Wimbledon, Indian Wells, Miami, Monte Carlo, Madrid, and the Rogers Cup all won’t take place this year. But after nearly six months of inactivity, there will be two Majors and two ATP Masters 1,000/WTA Premier 5 events in the next seven weeks.
The US Open will be held directly after this week’s Western & Southern Open, with the Italian Open to begin right after that, and Roland Garros just a week after Rome’s conclusion. At these four tournaments alone, players can accumulate up to 6,000 ranking points. With the ATP and WTA rankings to gradually unfreeze, the majority of the 2020 rankings will be decided between now and mid-October.
How will players perform after such a long lay-off? And how will their bodies react to so much tennis in a short period of time? That will be especially key for the men, who will be playing best-of-five in four of the next seven weeks.
Switching focus to Sunday’s action at the Western and Southern Open, a combination of first and second round matches will be taking place. In the women’s draw top seed Karolina Pliskova get her bid underway but surprisingly not on the premier Grandstand Court, she will be playing on Court 17. Meanwhile in the men’s draw, Stefanos Tsitsipas could be tested when he plays a former Wimbledon finalist.
Here are two matches to watch out for :-
Stefanos Tsitsipas (4) vs. Kevin Anderson (PR)
Anderson is coming off a nice win just yesterday over Kyle Edmund. After missing much of 2019 due to injury, the two-time Major finalist showed some nice form to start the year despite some tight losses. Tsitsipas ended 2019 with the biggest title of his career at the ATP Finals. The 22-year-old struggled a bit to start 2020 before winning in Marseille and reaching the final in Dubai, losing to Novak Djokovic. Tsitsipas is 2-1 against Anderson, though all three of their encounters have been closely contested. The courts are reportedly playing very quickly in Flushing Meadows, which should favor the tall South African. But just 24 hours after a three-hour battle with Edmund, Anderson may not have too much left. I expect Tsitsipas to continue his pre-pandemic success and extend his winning record against Anderson.
Caroline Garcia vs. Sloane Stephens (WC)
Stephens was crowned US Open champion on these grounds just three years ago. She went on to have more success in 2018, but last season was a struggle for Sloane. In 2019, she won no titles and reached no finals, with a record of just 24-19. And Sloane has won just one of seven matches played this year. Her only victory came in March against a player currently ranked outside the top 500. Needless to say, Stephens will be looking to use this restart to begin anew. Similarly, Garcia peaked in the top five a few years ago, but is now barely ranked inside the top 50. The Frenchwoman won the same number of matches as she lost in 2019. They’ve only met once within the last few years, with Caroline victorious, but that was on clay. Based on Sloane’s performance last week in Lexington, where she lost to a qualifier, I like Garcia’s chances to advance on this day.
Other Notable Matches on Day 2:
The singles world No.1’s first match since February will take place on the doubles court, as it’s Novak Djokovic and Filip Krajinovic vs. Tommy Paul and Frances Tiafoe (WC).
The women’s top seed Karolina Pliskova (1) vs. Veronika Kudermetova, a 23-year-old Russian who survived a tough three-setter on Saturday. Pliskova was the champion in Brisbane at the start of the year.
Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin (2) vs. Alize Cornet. Kenin twice defeated Cornet last year on hard courts.
David Goffin (7) vs. Borna Coric. Goffin is 4-0 against Coric, though they haven’t played in over four years.
American No.1 John Isner (16) vs. Hubert Kurkacz. These two easily prevailed as a doubles team just yesterday. Isner took their only previous meeting, last summer on a US hard court.
Last year’s US Open double champions Elise Mertens and Aryna Sabalenka (1) vs. Ann Li and Bernarda Pera (WC).
The ATP plans larger draws, extended schedules for Madrid, Rome, Shanghai in 2022
The players’ association CEO, Andrea Gaudenzi, has devised a project of 92 pages to drive the sport forward, including plans for a Masters 1000 event on grass, increased prize money, and investments to appeal to a younger audience.
The powers-that-be of the ATP are planning a revised scheduled for the men’s tour, starting in 2022, when Madrid, Rome, and Shanghai should receive more days (11, possibly 12) for their tournaments, while extending their main draws from 56 to 64 players. The top players would have to play one more match, but with more resting days in-between – as of now, most seeds have to play five straight matches from Wednesday to Sunday. As for a further increase to 96 players, that appears to be off the table at the moment, since the tournaments don’t have as many courts as Indian Wells and Miami do. Rome and Madrid could only do it by shelving the women’s event, and that’s not a realistic option.
The project is still in the early stages, and it is very possible that it has “leaked” as an endearment to the players who are still choosing between the ATP and the new union founded by Djokovic and Pospisil, the PTPA. The message feels a little ambiguous, something like: “It will only happen without further internal turmoil.” The aspect that should captivate the players is mainly the increase in the prize money, initially set at 2.5 percent.
MORE TRANSPARENCY BY THE MASTERS 1000
This increment could be a lot more significant if a deal could be reached with the tournament owners vis-à-vis letting a neutral firm access their financial records. In this way, it would be possible, with massive costs and after some time, to ascertain once and for all the actual revenues of an ATP event on a bi-annual basis. The aim is to achieve more financial transparency in order to increase the players’ earnings. If the ATP could pull it off, the PTPA would virtually lose most of its arguments – however, it may take a while to do it.
The prime objective, as a matter of fact, would be to have a 50-50 split between the players and the organisers after expenses and taxes are paid. It wouldn’t be easy to convince the owners of the events, though, since they are the entrepreneurs actually endangering their finances, and this is why it’s never been done before. Moreover, such examination could end up uncovering greater combined financial losses than expected between the nine Masters 1000 tournaments, and that would drive the prize money into the ground, also an unprecedented instance. The new plan would include some sort of “financial solidarity” between them, which does not sound realistic.
The real goal of the players, anyway, is to access a bigger slice of the Slams’ revenues, of which they now get about 15% on average. However, the ATP has no jurisdiction over these events, which make up 58% of the sport’s net revenue. Gaudenzi’s dream can only come true if the seven stakeholders in the game (the Slams, the ATP, the WTA, and the ITF) reach an agreement – will they? History would point to the negative.
THE WAY FORWARD
In a past interview, Gaudenzi stressed the fact that tennis is the fourth most popular sport in the world (behind football, basketball, and cricket), but it only generates 1.3% of global sports revenues. The game’s earnings (about 2.2 trillion dollars) are divided, more or less equally, between ticket sales, advertising, and TV rights. However, among major sports, tennis draws by far the highest percentage of its income from the box office, and by far the lowest from TV rights.
I will add a few points to these data, points that would probably require a separate article by themselves:
- Just 55% of the fans watch live tennis. 30% watch highlights (probably because the matches take too long), and 12% follow the off-court activities of the players (rumours, private lives, pictures). It follows that digital content will only increase in amount, and this is why the ATP is thinking about creating its own media production center, rife with short and not necessarily match-related content. Of course, this would only work if the most marketable players would cooperate.
- Just like it’s happening this week with the US Open and Kitzbuhel, more ATP events would take place during the second week of a Slam, and several tournaments (the ones listed at the beginning of the article) would last 11/12 days instead of 7 or 8.
- After years spent planning a reduction of the Masters 1000 tournaments from nine to seven, now there’s a plan to add a tenth tournament on grass. Both Queen’s and Halle are pretty successful, so…
- The Masters 1000 would contribute some money to facilitate the expansion of TV coverage, and also to support some sickly ATP 250 events. In exchange for that, their status would be untouchable for 30 years. The same goes for the ATP 500 tournaments, which would contribute a lesser amount and would thus have a guaranteed license of “just” 15 years.
- As Gaudenzi has repeatedly underlined, tennis needs to appeal to the younger generations and to expand the fanbase. How? By developing a social media policy inspired by streaming giants like Netflix, Spotify, Facebook, Amazon, and Instagram.
- Betting data would need some consideration, particularly with regards to the streaming services that work within their domain – the idea would be to unify them. The ATP owns some of them, while the ITF has a 70-million-dollar deal with Sportsradar – so far, every association has fended for itself. Gaudenzi has created a committee involving executives from Apple Music, BWin, Facebook, and Amazon, and believes that it will take from three to five years to collect the necessary data, but only if the seven stakeholders will cooperate. Will that happen?
- Unlike Djokovic and Pospisil, Gaudenzi thinks that the money pool (currently set at 270 million dollars) needs to increase before there can be any talk regarding better redistribution of revenues. This is quite the ideological struggle, because, in the Italian manager’s view, the lower-ranked players would need to be patient for a few more years before seeing their bottomlines flourish. The ATP doesn’t have a claim to the Slams’ money, and its only big earners are the Masters 1000 (and not even all of them). Their income is usually similar to the prize money figure, which is not a lot, especially if some want a bigger and bigger slice of it.
Sing & Volley: When Stringing And Tuning Meet
A perfect song can be composed with either a racquet or a guitar: a brief history of the love affair between tennis and music, from Bertè-Borg to Agassi-Streisand.
A racquet is strung, a guitar tuned, everything is in its rightful place – and the song comes to life.
You up and leave me
you never call me… I miss you… I miss you…
that lucky woman
I am the most envied woman… they say about me…
but I already miss you
Loredana Bertè wrote this while trying to understand what happened to Bjorn Borg, “the tennis player” as she calls him. The marriage between the iconic tennis champion and the singer spurred headlines all over the globe. Loredana, who had already appeared years before alongside Adriano Panatta, must have had a proclivity for this sport. She always looked beautiful as she sang, with a physicality that felt almost intrusive to the listener. A stormy character, a famous sister, a complicated family history and there you go – a character is ready-made. Loredana sang with her soul, a rebellious one. How did someone cut from such a cloth end up in the hands of Borg, the prototype of the serious, scrupulous, rational, cynical, and cold sportsman? On the court, Borg had sedated a monster within himself that sooner or later would come out to exact its revenge. Borg’s career was amazing but did not last long, replaced by excesses and financial disasters as conspicuous as the Grand Slams he won. An author isn’t always the lyrics to his songs.
A backhand touch volley to softly close the net, a rock poem: if Borg is there, McEnroe must be too, just like a verse always invokes its chorus.
Take me now, baby, here as I am
Pull me close, try and understand
Desire is hunger is the fire I breathe
Love is a banquet on which we feed
Lyrics by Bruce Springsteen, Patti Smith sings. The Boss had written it for her, but legend has it that it did not fit on his own record and, rather than shelving it, he thought of giving it to the girl who was recording in the next room of the same studio. Patti accepted, thanked, adapted the lyrics and made it a worldwide success.
In this case, the cross-contamination with tennis with tennis owes to paronomasia, because one evening at a party, Patty Smyth, a little less known than her almost homonym – of Irish origins and a rock music background – was introduced to John McEnroe. Love at first sight, even if it would take some time to admit it to each other. John would also have probably wanted to ask her to tour and record with her, since he had always harboured the dream of becoming a rock star, but Patty, much wiser, would never have asked John to play in the mixed doubles at Wimbledon with him.
John also recorded an album and promoted it on the tennis tour, but he decided, at Patty’s behest, to continue to devote himself to the strings that gave him the best sounds, those of his Dunlop. A lover of art and entertainment, John came off a failed marriage with Tatum ‘O Neil, daughter of Ryan, and herself a purported Hollywood hopeful. Are there many tennis players who could have combined the worlds of sport and art more than Supermac? The answer is no, to be honest.
Andre Agassi was a tennis player in punk rock outfits, even though by the 1980s punk rock had become so mainstream that it was difficult to understand where the limit was between meaning it, sporting its looks, or just looking like something else entirely. The myth of the young man armed with a guitar had certainly not dried out yet, but it had changed, passing from the flower-shooting axe of the Summer of Love to the nail-y one of an anarchist London Calling, less sober, decidedly noisier, flashy, and paradoxically consumerist. Agassi didn’t have a knack for music like Jim Courier and Pat Cash, the latter a melodically less capable (and less famous) pirate than Little Steven or, of course, than that divinity who goes by the name of Keith Richards, to whom the character of Jack Sparrow in “Pirates of the Caribbean” should erect a monument. Andre the newcomer, though, he was so cool and youthful, and solved the issue by dating the admirable voice of Barbra Streisand.
A Woman in Love can accept that her man should like to indulge in childish play by shooting fuzzy balls like bullets, but Andre was also unfortunately much younger than her, and the spark fizzled lost. He later gave himself to the screen as much as he had to songs, marrying the virginal, at least according to the tabloids, Brooke Shields. It would take a tennis player’s sharp backhand slices to get him on the right track for good. It could be deduced that Steffi Graff was as adept as any at the fuzzy bullet-shooting.
Yannick Noah has always been the larger-than-life type and has never chosen musicians as life companions because he preferred to do it all by himself, singing included. Once he hung up his racquet, he climbed the charts with his records, something he’d already achieved while still a tennis player. Yannick was born a performer, both with racquets and mics, with a timing that could have only been bequeathed to him by fate. The most successful single of his second career, “Saga Africa”, was released in 1991, the year of a French Davis Cup win, becoming an anthem sung and danced during the Lyonnaise celebrations of those days.
From Bobo Zivojinovic of the once Yugoslav Republic, to the forever rising (and perhaps never blooming) Grigor Dimitrov, the liaison between tennis and the music world in terms of sentimental relationships has several paragraphs in between the chapters of the novel that is the never-ending intertwining between sports and entertainment. Pop and popular events that often meet halfway because they are never too far apart, especially in the Image Society, now magnified by the presence of social media and by the value of a “like”. A racket is strung, a guitar tuned, everything is in its rightful place – and the song comes to life.
Translated by Matteo Pelliccia; edited by Tommaso Villa
The Meaning Of Naomi Osaka’s Commitment To Racial Equity
What does it mean for the highest paid female tennis player in the world to march in the streets to assert her political views?
In early July, Naomi Osaka wrote an op-ed for Esquire, taking a public stance in the political debate surrounding George Floyd’s death. I think this is an interesting choice, and an uncommon one for a top tennis player in recent years, and therefore it deserves some reflection.
First and foremost, I want to clarify my position. I think that a sports website should just write about sports. And I don’t think that readers expect opinions about racism in the USA or Black Lives Matter from a tennis article. In my opinion themes like these require a knowledge that I do not possess. I have my ideas, obviously, as Osaka does, but I don’t want to write about the political side of racism.
I would like to talk about a different topic: what does it mean for Osaka to take a political position in a public way? I remember that at the end of May, before the Esquire article, Naomi posted a video on social media from Minneapolis, where she went to join the protesters in the wake of George Floyd’s death. While this message didn’t resonate as much in the press, it could be argued that it was a stronger one, because it is not common for a public figure to go to a different city to make a statement on such a politically-charged issue.
Maybe I’m wrong, but, for example, I don’t believe that Serena Williams has ever done something like this. Even her boycotting of Indian Wells has always been focused on the individual tournament and on the personal mistreatment she had experienced, rather than on a wide-ranging political issue.
Scrolling through Osaka’s Twitter page, we can easily find a few tweets, from recent weeks, that are concerned with political and social matters.
As mentioned above, it is not common that a top tennis player like Naomi (a former world N.1 and Slam winner) decides to take a public position in the political arena. We are used to great sportsmen who eschew voicing their personal ideas. The reason why they opt for this kind of approach could be personal: they might have little interest in the situation, or a wish to defend their privacy. However, the main reason that comes to mind is money, because the most popular sportsmen draw a large slice of their revenues from sponsorships, which in turn might not be exceedingly happy with their public faces potentially alienating customers.
Some weeks ago, Forbes wrote that Osaka, at 22, is at the helm of a small commercial empire. With 37.4 million dollars in revenues from last year, Naomi is the highest-paid woman athlete ever as well as the 29th highest-paid athlete with no gender distinction.
If we look at her sources of income one-by-one, things become more interesting. Osaka makes 34 millions from sponsorships – the eighth highest figure in sports. In the tennis world, only Federer earns more from endorsements. Djokovic, Nadal, and Serena Williams earned less than Naomi in 2019.
It could be rightly assumed that every agent of a great athlete suggests that their customer keep their opinions to themselves on issues that could upset the fans, and, consequently, the sponsors. Celebrity spokespeople are asked to please the masses as much as they can. When such a person has a truly wide platform, he, or she, has to take “ecumenical” and non-divisive attitudes.
There are obviously opposite cases, sportsmen that are chosen by companies because they are against something or someone. I think, for instance, of Dennis Rodman or, more recently, of Colin Kaepernick. But it is very unlikely that they will become the most paid individuals by sponsors.
Nowadays, it’s not that relevant if some political choices could appear to pander to the mainstream (something that should be proven true): in any case, for those who have to promote a product on the market, it is not only important to connect with the majority, but also not to antagonise the minority.
Probably, the best sport testimonial of the last few decades is Michael Jordan; this infamous quote summarises the marketing zeitgeist: “Republicans buy sneakers too.” We don’t know whether the statement is true or not (Jordan may never have said it, but he has not even disowned it before it became proverbial), but the fact remains that it embodies very well the idea of a spokesperson that must handle with extreme discretion certain topics, because they can become explosive.
Sport’s history teaches us that taking a public stance can be devastating for an athlete’s career. One of the best-known cases is that of Tommie Smith, John Carlos and Peter Norman, who raised their fists in protests during the 200 meters medal ceremony at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. They paid a steep price for that image which became iconic, all over the world.
Back to tennis, maybe Martina Navratilova was the player that, during her career, stuck her neck out the most on non-sports issues. When she came out as a lesbian, according to the mentality of the time, it was a political act, with a stronger impact than it could appear today, and that was followed by consequences.
In Unmatched, the ESPN documentary dedicated to her rivalry with Chris Evert in 2013, Martina recalled that, when she began to win a lot, the American media framed her matches against Chris as a fight between good and evil. In that clash, Evert played for the good side (the “next-door girlfriend”) and Navratilova the evil (a lesbian from a Communist country):
Of course, when comparing the consequences on Navratilova’s career with those suffered by the sprinters of Mexico City, we realize that Martina had far fewer problems. And this will certainly also apply to Osaka; not only because times have changed, but also because, unlike in other disciplines, a professional tennis player is essentially an autonomous entity, who (if in a winning position) does not have to get in the crosshairs of a governing body in order to practise his or her craft.
However, it’s not all strawberries and cream by any means. A tennis player who enters in a collision course with a national federation may have to give up the Davis or the Fed Cup and most likely also the Olympics. Speaking of the Olympics, Osaka was chosen by the Tokyo 2020 committee as the face of the Games (now postponed to 2021 due to the pandemic); and who knows if the organizers of the event liked her latest public moves.
This is a window into another of Naomi’s facets: she is a Japanese player who is being vocal about American issues. Osaka was born in Japan from a Haitian father and a Japanese mother, but her family moved to the USA when she was three, so she has lived there for about 20 years.
Therefore, Osaka’s choice is perhaps a little more courageous if we consider the fact that Naomi protested in the United States as a “foreigner“. As a matter of fact, due to a peculiarity in Japanese legislation, she had to give up her US passport last year. But evidently in this case her personal history, ripe with transnational cross-contaminations, prevailed, and that is something not to be confined within the on-paper limits of a passport. She said it to herself in a part of Esquire’s article: “A single label has never been enough to describe me, but they tried anyway. Is she Japanese? American? Haitian? Black? Asian? Well, I’m all of these things together at the same time.”
Here is another element that should not be underestimated in Osaka’s decision: her political choice in favour of a plural society, expressed as a Japanese player and citizen. Let’s not forget that if Osaka has earned so much, she mainly owes it to Japanese endorsement deals. And Japanese culture and mentality are not American ones.
Naomi wrote about her relationship with her country of birth: “Japan is a very homogenous country, so tackling racism has been challenging for me. I have received racist comments online and even on TV. But that’s the minority. In reality, biracial people—especially biracial athletes—are the future of Japan. We (myself, Rui Hatchimura and others) have been embraced by the majority of the public, fans, sponsors, and media.”
On this hand it should be remembered that last year controversy sparked for a cartoon made by a Japanese sponsor of Naomi’s, in which she was portrayed as a white-skinned player. Back then, she had expressed herself in a more accommodating way (“They should have told me about it”). It is difficult to say whether she deemed the incident as irrelevant, or whether she still felt uncomfortable expressing her own views in such a decisive way as she did recently. And this evolution leads us to the more personal aspects of her commitment.
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