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US Open: Odds & Ends

Instead of traveling through the entire alphabet from A-Z looking back at the US Open fortnight at the USTA National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadow, New York, here is an “Odds & Ends” collection that glances at just what happened.

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Dominic Thiem - US Open 2020 (via Twitter, @usopen)
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Dominic Thiem of Austria dramatically downed Alexander Zverev of Germany, in five sets to take away his first major championship trophy in the Men’s US Open final. The day before, Naomi Osaka’s impressive comeback earned her a third Slam title in a three set match in the Women’s title round against a resurrected Victoria Azarenka. Ordinarily, these victories would have been the perfect beginning to this Grand Slam tournament summary. But, in a championship featuring the inexplicable, this year’s US Open showcased a variety of differences. All of this and more is the reason  “Odds & Ends” takes a look back at an event that was out of the ordinary. It will provide insights defining the unique happenings during the fortnight that took place in what was called a bubble, but the bubble was bound to leak, and in some cases – actually burst with a bang and not a fizzle. 

 

Novak Emulates An Earl  

image via ubitennis.com

Story after story has been written about Novak Djokovic, the No. 1 seeded Serbian and rightfully the odds on favorite to claim his 18th Grand Slam singles title, losing his direction mentally. It all began with Djokovic having just lost his serve to trail 5-6 in the first set of a fourth round match with Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain. As he was unhappily changing sides, he retrieved a tennis ball from his pocket and petulantly and blindly whacked it behind him. He was frustrated. But, instead of hitting the back fence at Arthur Ashe Stadium, the ball slammed into Laura Clark, a lineswoman, hitting her in the throat. She fell to the court gasping for air. 

Actually, the rules are very clear as to what should have happened. Djokovic had crossed the bad behavior line and he should have been defaulted immediately. That didn’t happen until after a ten plus minute United Nations-like debate took place. Soeren Friemel, US Open Tournament Referee, Andreas Egli, Grand Slam Supervisor and Aurelie Tourte, Chair Umpire, gathered at the net while Djokovic pleaded his defenseless case. 

Admitting he had lost his temper, he stressed that he didn’t hit the linesperson on purpose. Summarizing his comments, “You can give me a point penalty…or a game penalty…You have many options. You say you have no choice but you do have choices…She didn’t have to go to the hospital or anything…You have options, you don’t have to default me. This is the first time this has happened to me in a Grand Slam…happened to me on the big stage. I know it’s tough for you whatever call you make, but I shouldn’t be defaulted…” In reality there was no need for a confab. By rule, a default was the correct response. 

Maybe it’s the New York eclectic vibe, but over the years, there have been some genuinely atomic reactions at the tournament. Who can forget 1979 when Ilie Nastase, the rambunctious Romanian, interrupted his 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 second round loss to John McEnroe with an almost twenty minute long tirade-stall that could never have led to much of anything, except perhaps Nastase’s last gasp.

This was certainly on the list of the Top 10 Most Memorable Eruptions, but No. 1 on The Most Unforgettable list took place in 1951 when the tournament was known as the US National Championships and was played on grass at Forest Hills. Coincidentally, the match between Gardnar Mulloy and Earl Cochell, was like the Djokovic – Carreno Busta affair, a fourth round contest. Mulloy, the No. 11 seed, defeated Cochell, 4-6, 6-2, 6-1, 6-2. 

The score turned out to be incidental due to Cochell’s behavior. Ranked in the US Top 10 from 1947-1950, he had “game” attached to an “explosive temper”. Renowned New York Times sportswriter Allison Danzig pointed out in his column that Cochell temperament was on “full display”. The highlights included hitting a ball out of the stadium, making a feeble attempt to return a Mulloy serve with the racquet in his left hand. (He was righthanded.) He added to his performance by serving underhanded. The crowd reacted vociferously and Cochell, ever the showman, climbed the umpire’s chair, trying to grab the microphone so he could address the unhappy fans. 

He failed. But, of course he wasn’t finished. In the locker room following the match Tournament Referee, S. Ellsworth Davenport, confronted him. Rather than seeking to make amends, he unleashed an obscenity-laced tirade. Two days later on August 31, 1951, he earned the distinction of being banned for life by the United States Lawn Tennis Association — now the USTA. The ban was eventually rescinded in 1962, but by then he was well past his prime. (Since he turned 98 in May, perhaps he could reach out and compare notes with Djokovic.)

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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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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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