ago during an interview with CNN.

“Four weeks in five (in September) … I think that will pose issues for players, and I think also because a transition to a different surface (from hard to clay courts) will be very quick,” he told CNN’s Christina Macfarlane.
“The thing that you really hope for is that it doesn’t create an uptick in injuries because that is quite tolling, quite a task.
“Am I happy that it is going to happen? Yes, I think so, to have a chance to play as many grand slams as possible in what is going to end up being a shortened season for us is a very important thing and I’m happy that a way is found to make it happen and hopefully we can get through to that point and be able to compete in those events.”

Ironically, with so many provisions being taken to minimise the risk of players catching COVID-19, it could be argued that injuries may pose a greater threat in some respects. Something that hasn’t been addressed too much by tennis authorities with their focus being on resuming the Tour as soon as possible.

The eagerly awaited return of tennis will undoubtedly be a boost for the sport which has suffered from the brunt of the global pandemic. There is now a start date, but clearly there is much more needed to be done over the coming weeks.

Grand Slam

Wimbledon Throwback: Fairytale Triumph For Maria Sharapova

Before Wimbledon 2004, Maria Sharapova was virtually unknown. Over the next two weeks, her life changed, and so did women’s tennis.

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Maria Sharapova (foto FABRIZIO MACCANI)

One day in June 2004, I came home from school, switched on the Wimbledon coverage and was transfixed by Maria Sharapova – a 17-year-old Russian who played tennis with an intensity I had never seen before.

 

Unfortunately I don’t remember which of her matches I saw first – her second-round win over Anne Keothavong or her third-round victory over Daniela Hantuchova – but I do remember that she blew away her opponent (and me) with her sublime ball-striking ability.

Sharapova’s serene progress continued until the quarter-final, when she faced her first real test against Ai Sugiyama. At the time, the Japanese player was a top-20 player. And she had plenty of experience to draw on after over a decade on tour.

Initially, Sugiyama’s maturity shone through as she won a tight opening set 7-5. However, her young Russian opponent gave many people their first glimpse of one of her defining qualities – fighting spirit. She clawed her way back into the match by coming out on top in an equally close second set. Having broken through the Japanese player’s resistance, Sharapova romped through the decider 6-2 to reach the semi-final.

Against All Odds

Despite her exceptional run to the last four, many observers believed it would come to an end when she faced Lindsay Davenport. It is clear from Sharapova’s autobiography that she agreed.

“I was a kid. Lindsay was a woman. I was weak. Lindsay was strong. I was stringy and narrow. Lindsay was powerful and solid. As I said, in many ways our games were alike. We went by power, played from the baseline, hit flat and low, without much spin, a style that both of us learned from Robert Lansdrop.

“She was twenty-eight years old, so far along there was talk of her retirement. She was not number one just then – that was Serena – but had been number one, off and on, for ninety-eight weeks. So she was one of the greatest tennis players in the world.

“In other words, I’d hung on and hung on till I’d advanced myself right out of my league. I mean, how was I supposed to beat Lindsay Davenport? She was just like me, only bigger, stronger, older, and more experienced. She was just like me, only way more.”

As if that was not already enough to make Sharapova’s task extremely difficult, she also found herself a bit overwhelmed by the occasion. She said she felt as though the crowd would see she was a kid “who did not belong there”, and that the first serve she hit “fluttered over the net like a butterfly”.

Rain Saves Sharapova

Maria Sharapova (foto ART SEITZ)

Just as the Russian expected, Davenport overwhelmed her to begin with. She won the first set 6-2 in just 26 minutes and then went up a break in the second. But just when it seemed like all hope was lost, fate intervened. Rain came pouring down and Sharapova retreated to the locker room to regroup.

Not that the Russian saw it that way. “In my mind, I was already on the plane, heading home,” she said. Thankfully, her father Yuri had other ideas. He told her he had seen it in a dream that she would turn this match around and go on to win the tournament.

And he seemed so certain that Sharapova believed him. It had a strong effect on her. She explained, “In that minute, I went from feeling like I had absolutely no chance, being beaten before I even went back out on the court, to believing I would have the prize if only I could summon the will to take it.”

To her immense credit, that is exactly what the Russian did. She came out after the delay and played exceptionally well. She returned well, drilled her trademark, flat groundstrokes into the corners for seemingly countless winners and even came to the net sometimes to finish points. It was a remarkable turnaround.

Showdown with Serena

I do not have many clear memories of Sharapova’s run to the championship match of Wimbledon 2004. But the final itself will stay in my mind forever.

I remember sitting down to watch it with my mother and thinking, I really hope this spirited Russian underdog can win, but I don’t really believe it. I mean, this is Serena Williams she is facing after all.

If Sharapova had any doubts, they did not show. She came out onto Centre Court and demolished the best female tennis player on the planet. She sent down ace after ace when she served and hit a thrilling succession of winners to finish rallies when they had scarcely begun. And the Russian attacked Serena’s serve in a way I had never seen before and remained calm and focused throughout.

Consequently, the match was over in about 70 minutes and Maria Sharapova – the 17-year-old Russian who most viewers barely knew before the tournament – was the Wimbledon champion. She had produced an extraordinary performance that stunned the sporting world and changed her life forever.

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French Open Chief Hoping To Ease COVID-19 Related Restrictions In Coming Weeks

Former world No.4 Guy Forget says he hopes to learn from the controversy caused by the recently cancelled Adria Tour.

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The man in charge of organising this year’s French Open has said he is optimistic that there will be more flexibility in the restrictions placed upon his event as it nears its launch.

 

Guy Forget has told Reuters News Agency that he believes the clay-court major will be nowhere as strict as the US Open, which will take place a couple weeks prior. The US Open is taking place behind closed doors for the first time in history and players will be subjected to various measures due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Including regular temperature checks and being limited to how many members of their team they can bring with them. It comes as parts of America reports a rapid rise in cases of the virus.

However, Forget believes that the COVID-19 restrictions set to be implemented in New York will not apply to his tournament because the current situation in his country is not as bad. According to the BBC, more than 29,000 people have died from COVID-19 in France compared to an estimated 132,000 in America.

“Luckily things are a bit more flexible in Europe and in France, especially,” Forget told Reuters. “Hopefully, what we’re going to announce will probably be even more flexible than what we did.”

Despite Forget’s optimism, there is also a lot of caution given recent events that have happened in the sport. The Adria Tour, which was founded by world No.1 Novak Djokovic, was cancelled after an outbreak of the virus among players. Djokovic, Grigor Dimitrov, Viktor Troicki and Borna Coric all tested positive, as well as some coaching staff. The event was criticised for a lack of social distancing with players attending parties, however it all took place in accordance with local government rules. Meanwhile, at the DraftKings All-American Team Cup in Atalanta Frances Tiafoe withdrew due to testing positive for the virus, but the event continued.

“Maybe some people were overconfident there,” Forget commented on the Adria Tour.
“Luckily no one got hurt really bad but even a few cases is too much and we want to avoid that as much as we can.
“We want to reassure everyone that having people getting ill will be terrible for us. Let’s be really careful, really cautious.”

At present, the French Tennis Federation plans to allow up to 20,000 people to attend the French Open daily with 10,000 on the final day. Equating to roughly 60% of its maximum capacity which is a figure based on ‘health-related information and the projected guidelines.’ Those attending will be required to wear masks whilst walking around the venue but not when sitting courtside.

“We all see soccer on television, it’s wonderful but something is missing without the crowds,” Forget said about the importance of a crowd.
“We are working closely with the administration, the government, to make sure we can provide some crowd while still following very strict security measures.”

The French Open is set to get underway on September 27th. Ash Barty and Rafael Nadal are the defending champions.

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Australian Open Chief Confident Event Will Take Place In January Amid COVID-19 Jump In Region

Craig Tiley has addressed concerns about the Grand Slam following a new outbreak in Victoria.

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The tournament director of the Australian Open has insisted that plans for next year’s tournament are on track despite a spike in COVID-19 cases around Melbourne.

 

Craig Tiley has stated that the Grand Slam will only take place in the city and there are no backup plans to potentially relocate the event in a worst case scenario. The Australian Open is held annually at Melbourne Park and this year attracted a record attendance of 812,174 people. Although there are concerns about the threat posed by COVID-19 with the Victoria State Government reporting another 66 cases of the virus on Friday. Making it the 17th day the daily infection rate has been in double digits. It is possible that the number could be higher with health minister Jenny Mikakos confirming around 10,000 people have refused to be tested with some claiming the virus to be a ‘conspiracy theory.’

According to ABC News Tiley and his team are planning for six scenarios concerning the Australian Open taking place, including the possibility of holding it behind closed doors. Although he is optimistic that the event and others also set to take place next January will go ahead as planned.

“Nothing has changed for us in terms of our planning,” Tiley told AAP.
“The environment around us has changed, and will continue to change, as we’ve seen with the current spike in Victoria.
“We’re optimistic the additional measures currently in place will be successful — and restrictions will continue to be eased over the coming months.”

The Tournament director has also confirmed that there will be little flexibility concerning the staging of next year’s event. Saying it will only take place in Melbourne and during January if it goes ahead. Although he is keeping a close eye on the two Grand Slams that are set to take place later this season.

“The US Open and the French Open are exploring mandatory testing, varying levels of quarantine and limiting entourages,” he said.
“Of course we are looking at all these options, and more, as part of our scenario planning.
“It’s difficult to predict exactly what will need to be in place as guidelines and protocols are changing week by week, and sometimes even day by day.”

This year’s US Open is set to get underway on August 31st, but will be held behind closed doors for the first time. Meanwhile the French Open, which starts only weeks after the New York major, plans to allow up to 20,000 fans to attend daily. Working out to be roughly 60% of its maximum capacity.

The last time the Australian Open didn’t take place was in 1986 due to a change in its hosting date from December to January. Founded in 1905, it is the youngest out of the four grand slam tournaments.

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