Serena Williams' 1000th Match Ends In Defeat To Podoroska - UBITENNIS
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Serena Williams’ 1000th Match Ends In Defeat To Podoroska

Serena Williams was defeated in Rome as she reaches a landmark milestone of 1000 WTA matches.

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Serena Williams (@WeAreTennis - Twitter)

Serena Williams’ 1000th WTA tour match has ended in a 7-6(6) 7-5 defeat to Nadia Podoroska in Rome.

 

The American made her return to tour for the first time in 84 days as she looked to build momentum heading into Roland Garros.

If the first few games were to set the tempo of the match then it would prove to be a long contest with Serena struggling to get any free points on her serve.

It was the Argentinian who got the first break of the match in the third game as she tested Serena’s stamina early on in the contest.

In typical Serena fashion, the 23-time grand slam champion produced some stunning ground-strokes especially from central positions to break to love straight away.

On serve, Serena looked fairly comfortable as she ended the match with eight aces although she only made a first serve percentage of 48%.

That was her key downfall as it was Podoroska who looked the more comfortable on return as she used some devastating angles to force unforced errors from the Serena racket.

A break for a 5-4 lead ensured that the last year’s Roland Garros semi-finalist would serve for the opening set.

However Serena used her power and good point construction to once again break back which was met with a roar from the world number eight.

Eventually the first set would head towards a tiebreaker with Podoroska dominating the majority of it.

She had three set points which came and went as Serena used her fighting qualities to roar back into the match.

But once again some unforced errors would cost the four-time champion as Podoroska took the next two point to claim the opening set in 66 minutes.

In the second set, Serena was the early aggressor as she dictated points better setting the pace of the match.

Again though Podoroska extended the rallies and made the American move all round the court exposing as much space as possible.

The Argentinian was rewarded for her court coverage when she broke in the sixth game as Serena began to tire.

As in the first set, Podoroska couldn’t serve out the second set as her cautious play lead to Serena levelling it up at 5-5.

However Serena’s serve was just not working when she needed it too and Podoroska secured the final blow to seal a fantastic victory for her.

For Serena its onto Roland Garros as she will look to improve her fitness in the next couple of weeks.

As for Podoroska she will play Petra Martic after the Croatian beat Kristina Mladenovic today 7-5 6-3.

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Bianca Andreescu looking to improve in Eastbourne

The Canadian will try to build some momentum going into Wimbledon, where she has never won a main draw encounter.

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Bianca Andreescu spoke to the media today ahead of the Viking International in Eastbourne, where she is looking for a better result this week after crashing out in the first round in Berlin.

 

“Last week wasn’t as good as I expected for my first tournament back, but I haven’t played on grass in three years and I haven’t gotten that many matches this year with other things. I have been practicing on grass, however, so hopefully I can progress this week.”

On a more positive note, she was pleased to hear of the news that the Québec provincial goverment had approved the decision to host the National Bank Open formerly known as the Rogers Cup in Montreal this summer in August. “It’s super exciting going back to defend my title.”

Andreescu went into more detail as to why she hasn’t played a lot of matches this year while admitting that she is not a very patient person.

“I had to really grow through the years to improve that, but there are so many different circumstances that keep getting thrown at me, so my patience keeps getting tested. So far I think I am dealing with it OK and I know it’s going to continue to improve, so I need to stay patient with that as well.”

The Canadian was asked what she learned about herself this year and during this period.

“Perserverance in not playing, but rather continuing to fight and to train and and dealing with what is being thrown at me – this is one the of the most important things I learnt. I feel some days are harder than others, but I am still here and I am still fighting and I want to win.”

The Toronto native even took the time to talk about the first time she played Wimbledon back in 2017 and the fact at the time she was playing qualifying.

“It does feel like a long time ago although it really isn’t. I remember when I qualified, I was playing very well in the qualifying and then the main draw came around and I was overwhelmed by everything. I remember feeling confident but at the same time thinking, ‘oh my god I am finally here’ and it showed during my match. However, I came out super happy of my match even if I lost.”

The Canadian talked about the opportunity of playing this year’s tournament as a top seed, something she is looking forward to.

“It’s cool to think that I get to be a top seed at Wimbledon, where it will be my second main draw appearance. This time I don’t have to go through qualifying, so I do feel more confident going into the tournament. I am just going to take it match after match and feel like I can get more matches in this week.”

The world number seven recounted what the last year was like and how crazy it was leading into the pandemic.

“After doing so well in 2019 I got injured and I was off for six months. I was ready to play Indian Wells, my first tournament back, and that tournament is when everything started – I went there for three days before coming home. After that I did not move for six month besides training, which was super hard for me to deal with.”

Andreescu added she always tries to see things in a positive way and that she is a big believer in the fact that everything happens for a reason and that all she can do is move forward.

“It seemed like the world was crashing down but I wanted to be as grateful as I can because I know other people have it way worse. That really keeps me going, I try to have that big picture in my mind all the time.”

The Canadian spoke about her expectations going into this week’s tournament and Wimbledon next week and she thinks it’s completely different to the last time she played.

“In 2017 I was coming in as world number 150 in the world with no pressure, just going out there and doing what I love to do. Now it’s different, because there is more pressure and more expectations that I try not to focus on, but it’s hard and it’s a new circumstance. I need to learn how to deal with that a little bit better.”

Bianca Andreescu is the third seed this week in Eastbourne and she was originally drawn to face Madison Keys in the first round. However, Keys pulled out, and now the Canadian will face a different American, Christina Mchale.

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Samsonova Reaches Final in Berlin after Stunning Azarenka

The Russian qualifier beats the Belarusian in straight sets. She will face the fifth seed, Belinda Bencic.

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Liudmila Samsonova in Berlin in 2021 (Credit: @TennisChanneli on Twitter)

Liudmila Samsonova continued her dream run at the Bett1 Open in Berlin, this time beating the world number 16 Victoria Azarenka quite comfortably with a score of 6-4, 6-2 in only an hour and six minutes on Steffi Graff Stadion. “It’s all incredible for me, so new and I am happy and it’s unbelievable for me”.

 

The world number 106 had the better start to the match, earning the first two breakpoints of the match and getting an early 2-0 lead before the Minsk, Belarus native had two chances to go back on serve – the Russian, however, saved both and held serve.

It stayed on serve until 5-3m when the world number 106 had two set points on her opponents serve, but Azarenka would save both and the Russian would serve out the first set.

The second set was a mirror image of the first one, with the 22-year-old getting two more breakpoints and breaking to take an early 1-0 lead which she would later manage to turn into a double break.

At 4-0, the Russian had a chance to break again setting up a breakpoint with a powerful forehand winner, but the Belarusian would save both with two big serves.

At 5-2, Samsonova served out the match to book her spot in Sundays final where she will face the number five seed Belinda Bencic, who earlier in the day booked her spot in the final by beating Alize Cornet in straight sets.

In her post-match press conference, Samsonova gave her thoughts on Sunday’s match against another tough opponent in Bencic.

“I’m sure it’s going to be another tough match because she plays very good on this surface and she’s a good player, so I will try to do my best and focus on my game and we will see.”

This will be the first time Belinda Bencic and Liudmila Samsonova will meet in a WTA match.

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Personal Branding In The World Of Tennis: The Case Study Of The Big Four

How did Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray build their own brands?

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Sportsmen have always had passionate and devoted fans, but becoming more visible implies the development of one’s own personal branding – but what is it? It is the practice of actively positioning oneself in the market and building a “valuable narrative”, creating a brand, a mark or a “mnemonic” to support this message, association, expectation and/or “faith” in the mind of a “consumer” (or enthusiast, team, sponsor, etc).

 

The term “personal branding” was coined by Tom Peters, a business management expert, in the late 1990s, in his essay “The Brand Called You”, which examines the role of marketing in creating a distinctive image in the American corporate world. Although that essay is over 20 years old, its contents are even more relevant in today’s hyper-saturated, hyper-competitive and hyper-connected world,   in which differentiation strategies are becoming increasingly complex. The sports market is in fact characterised by a high degree of complexity as it encompasses a multitude of actors, each of them with certain characteristics and interests.

Following the categorization of sports marketing, personal branding can be understood as being incorporated into the marketing of individual athletes, and as a   branch of sports marketing.

Initially, sports marketing exclusively pertained product placement and product sales. Only towards the end of the 1970s did the use of sports as a marketing tool    really begin to catch the collective corporate imagination. However, a distinction must be made between sports sponsorship – which mainly concerns brand awareness – and sports marketing, which focuses on the creation of sponsorship contracts. Personal branding is about creating a connection between the sports icon and the  brand, then communicating it to the consumer, trying to find as many points in common between the company’s history and that of the icon in order to create a “narrative” that has to be understandable and appreciated by the consumer. The increasing popularity of sports and the resulting media coverage meant that the  best players were able to capture the hearts and minds of the public, thus starting to transcend their own discipline. Interestingly, companies don’t just look at investment return in money terms, their primary aim being to create emotional bonds with consumers. Sports marketing is now based on creating passion for the consumer and gaining their hearts and minds, an outcome that advertising campaigns alone are not always able to achieve.

THE NIKE-JORDAN PARTNERSHIP MARKS A WATERSHED MOMENT

An experience that has certainly changed sports marketing has involved basketball icon Michael Jordan, who, signed to the sports giant Nike, has become so important that it is felt by consumers as being a different branch, separated from the Oregon company. We often hear “these shoes are Jordans”, or “this shirt is a Jordan”, completely omitting the fact that the full brand is “Nike Jordan”. On this account, at the end of 1997 the Portland company realised that the “Jordan” brand was so strong it could become a sub-brand of Nike, and that   was how “The Jordan Brand” was born. To celebrate this, the first AIR model was released: the “AIR Jordan XIII”. From then on, Jordan shoes no longer sported Nike’s swoosh but only the “Jumpman” logo.

Back to the world of tennis and some years earlier, the first successful brands were  those of ex-players such as Lacoste, Perry and Tacchini, who gave life to important companies selling sports clothing and accessories, entrepreneurial initiatives that leveraged specific marketing tools for sports equipment and clothing.

All these entrepreneurial cases have one thing in common: the establishment of the production and marketing companies took place after the specific tennis player  had ended his sports career, exploiting – in the case of Lacoste and Perry – a fame already acquired, but limited only to enthusiasts of the game. These brands, although no longer dominant, are still present on the market today. Lacoste can still boast the sponsorship of three WTA and five ATP players in the Top  50 of their respective rankings, including recent Australian Open finalists Djokovic and Medvedev. Fred Perry resurfaced in 2009 as a sponsor of Andy Murray’s, and has been organising  a major youth tournament in the UK since 2019. Sergio Tacchini has recently reappeared as a technical sponsor, after having been the dominating force in tennis merchandising during the 1980s – as for Lacoste and Fred Perry, we are talking about brands which are strongly linked to their national context.

THE CURRENT SITUATION IN TENNIS ENDORSEMENTS

Even today, the largest number of sponsorships of a tennis player concerns sports clothing and accessories:

Figure 1 – Sponsorships of professional tennis players by product sector in July 2019 – Statista (click to enlarge)

The distribution of the brands has changed, however, as can be seen when looking at the Top 30 on both the WTA and ATP tours.

Figure 2 – Source: scoreandchange.com – March 2020 (click to enlarge)

So, what has changed? The context variables (external and internal) are simply different, and there is a greater awareness on the part of successful athletes about the value of their image. The external environment is made of factors apparently furthest away from the endorsing company, including technologies, demographics and social trends, economic issues, politics, laws, concepts of environmental sustainability. The internal environment consists in variables such as: resources, skills, the ability to  provide services, customer-oriented culture, performance of departments, suppliers and outsourcing, sponsorships, marketing channels (sales outlets, financial companies, communication) and the role of the general public. These variables converge in the SWOT matrix (Strength-Weakness-Opportunities-Threats), which in turn flows into the marketing plans, allowing experts to mitigate risks, improve process efficiency and the decisional effectiveness of the marketing activities.

Advertising and marketing strategies have evolved over the past 30 years, and no tactics    that companies and organisations use to get the consumers’ attention has undergone more transformations than sports endorsing. In the past decades, advertising executives could buy large amounts of advertising space on television networks and “bomb” viewers with ads. The formula was simple: whoever spent the most, won. Today, however, as consumers watch less television and the selection of viewing options has increased exponentially, brands are forced to diversify and invest money to find new ways to engage potential customers. It took years of low incomes to realise that simply paying for your logo to appear alongside that of a professional sports team, buying TV commercials or advertising in stadiums during matches no longer provided the same profit it used to.

So, if the notion of getting a high return on investment from traditional advertising campaigns is almost dead, how can companies achieve success for their brands in terms of consumers’ appreciation? They need to leverage customer passions and promote brand relationships: collaborations today aim to improve the experience of the consumer or enthusiast and are based on building relevant connection points between the customer, the athlete and the corporate brand he/she represents.

Today we are witnessing a proliferation of personal brands, such as those listed below. Normally they are sub-brands, with some exceptions like that of Roger Federer, able to buy back his “RF” logo after a long legal battle with Nike. Self-referencing brands are just the tip of an iceberg in a brand-building strategy to obtain a long and successful career outside of sports. Even after an athlete’s sporting career is over, many carry their personal brand with them, just like Michael Jordan.

STRATEGIES

The distance between sports fans and champions has diminished, as social media and the web contribute to create emotional involvement and loyalty, together with traditional channels. Some general rules can be identified in the construction of a  strong brand identity:

  1.  Create coherence between the personality and the values of the athlete and his/her personal brand. It’s important to create a personal story that puts the athlete under an authentic light, which is not too far from his true character. There is no need to create a discrepancy between your real story and the image you intend to communicate externally. So, you must always check that the personal narrative is aligned with the core of the person.
  2.  Promotion of philanthropic causes. Showing of the  selflessness of sportsmen is manifested in causes where there are strong inequalities. Athletes who sincerely try to help solve even a small problem will not only be invested with the merits of positivity in solving the problem but will also benefit from a significant impact on their personal brand’s value and positioning.
  3.  Control of one’s own personal branding in detail. Keeping control of even the smallest    detail makes it possible to think of forming really interesting PR strategies for brand development that can target narrow segments of professionals, whilst ordinary fans may not even be aware of it.
  4. Select appropriate tools apt to interact with each of the important segments of the target audience. In most cases, when building athletes’ brands, one opts to use only a standard set of channels and tools. Today it is enough to take your personal brand to the top, as in reality no one is trying to achieve more in the sport, but in the near future this will not be enough anymore, given the enormous competitive pressures. Therefore, it is necessary to invest 80% more to obtain a substantial 100%. The world around us  is developing fast, and athletes have to work hard to stay in the conversation.
  5.  Each action must be framed within the context of the positioning of the personal brand. An athlete who has global visibility must pay attention to all personal actions, as this is  relevant to the positioning of his brand, built around his personality and individual beliefs.

THE PERSONAL BRANDS OF PROFESSIONAL TENNIS PLAYERS

In order to find the aforementioned characteristics, a small empirical research was conducted on the personal sites and philanthropic initiatives of the so called “Fab Four”. Their sales in relation to their foundations or academies are summarized below:

Although Sir Andrew Barron Murray does not have a foundation or a clothing collection with his personal brand, he is involved in several philanthropic initiatives. Both Murray and Djokovic have personal pages on Sina Weibo, a Chinese microblogging site, which is in fact a hybrid of Twitter and Facebook, and is one of the most popular sites in China. Djokovic’s numerical approach to social media is also very original, given that his site has a counter that adds up all his fans interactions scattered across the various social media channels, reporting the latest tweets.

Nadal’s conception of the relationship with his fans is instead more traditional: it includes a sort of virtual bulletin board with many pictures taken in the company of  his devoted followers. Federer moves along similar lines, using the classic channels, namely Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, with a gallery of historical photos of the matches played in his professional seasons. Moreover, the fact that other tennis players such as Stan Wawrinka, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Marco Cecchinato, and more recently Jannik Sinner have chosen to create their personal brands, with the aim of improving their communication and marketing strategy, needs also to be remarked.

CONCLUSIONS

Why is personal branding becoming more and more common? If we look at those who already have a brand, the answer is closely linked to the business of professional sport, and is simply the ability of an athlete to generate a return from their image. Analysing the concept with a critical spirit and keeping in mind the goal  of maximising incomes for a sportsman during his or her short career, there are three basic reasons for building a “personal sports brand”:

  • Effectiveness
  • Relevance of their Image, which triggers the Fear of losing it
  • Level of importance, which will change throughout a professional athlete’s career span.

In the beginning or mid-career, a personal brand or a support logo are forms of efficient involvement of sponsoring companies, because they indicate the values that an athlete possesses and that a brand could exploit via an endorsement. As the  athlete heads towards the twilight of his professional career, the motivation becomes fear and relevance or, more precisely, the fear of not being relevant anymore. The skills of a professional athlete will naturally establish a certain positioning in the minds of the stakeholders, but an active cure of a market position derived from this ability is a strategic undertaking that requires not only a change in the mentality of an individual, but, above all, a shift in managerial culture to encourage athletes to think long-term and beyond the immediacy of their physical ability.

Cultivating the mental and physical well-being of a professional sportsman is the job  of a manager or a coach, but when it comes to thinking ahead, many athletes are woefully unprepared. A retired athlete will come from a world where everything revolves around him and will land on another where he quickly loses the spotlight.

Therefore, strong brand recognition will generate opportunities for athletes throughout their careers, and once they stop playing the game, the effectiveness with which they have defined, positioned and built their image and values will have  an impact on their future after tennis. If they postpone the aforementioned definition of their brand for too long, the lack of relevance they fear so much will undermine the value they offer to society, in which standing out requires far more than a logo.

Article by Andrea Canella; translated by Alessandro Valentini; edited by Tommaso Villa

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