Internazionali d’Italia Day 6 Preview: The Men’s & Women’s Match of the Day - UBITENNIS
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Internazionali d’Italia Day 6 Preview: The Men’s & Women’s Match of the Day

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Court Centrale will not be as empty starting on Sunday, with 1,000 tickets to be sold for the semifinals and finals (internazionalibnlditalia.com)

It’s quarterfinal day in Rome, and many Roland Garros favorites are gaining momentum just eight days prior to the next Major.

 

On the men’s side, a Nadal/Djokovic final is starting to feel inevitable.  They’ve played in the championship match here five times before, and are a combined 44-3 against the other six men still alive in the draw.  But in an unpredictable 2020, the script has rarely unfolded as anticipated.  The top three remaining women’s seeds all have previous success at this event, though other strong contenders stand in their way.  That includes a pair of two-time Major champions who are playing great tennis, though only one of those women will advance to the semifinals.

Karolina Pliskova (2) vs. Elise Mertens (11)

These are two of the WTA’s best players yet to win a Major.  Pliskova came extremely close to doing so four years ago at the US Open, where she defeated both Williams sisters before falling to Angelique Kerber in the final.  Karolina is yet to return to a championship match, though she has accumulated 16 titles on the WTA tour, including this event last year.  Mertens has not reached a Major final, and only owns five tour titles, but no one has more WTA wins this year.  Elise is 26-9 in 2020, and has reached the quarterfinals or better of every tournament she’s played since the restart last month.  Even though these are two of the WTA’s most winningest players over the last few years, they’ve surprisingly only met once.  That was last year on the grass of Eastbourne, with Pliskova dropping just three games.  Both women have comfortably advanced to this stage without losing a set, or even playing a tiebreak.  Pliskova possesses more success in the latter stages of big tournaments like this, and can better control her destiny.  She’s consistently one of the WTA’s ace leaders and biggest ball strikers.  But Mertens is the player with more momentum right now, earning 15 match wins over the last five weeks.  Her guile and variety may be enough to defuse the power of the defending champion.

Rafael Nadal (2) vs. Diego Schwartzman (8)

Rafa and Diego have provided some grueling, entertaining encounters in the past.  At both the 2018 Australian and French Opens, they played four-setters that lasted nearly four hours.  And while Nadal is 63-6 at this event, half of his losses have come in this round.  He lost in the quarters three straight years from 2015-2017.  The bad news for Diego?  As enjoyable as their rallies can be, he’s 0-9 lifetime against the King of Clay.  And those two four-setters from 2018 are the only times Schwartzman has taken a set off Nadal.  Despite a six-month layoff before this event, Rafa has shown no rust, losing only six games over four sets.  So while Diego can push Rafa more than most others, a Nadal loss would be quite the shocker.

Other Notable Matches on Day 6:

Garbine Muguruza (9) vs. Victoria Azarenka (SE).  Muguruza already ousted Sloane Stephens, Coco Gauff, and Johanna Konta this week.  Azarenka is now 14-1 since the Western & Southern Open began.  Vika leads their head-to-head 2-1, which includes a victory at this event a year ago.  However, two of their three matches have ended in retirements.

Four-time Rome champion Novak Djokovic (1) vs. Dominik Koepfer (Q),a 26-year-old lefty who has won six matches over the last seven days.

Simona Halep (1) vs. Yulia Putintseva.  Their only previous meeting was at this year’s Australian Open, with Halep prevailing 6-1, 6-4.  Putintseva came back from a set and 5-2 down yesterday against Elena Rybakina.

In what should be a fun battle between two shotmakers, Denis Shapovalov (12) vs. Grigor Dimitrov (15).  Grigor is 2-0 against Denis, though they’ve never played on clay.

Two-time Rome champion Elina Svitolina (4) vs. Marketa Vondrousova (12), who was a surprise finalist at last year’s Roland Garros.  This is the 21-year-old’s best result since that time, as a left wrist injury sidelined the lefty for six months.

Italy’s No.1 and last man standing Matteo Berrettini (4) vs. Casper Ruud.  This is a rematch from two weeks ago at the US Open, when Berrettini advanced in straight sets.  But when they played on the clay of Paris last year, Ruud won in straights.

Full order of play is here.

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Theodore (Ted) Lumpkin Jr. – A Tuskegee Airman And Tennis

Lead- Theodore (Ted) Lumpkin Jr. wasn’t a formidable tennis player and he was much more than a Tuskegee Airman as Mark Winters brings out in a tribute to an extraordinary individual who passed away in late December 2020…

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Annually, the third Monday of January, in the US, is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The national holiday celebrates the memory of the Baptist minister and Civil Rights activist who was assassinated on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee.

 

Ordinarily on MLK Day, I reflect on the experiences that I have had in life and in tennis. As an example, I think back to the time I spent with Arthur Ashe while attending UCLA. (Interestingly, King sent a letter to Ashe in February of 1968, praising his character, along with his commitment to Civil Rights. He concluded his message by saying that he looked forward to meeting him in person, which did not happen.) This year, included in my thoughts, were a salute to Naomi Osaka, who made a statement at the US Open without saying a word. She did it in a quiet and sincere manner by wearing social justice facemasks that protested a spate of police interactions throughout the United States that had left innocent men and women dead or significantly injured. She knew that turning a blind eye to injustice was wrong. It always has been.

On January 18th, my usual day of introspection was very different.  It changed dramatically after I learned that Theodore Lumpkin Jr. (known to most as Ted) had passed away on December 26, 2020. Word was slow to reach those in the tennis community concerning Lumpkin having lost his battle with COVID-19 just a few days before his 101st birthday. 

Readers are probably asking – What exactly does Theodore (Ted) Lumpkin Jr. have to do with tennis and for that matter, Martin Luther King, Jr.? 

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Here is the story. Actually, an overview of his life which could serve as an outline for the production of a documentary. Lumpkin was born in Los Angeles and while attending UCLA in 1942 he was drafted. As a Second Lieutenant in the US Army Air Force, the 21-year-old became a member of the 100th Fighter Squadron. Because of his poor eyesight, he was unable to qualify as a pilot so he served as an intelligence officer in the all-Black unit that was known as the “Tuskegee Airmen”. The name stuck like glue, because it was based in Tuskegee, Alabama. (They were called the Red Tails because the tails on their planes were painted red.) After World War II, thanks to their exploits and their courage they soon became revered. (As an aside, by the end of WWII, Lumpkin had reached the rank of captain. He remained in the Air Force Reserves until 1979 and retired as a Lieutenant Colonel.)

Coincidently, Tuskegee forms part of the foundation of the country’s tennis history. Beginning in the1890s, Howard University and Tuskegee Institute, (both Black schools) were among the first schools in the US to offer their students an opportunity to play tennis. 

On November 30, 1916 in Washington, D.C., players led by the Association Tennis Club of Washington and the Monumental Tennis Club of Baltimore formed the American Tennis Association. The organization came into existence because the United States Lawn Tennis Association had a policy of not allowing African Americans to compete in USLTA tournaments. Due to that exclusion, the ATA’s specific goal was to provide “People of color an opportunity to develop an appreciation for the gentlemen’s game”. 

When it came to tennis, Lumpkin wasn’t a top competitor. He enjoyed the game but for him, the sport offered much more. It provided him with the opportunity to develop meaningful relationships on and off the court. That’s why the people in the Los Angeles tennis community, particularly those who played at Harvard Park, became a part of his extended family. 

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Ronita Elder, Theresa Brown, Ted Lumpkin, Delores Simmons and James Walker

Lumpkin had spirit but it was dignified. Combined with his concern for those around him, these characteristics defined his quiet but captivating presence. It was one that resulted in the respect that he received from his tennis cohorts, though he was only a recreational player. 

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Harvard Park honored “Living Legends In Our Community” including Don Bly, Ted Lumpkin, Earthna Jacquet and Jean Richardson


Lumpkin was humble and rarely talked about the fabled Tuskegee Airmen. In an oral history though, he said that the “Airmen” endeavor was “an experiment…” It was an early version of the proven fallacy that “African Americans” don’t have the intelligence or skill to play quarterback in the National Football League (American football). In this case, it was the intellect or ability to be a combat pilot. The truth has been documented and the bountiful successes African Americans have realized in both endeavors is now a given, and it is backed up by facts.

In 2007, US President, George W. Bush honored the Tuskegee Airmen with the Congressional Gold Medal, the nation’s highest civilian recognition. Barack Obama, in 2009, invited the surviving Airmen to attend his first inauguration. In 2012, Lumpkin was inducted into the West Coast African American Hall of Fame. While he was pleased, it was clear that the acknowledgement didn’t defined who he always was.

With Lumpkin’s death, there are only eight Tuskegee Airmen surviving. Theodore (Ted) Lumpkin led an interesting, challenging and rewarding life. The essence of this man was goodness. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day this year, as always, is a tribute to more than just one man. Ted Lumpkin has passed on, but he will be remembered for the life he lived. Tennis lost a long-standing friend who helped pave the way for every person of color who came after him. May He Rest In Peace. 

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Andy Murray won’t travel to Australia

Andy Murray will miss next month’s Australian Open after testing positive for COVID-19 a couple of weeks ago.

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Andy Murray (@the_LTA - Twitter)

Andy Murray has made it official, he won’t be making the trip down under after working with Tennis Australia to find a viable solution to make it work.

 

“We’ve been in constant dialogue with Tennis Australia to try and find a solution which would allow some form of workable quarantine, but we couldn’t make it work.”

Murray was scheduled to fly to Australia with one of charter flights but due to a positive Covid test wasn’t able to make the flight and put his tournament in jeopardy.

Although he missed the chartered flights there was still a small chance he would play but had to workout an agreement with Tennis Australia to make it work. However it didn’t work and was gutted with the news.

“I want to thank everyone there for their efforts, I’m devastated not to be playing out in Australia. It’s a country and tournament that I love.”

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EXCLUSIVE: Inside The Melbourne Bubble – ‘Top Names Get Preferential Treatment But That’s Part Of The Tour’

Marcelo Demoliner celebrated his birthday in quarantine, his doubles partner isn’t allowed to leave his room for 14 days and he believes there is a difference in treatment between the top players and others. Yet, he refuses to complain about the situation he finds himself in.

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Marcelo Demoliner pictured during the 2020 Australian Open. image via https://www.facebook.com/mdemoliner89)

Like his peers, Brazil’s Marcelo Demoliner passes his time in Melbourne quarantine by training, sleeping, eating and posting amusing videos on social media.

 

Demoliner, who currently has a doubles ranking of world No.44, is required by Australian law to abide by a strict isolation period before he is allowed to play any professional tournament. Although he is allowed to train unless he is deemed to be a close contact of somebody who has tested positive for COVID-19. An unfortunate situation 72 players find themselves in, including Demoliner’s doubles partner Santiago Gonzalez

During an email exchange with UbiTennis the Brazilian sheds light on what he labels as an ‘usual experience’ that has prompted criticism from some players. Roberto Bautista Agut was caught on camera describing conditions as a ‘prison’ in a video leaked to the press. Although he has since apologised for his comments. Demonliner himself is not as critical as others.

“It is an unusual experience that we will remember for a long time,” he told UbiTennis. “It is a very complicated situation that we are going through. Obviously, it is not ideal for us athletes to be able to go out for just 5 hours a day, but mainly for the other 72 players who cannot go out, like my partner Santiago Gonzalez. They have a complicated situation of possibly getting injured after not practicing for 14 days, but it is what it is.’
“We need to understand and adapt to this situation considering Australia did a great job containing Covid.”

With three ATP doubles titles to his name, Demoliner is playing at the Australian Open for the sixth year in a row. He has played on the Tour for over a decade and has been ranked as high as 34th in the world.

Besides the players complaining about food, their rooms and even questioning the transparency of the rule making, Tennis Australia also encountered a slight blip regarding the scheduling of practice.

“I was a little lucky because I stayed in one of the hotels that we don’t need to take transportation to go to the training courts. It made the logistics issue much easier. The other two hotels had problems with transportation and logistics in the first two days, but I have nothing to complain about, honestly.”

Demoliner remains thankful for what Tennis Australia has managed to do in order for the Australian Open to be played. Quarantine can have a big impact on a person mentally, as well as physically. Each day players spend at least 19 hours in their hotel rooms which was no fun for the Brazilian who celebrated his 32nd birthday on Tuesday.

“Without a doubt, it is something we have never been through before. I’m luckily having 5 hours of training daily. I am managing to maintain my physical preparation and rhythm. It is not the ideal, of course, but I can’t even imagine the situation of other players who are in the more restricted quarantine.”

image via https://www.instagram.com/MDemoliner/

Priority given to the top names

As Demoliner resides in Melbourne, a selected handful of players are spending their time in Adelaide. Under a deal struck by Tennis Australia, officials have agreed for the top three players on the ATP and WTA Tour’s to be based in the city. The idea being is that it will relieve the strain on Melbourne who is hosting in the region of 1200 arrivals.

Craig Tiley, who is the head of Tennis Australia, has insisted that all players will have to follow the same rules wherever they are based. Although some feel that those in Adelaide have some extra privileges such as a private gym they can use outside of the five-hour training bubble. Japan’s Taro Daniel told the Herald Sun: “People in Adelaide are being able to hit with four people on court, so there’s some resentment towards that as well.” Daniel’s view is one echoed also by Demoliner.

“I do believe they are receiving preferential treatment, quite different from us. But this is part of the tour,” he said.
“The top tennis players always had these extras, we are kinda of used to it. We came here knowing that they would have better conditions for practicing, structure, hotels… they also have merits to have achieved all that they have to be the best players in the world. I don’t know if it’s fair, but I believe the conditions could be more similar than they are in this situation.”

Some players were recently bemused by a photo of Naomi Osaka that surfaced on social media before being removed. The reigning US Open champion was pictured on a court with four members of her team, which is more people than what those in Melbourne are allowed to train with.

https://twitter.com/mdemoliner89/status/1351079924719898632

As the Adelaide contingent continues their preparations, those most unhappy with them are likely to be the 72 players who are in strict quarantine. Demoliner is concerned about the elevated risk of injury that could occur due to the facts they are not allowed to leave their rooms. All players in this situation have been issued with gym equipment to use.

“I think that they will be at a considerable disadvantage compared to who can train. But we need to obey the law of the country, there is not much to do … until the 29th they will have to stay in the room and that is it,” he said.
“Whether it is fair or not, it is not up to me to say because I am not in this situation. The thing about having the other players who didn’t have contact with the positive cases to also stay in the rooms is the concern about the risk of injury, specially for singles players. It will be a tough challenge, especially at the beginning of the season.”

In recent days, officials have been holding video calls with players to discuss ways to address these concerns ahead of the Australian Open. Which will start a week after they are allowed to leave their rooms.

When the tournaments do get underway there are also questions about how the public will react to players who have made headlines across the country for their criticism of the quarantine process. A somewhat sore point for Australian’s with some nationals unable to return home due to the government restrictions. On top of that, people in Melbourne are concerned about a potential outbreak of COVID-19.

It is a very complex situation. I fully understand the reaction of the Australian population considering the recent events… the effect that the players are bringing, the risks to the population,” Demoliner said of the current circumstances.
“We know this and obviously they are concerned with the whole situation, which is still very uncertain. On our side, though, they did allow us to come here to play. It is important to remember that the decision to welcome us was approved by the Australian Government, otherwise we would not be here.”

Demoliner is one of three Brazilian doubles players ranked to have a top 100 ranking on the ATP Tour along with Bruno Soares and Marcelo Melo.

SEE ALSO EXCLUSIVE: Inside The Melbourne Bubble – ‘Players Can’t Act Like Spoilt People’

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