Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal will chase history starting today in Paris.
For Serena, this is her 10th attempt at securing what has become an elusive 24th Major title. For Nadal, it’s his second bid to tie Roger Federer for most men’s Major singles titles. Also on Monday, the sport’s newest Major champion, Dominic Thiem, plays his first match since achieving that feat. In a tough opening round draw, he faces another US Open champion, Marin Cilic. They are joined today by fellow Slam champs Angelique Kerber, Garbine Muguruza, Petra Kvitova, and Svetlana Kuznetsova. Monday will be a busy day around the grounds of Roland Garros.
Dominic Thiem (3) vs. Marin Cilic
Just like yesterday, the men’s lineup is headlined by a meeting between two Major winners: the 2014 and 2020 US Open champions. In this unusual 2020, Thiem is back on court for another Major just 15 days after his US Open triumph. But Thiem should be fresh, coming off a rarity in his career: taking two weeks off. And this is Dominic’s best Slam: he’s reached the semifinals or better the last four years, and was the runner-up to Nadal the last two years. By contrast, this has been the worst Major for Cilic, though he has reached the quarterfinals twice since 2017. But it’s been a rough two seasons for Marin, who has not advanced beyond the fourth round of a Slam since 2018. Over the last two years, Cilic is just 7-5 on this surface. And he’s 0-3 lifetime against Thiem, which includes a four-set loss just a few weeks ago at the US Open. There’s no evidence to support a different outcome today.
Svetlana Kuznetsova (28) vs. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
This should be quite the battle between two Russian veterans. Kuznetsova was the champion here in 2009, though she hasn’t gone beyond the fourth round since 2014. Pavlyuchenkova has reached six Major quarterfinals in her career, including here in 2011, though she’s never advanced farther. Anastasia has actually been the better player in recent years. She reached two finals last fall, and the quarters of the Australian Open in January. Kuznetsova is just 1-7 at Majors in the last three years, yet she’s shown glimpses of her best tennis outside the Slams. She was the finalist in Cincinnati a year ago, and reached the semifinals of Doha earlier this year. Kuznetsova leads their head-to-head 6-3, which includes their only meeting on clay, four years ago in Paris. The clay certainly favors the former champion, who is the favorite in what could be a grueling encounter between two great fighters.
Gael Monfils (8) vs. Alexander Bublik
Well this is guaranteed to be entertaining. Both these unorthodox players prioritize having fun on court, sometimes at the expense of logic. Expect to see underhand serves, tweeners, and plenty of wry smiles. Monfils has reached the quarters or better here four times, though not since 2014. And while he won back-to-back hard court titles in February, the Frenchman is 0-2 on clay this month. 23-year-old Bublik is only 4-8 in his career at the Majors, but did reach the quarters of Hamburg last week as a lucky loser. And he owns victories this year over top 20 players Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime. However, Monfils has not lost in the first round of his home Slam since his debut 15 years ago. I don’t see that changing today, as there’s nothing Bublik does significantly better than Monfils. Their first career meeting should further reveal that.
Marketa Vondrousova (15) vs. Iga Swiatek
21-year-old Vondrousova was a surprise finalist here last June. She stormed through six rounds without dropping a set, taking out four seeded players along the way. Marketa would only play three more matches in 2019, as wrist surgery interrupted her upward trajectory. She started this season just 3-7, but regained some form two weeks ago in Rome, where she walloped Elina Svitolina 6-3, 6-0 on her way to the semifinals. Her opponent today is another of the WTA’s most promising stars: a 19-year-old from Poland who has already reached the round of 16 at two Majors. That includes last year at this event. Like Vondrousova, Swiatek had surgery following last year’s US Open, due to a foot injury. But Iga did not lose any momentum, advancing to the fourth round of the Australian Open in her first tournament back. This will be the first of what will hopefully be many matches between two engaging players with plenty of variety in their games. Vondrousova will surely feel pressure to back up her result here from a year ago, though that may be a bit alleviated with the knowledge she will not immediately lose her ranking points due to the current rankings freeze. But Swiatek is a tough first round draw, and it would not be surprising for the teenager to defeat the 2019 runner-up.
Madison Keys (12) vs. Shuai Zhang
The last time these two played, Keys left the court in tears. After winning the first set in the fourth round of the 2016 Australian Open, a left leg injury hampered the American, who toughed out the match but lost in three. This marked the first Major quarterfinal for Zhang, who had never won a match at a Slam prior to the event. Shuai was ranked outside the top 100 at the time, and had recently considered retirement due to her struggles on tour. Zhang would go on to reach another Major quarterfinal last year Wimbledon, though she’s only 4-8 lifetime at Roland Garros. But Keys has become one of the WTA’s more consistent performers at Grand Slam events. She hasn’t lost an opening round match since 2014, and has advanced to the quarters or better the last two years in Paris. Zhang owns a 3-2 record against Keys at all levels, though Madison claimed their only clay court meeting seven years ago in Rome. Madison retired from the US Open a few weeks ago with a neck issue, and hasn’t played since. Zhang meanwhile earned three clay court wins last week in Strasbourg. But if Keys is healthy, she has the tools to dictate the outcome, and overcome the painful memories of their last encounter.
Other Notable Matches on Day 2:
Three-time champion Serena Williams (6) vs. Kristie Ahn. These Americans played just a few weeks ago in this same round of the US Open, with Serena prevailing in straight sets.
12-time champion Rafael Nadal (2) vs. Egor Gerasimov, a 27-year-old from Belarus. While Gerasimov is 3-0 in the first round of his last three Majors, Nadal’s Roland Garros record of 93-2 is the real story.
2016 champion Garbine Muguruza (11) vs. Tamara Zidansek, a 22-year-old Slovenian who reached the final of a clay court event last year in Nuremberg.
A champion in Strasbourg just two days ago, Eliva Svitolina (3) vs. Varvara Grecheva, a 20-year-old Russian who came back from 6-1, 5-1 down to upset Kiki Mladenovic at the US Open.
Daniil Medvedev (4) vs. Marton Fucsovics. Medvedev leads their head-to-head 3-0, though Daniil is 0-3 in his career at the French Open.
Monday’s full schedule is here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A Solitary Stroll Through Roland Garros
The small number of spectators reveals glimpses of the Parisian system that are often hidden
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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