Australian Open: An In-Depth Preview Of The Women’s Draw - UBITENNIS
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Australian Open: An In-Depth Preview Of The Women’s Draw

From Ashleigh Barty to Simona Halep, Naomi Osaka to Serena Williams, let’s see the path towards the Major for the top WTA players.

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Garbiñe Muguruza and Sofia Kenin - Australian Open 2020
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There was a time when Happy Slam was the Australian Open’s moniker, and the definition seemed perfect; but those were different times, evidently. In 2020, the days before the tournaments were characterized by the problem of bushfires.  Haze and poor air quality jeopardized the tournament. Then, in 2021, the pandemic happened.

 

Everything became more complicated when you talk about sport events in comparison with January 2020. In tennis, particularly, there were undeniable difficulties for all tournaments held worldwide. During a pandemic, in fact, nothing is more intricate than trying to keep a nomadic circus alive: any border crossing turns into a challenge because each country has different health rules, devised (rightly) in according to the current situation of the different nations.

Therefore, this year, for the second time in a row, the Happy Slam will be a little less joyful and light-hearted, but the effort made by Tennis Australia to organize the tournament is a plus. However, it is clear that the required preventive measures will have an impact on the technical aspects. The quarantine, mandatory for those who do not live in Australia, spurred an unorthodox approach at the tournament. Only at the end of the Australian Open we will be able to find out which protagonists attuned herself to these particular circumstances.

Three WTA 500s have been scheduled the week prior to the Australian Open, the Yarra Valley Classic (aka Melbourne 1), the Gippsland Trophy (aka Melbourne 2), and the Grampians Trophy (aka Melbourne 3), organised for those players who were unable to train during the 14-day quarantine. After Andreescu removed herself from the Grampians Trophy field (she decided to focus on training and start her season at the Australian Open), the eight seeded players were Bencic, Azarenka (who defaulted her quarter finals match), Rybakina, Sakkari, Kontaveit, Brady, Kerber, and Riske – the latter also withdrew. At the beginning of the Australian Open, we have to keep in mind their names (plus those of 20 others), because in a few days it is almost impossible to reach the ideal physical condition in a few days, and therefore an underwhelming performance wouldn’t be a surprise.

For all these reasons, we are facing an anomalous Grand Slam. Most of the players usually prefer not to play any official tournament in the week before the Grand Slam, the opposite of what is happening in these days. The crowd will be back for the event and this is a positive aspect to highlight, even if not at 100% capacity. Their attendance certainly helps to make the matches more intense.

If we consider the recent activity of the Australian Open contenders, a manifold general picture comes out. Sabalenka, for example, won the last three WTA tournaments played (Ostrava and Linz in 2020, Abu Dhabi in 2021) before losing her first match this week, while other top players have been inactive for quite a while. Several tennis players have not played any official tournaments since the French Open (which ended in early October). Osaka played the last match at US Open (early September), Barty hasn’t competed since February 2020; Andreescu will contest her first match since the 2019 Finals.

Thus, this situation makes very difficult to predict what will happen. It is a Grand Slam open to any result. It’s too bad that with so many interesting players in the draw, it has not been possible to give them the opportunity to play at their best. In this context of utter uncertainty, we should remember the recurring theme of the generational confrontation. In fact, all the latest Grand Slams went the way of young tennis player: since the 2018 US Open, the only exception was the triumph of Simona Halep at Wimbledon in 2019. Will the next Major reinforce this trend?

I tried to summarize the psycho-physical condition of the top sixteen seeds, which do not correspond to the top 16 of the ranking because Kiki Bertens (who underwent Achilles surgery) and Madison Keys (tested positive for Coronavirus) will not be there.

Page 2 – a closer look at seeds 9-16

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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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