Roland Garros Day 1 Preview: Five Must-See Matches - UBITENNIS
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Roland Garros Day 1 Preview: Five Must-See Matches

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Court Philippe-Chatrier with its new roof closed (rolandgarros.com)

In this unique year, the French Open will begin on the 27th of September, four months later its usual start date.

 

This is the only Major which begins on a Sunday, with first round singles matches spread across the first three days of the tournament.  And extra time may be required to complete matches, with rain in the forecast throughout the next 10 days.  Fortunately for players scheduled on Court Philippe-Chatrier, the French Open finally has a retractable roof over its main stadium.  And the addition of lights on the other courts will allow matches to extend later into the evening.  This will truly be a one-of-a-kind autumn fortnight, with 1,000 fans allowed on Court Philippe-Chatrier only, and the conditions wetter and colder than late-spring in Paris.

Each day for the next 15 days, we’ll go in-depth on the most prominent matches of the day.

Stan Wawrinka (16) vs. Andy Murray (WC)

This is a blockbuster first round matchup between a pair of three-time Major champions.  They played an epic, over four-and-a-half-hour semifinal here in 2017, which Wawrinka won in five sets.  And neither player has been the same since, as both suffered injuries which they link back to that encounter.  Wawrinka had knee surgery two months later, derailing his career for the better part of two years.  Murray endured multiple hip surgeries and nearly retired from the sport.  This is only Andy’s sixth singles match at a Major in the last three years.  In Murray’s second match back in 2018, he upset Wawrinka as a wild card at Eastbourne.  They also played an excellent championship match last fall in Antwerp, where Andy won his first tour title since March of 2017.  Overall Murray leads their head-to-head 12-8, but Stan has the edge 4-1 on clay.  They’ve split six previous meetings at Slams.  After playing five matches in the New York bubble, Murray did not partake in a clay court lead-in event.  Wawrinka skipped New York and chose instead to play Challenger events on clay, winning a title in Prague.  But Stan lost in the opening round of Rome to breakout Italian star Lorenzo Musetti.  With little match play in the last few weeks, both veterans should be fully fresh for this battle.  On a clay court, the odds are in Wawrinka’s favor.  And the slower conditions shouldn’t bother the 2015 champion, who prefers having more time to set up his thumping strikes.

Johanna Konta (9) vs. Coco Gauff

The British No.1 was a semifinalist here a year ago, while the 16-year-old American is making her French Open main draw debut.  Gauff secured her first WTA-level clay court win just last week in Rome.  That’s actually Coco’s only victory in her last five matches, as her second serve and unforced error woes have subdued her game.  In her first round loss to Anastasija Sevastova at the US Open, she hit 13 double faults and 41 unforced errors.  By contrast, Konta is one of the WTA’ best servers.  At last month’s Western & Southern Open, Jo didn’t drop her serve through her first three matches, until facing eventual champion (and excellent returner) Victoria Azarenka.  While the heavier balls in Paris will make Konta’s serve a bit less effective, her vast clay court experience compared to that of Gauff’s makes Jo a strong favorite in their first career meeting.

David Goffin (11) vs. Jannik Sinner

Their first and only clash occurred earlier this year on an indoor hard court in Rotterdam, where the 19-year-old Italian prevailed after two tight sets.  Sinner is one of the ATP’s most promising young prospects, and was the champion of last year’s Next Gen Finals.  He possesses offensive weaponry that may take him to the top of the game in years to come.  However, Jannik is still an unproven commodity in best-of-five at the Majors.  He’s only earned one match win at a Slam.  And we saw his body fail him after going up two sets against Karen Khachanov earlier this month at the US Open.  Sinner won just two total games in third and fourth sets, as he struggled to move about the court.  Goffin is the fitter and more experienced player, who has reached the third round in Paris the last five years.  The juxtaposition between Sinner’s firepower and Goffin’s speed should make for an entertaining contest, but I like David’s chances to advance.

Anett Kontaveit (17) vs. Caroline Garcia

This is a rematch from just last week in Rome, where Kontaveit prevailed in 6-3, 7-6(1).  Overall she is 2-1 against Garcia, with Anett also claiming their other recent clay court meeting.  Kontaveit is one of the WTA’s winningest players in this truncated season, with 23 match wins.  The 24-year-old Estonian reached a clay final just last month in Palermo.  Garcia actually has a losing record on the year, though she played some of her best tennis in a long time in upsetting top-seeded Karolina Pliskova at the US Open.  Caroline’s best performance at a Major came here three years ago, when she was a quarterfinalist at her home Slam.  But in her last eight Major appearances, Garcia is a disappointing 8-8.  Despite showing some signs of regaining her top level, Caroline is the underdog against the in-form and more consistent Kontaveit.

Dan Evans (32) vs. Kei Nishikori

Nishikori is a three-time quarterfinalist in Paris, but this is only Kei’s fifth match since last August, when elbow surgery ended his 2019 early.  Nishikori is a meager 1-3 since returning.  His opponent today has never won a match at Roland Garros.  Evans actually hasn’t earned a main draw win on clay since April of 2017.  That includes two losses over the last two weeks, to Hubert Hurkacz and Stefanos Tsitsipas.  Despite his dreadful record on this surface, the British No.1 reached a career-high ranking earlier this year, coming off a stellar 2019 where he accumulated 55 match wins at all levels.  Nishikori is 2-1 against Evans, though they haven’t played in three years, and never on clay.  Most notably, Evans upset Nishikori as a qualifier in the opening round of the 2013 US Open.  Dan is certainly the more match-tough player, so an extended affair will favor the Brit.  But Evans’ lack of confidence on the clay makes it difficult to favor him over a player of Kei’s caliber.

Other Notable Matches on Day 1:

2018 champion Simona Halep (1) vs. Sara Sorribes Tormo, a 23-year-old Spaniard who defeated Naomi Osaka on clay earlier this year.

US Open women’s runner-up Victoria Azarenka (10) vs. Danka Kovinic, a 25-year-old from Montenegro who upset Belinda Bencic two weeks ago in Rome.

US Open men’s runner-up Sascha Zverev (6) vs. Dennis Novak, a 27-year-old Austrian.  How will Zverev perform just 14 days after the heartbreaking loss of his first Major final to another Austrian in a fifth-set tiebreak?

Rome finalist Diego Schwartzman (12) vs. Miomir Kecmanovic, who won his first ATP title a week ago on the clay of Kitzbuhel.

In her 23rd French Open appearance, 2002 finalist Venus Williams vs. Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, who defeated Venus at this event six years ago.

Sunday’s full schedule is here.

Grand Slam

Fanless Wimbledon Still On The Cards For Next Year, Says Organisers

The grass-court Grand Slam, which was first held in 1877, has outlined it’s plans for the coming months.

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The All England Lawn Tennis Club has vowed to hold next year’s Wimbledon Championships even if it means the tournament taking place behind closed doors.

 

This year’s grass-court major was axed for the first time since World War Two due to the COVID-19 pandemic and was the only Grand Slam to be cancelled. Although unlike the other three premier events, Wimbledon had the luxury of a pandemic insurance to cover some of its costs. The policy cost in the region of £1.5 million per year and was paid for more than 15 years in a row. Although full details of the payout has not been made public.

However, it will be a different scenario next year with the tournament being unable to be insured by the same policy due to the ongoing pandemic. Now organizers are looking at three options regarding hosting the event with the possibility of a full capacity, reduced capacity or no fans at all. The US Open was held behind closed doors earlier this year but the French Open did allow a limited number of fans. Any decision will be influenced by government policy around the time the event will take place.

Staging The Championships in 2021 is our number one priority and we are actively engaged in scenario planning in order to deliver on that priority,” AELTC Chief Executive Sally Bolton said in a statement.
“I would like to thank the government and public health authorities for their ongoing advice which will continue to be invaluable as The Championships 2021 draws closer. At the same time, we are delighted to demonstrate confidence in Wimbledon with the renewal of several partnerships across our commercial programme which play a significant contribution to the successful staging of The Championships both in 2021 and in the future.”

Amid the uncertainty, Wimbledon is still managing to maintain a strong corporate portfolio with Rolex recently agreeing to extend their partnership. The Swiss luxury watch manufacturer has been working with the Grand Slam since 1978 when it was named the official timekeeper. The AELTC have also renewed deals with Jaguar, IBM, Robinsons and Pimm’s. Meanwhile, Sipsmith has been named the first official gin of the Championships.

As well as planning for next year, Wimbledon has also reiterated their commitment to support those during the pandemic via its charitable foundation. The Wimbledon Foundation has set up a £1.2m Coronavirus Fund to help people living across Merton and Wandsworth, London, as well as other parts of the country. £750,000 has already been donated to local charities and organisations. Furthermore, 30,000 towels meant to be used at this year’s tournament has been redistributed for alternative use by the Foundation. For example 4000 towels were given to the homeless charity Crises.

“Since the cancellation of The Championships 2020, we have worked hard to make a difference to those in our local community and beyond as the coronavirus continues to have a significant impact on people’s lives,” said AELTC chairman Ian Hewitt.
“As the winter period begins, we are pleased to be extending our hot meals programme to continue to help those in need locally for the challenging months ahead. We are committed to using the collective strength of Wimbledon – all the many facets of the Club, The Championships and our Foundation – to play our part.”

The 2021 Wimbledon Championships is set to take place between Monday, 28th June and Sunday, 11th July.

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Crunch Time Beckons For 2021 Australian Tennis Season, Warns Tiley

The tennis chief speaks out about the challenges he faces in the coming weeks ahead of the start of the new tennis season.

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The head of Tennis Australia admits that plans for tournaments at the start of next year are still up in the air as he waits to hear back from local government officials.

 

Craig Tiley will be overseeing the string of events which also include the premier Australian Open. Prior to the Grand Slam officials are hoping to stage a series of tournaments around the country like it has done in previous years. Although due to the COVID-19 pandemic some states still have border restrictions which makes travelling more challenging.

The ongoing restrictions will be the most troublesome for the ATP Cup which is a multi-team men’s event that took place across three cities this year with Novak Djokovic guiding Serbia to the title. Tiley remains optimistic that everything can go ahead as planned but admits the decision is out of his hands.

“We’re getting to crunch time now. We need commitments from the governments and the health officers,” he told the Australian Associated Press (AAP).
“We need to kind of know in the next two weeks, maybe a month, that this is what can happen: borders are going to open and then we can have a multi-city event.
“If we cannot have a multi-city event, we’ve got to reconsider everything.”

Another key issue will be the 14-day quarantine process players will have to go through. Something they didn’t have at either the US Open or French Open. The hope is local authorities will relax their rules and allow players to train during this period. Enabling Tennis Australia to create a ‘bubble’ for them to live within.

“Right now the challenge we have is the borders are still closed,” he said.
“So we’ve got a plan on the basis that there will be all open borders.
“So we’re working with all state governments. We completely accept that everyone coming from overseas has got to have two weeks in quarantine.
“What we are negotiating, or what we’re trying to have an agreement on, is that we set up a quarantine environment where they can train and go between the hotel and the courts in those two weeks.
“That’s similar to the AFL.
“The difference we have with the AFL is we are bringing in players from overseas so the stakes are higher.”

If players are not allowed to train during this period, Tiley has reportedly ruled out staging the event all together.

“If a player has to quarantine and be stuck in a hotel for two weeks just before their season, that won’t happen,” he stated on Thursday.
“You can’t ask players to quarantine for two weeks and then step out and be ready to play a grand slam.”

According to the AAP, the Melbourne major is set to take place with 25% of its usual crowd capacity and players will be allowed to travel with three members of their team.

The Australian Open is set to get underway on January 18th. Djokovic and Sofia Kenin are the reigning champions.

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Grand Slam

A Solitary Stroll Through Roland Garros

The small number of spectators reveals glimpses of the Parisian system that are often hidden

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PARIS – Seeing the avenues that connect the various fields of a relatively deserted Slam tournament is an experience that rarely happens during the course of the tournament, and is normally limited to the days or periods in which access is allowed only to staff members. During the 2020 French Open, however, it was quite common to see the areas in front of the various courts almost completely empty.

 

What you see below is the area between the southern Grandstand of the Philippe Chatrier court and the various commercial stands that border the area reserved to camera crews. When a match has just finished on the main court, that area becomes very crowded and going from the beginning to the end of that stretch, more or less 50 meters long, could take up to ten minutes.

The South Side of Court Philippe Chatrier


At the bottom of this passage is the new “Musketeers Square”, an open space that was enlarged for the 2020 edition thanks to the demolition of the old Court 1, the famous “bullring”, which was inaugurated in 1980 but has now been replaced by the Court Simonne Mathieu as the third most important court of the Roland Garros.

Musketeers Square
Court Philippe Chatrier seen from Musketeers Square

A giant screen has been placed in this area (to mimic Wimbledon’s notorious “Henman hill” and the US Open’s “main plaza” opposite the main entrance of Arthur Ashe Stadium), as well at tables for spectators and the main commercial stands for the sponsors of the tournament.

The Roland Garros Boutique
The East side of Musketeers Square

In the background of the Musketeers Square, to the left of this image is the tournament’s official Boutique, where the official Roland Garros merchandise is sold, while the gateway leading to the Serre d’Auteuil and the Court Simonne Mathieu is at the bottom, after the commercial stands and courts 2 and 4.

The Court Simonne Mathieu, inaugurated in 2019, was built as a compromise between the expansion of Roland Garros and the conservation of the Auteuil greenhouses. The court is surrounded by greenhouses, one on each side, which symbolize the ecosystem of four continents of the earth with plants typical of each of these habitats.

Returning to Philippe Chatrier, courts 2 and 4 can be seen – they are among those that have the smallest stands and are typically used for training during “standard” editions of the tournament. This year, however, players were not allowed to enter the facility on the days when they were not supposed to compete, and therefore these courts were used almost exclusively for matches.

Looking beyond the Philippe Chatrier court, you can see the unmistakable profile of the Court Suzanne Lenglen, in front of which there is a high relief dedicated to the unforgettable champion of the 1920’s.

Court Suzanne Lenglen

Part of the area in front of the second main court is currently a construction site, as two of the courts are being rebuilt as part of the project that will see a mobile roof built over the Suzanne Lenglen to allow the tournament to have a second court with a retractable roof and to prepare the facility to host boxing matches during the 2024 Paris Olympics.

During this year’s tournament, all the refreshment stands around the Suzanne Lenglen court were not opened due to the particularly low number of spectators (only 1000 per session allowed by the French authorities), including one that allowed order through the tournament’s app and to collect it without having to queue like in traditional stores.

Behind the Suzanne Lenglen, the newest area of ​​the facility is to be found, with courts numbered from 12 to 14, plus two training courts, number 15 and 16. All of these courts have been equipped with artificial lighting mounted on telescopic pylons so that they can be lowered during the day and thus not cause the characteristic shadows on the court that can disturb the players.

As a gift to the authorised press members, and to try to increase the turnover of the present bar, journalists were given the opportunity to access the catwalk on the sixth floor of the Philippe Chatrier, usually reserved for stand-up TV sports shows. A rather peculiar view of the matches on the main court is to be had up here – the area has some tables to the work as well as a fully functional air conditioning system.

Translated by Andrea Ferrero; edited by Tommaso Villa

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