EXCLUSIVE: Inside The Melbourne Bubble - ‘Players Can’t Act Like Spoilt People’ - UBITENNIS
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EXCLUSIVE: Inside The Melbourne Bubble – ‘Players Can’t Act Like Spoilt People’

UbiTennis speaks to a leading WTA coach about the current controversy surrounding the Melbourne tennis bubble which he is currently part of and if he believes players are right to express their frustration.

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Less than a week into the mandatory 14-day quarantine process for players in Australia and there has already been plenty of drama.

 

Approximately 1200 players and their teams have travelled to Melbourne ahead of the Australian Open. Under government rules they are required to stay in their hotel rooms but are allowed to train up to five hours each day unless they have been in close contact with somebody who has tested Positive for COVID-19. Although things haven’t entirely gone to plan. There has been social media complaints about the food, insects in rooms and issues with practice sessions. Roberto Bautista Agut even went as far as describing the situation as a ‘prison’ in a personal video call that was published by an Israeli website without his permission.

The amount of negativity surrounding quarantine is substantial but is it really as bad as what it sounds?

Spanish coach Carlos Martinez is currently one of those living inside the bubble. With a wealth of experience in working with WTA players under his belt, he is currently mentoring former top 10 star Daria Kasatkina. Martinez has clarified some of the controversies surrounding the quarantine, including comments from players that they were misled about the rules upon arrival.

“They (Tennis Australia) made like, I don’t know how many, but hundreds of zoom’s (video conferences). They would inform us about everything, how it is going to be and the quarantine. We were getting messages and emails every single week,” Martinez told Ubitennis.net.
“Tennis Australia was doing a great job in my opinion. The only thing that was a bit unclear was about the quarantine when somebody gets infected on the plane. They were talking like they were going to make sections inside the plane so if they found somebody in a section (who tests positive) they would isolate those people,’
“But in the end the government didn’t want to do this and they preferred to isolate all on the plane because it was safer for everyone.”

So far Martinez has been fortunate not to have gone into strict isolation which at least 72 players have entered. Due to a series of flights having a passenger test positive for the virus, those on board must stay in their room throughout their quarantine. Those affected have been provided with exercise equipment of some sort.

“We know what we came for and how it is going to be. Of course, where you arrive everything seems more difficult than it is. But in my opinion they made a big effort and a super job to make the event. We can’t complain much.”

A frosty atmosphere with teething problems

(Martinez pictured with Kasatkina)

Martinez has a lot of admiration for Tennis Australia’s management in order to enable the first Grand Slam of the season to go ahead but he himself has also experienced some minor setbacks in the bubble. Undergoing daily testing, the Spaniard said he was kept inside his room for three and a half days without proper clarity about what was happening. Eventually he was informed that an issue with the practice schedule resulted in his first session with Kasatkina being cancelled. Fortunately, those issues have been resolved and they have now resumed practice.

“We are keeping to our plan. We are four days in and it is nothing compared to the others in the hotel,” Martinez said of Kasatkina’s preparation.
“She’s feeling good, she’s feeling happy and I’m not feeling anything strange.’
“Daria hasn’t lost any shape. We are coming from Abu Dhabi in what was a good week for us. She lost in the third round but was playing quite well in my opinion.”

https://twitter.com/DKasatkina/status/1350401479207575553

While the problems are starting to be resolved Martinez admits that there remains what he describes as a ‘strange and complicated’ atmosphere within the bubble. Frustration, anger and criticism from the public is a bit of a nightmare scenario for anybody preparing for a Grand Slam. On top of that, the two types of quarantine occurring is leading to concerns of an uneven playing ground.

“It is a strange atmosphere because there are 72 players in (stricter) quarantine. We can say that maybe it’s unfair because it’s true that we will not have the same opportunity. For example, we are practising for two hours a day plus fitness. They are in their rooms and can’t move. Of course it is not the same,” he commented.
“It is a bit complicated because I have found many people complaining and some of them talk about some things which are not right. That’s not nice at the moment.”

Amid the tension, the real question is how much of a disparity will there be between the players who are able to train on court during these two weeks and those who can’t? Some have called for the Australian Open to be delayed and for the men’s matches to be reduced from best-of-five to best-of-three sets. Two things which are unlikely to happen at present unless there is a mass rebellion.

Perhaps the media and players are reading too much into it? Martinez believes the impact will not be as significant as some are suggesting. Although he admits those 72 players are unlikely to be ready to play their tournament leading up to the Melbourne major.

“In my opinion, it’s not like they are going to lose all of their shape because most of them have equipment in their room and can make something. Of course it is not the same but I think in one week they can practice a lot and recover their shape,” he said.
“In the end, I think it will not be that bad. Of course it is not the same because they cannot compete in the first tournament and it is important to go into a grand slam with a few matches. But in the end it is going to be better than they think.”

The public is right to be unhappy

Players arriving in Australia

The series of player comments about their conditions in quarantine has prompted some backlash from the Australian public, highlighted best by The Sydney Morning Herald who published a series of letters criticising them. Meanwhile Novak Djokovic’s attempt at changing the quarantine rules by submitting his own letter outlining a series of suggestions were greeted with a flat out ‘No’ from the government. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters earlier this week ‘I think it’s just time people followed the rules, do their quarantine, play Tennis.’

As the public gets bemused by the situation, some are wondering how players will be received by fans during their tournaments in Melbourne Park?

“There are people living out of Australia who cannot come back and that’s why they (the public) can be a little bit unhappy with us,” said Martinez.
“I don’t think they will react badly because the public will be very happy to go to Melbourne Park to watch matches and see the top players in the world doing their job. There will not be any inconvenience for anyone.”

Like others within the tennis community, such as Victoria Azarenka, the Spaniard said it is vital that everyone look at the wider picture concerning the pandemic. On January 16th the worldwide death toll for COVID-19 surpassed 2 million people.

In the end, we have to understand why players can not act like spoiled people. Complaining about the hotel, room and that when there are other people worse off in really tough moments. Many people are losing their jobs and in the end for us we can be very proud with what Tennis Australia is doing. Otherwise, we are home crying that we cannot play tennis.” He concluded.

The Australian Open is set to start on February 8th.

SEE ALSOEXCLUSIVE: Inside The Melbourne Bubble – ‘Top Names Get Preferential Treatment But That’s Part Of The Tour’

Grand Slam

Grand Slam Matches Among 38 Suspicious Betting Alerts Over Past Three Months

The body is charge of monitoring match-fixing in the sport has issued their latest findings.

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The International Tennis Integrity Agency has confirmed they have received ‘match alerts’ concerning a quartet of matches which took place at Grand Slam tournaments during the third quarter of 2021.

 

Two matches played at Wimbledon and a further two which took place at the US Open were flagged up, according to their quarterly report which was public on Tuesday. The names of the individuals involved in those matches are not made public whilst the ITIA investigate the matter. The alerts are received through their confidential Memoranda of Understanding with the regulated betting industry.

A total of 38 betting alerts were issued to the ITIA during the third quarter with the most coming from matches played on the Challenger Tour (13). There were also nine suspicious matches from ITF $25,000 tournaments on the men’s Tour and another seven linked to $15,000 events. To put that into context the women’s ITF Tour reported a total of three overall.

“It is important to note that an alert on its own is not evidence of match fixing,” the ITIA stated in their report.
“Unusual betting patterns can occur for many reasons other than match fixing – for example incorrect odds-setting; well-informed betting; player fitness, fatigue or form; playing conditions and personal circumstances.”

Five players have been sanctioned within the past three months for match-fixing offences with the most high-profile being Temur Ismailov from Uzbekistan. Ismailov, who reached a ranking high of 397th in 2016, was issued with a life ban after being found guilty of offences in addition to another suspension he was already serving.

The ITIA has also provisionally suspended six Moroccans and one Pervian player in connection with possible violations of anti-corruption rules.

The ITIA was created by the international governing bodies to investigate allegations against players and hand out sanctions. It is currently in the process of merging with the Tennis Anti-Doping Programme (TADP) and will oversee the global administration of the TADP from January 1st if it receives Board approval.

Number of alerts (third quarter of 2021 only)

  • Wimbledon: 2
  • US Open: 2
  • ATP Challenger: 13
  • ATP World Tour: 250 1
  • Davis Cup: 1
  • M25 Men’s – World Tennis Tour: 9
  • M15 Men’s – World Tennis Tour: 7
  • W15 Women’s – World Tennis Tour: 2
  • W80 Women’s – World Tennis Tour: 1

TOTAL: 38

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Numbers: On The Unpredictability Of Women’s Grand Slam Tournaments

Over the past four years, every major tournament has been a hunting ground for new players, a sign of discontinuity at the top.

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54 – the number of WTA players who’ve reached the quarterfinals at least once in the past 12 Slam tournaments. 

Tennis experts and fans have often pointed out that men’s tennis hasn’t had much of a change of the guard in terms of big tournament winners, generally providing the same face-offs between players in the final rounds. At the same time, the last seasons of the WTA Tour have repeatedly been criticized for not providing any champions the public could become used to due to the steady turnover of winners and players competing in the last rounds of the most prestigious tournaments. To better understand if these assumptions are actually justified, we analysed the Slam draws from the past three years (starting with the 2018 US Open) and listed all the players (male and female) who reached a Major quarterfinal at least once, in an attempt to understand the differences between what’s going on the ATP and WTA tours.

 

41 male players have reached the quarterfinals of a Slam, while on the WTA circuit the 96 available slots have been occupied by no fewer than 54 different tennis players. We can also see this same discrepancy by looking at some other stats on the number of players to make it through only once to a Major quarterfinal: on the male tour, in the timeframe considered (the last twelve Slams played), there were 17 players, while in the female one the number rose to 21. The women whose only accomplishment was to reach one semi-final are over twice as many as the men who did the same: some of the male players are Pouille, Karatsev and Hurkacz, while the women’s list includes Sevastova, Anisimova, Strycova, Podoroska, Zidansek and Kerber.

The greatest difference between the two tours, however, can be found in the number of players who get past the semi-finals. There have only been four major tournament winners among ATP players in the past three calendar years: Djokovic (the Serbian won 7 times), Nadal (2), Thiem, and Medvedev. Among WTA players, on the other hand, there have been as many as eight different Slam tournament champions:  Osaka (a four-time winner), Barty (2), Halep, Andreescu, Kenin, Swiatek, Krejcikova, and Raducanu.

Del Potro, Zverev, Federer, Berrettini and Tsistipas were the only male players to get to the finals, but there were no fewer than nine female players achieving the same result: Serena Williams (three times), Kvitova, Vondrousova, Muguruza, Azarenka, Brady, Pavlyuchenkova, Pliskova, and Fernandez. “One-time-winners” aren’t easy to find among male players, since all four major tournament-winners (Djokovic, Nadal, Thiem and Medvedev) have done well in several other Slams, which isn’t the case amongst the female players. In the eleven Slams that we’re analysing, two players (Andreescu and Raducanu) didn’t get any other important results other than their wins; in their case, if truth be told, the explanation to this probably lies in their very young age, and in the injuries they sustained, making their “isolated” wins more than understandable.

This fact should, however, be considered together with the cases of three other female players (Krejicikova, Swiatek and Kenin) who, in addition to their finals victory, only reached the quarterfinals once. The absence of continuity in today’s strongest female circuit-players can be inferred from an additional statistic:  among male players in the past three years, Djokovic (10 times), Nadal (9), Federer (5), Thiem (5), Zverev (6), and Medvedev (5) got through to Major tournament quarterfinals at least five times, but amongst the female players only Serena Williams (6) and Barty (6) did the same.

Further confirmation of what we uncovered can be found by looking into the players in the top positions of the ATP and WTA rankings. Among the men, after the 2018 US Open, the only players who reached the first position are Djokovic and Nadal; meanwhile, Medvedev, Tsitsipas and Rublev have reached the Top 5 for the first time in the past three years. And let’s not forget Berrettini, Schwartzman, Bautista Agut, Shapovalov, and Ruud, who also made their debut in the Top 10.

In the WTA rankings, on the other hand, these past 36 months have seen Halep, Osaka and current number 1 Barty pass the queen’s crown around; compared to the men’s circuit, even more players have ascended to the Top 5 for the first time: Sabalenka, Andreescu, Bencic, Kenin. There are “only” two players, Swiatek and Krejcikova, who’ve gotten through to the first ten positions of the ranking in the time frame we’ve been looking at.

In conclusion, the tennis élite has a very different profile in the two tours. It’s a difference that is bound to be reduced as the likes of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic get older: but will the advent of new rivalries at the top be able to preserve the sport’s popularity?

Article by Ferruccio Roberti; translated by Giulia Bosatra; edited by Tommaso Villa

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REPORT: Australian Open To Hold Qualifying In The Middle East During Build Up To Christmas

Provisional plans of how the first Grand Slam tournament of 2022 will take place has emerged.

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It is understood that the Australian Open will hold their qualifying tournaments outside of the country for a second year in a row, according to information obtained by The Daily Mail and The Times newspapers.

 

Players hoping to secure their spot in the main draw of the Grand Slam are likely to be forced to miss out on the chance of celebrating Christmas on December 25th. According to the provisional plan, the event will likely conclude on December 24th and then players will have to travel to Australia afterwards via charter flights.

Dubai and Abu Dhabi are set to be the venues which will hold the men’s and women’s competitions. Both of those cities also held the qualifying event for this year’s Australian Open but in January. However, in 2022 the start date of the Grand Slam will revert back to its original time shot and therefore qualifying will have to take place earlier.

It is also understood that the players who already have secured a spot in the main draw of the Grand Slam will also have their Christmas plans affected. Health officials in Melbourne want those participating in warm-up events in the country prior to the Grand Slam to first spend time in a ‘control bubble’ where they will be allowed to practice and train.

Criag Tiley, who is the tournament director of the Australian Open, has previously suggested that players who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 could have less restrictions placed upon them.

“There will be different conditions for vaccinated versus unvaccinated,’ Tiley told The Controllables podcast in August. ‘If the conditions are vastly different it’s probably better to be vaccinated then you don’t have those different conditions.’

The plans are part of Tennis Australia’s COVID-19 protocol. The country currently has one of the world’s longest border closures related to the pandemic and is closed for most arrivals. Those who are allowed in are required to enter a 14-day quarantine or something similar which has been authorised by health authorities.

Recently the coach of world No.1 Ash Barty has said she may miss the season-ending WTA Finals with one of the reasons being due to Australia’s travel policy. Craig Tyzzer told reporters that Barty is wary that arriving late back in her home country and having to undergo quarantine will have a knock on effect on her off-season training.

The Australian Open main draw will start on January 17th.

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