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EXCLUSIVE: How Matt Roberts Became One Of The Voices Behind The Tennis Podcast

A work experience obtained with a speculative Tweet turned into a dream profession for Matt Roberts. Here’s how it all happened

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Catherine Whitaker (left), David Law (centre) and Matt Roberts (right) of The Tennis Podcast (photo: The Tennis Podcast)

Every now and again, in tennis we see some players that after many years of sweat and tears on the ITF or Challenger circuit find that special balance that makes all their efforts come together and produce results that catapult them onto the “main stage”. But it doesn’t happen only to players: sometimes it happens also to ordinary fans like Matt Roberts, 24 years of age from London, who through a series of twists and turns of fate has managed to become one of the voices of The Tennis Podcast, one of the most popular tennis-based podcasts in the world.

 

The Tennis Podcast was born almost nine years ago from an idea by David Law, former Communication Manager at the ATP Tour and now freelance journalist, and Catherine Whitaker, currently the lead presenter of tennis on Amazon Prime Video in the U.K. The podcast grew year after year and in 2017 it started raising funds through Kickstarter campaigns that have been more and more successful every year. 

The Kickstarter campaign for 2021, launched at the beginning of December 2020, reached its £80,000 target in just two days and has now raised over £106,000 with almost two weeks to go until the end. David, Catherine and Matt produce a weekly podcast as well as a weekly newsletter that reaches around 25,000 people every episode, with daily editions at major tournaments.

We caught up with Matt Roberts during the off-season to learn how he managed to turn his tennis passion into a profession.

Matt, when did you start following tennis and how did you get involved with The Tennis Podcast?

“I started following tennis when I was 7-8 years old back then we were living just down the road from Surbiton Tennis Club, where a Challenger tournament takes place every year, but while we were living there, I showed no interest in tennis whatsoever. It all started as soon as we moved. When I was 10 years old my grandma took me to Wimbledon: she had won ballot tickets for Court 1 on Saturday of the second week, so there were no main draw matches to watch, but I managed to see Roger Federer practice on one of the side courts. I remember working my way to the front through a crowd of bodies and taking some shoddy photos, which I still have somewhere, of Federer and Tony Roche on my disposable camera. It was such a cool experience”.

“In terms of the podcast, it all started when I was at the University, where I was studying French and Spanish. During the Easter holidays of my first year, I sent David a tweet asking if they needed a student for some work experience. I had been listening to the podcast for a few years, and my timing just happened to be perfect, because David and Catherine needed some help to keep the podcast going on a weekly basis. They needed some support in terms of social media, planning, research, a bit of everything. For the remaining three years I was working on the podcast in the background while completing my studies at University.”

“I never really intended to be a voice on the podcast, but they took me on part-time in summer 2018, and at some point, a microphone was put in my hand and there I was, broadcasting”.

The listeners to the podcast had heard of “Student Matt” for quite some time before actually hearing his voice, and in a short period of time “Student Matt” turned into “Graduate Matt” and then it became… just Matt.

When was your first time at a tournament with credentials around your neck?

“It was at Queen’s in 2015, just a few months after I had made a connection with them. David wanted me to get on-site and experience a tournament for the first time, I didn’t do much to be honest, I went to the press conferences, watched a lot of tennis,…”

It sounds like a dream…

“It really was! Nadal was there, also Wawrinka who had just won the French Open. I couldn’t believe I was around all these people that previously existed only on TV”.

“I have worked at Queen’s every year since then, and the first tournament with credentials as ‘The Tennis Podcast’ was the ATP Finals 2018. That was a breakthrough for us, because we didn’t know how we would be received as media, and from that point onwards we realized we could be on-site, and produce content while together on-site, which is when we are at our best”.

Was there a moment when it hit home that your life had changed?

“Yes! Going to Australia in 2019, it had always felt like such a pipedream, and then suddenly I was sitting on a plane thinking ‘My word, the podcast listeners have paid for me to go to Australia’. I was full of emotions – gratitude, excitement, some anxiety. And then once I was there it was the day of the Murray-Bautista Agut match, I did not go to bed until 5 a.m., then set my alarm for a couple of hours later, and started all over again. At that point I was completely swept up by the tournament and there was no time to think about anything else. Then, during the following month, it all started to sink in, and all I could think about was going on another trip and doing it again. I had realized that I could do this in my life and I really liked doing this”.

Matt at the 2020 Australian Open (image via thetennispodcast.net)

What is the aspect of this job, of this life, that you like the most, and the aspect you could really do without?

“Attending tournaments is what I like the most. Obviously not this year… But you can find better stories when you are there, you can live off the adrenaline, and you can take the listener with you which is powerful for the podcast medium. Also, I love having David and Catherine as both friends and mentors. I get a bit intimidated by the press room environment, rightly or wrongly I believe that other people in there are more experienced and knowledgable than I am, they have earned their right to be there, while I almost stumbled into it. I love how [David and Catherine] represent a safe space for me, and I am really appreciative to have found this so early”.

“What I dislike the most…well, social media is a constant battle and one that I haven’t really figured out yet. I owe a lot to social media, that’s how I got in touch with David, we receive so many lovely messages from listeners on there, and at its best it’s an incredible source for stats and news as well as a powerful marketing tool.”

“But it can also bring out the worst in people and we’ve experienced our fair share of trolling, mainly from people who don’t really listen to our show. Because those who do listen will know that we like to have a laugh and to see the funny side of the sport, while also caring deeply about it and taking our work very seriously. Striking the same tone on social media can be hard. I probably blow things out of proportion, but one nasty comment can feel personal and really ruin your day.”

Being a tennis fan is a very radical life choice: it tends to involve a lot of hours spent in front of the TV, sometimes at unsociable hours. How did it impact your life growing up?

“Following tennis can be such a solitary pursuit, unless you have a group of friends following tennis. But it is enough of a niche sport that most of the time you are alone following tennis, and that’s why social media has had such a big impact on the tennis community, I suppose. I have very fond memories of the Australian Open, when I used to get up early and fit in a few hours before school, and I guess that was a sign that I was foolish and dedicated enough to be a tennis follower”.

And the pandemic is sort of forcing you and all of us to go back to old habits and follow the tournaments on TV from home. During the last US Open you adopted a curious solution to be more efficient, didn’t you?

“Yes. I was supposed to go to New York but of course the pandemic prevented me from doing it. In order to cover the tournament the way we wanted to cover it, it would have meant living on New York time even while in the U.K., and since I live with my parents this would have made the situation quite difficult. So David and Catherine allowed me to rent a place for myself so I could live alone for the two weeks of the US Open. It so happens that there is a caravan site about a 10-minute walk away from my house, so we decided to rent that place and cover the tournament while living there. It was much cheaper than a flat, but I wasn’t slumming it either, and we managed to make it a bit of a theme for the podcast”.

“This sport really takes over your life, your calendar becomes the tennis calendar: you don’t think of April as April, but as the beginning of the clay court season. I guess that’s why I ended up discovering the podcast, because I had one friend who was into tennis, a lot of friends that played tennis but did not follow the tours, and I was looking for conversations”.

“I remember realizing that tennis was my thing when, the day after the 2006 Rome men’s final that lasted five hours, I went into the playground at school saying that I watched all of it, and it gave me a weird sense of pride”.

Catherine, Matt and David during a recording (photo by The Tennis Podcast)

To conclude the chat, we prepared a lightning round with some specific tennis questions. 

Favourite Slam?
Australian Open

Favourite tournament?
It might again be the Australian Open, but from a personal point of view I would have to say Queen’s, because that’s where it all started.

ATP or WTA?
I can’t answer that! Both!

Merger or no merger between ATP and WTA?
I would love to see a merger; I just fear it’s very unrealistic. The strongest events are those where you have ATP and WTA on-site together, so I think that tennis would be stronger if all events were together.

WTA Autumn and WTA Championships all in China. Was it a good idea or not?
Ultimately, the WTA did was right for the tour at the time. They couldn’t have predicted what would happen this year. I think it is good for tennis that the WTA reached the Asian market, it’s where there is the biggest growth potential. I would prefer the Championships events, both ATP and WTA, to move around and remain in the same place only for 2-3 years. I understand the idea of building a base for an event, but I think it is a shame that tennis has not taken the opportunity to move these events around more.

Classic question: best of 3 or best of 5?
I don’t see it as an ‘either/or’. There’s room for both. I would not want to see the best of 5 gotten rid of. We need to keep it.

Which solution for the final set you prefer among those in use at the four Grand Slam tournaments?
If it’s best of 3 I would like to play it out, no tie-break. For best of 5, I like the Australian Open solution, a 10-point tie-break.

Classic Davis Cup or Kosmos Cup?
I find this very hard. I was lucky enough to be at the 2018 Davis Cup, the last one in the classic format, and the atmosphere was incredible. They both have such different advantages and disadvantages. Overall, I believe the format needed reform, so I would go with the Kosmos version, but personally I believe there should be an extra round of home/away, because one is not enough. So it would be better to have 8 teams in the finals, preferably with a knock-out format, and one more home/away round.

Let or no let?
Let.

Ad or no-ad?
Ad.

Coaching or no-coaching?
No-coaching.

Day session or night session?
Night session

UTS or NextGen Finals?
NextGen Finals

Djokovic, Federer or Nadal?
You are setting me up again? What do you mean?
Well, think of it as the game of the tower, where you have to throw two of them off the tower.
You are making it worse! Let everyone live, and I would say all-around I believe Nadal is the best.

At Wimbledon, white or no-white?
No-white.

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If Rafael Nadal Can Struggle With Self-Confidence, So Can You!

Ubitennis spoke to sport psychology consultant Adam Blicher about the role of believing in oneself in tennis.

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The best tennis players look and act very self-confident, but we forget that what they are experiencing might be completely different from what we are able to see from the outside. They too are experiencing uncertainty and doubt. Just like you and I. Some days, you feel like you move effortlessly, and it almost seem like you can’t miss the court with your forehand. Other days you doubt if you can even put your forehand into the court.

 

20-time Grand Slam Champion Rafael Nadal talked in press conferences about his lack of self-confidence in 2015. He expressed how he did not experience the feeling of self-confidence despite the fact that he will go down in the history books as one of the best players the world has ever seen.

So if you sometimes get the thought that you are the only one struggling with confidence, remember that even the best players in the world struggle. The best players in the world are not super-humans who only have positive thoughts, are always motivated and feel very self-confident.

Also remember that more self-confidence is not always better. There is a very fine line between having high self-confidence and having too big of an ego. If you are having too big of an ego, it often leads to not preparing well enough, or you might get a little bit too cocky in the way that you are going about your performance.

That said, it can also be problematic to not experience any self-confidence at all which might then lead you to dwell and to struggle with quick decision-making on the court. You might find yourself accepting to hit too many backhands instead of covering more of the court with your forehand; or, instead of stepping up close to the baseline, you find yourself playing more defensive a meter behind the baseline.

We need to redefine our understanding of self-confidence. We cannot let out emotional state dictate our performances as our emotions are fleeting and very hard to control. If you try to control your emotions all of your focus and energy will be occupied fighting an internal battle instead of having full awareness on your gameplan and executing your shots fighting the outside battle against the player on the other side of the court.

The act of self-confidence comes before the feeling.

When Rafael Nadal talks about his lack of self-confidence, he is talking about the feeling of self-confidence. Rafael understands that he can’t control the feeling, but what he can control is his actions. He understands that the antidote to the doubt, and the worries that is creeping in on him, is courage. The courage to step up to the line, covering two thirds of the court with his weapon and keep following his gameplan despite the feeling of self-confidence not being present at all times.

Rafael understands that the feeling of self-confidence is a bonus that comes after the good performances. Not the other way around as many tend to think. Many are stuck in the belief that we need to feel or think in a certain way before we are able to perform well. That “if I only had more self-confidence, then I would perform better.” Maybe in reality it’s about having the courage to act like you already had the confidence in order to provide yourself with the opportunity of performing well. Then, after the good performance, the nice feeling of self-confidence might arise as a bonus making it easier to be courageous in your actions for the next match.

Remember that the act of self-confidence comes before the feeling.

Adam Blicher
Danish Sport Psychologist Consultant Adam Blicher is a member of the International Sport Mental Coach Association

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EXCLUSIVE INVESTIGATION: Does Tennis Have A LGBT Inclusivity Problem?

Is it just a coincidence that there are no out players on the men’s Tour or is there a more significant reason that the sport needs to be aware of?

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Tennis has an illustrious reputation when it comes to LGBT representation compared to some other sports.

Billie Jean King, who was first outed by the media in 1981, played an instrumental role in the formation of the WTA Tour and the campaign for equal pay highlighted by her infamous Battle of the Sexes match against Bobby Riggs. It was also during 1981 when Martina Navratilova came out as gay for the first time. Despite being one of the sports biggest stars, the multiple Grand Slam champion admits that she lost endorsement deals due to her sexuality. Nowadays the treatment and promotion of LGBT players have improved for the better, but does more need to be done?

In recent years tennis has dabbled in and out of the Rainbow Laces campaign with the British Lawn Tennis Association throwing their weight behind it. The initiative was created by LGBT charity Stonewall and initially marketed specifically towards football’s Premier League. The idea is to get players to wear rainbow laces in order to raise awareness of LGBT representation within sport. As for its effectiveness in combating homophobia, it is debatable.

“In the UK, sports teams have also been holding Rainbow Laces for the past seven years, yet homophobic language also remains common. Two-thirds of teenage football players and nearly half of male rugby players admit to recently using homophobic language with teammates (for example, fag), which is generally part of their banter and humour. At the amateur level, gay and bisexual males remain invisible,” Erik Denison from Monash’s Behavioural Sciences Research Laboratory wrote in a 2020 report.
“However, recent research suggests that refocusing the current Rainbow Laces campaign, which is underway, away from professional teams and strongly towards amateur sport settings could help fix these problems. We also need to change the education that is being delivered.”

It is important to take Denison’s conclusion with a pinch of salt as his assessment focused solely on team sports and not tennis. Inevitably, some of his findings might be also applicable to tennis, but it is unclear as to what extent.

If the rainbow laces approach does help the LGBT community to some degree and therefore any potential closeted player, should tennis bosses do more to promote it?  UbiTennis has approached three governing bodies to generate their view with all of them saying they would be in favour of allowing players to participate.  

“The work Premier League and Stonewall are doing to drive awareness around LGBT inclusion sets a great example, and we would absolutely support any ATP player that wishes to support such an initiative, or personally express themselves,” an ATP Spokesman told UbiTennis.
“We believe that tennis has an important role to play in promoting inclusivity in sport, and across wider society, and earlier this year Tennis United served as a platform for ATP to amplify voices around this important topic. The ATP has directed efforts for positive change across many causes via the ATP Aces For Charity programme, and we are currently reviewing our overall approach in this space.”


Unlike their female counterparts, there is currently no openly LGBT player on the ATP Tour and few historically. Bill Tilden, who won 10 Grand Slam titles throughout the 1920s, struggled with his sexuality during a time where gay sex was illegal and not accepted by society. More recently, America’s Brian Vahaly was a former top 100 player during the early 2000s, but chose to come out after retiring from the sport.

The WTA points out that they have been working with the ATP last season and addressed LGBT topics during their ‘Tennis United’ chat shows which was broadcast online.

“The WTA was founded on the principles of equality and opportunity, along with positivity and progress, and wholeheartedly supports and encourages players, staff, partners and fans’ commitment to LGBT+ initiatives,” a statement reads.
“The WTA supports tournament and Grand Slam LGBT+ projects both logistically and financially, amplifies our athletes’ voices on this topic through the Tour’s global platforms, and increased awareness by incorporating the LGBT+ spirit  into our corporate identity in June across our digital platforms.
“Despite the challenges 2020 has presented, this year saw the WTA mark Pride month with a series of podcasts and web articles, interview guests on the WTA & ATP digital show Tennis United from the LGBT+ community, and through WTA Charities collaboration with You Can Play, offer equipment and financial donations and players participate in a virtual panel discussion.”


The International Tennis Federation is responsible for overseeing the running of the junior Tour, Davis Cup, Billie Jean King Cup (previously known as Fed Cup) and the Olympic Tennis tournament. A spokesperson said they would endorse any campaign which would support an equal playing field in the sport. Making reference to their Advantage All campaign which aims to ‘develop and maintain tennis as an equal advantage sport.’

“Tennis has a proud history of its athletes being at the forefront as advocates of positive social change, using their voice and platforms to raise awareness. We would be supportive of initiatives that reinforce the positive message that tennis is an equal advantage sport which is open to all,” UbiTennis was told.

 
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Post-lockdown performance: Djokovic leads the way

Thiem won the most ATP points in the Grand Slams, while Rublev won the most matches. Nole had a more traditional schedule, while Nadal played fewer events but won big – whose approach was better?

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It’s been written countless times, but a few days before the start of a new tennis year the truism needs to be busted out once more: the 2020 season was unique in the history of the game, and in some ways it was not one season but rather two, given the five-month chasm blasted by the coronavirus between March and August. The hiatus has caused a temporary ranking reform, which has ensured the permanence at the top even to those who, for various reasons, elected not to play at the restart or underperformed, stifling the rise of newcomers and partially obscuring the competitive nature and meritocracy of the rankings – disclaimer: this is not a criticism, the chosen system was the best possible under such trying circumstances.

 

For this reason, it is interesting to look at who has done better between August and November, in order to see what the current hierarchies of the game may be and if the results of the last few months can have a predictive value for 2021, especially in terms of reliability. To do so, three metrics ​​were chosen: percentage of wins, total wins and total points.

THE DATA

What follows is a list of the 15 players with the highest winning percentage on the ATP Tour from August to November, with tournaments in which they have won more than half of the games played in brackets:

·   Djokovic 82.14 (Cincinnati, US Open, Rome, Roland Garros)
·   Rublev 78.79 (US Open, Hamburg, Roland Garros, St. Petersburg, Vienna)
·   Zverev 78.57 (US Open, Roland Garros, Cologne 1, Cologne 2, Bercy)
·   Nadal 77.78 (Rome, Roland Garros, Bercy)
·   Medvedev 76.92 (Cincinnati, US Open, Vienna, Bercy, Finals)
·   Thiem (US Open, Roland Garros, Vienna, Finals) and Raonic (Cincinnati, US Open, St. Petersburg, Antwerp, Bercy) 76.19
·    Sinner 72.73 (Rome, Roland Garros, Cologne 2, Sofia)
·    Hanfmann 70 (Kitzbuhel)
·    Bautista Agut 68.75 (Cincinnati, US Open, Hamburg, Roland Garros, Cologne 1)
·    Humbert (Rome, Hamburg, Antwerp, Bercy) and Carreno Busta (US Open, Roland Garros, Bercy) 66.67
·    Davidovich Fokina (US Open, Cologne 1, Cologne 2, Bercy) and Dimitrov (Rome, Roland Garros, Vienna) 64.7
·    Tsitsipas 64 (Cincinnati, US Open, Hamburg, Roland Garros)

Continuity is the main theme here. As you can see, in fact, the six leaders are all part of the Top 8 of the actual ranking, a sign that the best have substantially continued to amass victories, including Rublev, who earned his place in the Finals from August onwards but at the same time had already won two tournaments (Doha and Adelaide) at the beginning of the year – the fact that these players would keep pacing the competition isn’t to be overlooked or taken for granted, as it indicates a constructive approach to the months of the tour’s hiatus.

The only intruders at over 70 percent are Milos Raonic, who if healthy proved to be still competitive at the highest level (he did well particularly at Cincinnati/New York and Bercy), Yannick Hanfmann, buoyed by the great tournament played in Kitzbuhel but still a solid performer even when the match sample extends to qualifiers and Challenger (he won two thirds of the total matches he played) and Jannik Sinner. The Italian finished the season by winning 13 of his last 16 bouts (one of the defeats was a retirement, while the others came against Nadal and Zverev) and demonstrated a great continuity that bodes well for the future, especially considering that, after a slow start in New York, the South Tyrolean has begun his rise on his least favourite surface, clay, and this is perhaps the most comforting element for him.

His ascent is even more evident when looking at the 15 players who have won the most matches on the ATP Tour, in which he comes up in fifth place:

·   Rublev 26
·   Djokovic 23
·   Zverev 22
·   Medvedev 20
·   Thiem, Tsitsipas, Raonic, Schwartzman and Sinner 16
·   Nadal, Humbert and Carreno Busta 14
·   Shapovalov 13
·   Mannarino and Coric 12

Sinner is not the only Next Gen player to appear in one of these standings (two names of up-and-coming standouts but perhaps not yet too well known, and whose presence in these lists can therefore somewhat surprise, are those of Alejandro Davidovich Fokina and Ugo Humbert), while the presence of players over 30 years old (other than Nadal and Djokovic, ça va sans dire) is beginning to peter out – the only additional names are those of Bautista Agut and Mannarino.

To summarise, in any case, the relationship between the two data is represented in the following graph, which includes those who have won at least 60 percent of their matches:

The first thing that stands out is that the same players occupy the podium in the two categories, with Djokovic and Rublev taking the lead in one list each and Zverev right behind them in both. However, while Nole plays and wins almost exclusively at the top tournaments (Masters 1000 events, the Slams and the ATP Finals), the Russian and the German have diversified a little more: Rublev has won 15 games (out of 15) in the three 500 tournaments he’s entered, more of half of his grand total of 26, while Sascha (who nonetheless reached two big finals at Flushing Meadows and Bercy) pumped up his tally with eight consecutive victories in the Cologne fortnight, a double tournament created almost exclusively for his benefit.  

By virtue of this bottom-up and more subdued approach of the two, things change when looking at the 15 leaders for total points, with Zverev slipping to fifth and Rublev to sixth:  

·  Djokovic 3870
·  Medvedev 3545
·  Thiem 3260
·  Nadal 2940
·  Zverev 2690
·  Rublev 2565
·  Schwartzman 1750
·  Tsitsipas 1735
·  Carreno Busta 1360
·  Raonic 1275
·  Shapovalov 990
·  Sinner 865
·  Coric 850
·  Ruud 740
·  Humbert and Bautista Agut 720  

What is striking in such a temporally circumscribed ranking is that the two Grand Slam winners (who thus received 2000 points each) do not occupy the top two places, something that tells us a lot about how physically costly it is to clinch those seven, three-out-of-five matches. After winning the US Open, Thiem (who led in both the second half of 2020 as well as in the season as a whole for ATP points notched at the Grand Slams) missed Rome, ran out of steam in the fifth set against Schwartzman in Paris, played Vienna while smarting from a foot issue, missed Bercy, and played his best again only at the O2 Arena over two months later; Nadal, on the other hand, chose (rightly) to focus on his favourite Grand Slam, winning a relatively small number of matches but clearly getting what he wanted from his scheduling philosophy – except perhaps getting a big indoor title after 15 years.

Both are surpassed by Medvedev, who had a performance in some ways opposite to that of his compatriot Rublev: in 500-point events, he had a record of just three wins and as many defeats, while he won 17 matches out of 20 in the Masters 1000, the Slams and the ATP Finals (10 out of 15 for Andrey).  

That said, it can be noticed how Djokovic leads both in percentage of wins and in total points. It is therefore funny that some might consider the post-lockdown campaign as a failure for Nole, because, while it is true that he has not managed to get closer to Federer for total Slams won (indeed losing ground to Nadal) nor to equal the Swiss’s wins at the ATP Finals, he has still won two Masters 1000 (in major events he has won 21 matches, more than everybody else, and is second only to Medvedev in terms of winning percentage, 85 percent to 84) and has secured his sixth year-end N.1 crown, equalling Sampras’s Open Era record and getting closer and closer to the record for the most weeks spent at the top. Nevertheless, the question naturally arises as to which approach was better, whether the more traditional one of the Serbian or the more calibrated one of Nadal, who decided to pace himself by playing (and winning) only one Grand Slam – the answer can only be subjective in this case…  

Daniil Medvedev at the ATP Finals

CONCLUSIONS

But let’s go back to the initial questions: are the rankings of these three months a faithful representation of the hierarchies ​​of men’s tennis? Can they give us indications for the future? As always, the answer is not Manichean. On the one hand, the manifest superiority of the top players who played was mentioned, validating their position of pre-eminence, and this would seem to suggest that the status quo of the elite of the game is consolidated, and it probably is.  

On the other hand, however, there are equally obvious caveats, represented by the absence of many great players and by the psycho-physical conditions of others, which was so underwhelming that it cannot objectively be considered as a long-term trend. Since August, four top 100 players have never played: Federer, Kyrgios, Tsonga and Pouille. Others have not won a single match: Basilashvili (zero out of nine!), Monfils and Querrey haven’t gotten on the board at all, while those who have won matches but not on the main tour are Chardy, Sousa, Ymer, Kohlschreiber and Mager.  

In the ATP Top 50, moreover, several players remained far below their standards, often for specific reasons: among them Fognini (recovering from a double ankle surgery), Paire (whose lack of effort during the lockdown was never in doubt), Edmund, and to a lesser extent Goffin, the only other Top 25 in addition to Fognini and La Monf to win less than half of his matches – in his case, wedding preparation and the subsequent positivity to Covid-19 are the probable causes.  

In summary, therefore, many players have had to take this phase (in spite of themselves) as a transitional period in which to solve their physical issues with the comfort of the new ranking, while for many others it is possible that the motivations have languished, both for the security provided by the rankings and for the absence of the public – for others, their conduct during the hiatus may not have been professional enough. In addition, the distribution of tournaments in terms of surfaces was a little different than usual, with no grass events, a much lower percentage of outdoor hardcourt tournaments and likely unique conditions on clay – players who did well especially indoor, such as Mannarino, or on the “heavy” red clay of last autumn, may not be able to repeat the same results in 2021.  

The sum of these factors therefore suggests that the decline of the underperformers can only be temporary, even if it should be emphasized that many of the players listed among the inactive or among those with a negative performance are most likely in the twilight of their careers, and as mentioned the players over 30 who have been doing well since August are not many – it is possible that the long break spelt doom on most of the ATP Tour’s veterans.  

CHALLENGER AND QUALIFICATIONS

Finally, let’s take a brief look at who has been particularly solid in the ancillary areas to the main tour. Below is a graph that correlates total wins and percentage of those who, including qualifiers and Challengers, have achieved 60 percent wins: 

With the exception of Stan Wawrinka, who decided to play the two Prague Challengers instead of travelling to New York, ending up facing opponents well below his level, and Ricardas Berankis (too few matches to make an evaluation), the others (Cecchinato and Martinez in particular) have all won consistently, often finding exploits in the major circuit as well. And in 2021, having clinched so many matches could push them to rise further in the standings, because a win’s a win at any level, and finding continuity and self-esteem in a phase with so few tournaments could give them an advantage, even if, it is urgent to repeat it, conditions could be very different in 2021.

Article translated by Andrea Ferrero; edited by Tommaso Villa

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