Since 1995, I have attended every International Tennis Hall of Fame induction ceremony. This span has covered more than a quarter of a century, and for me it has always been one of the highlights of the season to be in Newport, Rhode Island, for the festivities. I witnessed Chris Evert’s induction in 1995, saw Jimmy Connors accept his honor three years later, observed John McEnroe giving his singularly lengthy speech in 1999, and was there when Martina Navratilova entered the shrine in 2000.
A cavalcade of superstars followed in the ensuing years including Ivan Lendl in 2001, Mats Wilander the following year, Boris Becker in 2003 and then Stefan Edberg and Steffi Graf in 2004 as the Hall of Fame celebrated their golden jubilee year. Summer after memorable summer on the weekend after Wimbledon, players with big names and prodigious achievements stepped forth to claim the highest honor in the game. Yannick Noah and Jim Courier were recipients in 2005, Gabriela Sabatini and Pat Rafter followed in 2006, and Pete Sampras broke down in tears as he joined the Hall of Fame in 2007. Four years later, Andre Agassi took his place among the immortals. Leading women players Lindsay Davenport, Amelie Mauresmo and Justine Henin were recognized for their accomplishments from 2014 to 2016. Kim Clijsters and Andy Roddick were the headliners in 2017, when I had the good fortune to be inducted as a contributor for my lifelong dedication to tennis journalism. And then across the next couple of years Michael Stich, Helena Sukova, Li Na and Mary Pierce moved into their home away from home, landing in Newport.
Last year, the pandemic prevented the ceremony from being held, and so this time around there was a combined ceremony for the classes of 2020 and 2021. In my view, for many reasons, this year’s celebration was among the most poignant and powerful that I have ever seen.
After a scorching afternoon, the skies turned gray and the fog rolled in, but that only heightened the drama and vast appeal of the proceedings. Fittingly, it all commenced with the arrival of the “Original Nine”. For the first time in Hall of Fame history, a group was honored for their contributions as if they were an individual, and no one among the cognoscenti of tennis would dispute that these magnificent and audacious women were fully worthy of the honor they were receiving.
On September 23, 1970 in Houston, Texas, the nine female competitors—Billie Jean King, Rosie Casals, Nancy Richey, Kerry Melville Reid, Judy Tegart Dalton, Kristy Pigeon, Valerie Ziegenfuss, Peaches Bartkowicz, and, last but surely not least, Julie Heldman—signed one dollar pro contracts with the estimable promoter and World Tennis Magazine founder Gladys M. Heldman.
They played their first tournament at the Houston Racquet Club which was sponsored by Virginia Slims and offered $7,500 in prize money. They were in defiance of the governing bodies of their countries, knowing they were risking suspensions and potentially having their careers severely disrupted, realizing that they might find themselves erroneously labels as outlaws by the male establishment of tennis. Yet they refused to be swayed from their convictions that women deserved equal treatment in tennis rather than prize money that went eight to one against them and sometimes was even worse than that when compared to the men.
By 1971, a full fledged circuit was in place for the women. King established herself as the first female athlete ever to earn $100,000 in a year. In 1973, the women were paid equal prize money at the U.S. Open with Margaret Court and John Newcombe both taking home $25,000 as the champions. Women’s tennis flourished thereafter, largely because the “Original Nine” had paved the way for them.
In any event, seven of the nine players were assembled in Newport the weekend before last, with Dalton appearing on Zoom and warmly addressing her fellow players and the audience. Richey was not present but even her decision not to show up in Newport could not diminish the deep enthusiasm all of the others shared in knowing how much they had contributed to not only women’s tennis but women across the board in society as a result of what they did 51 years ago.
King spoke first at the ceremony and put into context what the “Original Nine” had done to shape the future of their sport. As she said, “The nine of us along with our fearless leader Gladys Heldman had one vision for the future of women’s tennis. We wanted any girl if she was good enough to have a place to compete, to be recognized for her accomplishments and not only for her looks, and most importantly to be able to make a living playing professional tennis. Today’s women professional players are living a dream. Women’s tennis is the leader in women’s sports.”
Next up at the podium was the taciturn Kerry Melville Reid, eternally shy and ever modest. Reid was a perennial world top ten player who won the Australian Open in 1977. This Australian star spoke fondly about winning the Virginia Slims tournament in Newport fifty years ago, taking the title over Francoise Durr after upending King in the semifinals. The final went to 4-4 in the third set tiebreaker so it was simultaneous match point for both players, but Reid held her nerve to secure the victory. She reflected, “Looking how far women’s tennis has come since then, I am really proud to have been a part of that… I thought if it is good enough for Judy and if Billie Jean is doing this, they are putting their careers on the line. So I decided to join the Original Nine and I am really happy that I did.”
Kristy Pigeon followed Reid in the speaking lineup. This left-handed American dynamo came out of California, possessed a big serve and adventuresome game, and was the No. 8 ranked player from the U.S. that landmark season of 1970.
Pigeon recollected, “In 1968 I broke into the international tennis scene. At that time women played on the back courts ad women’s sports were trivialized. That same year at age 17, I became the top junior in the world by winning the Wimbledon and U.S. titles. I set a new goal and that was to go to college, play on a team and receive a scholarship. No such thing. The phone didn’t ring. Then in 1970 Jack Kramer [tournament director of the Pacific Southwest tournament in Los Angeles] got aced by nine women. We were misfits, trouble makers, rebels. So we were just crazy enough to change the world of tennis. I am proud of our efforts that led not only to a broader range of opportunities for women players, but also for other sportswomen and collegiate athletes as well.”
One by one, these distinguished members of the “Original Nine” were conveying their thoughts with originality, humor and verve. Ziegenfuss was no exception to that rule. Ranked seventh among Americans in 1970, she was first rate in singles but even better in doubles.
Always known for her salt of the earth persona and a fundamental decency, Ziegenfuss spoke from the heart and did an excellent job of defining who the “Original Nine” are and what they have meant to the sport.
She said, ‘This award means our story is officially part of tennis history for ever and ever, and it means for generations to come my relatives will be able to trace their bloodline back to me and discover our group’s contribution to the world—that is fun. Just think: we grew up with white tennis balls, wood rackets, one tennis magazine (World Tennis) and no Stan Smith tennis shoes.”
That line drew considerable laughter among those seated at the ceremony, including from Smith himself. He is the President of the International Tennis Hall of Fame, and was the world’s best player in 1972 when he won Wimbledon, but is perhaps best known now for his Adidas tennis shoe that bears his name. He was more than willing to smile freely at Ziegenfuss’s gentle humor.
Ziegenfuss continued, “What is even more amazing is we’re older than the internet, color television, personal computers and cell phones- not to mention our friend Alexa. And, by the way, Alexa knows who we are and even pronounced Bartkowicz ad Ziegenfuss correctly. Talk abut we’ve come a long way baby!”
Becoming even more philosophical, Ziegenfuss said, “The game of tennis has always given to me more than I could ever give back to it. The game prepared me for adulthood, it gave me skills to earn a living and gave me friendships to last a lifetime. Tennis has always been there for me. It is part of my past, my present and hopefully my future. It has given me so much joy playing it, coaching it, following it and parenting it. I am very proud that my daughter Allison Bradshaw played the women’s tour for three years. Maybe one day her children, Mathew and Ashley, will follow in our footsteps.”
After Ziegenfuss wrapped up her thoughtful speech, it was time for Julie Heldman to address the public. Julie was raised by the great Gladys Heldman and thus grew up with the game and with her mother’s overriding passion—World Tennis Magazine. Julie was ranked second in the United States in 1969. She reached the top five in the world as well. She was among the most cerebral players of her era and later became an outstanding television commentator.
Her speech was in my view the best of all. Her words resonated not only with me but anyone out there who wanted complete clarity on the significance and ultimate impact of the “Original Nine.” Heldman was remarkably eloquent and even lyrical.
She said, “I feel thrilled and profoundly honored that the Hall of Fame is inducting us as a group and acknowledging our contributions to women’s tennis and to women everywhere. By now most of you have seen the iconic photo of our group taken in Houston in 1970, just before the start of the groundbreaking tournament that we have come to celebrate. The photo shows eight top women tennis players grinning and raising one dollar bills alongside my mother, the architect and engineer of the early tour. She is no longer with us but we remain grateful for all the miracles she pulled off.”
Heldman explained why she was not in that famous photo. “I hadn’t planned to compete in Houston because at that time I was so deeply wounded physically and mentally that I couldn’t compete in a tournament for another five months. But I, like the other eight women, understood the importance of the moment. And when I heard that my pals and rivals were taking a risk for women’s tennis, I jumped in to join them. So I competed in Houston by playing just one point out of solidarity to stand up against the male denominated tennis associations that were threatening our right to earn a living. Billie Jean King and I went out on a side court and after a few moments of pity-pat tennis I intentionally hit the ball into the net— an act that that was totally foreign to my nature.”
As Heldman added, “Once we cemented the deal by shaking hands at the net, our group became the ‘Original Nine’. The nine of us were rebels but we were not alone. The Houston tournament could only accommodate eight players, but plenty more women would have taken the risk if they only had the opportunity. Sure, it is true that not every woman player chose to join us right away but lets not forget that soon after the tour got underway women players arrived in droves from around the world, ready to stand together. Without that kind of solidarity the tour might have fizzled out quickly. The Original Nine are being honored today for our courageous stand but also as the symbol of all the early competitors on the women’s pro tour who banded together for the present and future of women’s tennis.”
Nearing the end of her lucid, enlightening and far reaching speech, Heldman said, “This honor has been 51 years in the making, but it remains exquisitely timely. Since 1970, vastly increased numbers of girls and women have participated inn sports and many have excelled. And once again the sound of rebellion is in the air, spearheaded by the women’s National Soccer Team, but repeated throughout women’s sports, echoing our long ago demand to be respected and paid for doing what we did best. By honoring the “Original Nine” today the International Tennis Hall of Fame is sending a message to female athletes in all sports. The message is ‘keep fighting. Your time is coming.’”
Heldman’s address soared mightily from beginning to end, and so Casals was following a very tough act. But Rosie— who along with King and Richey had already been inducted in Newport previously for her individual accomplishments—made her presence known with her usual spunk and sincerity.
“I am frightened to death of all these speeches,” she said. “And I am supposed to be the closer. So I am going to close this wonderful evening.”
She congratulated some of the 2020 inductees and thanked Ilana Kloss for her role in helping the “Original Nine” get the recognition they deserve. Then Casals said, ‘Thanks to all of you for completing our journey and allowing the “Original Nine” once again to make our history in the game that we have loved and helped shape into the future. To my warriors who stood tall and invincible so long ago so women’s tennis could be what it has become— the showcase for women’s sports. One last time—I am proud to stand with them and before all of you as a humble believer that anything is possible if women stand together.”
The time had become to hear from Lucy Garvin, former President of the USTA and a longtime friend and admirer of the late Dennis Van Der Meer. Van Der Meer was elected as a contributor to the class of 2021, and deservedly so for his singular role as a teaching professional over the decades. Van Der Meer was regarded universally at the “teacher of teachers” and in his industry no one was more highly regarded.
Gavin closed her speech by saying, “The genius of Dennis Van Der Meer is very clear. He was a brilliant coach, a revolutionary in his thinking, a true visionary and a mentor to thousands including myself. He was the teacher of teachers. His greatest gift was his love of people and the game of tennis. He is what Hall of Famers are all about, truly an icon.”
After Van Der Meer’s widow and critical partner on and off the court Pat thanked Garvin and the Hall of Fame for the honor, Raquel Giscafre appeared on Zoom to present Conchita Martinez. Giscafre was the top ranked player from Argentina in the 1970’s and established herself as one of the premier tournament promoters on the WTA Tour starting in the mid-1980s.
She saluted Martinez for her multitude of successes. As Giscafre said of the Spanish stylist, “She was in the top ten in the world for nine years in a row. In 1995 she was ranked No. 2 in the world. She was the first Spanish woman to win Wimbledon in 1994, beating the great Martina Navratilova in the final. She reached the final at the French and Australian Opens and was at least a semifinalist in every Grand Slam. She also won four consecutive Italian Open titles.”
Giscafre lauded Martinez for leading Spain to five Fed Cup triumphs, for becoming the first Spanish woman to be captain of their Davis Cup team from 2015 to 2017, and for serving as Fed Cup captain from 2013 to 2017. And then Giscafre spoke of the great courage displayed by Martinez.
Martinez was true to her character— understated, dignified, appreciative, and honorable. She was terrific.
“It is a great honor for me to be here today and to be a part of world tennis history,” said Martinez. “It is my first time here [in Newport]. It is just an amazing feeling and something I will treasure all of my life.”
Eventually she spoke of the joy she found in winning Wimbledon 27 years ago. She said, “When asked by journalists and fans during which title is the most special to me, I have no doubt it is Wimbledon. I had mixed feelings about playing on grass at that time, probably because Spanish players did not have much experience of playing on this surface. But every year I improved my game on grass, working hard and accepting that I had to change things to get results. And, boy, did I get great results. I am so proud to have been the first Spanish woman to take the title home. The memory of playing against and defeating Martina Navratilova— who was going after her tenth championship at Wimbledon— will stay with me forever.”
She spoke of her pride in simultaneously being captain of both the Fed Cup and Davis Cup teams in her country and of playing for her country, which she clarified was never easy. “The responsibility is huge,” she said. “You feel you are carrying the hopes of your country on your shoulders.”
As she wrapped up her remarks, Martinez said, “This wonderful sport has given me unforgettable moments, moments that require dedication, sacrifice, effort, patience, positivity, optimism, and, above all, belief in yourself. If you want your dreams to come true, these words must become part of your daily life.”
And so it all would end the only way it could, with the 2001 Wimbledon champion accepting his honor with grace, humor and reverence. Ivanisevic—who also made it to three other finals in the 1990’s but lost twice to Pete Sampras (1994 and 1998) ands once to Andre Agassi (1992) was introduced by John McEnroe on film. McEnroe said, “Can I just say at the top—- I love Goran Ivanisevic and I am absolutely thrilled to induct someone at the International Tennis Hall of Fame who is arguably crazier on the court than I was. But here’s the truth— he has been great for the sport of tennis…The bottom line is this—both on and off the court Goran did things his way and we could certainly use more players like him.”
Ivanisevic— who reached a career high of No. 2 in the world —was deeply touched by McEnroe’s introduction of him. He then said, “42 years ago I started this journey from a little town of Split in Croatia and today 42 years after I am in Newport.”
He had to talk about his fans and how frustrating he made it for them. Ivanisevic said, “It was not easy to be my fan. Wow! It was frustrating and sad. Probably a lot of people got divorced because of me. But for sure one thing—it was entertaining to be my fans.”
He spoke briefly about an outstanding Croatian journalist named Neven Berticevic who had been kind to him in print across the years, proclaiming, “Thank you, Neven, for writing every beautiful word about me.”
And then Ivanisevic gave a heartfelt salute to his parents for all they did to shape and guide him through the years. “And now,” he said, “the most important thing—the two most important persons in my career, my Mom and Dad, two people who sacrificed their health and career and gave me unconditional love for me to succeed. Mom and Dad—there are not enough thank you’s, not enough words that I can say or do for everything what you have been doing for me. And if I have to go again on this trip I gonna choose you again to be my Mom and Dad and we go through it together again. I love you and thank you for everything.”
Ivanisevic mentioned his three kids and his wife, spoke movingly about his country and amusingly about Wimbledon for giving him a wild card in 2001 that led to a long awaited triumph on those lawns, and left the stage having made everyone who was there delighted they had witnessed his induction.
It was an outstanding ceremony and one of the most enjoyable I have ever seen. It brought out the best in a good many people and gave us all an even deeper appreciation for those who were elected to the International Tennis Hall of Fame. I am already looking forward to 2022.
Steve Flink has been reporting full time on tennis since 1974, when he went to work for World Tennis Magazine. He stayed at that publication until 1991. He wrote for Tennis Week Magazine from 1992-2007, and has been a columnist for tennis.com and tennischannel.com for the past 14 years. Flink has written four books on tennis including “Dennis Ralston’s Tennis Workbook” in 1987; “The Greatest Tennis Matches of the Twentieth Century” in 1999; “The Greatest Tennis Matches of All Time” in 2012; and “Pete Sampras: Greatness Revisited”. The Sampras book was released in September of 2020 and can be purchased on Amazon.com. Flink was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2017.
The Story Of Indian Wells 2023
At this same time of the year in 2022, Carlos Alcaraz announced to the tennis community that he was ready to propel himself into the forefront of the sport. He reached the semifinals of the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells before losing to countryman Rafael Nadal amidst almost impossibly windy conditions in the California dessert. Although Alcaraz had already reached the quarterfinals of the 2021 U.S. Open, the stellar Indian Wells showing last year propelled him to another level.
In short order, Alcaraz won his first Masters 1000 title in Miami, captured another of those elite crowns in Madrid, and, at the end of last summer, took the U.S. Open title in New York. With that breakthrough triumph at a major, Alcaraz went to No. 1 in the world, and he concluded the season still stationed at the very top of tennis. He has been hobbled by injuries too often since last November and consequentially missed the Australian Open, but now this 19-year-old sensation is back on top of the world at No. 1 following a 6-3, 6-2 final round victory over Daniil Medvedev in the final at Indian Wells.
That was no mean feat for this strikingly mature champion. He is the youngest man ever to secure both the Miami and Indian Wells titles. Not since Roger Federer in 2017 had a male player taken this prestigious crown without losing a set. Medvedev was enjoying the second longest winning streak of his career of 19 match victories in a row. He was striving for a fourth consecutive ATP Tour title in a debilitating five-week span. He had seemingly almost forgotten how to lose after finding his form in Rotterdam in mid-February. He won there by toppling Jannik Sinner in the final. On he went to Doha, where he stopped Andy Murray in the final. The following week in Dubai, Medvedev ended a four match losing streak against Novak Djokovic with a 6-4, 6-4 semifinal win and then obliterated countryman Andrey Rublev 6-2, 6-2 in the title round.
Medvedev’s form fluctuated at Indian Wells but he seemed to be progressing as he headed into the final. But he had faced Alcaraz only once before. That was in 2021 at Wimbledon and Medvedev came through easily when Alcaraz was not the same player. So this collision at Indian Wells in the final was going to be revealing one way or another for two great players who figure to meet many more times on big occasions in the years ahead.
Some authorities believed Medvedev would exploit his experience, maintain his winning streak, and add another title to his collection. Of the 18 tournaments Medvedev has amassed starting in 2018, all but one have been on hard courts. But seldom has he been beaten as soundly as was by Alcaraz at Indian Wells. The Spaniard put 76% of his first serves in play compared to 65% for Medvedev. Alcaraz won 81% of his first serves points while Medvedev finished 20% behind his opponent in that department. Meanwhile, Alcaraz secured 58% of his second serve points and Medvedev finished well below that mark at 41%. Not once did Medvedev even reach break point. That is a rarity.
The humiliation for Medvedev transcended those facts. Time and again, Alcaraz set the tactical agenda. He caught Medvedev off guard with selective serve-and-volley combinations. He used the drop shot magnificently. He went for his shots freely and stayed away from the rhythmic long rallies on which Medvedev feasts. He kept Medvedev guessing for 70 painful minutes. For his part, Medvedev inexplicably attempted to match or surpass the Spaniard’s backcourt pace. He pressed off both sides. His forehand was well below par. And when Medvedev had the chance to prolong rallies and play more on his own terms, he impatiently went for bigger shots which backfired almost completely. His mind was muddled. Essentially and surprisingly, Medvedev was not ready to fight with his usual ferocity. He collapsed against an unrelenting Alcaraz.
Alcaraz was primed from the outset. He raced to 3-0 in the opening set, sweeping 12 of 15 points on the process. Medvedev professionally started imposing himself and held serve three times after falling behind. In his last two service games he conceded only one point as he located his delivery more accurately. But Alcaraz was unswerving on his own delivery, winning 20 of 26 points in five service games. Serving for the set at 5-3, he held comfortably at 15, closing out that game by serve-volleying on the last two points.
Medvedev had seemingly found his bearings after a slow start, but Alcaraz pounced in the opening game of the second set and broke his dispirited opponent at love. Medvedev gave that game away with two unforced errors off the ground, an errant backhand volley and a double fault. Alcaraz swiftly held at love and moved ahead 0-30 on Medvedev’s serve in the third game. He had won ten points in a row.
Alcaraz went on to break Medvedev again for 3-0 and surged to 4-0 with another routine hold. It had taken him only 17 minutes to build that second set lead. The rest was a formality. Alcaraz closed out the account without stress despite being taken to deuce when he served for the match at 5-2.
That it all came down to a duel between Alcaraz and Medvedev— the last two U.S. Open champions—for the first Masters 1000 crown of 2023 made perfect sense. As an unvaccinated player, Novak Djokovic was not permitted to enter the United States to compete at Indian Wells and Miami. Rafael Nadal—three time champion at Indian Wells and runner-up to Taylor Fritz a year ago—was not ready to return to the ATP Tour after his latest injury that led to a second round loss at the Australian Open.
With the two icons absent, the cognoscenti of tennis hoped for an enticing final round confrontation between Alcaraz and Medvedev. The match did not come even close to delivering on its considerable promise, but the fact remained that they both deserved to be there. The beguiling Spaniard took apart the Australian Thanasi Kokkinakis 6-2, 6-3 in the second round, ousted the tall Dutchman Tallon Griekspoor 7-6 (4), 6-3 in the third round, and then needed less than 47 minutes to defeat an ailing Jack Draper of Great Britain. Alcaraz led 6-2, 2-0 in that clash when the left-hander was forced to retire.
Alcaraz was rolling now. He had lost all three of his previous appointments against the charismatic Felix Auger-Aliassime, who had improbably erased six match points against him in a round of 16 win over Tommy Paul. But this time around against FAA, Alcaraz was exhilarated under the lights and he came through comfortably 6-4, 6-4. The serving statistics from this encounter are telling. Alcaraz won 81% of his first serve points, which was 11% better than the Canadian. The Spaniard took a respectable 59% of his second serve points, while Auger-Aliassime stood far below at 42%.
Alcaraz was the superior performer across the board during this quarterfinal encounter. He was sounder and cagier, quicker and sprightlier. His return was first rate across the two sets, and he backed up his own delivery with uncanny efficiency. It was a confidence building triumph in every respect, and just what he needed as he headed into the semifinals to take on Jannik Sinner.
The Italian had overcome the defending champion Fritz in a sparkling quarterfinal skirmish lasting three absorbing sets. Sinner blasted away spectacularly against the Californian and he had the upper hand in the vast majority of long rallies contested on an exceedingly windy night.
Sinner is industrious, unwavering and often enterprising. He had been victorious in two of his four showdowns with Alcaraz, prevailing in a memorable four set, round of 16 clash on the Centre Court at Wimbledon last year before losing what may well have been the best tennis match in all of 2022 at the U.S. Open. In that quarterfinal confrontation under the lights in Arthur Ashe Stadium, Sinner had a match point in the fourth set of a pendulum swinging contest before Alcaraz rallied again from a break down to take the fifth set and prevail 6-3, 6-7 (7), 6-7 (0), 7-5, 6-3 in five hours and fifteen minutes of spellbinding tennis.
No wonder so many learned observers were looking forward to the fifth career collision between two players who will surely be taking prestigious prizes away from each other for the next decade. Alcaraz moved out in front 4-2 before Sinner took eleven points in a row (and 12 of 14) on his way to a 5-4 lead. Sinner needed that first set more than Alcaraz. The Italian reached 15-30 in the tenth game but narrowly missed a return. Alcaraz held on for 5-5 but soon faced a set point in the twelfth game. Sinner was right where he wanted to be, on the edge of a first set victory.
But Alcaraz is frequently at his best when faced with the sternest of challenges. He took a short blocked return from Sinner and released one of his patented drop shots. Sinner chased it down, but his passing shot was much too high. Alcaraz moved easily to his right and punched a forehand volley winner into the open court. The set would be settled in a tie-break, and Alcaraz was too good, breaking a 4-4 deadlock by sweeping three points in a row, sealing that sequence 7-4 with a scorching flat backhand winner crosscourt. Alcaraz made one break count in the second set and succeeded 7-6 (4), 6-3. It was a remarkable performance highlighting Alcaraz’s match playing acumen.
As for Medvedev, making it to the final was a much tougher task. He handled Brandon Nakashima 6-4, 6-3 in the second round, although the match was more competitive than the score would indicate. Then he overcame Ilya Ivashka 6-2, 3-6, 6-1 to reach the round of 16 and an eagerly awaited clash with Sascha Zverev.
Zverev has had a difficult time rediscovering the heights of his game after missing the second half of 2022 following the abysmal ankle injury he suffered against Nadal in the semifinals of Roland Garros. But he had started playing better tennis in Dubai a few weeks back before losing a semifinal to Andrey Rublev. Zverev largely outplayed Medvedev at Indian Wells but, three times over the course of the match, he squandered 0-40 openings. He also missed out on 15 of 17 break point opportunities.
On top of all that, Medvedev rolled his ankle in the middle of the second set and needed the trainer. Somehow he survived despite the injury, winning 6-7 (5), 7-6 (5), 7-5 despite getting broken at 5-4 in the final set when he served for the match the first time. Zverev then played horrendously at 5-5, double faulting on break point. Medvedev escaped.
He remained concerned about the ankle in the quarterfinals against Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, and fell again, cutting his thumb in the process. Nevertheless, he got the win 7-5, 6-3. Two days off helped his cause considerably, and Medvedev looked fine physically on all fronts during his semifinal against Frances Tiafoe.
In fact, Medvedev was near the top of his game in establishing a 7-5, 5-3 lead. Seldom if ever has he produced so many breathtaking forehand passing shots, and, in turn, he was hardly missing from the baseline. But Tiafoe is doubly dangerous when he is behind, as he demonstrated so boldly last year in the U.S. Open semifinals against Alcaraz when he got up off the canvas after looking down and out to force a fifth set.
In this case, Tiafoe serve-volleyed his way out of two match points in the ninth game of the second set, and saved a third by provoking a forehand error on the stretch from Medvedev. Medvedev could not serve out the match at 5-4 but he broke right back at love in the eleventh game and served for the match a second time at 6-5. He reached 40-0 but Tiafoe erased four more match points in that astounding game. On they went to a tie-break, but an unruffled Medvedev did not fret. He took that sequence seven points to four, concluding the contest with a service winner and an ace. Medvedev was deservedly victorious 7-5, 7-6 (4). Not until he captured that match was his head cleared and his outlook altered. In the middle of the tournament, the 27-year-old was complaining vocally about the conditions, claiming that the slow conditions were not really hard court tennis as he knew it. That was a simple case of Medvedev irrationality.
A day later, Medvedev was trounced by a top of the line Alcaraz. He took the defeat graciously, recognizing that he had hit a physical and emotional wall after so much success in recent weeks. He also realized that Alcaraz had played a magnificent match. The Spaniard will be buoyed by the victory and confident that he has all the tools to confront Medvedev in the years to come. But Medvedev is a very studious fellow who will go back to the drawing board and examine what it will take to unsettle a surging Alcaraz the next time they meet.
Despite the setback, Medvedev has moved back to No. 5 in the world. It won’t be long before he finds himself in the top three, right up there with the pace setters Alcaraz and Djokovic. They are clearly the three best players in the world right now. It will be fascinating to follow their exploits. Djokovic, of course, was easily the best in the game across the second half of 2022 from Wimbledon on. He then opened his 2023 campaign by winning a tenth Australian Open and a 22nd major in the process. After his loss to Medvedev in the Dubai semifinals, the Serbian has been unable to play. That clearly contributed to Alcaraz regaining the top spot in the ATP Rankings, although the Spaniard must hold onto his crown in Miami to prevent Djokovic from taking back the No. 1 ranking.
A revitalized Djokovic will surely return at full force on the clay starting in Monte Carlo and perform purposefully as he chases a third French Open crown. Medvedev will need to prove that he can raise his clay court standards from years gone by. Alcaraz is riding high right now and will be tough to beat as he defends his crown in Miami. I expect him to realize that feat.
All signs point to some gripping battles between Djokovic and Alcaraz on the clay in Europe. If Nadal is healthy, he will be right there with them vying for the titles on the dirt. He will be determined to play his typical brand of unimaginably effective and inspiring clay court tennis. We are in for some astonishing matches in the coming weeks among these top players.
But, for a few days at least, Carlos Alcaraz should celebrate one of the best weeks of his young career at Indian Wells, and try to appreciate how well he is playing before he shifts his attention to winning again in Miami and pursing other primary targets. He owes it to himself to briefly but completely enjoy his latest triumph as much as possible. I suspect he will do just that.
United Cup Daily Preview: The United States Plays Italy in the Final
On Sunday in Sydney, the champions of the inaugural United Cup will be decided.
In the semifinals, the United States completed a clean sweep of Poland on Saturday, while Italy defeated Greece 4-1 despite Matteo Berrettini’s loss to Stefanos Tsitsipas in an excellent three-setter. Sunday’s play will feature four singles matches and a mixed doubles contest, with the first nation to win three matches to be crowned the United Cup champions.
Each day, this preview will analyze the two most prominent matches on the schedule. Sunday’s play gets underway at 1:00pm local time.
Jessica Pegula [USA] vs. Martina Trevisan [ITA] – Starts at 1:00pm
This will be the first match of the day. Pegula has gone 3-1 at this event, losing to Petra Kvitova in her first match, but defeating World No.1 Iga Swiatek on Friday. Trevisan is 2-2, though she helped propel Italy into this final with an epic victory over Maria Sakkari on Friday.
In their first career meeting, Jessica is a significant favorite. Pegula was 42-21 last season, reaching a career-high of ranking of No.3 thanks to her consistency at big events. And the fast-playing hard courts strongly favor her game, as they helped her reverse her lopsided rivalry with Swiatek in dominating fashion. By contrast, Trevisan had a losing record on hard courts last season, claiming just six tour-level matches in main draws on this surface.
The second match of the day will feature Frances Tiafoe taking on Lorenzo Musetti. Both men are 4-0 to this stage, and this matchup feels like it could easily go either way.
Taylor Fritz [USA] vs. Matteo Berrettini [ITA] – Not Before 5:30pm
This will be the third match of the day. Both players are 3-1 thus far at this event. Fritz’s loss came to Cam Norrie in the city finals, while Berrettini’s loss came in Saturday evening’s semifinals to Stefanos Tsitsipas. Notably, Matteo spent about an hour longer on court Saturday than Taylor, with the Italian’s match ending much later in the day.
Fritz is 2-0 against Berrettini. His victories came four years ago in Davis Cup on an indoor hard court, and two years ago at Indian Wells on in outdoor hard court. Taylor should be the fresher player on Sunday, and with the decided edge in their head-to-head, the American is the favorite to prevail.
The fourth match of the day sees Madison Keys take on Lucia Bronzetti, with Keys heavily favored. And the mixed doubles at the end of the day is scheduled to feature Pegula and Fritz against Trevisan and Berrettini. Overall, the United States is the favorite to win the first-ever United Cup.
The United Cup daily schedule is here.
LGBT Rights: Is It Fair To Criticize FIFA For Staging Its Event In Qatar When Tennis Have Been Doing So For Years?
Is it time for tennis to take note of the concerns raised over the staging of the FIFA World Cup?
November 20th will mark the start of one of the world’s most-watched sports events.
32 teams and thousands of fans will travel to Qatar for the 22nd edition of the FIFA World Cup which is being held in the Middle East for the first time in history. In what is set to be a landmark event for the region, the build-up to Qatar 2022 has been marred by concerns such as corruption in the bidding process, the controversial treatment of migrant workers and LGBT rights in the country.
LGBT football fans have expressed fears about travelling to Qatar where its penal code states that those living in the country can be jailed for up to seven years if they are found guilty of committing same-sex sodomy or sexual intercourse. The country’s World Cup Chief, Nasser Al Khater, recently told Sky News that LGBT fans will ‘feel safe’ at the event. Not that this is of any consolation to those who have to follow such strict rules or risk prosecution.
Whilst it is highly commendable that the World Cup has triggered a discussion about the topic, other sports have managed to stage their events in Qatar without having to address these concerns with tennis perhaps being the best example.
Doha, which is the capital of Qatar, has been staging top-level ATP and WTA events since 1993. On the men’s Tour, the country holds a prestigious ATP 250 in January which has been named the best tournament in that category four times between 2015-2021 in the annual ATP Awards. The event has been won by each member of the Big Four at least once and a sponsorship deal with ExxonMobil has guaranteed it will continue until at least 2027.
As for the women, the TotalEnergies Open is categorized as a WTA 1000 event and was won by Iga Swiatek earlier this season. Doha has also staged the WTA Finals three times between 2008-2010.
So is there some hypocrisy surrounding criticizing FIFA for staging its premier event in a country which is hostile to LGBT rights when tennis has faced no such backlash?
“The two are not comparable as the (tennis) tournaments in the Middle East are nowhere near as high profile or prestigious as the men’s football World Cup,” Pride In Tennis founder Ian Pearson-Brown told Ubitennis.
“The process is also very different to that of FIFA’s to allocate the area which hosts the World Cup. In turn, the LTA is working with the ATP to ensure any LGBTQ+ athletes are properly supported to create a healthier environment for players to play as their authentic selves. So I’d be wary of drawing comparisons.” he added
Parson-Brown makes a legitimate point. The 2018 World Cup in Russia had a global audience of 3.57 billion viewers which is more than half of the global population aged four and over, according to FIFA.
“In terms of visibility, we are working with the LTA to improve things domestically like our Friday Pride days during the grass-court season,” he continued.
“It is better for Sport to make a presence in countries where it is illegal to be gay in the hope that the values held by sports international governing bodies contributes to changes to a more progressive culture over time. It’s a better way than to force people to change their cultures after banning, disengaging and cutting ties with them.”
Pride in Tennis is a network supporting all British-based LGBTQI+ tennis players, coaches, officials and fans. The network was officially launched in February 2022 in partnership with the British LTA.
Qatar’s treatment of LGBT people has once again come under scrutiny following a new report published by the Human Rights Network which has revealed that as recently as September 2022, there has been evidence of LGBT+ people being arrested by authorities and subjected to ill-treatment.
Between 2019-2022 HRW has documented 11 cases of abusive treatment. Six of those cases were repeated beatings and a further five were sexual harassment. One woman said she lost consciousness during her beatings. Security officials are said to have inflicted forced confessions and prevented those arrested from accessing legal help. Transgender women were released on the condition they attend a government-sponsored ‘behaviour support’ centre.
“I saw many other LGBT people detained there: two Moroccan lesbians, four Filipino gay men, and one Nepalese gay man,” a Qatari trans woman told HRW. “I was detained for three weeks without charge, and officers repeatedly sexually harassed me. Part of the release requirement was attending sessions with a psychologist who ‘would make me a man again.’“
Rasha Younes is an LGBT rights researcher at Human Rights Watch who published the report. In an email exchange with Ubitennis, she said it was the duty of all sporting bodies to ensure that their events are staged in countries which respect human rights.
“Sports’ governing bodies have a responsibility to avoid infringing on the human rights of others and address adverse human rights impacts. This includes staging any major events in countries that do not protect human rights, including the rights of LGBT people,” Younes told Ubitennis.
Tennis’ governing bodies have all previously stated their commitment to making the sport open to the LGBT community. Earlier this year, the ITF told Ubitennis they ‘embrace the LGBTQ community and full support any initiative, such as the celebration of Pride Month, that continues the conversation and furthers progress in ensuring sport and society are free from bias and discrimination in any form.’
The WTA, which was co-founded by Billie Jean King, says that their Tour was founded on the ‘principles of equality and opportunity.’ Finally, The ATP has recently launched a multiyear education programme with You Can Play, a foundation which works to eradicate homophobia in sport.
Tennis is in a strong position when it comes to its approach to the issue of LGBT inclusion. However, it is a tougher situation when it comes to staging events. Will the uproar surrounding the FIFA World Cup change things? In reality most probably not. But that doesn’t mean that concerns shouldn’t be raised.
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