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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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Bubble, Bubble Toil & Probably Trouble 

Kristina Mladenovic (image via ubitennis.com)

Staging a tennis tournament during a pandemic was fraught with a great deal of worry. During a pre-event press conference on August 18, involving Michael Dowse, USTA CEO & Executive Director, USTA Chief Executive of Professional Tennis and Tournament Director Stacy Allaster, Dr. Bernard Camins, the Medical Director for Infection Prevention for the Mt. Sinai Health Systems, stated, “To clarify, if a player during competition were to test positive, under the New York State guidelines, that player would be withdrawn from the tournament, and we would begin isolation/quarantine protocols as outlined by the State of New York.

 

The press conference seemed to organize all of the virus related puzzle pieces. But, as proven to be the case throughout the US and around the world for that matter, Covid-19 plays by its own rules. Two days prior to the start of play, Benoît Paire of France tested positive and chaos ensued. Though he was out of the competition, he left an indelible mark. Electronic tracing found that Paire had spent time around countrymen Adrian Mannarino, Grégoire Barrère, Richard Gasquet and Édouard Roger-Vasselin, along with countrywoman, Kristina Mladenovic and two Belgium players, Kirsten Flipkens and Ysaline Bonaventure.

Due to that positive test, the “Paire Group” faced new restrictions including daily coronavirus testing and isolation from other players at their hotel and at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. (Initially, they were supposed to remain quarantined in their hotel until September 12th.)

As a result, some of the virus puzzle pieces had to be transformed. The change compelled the USTA to develop an entirely new set of procedures. Matters became even more confusing when Nassau County entered the fray. Dr. Camins had discussed following New York State guidelines, but the player hotels just happened to be in Nassau County. The location altered the protocol and made it essential for all of the players to sign yet another waiver. Unfortunately, the USTA had not worked with health care officials in that county which made it necessary to alter the rules for the players in the “Paire Group” once again. 

(As an aside, many wondered why two hotels so far from the National Tennis Center were used to house the players. Could it have been the result of the USTA negotiating a “good price” for the rooms needed? It was also pointed out there were instances when the “Bubble Hotels” were in fact, leaky bubbles. Some of the players, in residence, noted that assorted large group activities that weren’t related to tennis took place at the sites. The point – There were more open doors than everyone had been led to believe.)

The confusion surged when Mannarino and Alexander Zverev of Germany’s third round match was delayed for almost three hours while “can he play” negotiations took place. The contest finally took place, and Zverev triumphed in four sets.

Of all the players wrapped in the confusion’s netting, Mladenovic was the most thoroughly entwined. Leading 6-1, 5-1 in her second round match, she began to lose her poise, along with her confidence. She ended up dropping a 1-6, 7-6, 6-0 decision to Varvara Gracheva of Russian. Emotionally, following the contest, she said that the US Open was a nightmare of an experience and all she wanted to do was leave New York.

She probably should have started reading Shakespeare’s Macbeth interlude, “Song of the Witches” (“Double, double toil and trouble”) because her situation became worse. Seeded No. 1 in the Women’s Doubles with Timea Babos of Hungary, they had already scored a 6-2, 6-2 first round victory over Kaitlyn Christian of the US and Giuliana Olmos of Mexico. But, before their second round match, the duo was removed from the draw, thus losing an excellent opportunity to add another major to their collection of four.

The official statement said, “The USTA is obligated to adhere to government guidance at the State, City and County level. All persons who were identified as having had prolonged close contact with an infected player will quarantine in their rooms. Kristina Mladenovic was one of these individuals, and as the Women’s Doubles competition had begun, the women’s doubles team of Kristina Mladenovic and Timea Babos has been withdrawn from the US Open.”

It is important to note that after Paire’s initial positive test, all of his follow-up tests were negative. Everyone who had been exposed were tested daily and all of the results were negative. It is clear that Covid-19 is a virulent contagion. It is also clear that the USTA had not developed a realistic plan on how to fairly deal with those who were first exposed yet remained clean in all subsequent tests. L’Équipe , the legendary French daily sports newspaper, put the Bubble dealings in perspective with the  “US Open 2020: un tournoi amateur” headline.

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ATP

‘Time To Accept The Situation And Fight’ – Rafael Nadal Targets French Open Despite Foot Concern

After recently returning to the Tour following a rib injury, a flare up of another issue threatens to spoil Nadal’s Paris dreams.

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Image via Roberto Dell’Olivo

Just over a week before the start of the French Open Rafael Nadal once again finds himself nursing a long-term condition that sidelined him from the Tour for months last year.

 

The 21-time Grand Slam champion looked to be in visible discomfort during parts of his clash with Denis Shapovalov in the third round of the Italian Masters on Thursday. After clinching the opening set, Nadal fell 1-6, 7-5, 6-2, to the Canadian who registered his first-ever win over a top 10 player on clay and his 10th overall. He now faces a race against time to be ready for the French Open which he has won a record 13 times.

“I am not injured. I am a player living with an injury. That’s it, it is nothing new. It’s something that is there,” Nadal told reporters in Rome.

35-year-old Nadal suffers from Mueller-Weiss syndrome, which is a degenerative disease that causes a deformity of one of the bones in the central part of the foot. Due to the condition last year he was only able to play in one tournament over a six-month period. In September that year he underwent treatment on his foot but not surgery.

“My day-by-day is difficult, honestly. Even like this, I am trying hard. Of course, it’s difficult for me to accept the situation sometimes,” the former world No.1 said of his condition. “It can be frustrating that a lot of days I can’t practice the proper way.”

The setback occurred during what was only Nadal’s second tournament since returning to action following a rib injury. At last week’s Madrid Open he reached the quarter-finals before losing to compatriot Carlos Alcaraz. Nadal’s recent misfortunes follow what has been a blistering start to the season for him. He started 2022 by winning 20 matches in a row before losing to Taylor Fritz in Indian Wells. His win-loss for the season currently stands at 23-3 with three titles won, including the Australian Open.

During his visit to Roland Garros this year Nadal will be joined by his doctor who will be keeping a close eye on his foot. As to how much the condition could hinder his campaign in the French capital, the Spaniard admits that he doesn’t know due to its unpredictability.

First thing that I need to do is to not have pain to practice, that’s it. And the negative thing is today it’s not possible for me to play. But maybe in two days things will be better, that’s the thing that I have with my foot,” he explained.

Nadal is the most successful player in French Open history with a total of 105 main draw wins. In fact, the only players to have ever beaten him at the tournament are Novak Djokovic twice and Sweden’s Robin Soderling.

“It’s time to accept the situation and fight. That’s it. Honestly, I can’t say anything more now,” Nadal continued.
“I still have a goal (to be ready for the French Open) in one week and a couple of days. I’m going to keep dreaming about that goal.”

Nadal has played just five matches on clay this season heading into the French Open.

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Players Face Sanctions If They Make Pro-Putin Statements At French Open, Warns Mauresmo

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The tournament director of the French Open admits there is ‘no fair decision’ regarding the participation of Russian and Belarusian players in the Grand Slam.

 

Amelie Mauresmo, who is a former WTA No.1 player herself, confirmed that players from those countries will be allowed to play during an interview with French radio. Although they will only be allowed to play under a neutral status in line with the rules which have been adopted by other governing bodies of the sport. The action has been taken in response to Russia’s military assault on the Ukraine which began on February 24th. Belarus is suspected of supporting Russia in the conflict which has already killed thousands of people.

The stance of officials in Paris is a stark contrast to that of Wimbledon who has controversially implemented a ban on those players, as well as the LTA. Making it the first time The All England Club has excluded players due to their nationality since the World War Two Era when German and Japanese players weren’t allowed to participate. The ATP Tour is reportedly considering removing the allocation of points to the event in response to the ban.

Speaking about the issue, Mauresmo confirmed that action could be taken against any player who decides to make pro-Putin statements during the tournament. Although she didn’t elaborate on what penalties could be used if such a situation occurs.

“We have thought a lot, and I have the impression that there is no fair decision, one way or the other,” said Mauresmo. “We are in line with what European sports ministers have decided, we do not welcome teams but individual athletes. Obviously if an athlete speaks in the press for example and supports Vladimir Putin, sanctions will be taken. “

Providing an update on the upcoming tournament, Mauresmo says she is confident that this year’s tournament will have an almost full attendance. Confirming that “tickets are sold at more than 90-95%” of its capacity in what she hails as a ‘real success’ for the tournament. Last year’s edition took place with a restricted capacity due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This year’s French Open will begin on May 22nd. Novak Djokovic and Barbora Krejcikova are the defending champions.

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REPORT: ATP Player Representatives Backs Move To Strip Wimbledon Of Ranking Points Over Ban

It is understood that emergency meetings are taking place as momentum gathers to take an unprecedented move against the grass-court major.

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Aerial view across the grounds as spectators watch the big screen on the outside of No.1 Court in the sunshine at The Championships 2021. Held at The All England Lawn Tennis Club, Wimbledon. Day 7 Monday 05/07/2021. Credit: AELTC/Joe Toth

This year’s Wimbledon Championships could be entering into chaos after multiple reports suggest that there is growing support for the ATP to take a hardline approach to the tournament over their decision to ban Russian and Belarussian players.

 

According to multiple British media sources, the ATP Tour player representatives have endorsed the unprecedented move to remove all ranking points from the Grand Slam, as well as other events taking place in Britain this year. Something which has never happened in the Open Era. Supporters of the approach argue that it would create a fairer system with the players who are not allowed to participate.

Last month The All England Club and the British Lawn Tennis Association became the first organizations in the sport to ban Russian and Belarussian players over the war in Ukraine. Until then, it was agreed by tennis’ seven governing bodies that those players will be allowed to play on the Tour but only as neutral athletes and their federations have been suspended from team events. However, Wimbledon said their stance was made following recommendations from the British government, as well as taking into account other factors.

“We believe we have made the most responsible decision possible in the circumstances and that, within the framework of the government’s position, there is no viable alternative to the decision we have taken in this truly exceptional and tragic situation.” AELTC chairman Ian Hewitt recently told reporters.

Organizers did consider a proposal to let players participate but only if they signed a declaration condemning the actions of their governments but decided against doing so over safety concerns. Russia currently has strict laws in places concerning the war and thousands of people have been arrested for taking part in anti-war protests.

The bold move has prompted criticism from many leading names on the Tour. Former Wimbledon champions Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal have all previously voiced their opposition.

“I think it’s very unfair (on) my Russian tennis mates, my colleagues. It’s not their fault what’s happening in this moment with the war,” said Nadal.

Emergency talks are now set to take place amid the threat of removing points from Wimbledon. Each of the four Grand Slam tournaments has the biggest number of ranking points on offer on the Tour with the singles winner being awarded 2000 points. Whilst Wimbledon is independent from the Tour, it is the ATP who has control over the allocation of ranking points.

It is also unclear as to what action the women’s WTA Tour will take and if they will follow the same rumoured approach as the ATP. Steve Simon, who is the CEO of the WTA, has previously warned that his governing body would make ‘strong reaction’ but didn’t elaborate on what that might be. According to The Daily Mail, the ATP is trying to work alongside the women’s Tour in some capacity regarding this matter.

It is unclear as to when a final decision will be made.

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