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Guillermo Vilas: The Number One That Never Was

UbiTennis has collected the words that journalists and reviewers around the world have written on the new Netflix documentary, “Guillermo Vilas: Settling the Score”, which depicts a 12-year-long campaign to have the ATP recognise the Argentine champion as a former world number one.

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This article was originally published by “Lo Slalom”, an Italian newsletter 

 

On rewriting history or just making it clearer, by Monica Platas, Mundo Deportivo

Now 68, during his tennis career the Argentinian won four Grand Slam tournaments. In particular, in 1977 he won the Roland Garros, the US Open and 14 more tournaments, for a career total of 62. He had a record 53-match winning streak on clay courts, a feat surpassed only by Nadal. Vilas climbed to the second spot in the world ranking on April 30, 1975, keeping it for 83 weeks, but he never reached the top.

Netflix has just released a documentary titled “Guillermo Vilas: Settling the Score”. It describes the statistical investigation of Argentine journalist Eduardo Puppo, who demonstrates how and why the ATP never recognised that Vilas should have been No. 1 in the ranking at least once during the best years of his career.

Vilas was famous for several things:  his Southpaw shotmaking, amazing topspin, long hair, and bizarre behaviour. The newly founded Grand Prix circuit made use of very rudimentary technology in order to compute the players’ ranking, a system that painstakingly lacked rigor in its calculations. Because of this, the ATP does not recognise Vilas as a former number one to this day, but Eduardo Puppo has spent twelve years campaigning for the Argentine to be given what’s due. He produced a detailed report of 25,000 pages, recalculating the rankings in the period between August 1973 and the end of 1978. He finally demonstrated that Vilas did actually climb to the top of the rankings, outperforming Borg and Connors during some periods.

The Netflix documentary film shows the reporter’s frustrated illusion and emotional exhaustion facing this daunting task, but Puppo’s disappointment for the ATP’s repeated refusal to update the records is also central to the narrative. In an e-mail, the reporter is told: “Please don’t rewrite history.” This personal, professional and emotional journey on Puppo’s part is an effective narrative way to see again the biography of Guillermo Vilas in parallel with the Puppo’s work. In the documentary, we can listen to some fragments of the tape recordings that Vilas himself recorded while traveling around the world (these fragments were actually useless due to the low quality of the sound). The documentary film poses an interesting dilemma: since the aim of Puppo’s work is to recognize the merits of an athlete’s career, is this just an attempt to rewrite the history or is it a bona fide act of justice? The documentary includes statements by Federer, Becker, Nadal, Sabatini, Wilander and Borg honouring Guillermo by acknowledging his prominence in the sport. Neither Guillermo Vilas nor his journalist friend got the recognition they were looking for, but even if it’s not the same, the documentary will forever remain as a tribute. It does not help to rewrite the history of tennis, but it helps to explain it better. 

A healed fracture by Furio Zara, Blog Overtime Festival

A man, an obsession, an injustice. A story of sports and life. This documentary is a little gem that helps to define clearly and with love the profile of a champion mocked by ill fate.

What a fabulous tennis player. Vilas is manly, intractable, but only for a just cause. Ambition’s fire burned inside him. He was the son of a lawyer, raised in the comfort of the Argentine middle class. A pure lefty, he wore a band in his hair like his frenemy Borg; an introverted man by nature, women loved him nevertheless. A poet on and off the court, he dedicated a composition to Caroline, Princess of Hanover.  One of the best players on the dirt, he considered Wimbledon a court of “grass for cows.” Never to be tamed, he was capable of sensational strokes, a revolutionary who changed the history of tennis and was a role model for those who came after him. He is the father of the “Gran Willy”, also known as the tweener. His back to the net, he hit the ball in mid-air between his legs. He said: “The idea came to my mind while observing an ad with the Argentine tennis player Juan Carlos Harriott. He hit a ball under the legs of a horse, obviously not with the racket but with a polo mallet. It seemed fantastic and I mimicked it in my game.”

The documentary was helmed by Mexican director Matias Guilbert. It shows the fondness for Vilas of authentic tennis legends such as Bjorn Borg, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Rod Laver and Gabriela Sabatini. Federer honours him by saying, “he had a great influence on the tennis players who came after him.” Nowadays, Vilas is a 68-year-old man, an aging “bandolero” from the Pampas. He is suffering due to a neurodegenerative disease – there are only few moments of mental clarity in his daily life. As the title suggests, the aim of the documentary was not just to create a tribute to an unforgettable champion, but also to finally make things right.  

The gift of imperishable memory for a man who is losing his own by Marco Ciriello, Facebook

It is a hard sell to demonstrate that mistakes were made in the computing of the tennis rankings and that Guillermo Vilas was the best player in the world at some point in the mid-1970s. Journalist Eduardo Puppo has done it, analysing matches and figures, and spent years seeking the evidence to pay tribute to this champion and to get him the accomplishment he deserves. While Puppo was looking for data, points and therefore gestures, victories, cities, fields, tournaments, racquets, Vilas lost his memory. The Netflix documentary film, “Guillermo Vilas: Settling the Score”, describes this endeavour, with the tapes recorded by Vilas reminiscing on his life, and the charts by Puppo aa a sort of backdrop to his playing career. It is a great act of love: for tennis, truth, and justice. People that do not know who Vilas is will fall in love with him. They will appreciate him not only for his lefty shots or for the strength of his game at the net. They will think highly of him also for Hendrix, for his vision of the world and his way of life, for having shown that an Argentine and a Swede (Borg) can complement each other: “Your forehand sucks like my backhand, so we helped each other.” Those who already know and love him will find more reasons to hold him in such high regard.

How Vilas’s undefeated streak came to an end, by Gianni Clerici 

An Austrian genius, Werner Fisher, invented a curious way of stringing racquets, and a Yankee philologist nicknamed them “Spaghetti Racquets”. The rotation of the ball was so impressive that an outraged Vilas withdrew from the final of the Aix-en-Provence tournament against Nastase, who played the previous match with the “Spaghetti”. This kind of racket was belatedly declared illegal, Vilas’s long streak already broken at this point.

Vilas’s tears, by Mariano Ryan, Clarín 

Is it necessary that Guillermo Vilas be recognized for what he was on a tennis court, i.e. a number one, a position he already occupies in Argentinian sports lore? And is it really essential, in order to understand his prominence, that someone should review his files and grant him the status of world-best for a few weeks, when for a whole year he clearly paced all his opponents? Is the ATP compelled to listen to the truth uncovered by Puppo in the documentary in order to provide justice? It is very likely that everything will remain as it has been until now and that the campaign will never produce the results it set out to accomplish. Nevertheless, his titles and triumphs cannot be cancelled. The image of Vilas will never change in people’s memory. A champion on and off the court. A stubborn man who wanted to be the best at what he did, and he was the best, for sure.  His tears at the end of the documentary will last.

The reason behind Guillermo’s tears, from La Naciòn 

This touching moment has its own story to tell. It happened at the end of 2016, just before the best Argentine tennis player in history moved to Monte Carlo. Vilas and Puppo were having a conversation about a book in progress. During their meeting, the camera was accidentally left on, and in that moment Vilas’s emotional distress fully showed. He couldn’t bear what he considered an injustice that had lasted for many years. Puppo holds him in the scene, hugs him and even mentions something about a tattoo on Guillermo’s left arm honouring Alejandro, the little brother he barely knew. When they became aware of the existence of that accidental registration, Puppo, Vilas and an attorney, Adrián Sautu de la Riestra, agreed that it should be included in the documentary film, despite the personal nature of the moment.

Earthly justice comes first, by Carlos Navarro, Punto de Break

The ending of the documentary is a sudden gut-punch. It’s akin to a stratospheric fifth set, an exciting title won in stoppage time. These final moments are the perfect conclusion to a journey that starts with the first steps of a young Argentine on the pro tour who ends up carving a spot for himself on the Mount Olympus of tennis. I don’t know if this beautiful Netflix documentary film will change anything. Neither the number one assigned by Tennis World magazine nor years of research can probably do that. What I do know is that it has become a proof to how humble people can do extraordinary things, of how an Argentine journalist and a Romanian mathematician could change the history of an entire sport. Vilas will end up being what he should have been because his life is in its final stages and earthly justice must come before higher ones.

The fragile Titans, by Andrés Burgo, La Nación

Fame, idolatry and eternity. But what about that number one spot? What is it to be the best? Few times I have seen a Titan look as fragile as Guillermo Vilas does in Netflix’s thrilling documentary. When I say fragile, I’m not talking about his health (that’s a private matter), but rather because, despite almost half a century passing by, the old gladiator still wants that the ATP to rectify its rankings. He is a champion, and we believe we are the ones who need champions, although maybe it’s the other way around. We believe that a champion is invincible. The ATP is more hateful than FIFA. Thinking about Maradona, a colleague reminds me of how interviews with Diego always ended in the 90s. “What do you miss in your life?” the reporter asked. “Being more beloved by the people,” Diego replied.

Borg never learned how to pronounce his first name, by Christopher Clarey (New York Times), via Twitter

The ATP did not release rankings regularly in the years when Vilas would have been the world N.1. The old system was based on players’ average results and thus penalized workhorses like Vilas. What I know for sure is he had the best season of any man in 1977. You would need a heart of stone not to feel Vilas’s pain in this film. It was not his quest in many ways. It started without him being aware of it, but being recognized as No. 1 clearly matters deeply to him. This film is also a chance to see remarkable footage of the young Vilas: flowing hair, soulful disposition and legs of steel. The strokes look languid in comparison to what Nadal & Co. do today. The game has evolved and, in my opinion, improved. But Vilas and Borg were great athletes who could have been stars today. Fun fact from the documentary: he and Borg were close friends despite the fact that the latter apparently never learned how to pronounce Guillermo’s first name.

A negative review

“My life is a discovery. I always look for meaning in every circumstance. The first time I saw fire, I burned myself and it was magnificent. It was warm and appealing, and I thought, ‘What if I touch it? Maybe the heat will get inside me. This is how I discovered the world and how I got here.’” In this way, Guillermo Vilas introduces himself in the documentary film directed by Matías Gueilburt. It’s a film about the Argentine athlete who was one of the great protagonists of world tennis in the 70s and 80s. He began hitting obsessively the ball against a wall in the garage of his house when he was six years old. The only restriction set by his mother was that he could break only one lightbulb a day. He was a stubborn son who chose an ostensibly “unprofitable career” against his parents’ wishes, a would-be lawyer in a country where idols were boxers like Carlos Monzón, Formula 1 drivers like Carlos Reutemann, and footballers like Mario Kempes. The work flows in a very scholastic way in comparison with other two that could be defined more experimental and fascinating, like “John McEnroe. In the realm of perfection”, directed by Julien Faraut and “Subject to Review”, directed by Theo Anthony. The documentary sifts through stock footage, unpublished audio (46 different samples!) recorded by Vilas himself since 1973, as well as interviews with champions who weigh in on his value as a player and on the innovations he brought to the game.

The story suddenly switches gears (and not for the better) when the world rankings come into play. The title and the opening minutes of the documentary evoke the image of a lonely man going through his growth and consecration while pigeonholing the different turning points that change his destiny from an open to a one-way path. A path with a final destination – triumph. Then, the narrative changes. From the obsessions of the man from Buenos Aires, we move to the obsession of a journalist, Eduardo Puppo, who tries to carry on Vilas’s battle. He wants to demonstrate that in some periods (especially 1975 and 1977, the year when Vilas won over 50 matches in a row) Vilas was at the top of the world rankings, despite the ATP claiming otherwise. The wish to re-write history is the reason why the quality of the documentary dips. The darkness and the demons that stir both in the champion and in his unexpected supporter vanish from the narration, losing the audience and blowing out the fire that constituted its initial appeal. (by Mazzino Montinari, Il Manifesto)

Translated by Giuseppe Di Paola; edited by Tommaso Villa

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Who Are The Best Hard Court Creators In The Last 12 Months?

Here are some of the best players at earning break points on a hard court in the last 12 months.

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Garbine Muguruza (@Tennis - Twitter)

As the Australian Open, slowly, approaches UbiTennis looks at the biggest hard court creators from the last 52 weeks.

 

Although winning matches are determined on how many break point opportunities you convert, to convert the break points you need to create them in the first place.

This can be the biggest challenge but for the players below this isn’t a problem as they are able to consistently create break point opportunities on a hard court.

Starting with the women, it may be a surprise to nobody that Garbine Muguruza, one of the more aggressive returners on the tour leads the way, earning on average 10.4 break points in the last 52 weeks on a hard court.

Muguruza’s hard-hitting style mixed with controlled placement puts her in pole position to punish her opponents on return.

There are also other big hitters in the top 10 such as Petra Kvitova, who averages 9.6 break points while Aryna Sabalenka earns 9.5 break points on a hard court.

While 2020 grand slam champions Iga Swiatek (9.8) and Naomi Osaka (9.3) also feature on this list.

Meanwhile on the men’s side it is Roger Federer who leads this list on average earning 10.8 break points, slightly more than Garbine Muguruza who is on top of the women’s list.

Federer is just ahead of Roberto Bautista Agut with 10.5 break points. This shows just how much Bautista Agut has improved on hard courts in the last 12 months being able to create so many break point opportunities with his return game.

Also featuring on this list are Alexander Zverev (9.2), Novak Djokovic (8.5) and Daniil Medvedev (8.3).

These are the players to look out for when seeing the players who are most likely to create opportunities in their respective draws and who the biggest servers may want to avoid in the Australian Open.

Here are the full lists of the top 10 from each tour and remember the Australian Open is set to begin on the 8th of February.

WTA Top 11 – Most Break Points Earned On A Hard Court In Last 52 Weeks

  1. Garbine Muguruza – 10.4
  2. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova – 10.2
  3. Saisai Zheng – 9.9
  4. Iga Swiatek – 9.8
  5. Anett Kontaveit – 9.6
  6. Petra Kvitova – 9.6
  7. Petra Martic – 9.6
  8. Aryna Sabalenka – 9.5
  9. Ons Jabeur – 9.5
  10. Simona Halep – 9.3
  11. Naomi Osaka – 9.3

ATP Top 12 – Most Break Points Earned On A Hard Court In Last 52 Weeks

  1. Roger Federer – 10.8
  2. Roberto Bautista Agut – 10.5
  3. Alexander Zverev – 9.2
  4. John Millman – 8.9
  5. Dominic Thiem – 8.9
  6. Guido Pella – 8.8
  7. Cristian Garin – 8.5
  8. Novak Djokovic – 8.5
  9. David Goffin – 8.4
  10. Adrian Mannarino – 8.3
  11. Daniil Medvedev – 8.3
  12. Grigor Dimitrov – 8.3

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The Strange Talent Of Daniil Medvedev: The Further He Stands Behind The Baseline, The More He Wins

A few statistics on the return position of the Russian during the 2020 ATP Finals. In the match against Zverev, he returned the serve as far as seven (7!) meters behind the baseline.

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Let’s go back to the year-end tournament, the ATP Finals won by Daniil Medvedev, as seen through Craig O’Shannessy’s lens. This analysis compares the Russian’s return position with that of the opponents he defeated and of the players who featured in the 2018 and 2019 editions of the tournament. Here, we complete the analysis begun by Andrea Canella in this article, which focuses on the return and the serve of the Russian.

 

First off, a technical caveat: we do not have access to the full dataset analysed by O’Shannessy, but only to the data the article provides. This includes the interactive screens of Medvedev’s matches against Zverev (round robin) and Thiem (final).  At any rate, the statistics refers to 44 of the 45 matches played in the past three editions of the ATP Finals.

O’Shannessy’s comparison shows that nobody returned serves as far behind the baseline as Daniil Medvedev – he has played eight matches at the 02 Arena, with five of these placing him in the Top 5 of this special ranking.

While the top players returned the first serve on an average 1.9 meters behind the baseline, Medvedev return position was between 4.51 and 5.51 meters off, a record distance registered in his opening match against Zverev, whom he defeated 6-3 6-4. 

Medvedev’s return hit point in the match against Zverev

Medvedev returned so far off the baseline that even the ATP Infosys graphic system struggled to show the dots indicating his position – the Infosys system observe returns up to 5 meters off the baseline. But visual inspection suggests that a few returns happened about 7 meters behind the line: it’s almost the width between football goalposts.

The antipode of the Russian’s approach was Federer’s against Nishikori in 2018, a match won in two sets by the Japanese. Perhaps to save some energies, the Swiss hit 36 returns on the first serve at an average of 22 cm behind the baseline, barely three palms. Federer is obviously a player who contributes to lowering the average returning distance, but despite this, the gap has significantly increased during the 2019 and 2020 editions – not surprisingly, the two years when Medvedev qualified for the Finals. 

Average first serve return distance:

• 2018 = 1.41 meters
• 2019 = 1.73 meters
• 2020 = 2.55 meters

Before we get back to Medvedev, let us take a look at the top-players’ stats concerning the return on the second serve. Needless to say, most tennis players place themselves as close as possible to the baseline (or even inside the court) when returning the second serve. Interestingly, tennis players over the past few years have gradually moved back from the baseline to a point where the average return position of the second serve in 2020 equals that of 2018 – but on the first serve!

Average second serve return distance

• 2018 = 0.23 meters
• 2019 = 1.25 meters
• 2020 = 1.43 meters

In 2018, tennis players returned the second serve having their feet inside the court on average 15 times out of 30 (the ATP Finals have 15 matches, meaning 30 performances in return). In 2020, that number dipped to 6 out of 30. Going into details on second serve returns, O’Shannessy makes a controversial point here, suggesting that tennis players nowadays move further and further back when returning the second serve than the first – usually, things are not like this. However, that was the case in this year’s semi-final between Medvedev and Nadal. Let’s have a look to the detailed data: 

Medvedev

• distance vs Nadal’s first serve = 3.15 meters
• distance vs Nadal’s second serve = 3.85 meters

Nadal

• distance vs Medvedev’s first serve = 3.58 meters
• distance vs Medvedev’s second serve = 4.13 meters

The Russian and the Spaniard both have a natural tendency to need room on their serve returns, partly because they trust their own ability to return a serve this deep, even far off the baseline, and partly because they are inclined to play closer to the canvas than to the court. Both are extraordinarily defensive players, a behaviour reflected in their return positions. Still, we cannot say that they always take a step backwards on the second serve rather than on the first without analysing the data.

Unfortunately, the ATP does not provide these statistics on a seasonal basis, but the link in O’Shannessy’s article specifies that he’s discussing “historical” data, indicating that Medvedev’s distance on first-serve return was 4.07 meters, while the distance on second-serve return was 2.73 meters. We do not know exactly what those data cover, however – it could be this tournament or the whole of 2020, or, indeed, every match played by the Russian in the tournaments which collect this kind of data. But the sample is large enough to raise doubt that Medvedev actually moves further beyond the court on the second serve than on the first serve.

Moreover, as mentioned earlier, the match between Nadal and Medvedev was statistically anomalous for other reasons as well. Proof of the semi-final’s peculiarity, and of Medvedev’s chameleon-like nature, emerges from the numbers of the final against Thiem, where the Russian’s strategy was almost opposite to the patterns shown in the semi-final against Nadal. He moved forward and very close to the baseline on the second serve, returning at an average distance of 85 cm. What’s more, he got progressively closer on the second serve over the three sets (1,11 m – 0,87 m – 0,50 m) while at the same time increasingly moving back in order to return the first serve (2,87 m – 3,34 m – 3,88 m). It would follow from this that Medvedev tried to exploit Thiem’s technical flaws, e.g. pretty wide backswings, which make he finds it difficult to handle the balls returning to him faster than expected after his serve, especially with the lower bounce of indoor play. Furthermore, the Austrian just needs the slightest chance to crush the opponents with his fast pace, and it is likely that the Russian simply tried to obstruct this. 

O’Shannessy emphasises that Medvedev’s tendency to retuning the serve from far behind the court could be an attempt to turn the game into a neutral baseline battle. In this scenario, Medvedev can move like a carp in a freshwater lake (possibly with no fishermen around): “it’s essentially just another groundstroke,” says the expert. 

In conclusion, the analysis is interesting (even if only partial), because it tells us a number of things about Medvedev:

  • he doesn’t need to stay glued to the baseline to win tournaments
  • he moves back and forward on returning depending on game situations and the characteristics of his opponents 
  • because of him (as well as Thiem), the average return-distance at the Finals is increasing.

But the present numbers are not enough to say that tennis players generally return the serve further from the baseline – larger samples are needed to draw firm conclusions – and that they return the second serve further than the first.

Article by Alessandro Stella; translated by Claudia Marchese; edited by Tommaso Villa

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Ubaldo Scanagatta’s 2021 Predictions To “Strike” Everyone: Federer, Djokovic, Nadal, Thiem, Sinner, and Serena Williams

More than half of the predictions made a year ago came true. The future of Medvedev, Tsitsipas, Zverev, Rublev, Murray, ATP Cup, Davis Cup, Osaka, Barty, Azarenka. Who is going to retire? The ATP finals in Turin and the Italian who will participate.

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Dear friends of Ubitennis, this 2020, a rueful year that has finally gone without even apologising for its own existence, was about to give you the latest bad news! What could be worse than the sudden and unexpected disappearing of the Crystal Bald, the only magician who really understands the game of tennis? 

 

The stress caused by this horrible 2020 was hard on him too. It will be said that “misery loves company” because no magician – absolutely no one and not even the legendary Nostradamus – had foreseen the pandemic, no horoscope had mentioned it, but nonetheless it was too hard a blow to absorb for his immeasurable pride to realise that he had made predictions also for the six months of hiatus – he couldn’t act as if nothing had happened.

It is also true, as a partial excuse, that the Crystal Bald reads the future in a rickety silver salad bowl which for over a century has been called, for some reason, the Davis Cup. Anyone can guess how much more difficult it is to see through it, after that a year ago it was suddenly and incredibly muddled by a Spanish gentleman, a certain Piquè, so señor, who moves with cleats under his shoes and works with his feet rather than his hands and a racquet, and who is probably more adept to padel than tennis. 

However, in the end, despite breathing hard, his oxygenation at 92, the Bald did not want to miss the appointment. Many colleagues of his have become famous by:

  • interpreting the past on the basis of clues caught with ruthless cunning 
  • committing as little as possible and with the greatest possible vagueness (Nostradamus) 
  • giving sibylline answers (just like the Cumaean Sibyl) that allow for a thousand loopholes in the event that the foretold does not occur 
  • eluding any confrontation with the one’s previous prophecies in order not to lose credibility in cases of blatantly wrong predictions. 

But the Crystal Bald is unique among all wizards because he is intellectually honest, and he is not influenced by those behaviours that his fraudulent and unscrupulous colleagues have instead adopted. 

Let’s start from the comparison with the 40 prophecies of last year. Those that were spot on, entirely or at least partially, if within the same prophecy there were more predictions, were N.1, 2, 5, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, 15, 16, 19, 20, 21, 25, 26, 27, 28, 30, 32, 33, 34, 37, 38, 40. If I’m not mistaken, it’s a 25 out of 40 ratio. Since the Crystal Bald is not a cowardly magician who shies away from great risks, having guessed right over half of his predictions, and having missed some others just because of the pandemic that cancelled some tournaments, it is a positive result – forgive me for the poor word choice in the current climate; let’s stick with “good result”. 

Of course, Covid helped him in guessing the first one (“Federer will never lose matches with matchpoints in his favour,” well, he only played six times…) or the fifth (“Nadal will no longer answer badly to Scanagatta who will be much more careful in asking his questions so that he will not be misunderstood” – we saw each other so little and I was only able to ask him questions via Zoom when I was allowed to!), or the seventh (“Scanagatta will do his best to make Djokovic answer another ‘not too bad'” because the one who actually likes that phrase is him!). In short, it was too easy! Oh well, let him guess some more. But I count on your innate and malevolent perfidy, on your malignant curiosity to go and check out the wrong prophecies and catch the Bald in the act. So, I think you will click on that link anyway. 

But let’s be honest. The Bald wrote that Sinner would rise to number 16 in the world, just as Djokovic did the year after his first big leap, and, well, he claims the bragging rights for it! As a matter of fact, Sinner would have actually entered the Top 20 if the ATP hadn’t frozen the rankings, allowing underperforming 2020 players to retain their points from the previous year. 

Then there are those multiple predictions like “The ATP Top 5 will be Djokovic, Tsitsipas, Medvedev, Nadal, Thiem” and “The WTA Top 5 will be: Andreescu, Osaka, Barty, Halep, Bencic.” Having rightly predicted four men out of five (with Tsitsipas at N.6 instead of N.5, trailing Federer who only played in Melbourne!) and the first three women out of five qualify them as successful prophecies. Oh well, you know that I’m biased. The first three, Barty, Halep, Osaka were all there, with only Kenin and Svitolina amiss. 

The Bald does not do well with viruses and injuries: he was betrayed by Andreescu always getting injured as well as by Bencic. The Magician remains proud of having prophesied the following at the end of 2019: “Berrettini will struggle to retain the eighth spot in the rankings. The odds, after no Italian had made it to qualify for the ATP finals for 41 years, are against him. But we won’t have to wait another 41 years. And then it’s more important that Matteo succeeds in 2021, the year when the tournament will move to Turin and Federer will be unlikely to still be in the race, and who knows if Nadal will be. Years pass for everyone. Staying in the Top 10 would already be a great success.” In the end, things went well for him. Okay, at the US open he lost in the round of 16 instead of in the semi-finals like the year before, but it’s not his fault that he ran so early into Rublev, who is the player to have made the biggest leap when compared to 2019.

Here’s another correct prediction: “Serena Williams won’t be able to win a Grand Slam and tie Margaret Court’s record tally. The Crystal Bald held a grudge for having been betrayed by her in the course of two Grand Slam finals after he had predicted her to be victorious in at least one of them.” Well, it was uncool to conjure such bad luck on Serena, just to avenge a previous mistake, but still. 

Now (after 8233 characters already written!) comes the difficult part, however, with the prophecies for 2021. The Crystal Bald sent them to me immediately after Christmas. I’ll just copy and paste, extrapolating only the first one – because it has already happened! “Roger Federer does not even dream of going to lock himself up for two weeks in a Melbourne hotel, without Mirka, his double twins, the babysitter and the cook, risking an injury to his knee only to find himself on a sunburnt court the next day. He’s almost 40, and not crazy! “ 

Here are the other 44 predictions:

Roger Federer (photo via Twitter @rogerfederer)

1. Novak Djokovic, if Medvedev will not be in his way, will win his ninth Australian Open: he already suffers from ill-concealed envy in enduring Nadal’s 13 victories at the same Slam, and he would not survive Federer winning Wimbledon for the ninth time. Nole would feel okay only by winning in Melbourne. He will be more determined than ever and super careful not to hit random balls in any direction. Extrovert as he is, he will suffer more in the early rounds than at the end: at first, the solitary confinement in a hotel will weigh heavily on him.

2. Rafa Nadal will not win his 14th Roland Garros. He could be stopped by Jannik Sinner… but Dominic Thiem will win the tournament.

3. Federer and Schwartzman will drop out of the Top 10.

4. Federer will not reach the 109 titles attributed (improperly) to Jimbo Connors.

5. However, Federer will manage to win at least one tournament, perhaps two, albeit minor (Basel?).

6. Shapovalov and an Italian will (again) break into the top ten. Aliassime will continue to struggle.

7. Thiem, at least for a while, will reach N.2.

8. There will be two italians into the top ten at the end of the year.

9.  … but in the ATP finals in Turin only one Italian will play – the other one will be a reserve.

10. Jannik Sinner will reach at least one Grand Slam semi-final.

11. Medvedev will always be ahead of Tsitsipas.

12. Rafa Nadal will not win any tournaments outside of clay.

13. Sasha Zverev will fail to leave his second serve struggles behind him.

14. Of Sinner’s opponents at the Next Gen 2019 edition, the one who will make the most progress will be the Frenchman Humbert.

15. Andy Murray will return to the Top 100 but, realizing that he is not as competitive as he used to be, he will announce his retirement (at least in singles).

16. Two or three of these eight other players will announce their retirement during 2021: Tsonga, Lopez, Federer, Karlovic, Verdasco, Simon, Gasquet, Monfils.

17. Seppi, on the other hand, has no desire to hang up his racket: at the Australian Open, he will play his 62nd Slam in a row since Roland Garros 2005. Lopez with 74 is out of reach, Verdasco with 68 too. To match Federer, who boasts a streak of 65, Andreas is expected to play all of them this year. Very, very difficult.

18. Canada will win a fairly successful ATP Cup. A 12-nation edition is better than a 24 one.

19. Naomi Osaka will become N.1 in the world, dethroning Barty.

20. Sofia Kenin will not win her second Australian Open.

21. Iga Swiatek will break into the Top 10, perhaps even into the Top 5.

22. Petra Kvitova and Kiki Bertens will drop out of the top ten.

23.  Among the top ten players there will be at least one former n.1: Vika Azarenka, Garbine Muguruza?

24. Serena Williams will not win more than one tournament and she won’t be in the Top 10.

25. Martina Trevisan will reach the Top 50 in the world (now she is 85) and in any case she will overtake Camila Giorgi (N.76), currently more willing to perform as a Gio-Mila model (underwear influencer?) than as a tennis player.

26. Clara Tauson, a Danish eighteen-year-old and currently N.152, will leap up by 80-100 spots.

27. Kamilla Rakhimova, a 19-year-old Russian player, currently N.155, will enter the top 100 with some style.

28. Fiona Ferro, victorious in Palermo in 2020, will break into the Top 25.

29. Venus Williams will bid farewell to tennis at the next US Open.

30.  Lorenzo Musetti will enter the top 80 at full speed, but without reaching Sinner’s best ranking in 2020.

31. The Italian tennis players in the top 100 will still be 8, with a better average than the current one (10-17-33-37-74-76-80-100: the total is 427, the average is 53.375), but they will not be the same eight.

32. The Italian female tennis players in the top 100 will be three and not four. One is Trevisan. In the ballot are to be found Giorgi 76, Paolini 96, Errani 131, Cocciaretto 132.

33. Giulio Zeppieri will gain about 200 spots.

34. Lorenzo Sonego will reach at least the Top 20, neck-and-neck with Fabio Fognini, but he will not overtake Matteo Berrettini.

35. Jannik Sinner will beat the record number of sponsors for an Italian tennis player.

36. Riccardo Piatti will become rich like Cresus, but he will have to choose: either manage Sinner or the Piatti Center.

37. The second edition of the Davis Cup in Madrid will be more successful than the first one and it will no longer force anyone to stay up until 4a.m.

38.  Italy will do better in the Davis Cup than in the ATP Cup.

39. Sonego and Berrettini will play some tournaments in doubles and they will do well, but not as much as Cecchinato and Caruso in singles.

40. Monte Carlo and Rome will not be allowed to have more than 1,000 spectators in the stands, the French Open will have 2,000.

41. Tennis will return to Wimbledon, because the All England Club doesn’t hold the insurance card anymore.

42. The numbers of Ubitennis will grow, despite the fact for the first 6 months of 2021 the virus will not have been eradicated yet. The record of 2019 (5 million unique users, 22 million visits, 41 million page views) will be beaten, the sponsors will reappear but not Barilla; the contract with Master Pasta Federer is all but a dead end. Not Federer, just the contract. On Instagram, after crossing the wall of 10,000 followers, it will exceed the 15,000 one. And the newsletter will at least get close to 10,000 subscribers.

43. The ATP finals in Turin, the first post-vaccine tournament in Italy, will be a great success. RAI (the public television company) will try to slip between SKY and Supertennis.

44. Angelo Binaghi will make the most of it. He will be on TV for hours on end. Supertennis was also founded to ensure appropriate catwalks for executives and their pals.

Happy New Year to everyone, to Italian tennis in particular, from the Crystal Bald, the most reliable tennis clairvoyant in the world. 

P.S: As director of Ubitennis, I, Ubaldo Scanagatta, despite having had excellent relations with the Crystal Bald for thirty years, warn you not to take his prophecies seriously. The Bald himself smiled and winked at me while relating them to me, magnified out of all proportion by the reflections of the Davis Cup that he kept rubbing during our conversation.

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