While the recent US Open Women’s Singles was difficult to predict, the form of Simona Halep and other top players makes the 2020 French Open seem like much more of a closed shop.
As with the draw at Flushing Meadows, there are some notable absentees. World No.1 Ashleigh Barty has elected to stay in Australian due to coronavirus concerns. While 2020 US Open champion Naomi Osaka and 2019 US Open champion Bianca Andreescu are both missing due to injury.
However, these are the only three players in the world’s top 30 who have not made the trip to Paris, so there is a very strong field for the 5,000 lucky spectators in the stadium and the millions watching at home to enjoy.
Halep Is The Clear Favourite
The 2020 French Open title is Simona Halep’s to lose. Since the restart, she has played ten matches on clay and won them all. These wins secured the titles in Prague and Rome.
Just as importantly, the Romanian is arguably the best female clay court player in the world. She is one-time winner and a three-time finalist at Roland Garros, and it would be very surprising if she did not get close to the title again this year.
However, there is one significant demon for Halep to vanquish. She was beaten by Amanda Anisimova in the quarter-final last year. And she is seeded to face the talented American teenager in the third round this time.
If the Romanian gets past Anisimova, she will probably face either Dayana Yastremska or Marketa Vondrousova in the last 16. Halep beat the Ukrainian in their first meeting in Rome last week. But she might be worried if she faces the Czech, who beat her twice in 2019.
The other seeded players in the Romanian’s quarter are also dangerous. Johanna Konta is set to meet Maria Sakkari in the third round if she survives an opening round encounter with Cori Gauff. And fifth seed Kiki Bertens, who suffered an injury scare in Strasbourg, is due to face 2009 champion Svetlana Kuznetsova at the same stage.
Serena Lands Devilish Draw
Serena Williams has reached five Grand Slam finals in the last four years. But none of them have been at Roland Garros. And unfortunately for fans of the American, there is no reason to expect that to change this year.
In an extraordinary quirk of fate, Williams will face the same first-round opponent she took on at the US Open: Kristie Ahn. She could then meet two more Flushing Meadows foes. She may face Tsvetana Pironkova in the second round and the woman who beat her, Victoria Azarenka, in the fourth round.
Elina Svitolina will be confident about her chances of making it through the other half of the quarter. She should breeze through the opening three rounds. Then she will have to play well to beat either Elise Mertens or Anett Kontaveit in the last 16. The Ukrainian will then have to perform even better to overcome either Williams or Azarenka in the last eight.
Muguruza Can Seize Chance To Shine
Garbine Muguruza is the outstanding player in the third quarter of the draw. She is one of only five former champions taking part in the French Open this year.
The Spaniard is also in form. She beat four excellent players – Sloane Stephens, Gauff, Konta and Azarenka – en route to the semi-final in Rome last week. And she might have gone on to claim the title if she had not run into Halep.
After these performances, confidence will be high for Muguruza. However, she could have a tricky third-round encounter to negotiate if Jennifer Brady maintains the momentum she established by reaching the US Open semi-final.
If the Spaniard beats the American, she may face eighth seed Aryna Sabalenka in the last 16 and then Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin in the quarter-final. While both are high-class players, Muguruza should be considered the favourite in both potential clashes.
There are several players in this quarter that could spring a surprise and reach the last eight. One is Ons Jabeur, who is due to face Sabalenka in round three. Another is Donna Vekic, who could take on Kenin at the same stage. Finally, there is an intriguing last-32 encounter on the cards between 14th seed Elena Rybakina and 22nd seed Karolina Muchova. Either of these two young talents could cause problems for the top players.
Will Pliskova Be Fit Enough To Challenge?
In the Rome final, Karolina Pliskova retired for the first time in her professional career due to a left thigh injury. Despite this, the Czech is in the draw for the French Open and she is determined to compete.
If the World No.2 is able to play, she should easily overcome whichever qualifier she takes on in the first round. After that, it will probably become much tougher for her. She could face the always-dangerous 2017 champion Jelena Ostapenko in round two, Stephens in round three, clay-court specialist Petra Martic in round four and Petra Kvitova in the quarter-final. All of those matches are potential banana skins for Pliskova.
Madison Keys and Angelique Kerber provide the main obstacles for 7th seed Kvitova. The Czech is seeded to meet either the American or the German in the last 16. Whoever emerges victorious from that clash will fancy their chances of reaching the semi-finals.
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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