EXCLUSIVE: An inside Look Into The Australian Open’s Inaugural Pride Day - UBITENNIS
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EXCLUSIVE: An inside Look Into The Australian Open’s Inaugural Pride Day

Why is there a Pride Day taking place and what is its significance? UbiTennis speaks with Dr Ryan Storr who has been involved in the pre-work for the initiative.

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Monday at Melbourne Park will see the likes of Stefanos Tsitsipas and Aryna Sabalenka battle for a place in the quarter-finals but taking place during the same time will be a brand new initiative overseen by Tennis Australia.

AO Pride Day celebrates LGTBQ+ players and fans within the world of tennis. The Rod Laver Arena will be lit up in rainbow colors at night, activities will be taking place throughout the day and there will be a various forms of entertainment put on. Courtney Act, who is best known for finishing runner-up in season six of Rupaul’s Drag Race, will be one of the MC’s taking part. 

 

“For many years we’ve hosted special events for the LGBTI community, such as the international Glam Slam and our pre-AO Pride night, so bringing many of our initiatives together on AO Pride Day is the natural next step,” Tennis Australia CEO Craig Tiley said in a statement.  “I’m delighted we can all come together as a community to celebrate together on this special day, which I have no doubt will become a highly anticipated part of the AO every year.”

One of those who have been part of launching the initiative is Dr Ryan Storr. A social scientist with an extensive history of researching LGBTI issues in sport. He is a research fellow at Swinburne University of Technology and is the co-founder of Proud 2 Play which seeks to facilitate young people from the LGBTI community into sport and exercise. Storr also has roots in tennis after previously working as a coach at Northumbria University and Loughborough University.

UbiTennis speaks with Storr ahead of Pride Day to find out why such an initiative is important and what he has discovered about LGBTI-related tennis issues through his own academic work. We also look into the debate surrounding the decision to have one of the Australia’s Open primary stadiums named after Margaret Court who has previously made various anti-LGBTI comments.

UBITENNIS: Ryan, You have been involved in some of the pre-work for the first Australian Open Pride day. What has that entailed?

DR STORR: It’s been an ongoing process for quite a while. But it basically meant working with Tennis Australia and their Diversity and Inclusion team. Thinking about planning, what the events are, what the aim is and things like that.

I think one of the things I think I have been particularly helpful with is using the research. I did a big piece of research around the impact of inclusion on LGBTI communities, what can be done and so on.

There have been planning groups, emails, working groups – so a lot of planning has gone into this. It is not a one-off project, it has been building for years and I think this one is going to be the biggest one since it is now sponsored and presented by Ralph Lauren. There has been a lot of community engagement, stakeholder engagement and speaking with the community about what we want with this event.

UBITENNIS: Why is it important to have days like these at the Australian Open and what is the overall objective?

DR STORR: The importance of Pride Day, in addition to the Glam Slam which is happening next weekend, is using Tennis Australia’s reach and brand to raise awareness and to invite people in. So when people might think why do we have Pride Day’s? In the context of tennis it is to try and attract new fans. From research and my own research LGBTI fans from across the globe don’t always feel welcome. Sometimes there is a hostile environment during live sporting events so some people might not think to attend or they think about their safety.

It’s basically marketing to the LGBTI community saying we want you to come to our event and we are inclusive. Unfortunately, if they are not told, some may feel it is not a place for them. Especially trans and gender diverse people who can have challenges in terms of accessing bathrooms etc.

UBITENNIS: In the press release Tennis Australia says the day ‘promises to be both an uplifting and educational day for AO fans on-site.’ What about players, will they be able to participate in some way if they wish?

DR STORR: I think there is educational information that’s being given to players. I know Felix Auger-Aliassime was at the first Nations Day which celebrates indigenous and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia. So I think there are opportunities for people to get involved and find out more.

One of the things in particular which I have been involved in is stories and videos around what Pride means and showcasing people’s experiences.

https://twitter.com/AustralianOpen/status/1481877978472906752

UBITENNIS: You are an accomplished social scientist and co-founder of Proud2Play inc. Have you discovered any studies which highlight the impact of events such as these within a sports environment?

DR STORR: One thing that stood out to me when I did research is generally the people who take part in the Glam Slam, GLTA (Gay and Lesbian Tennis Alliance) tournaments and who they are marketing at is an older demographic. So for example the LGBTI clubs are probably for people aged 30 and above, but mainly around 40-50. In the time when they were younger a lot places it (homosexuality) was illegal, we had the HIV/AIDS crises and discrimination was very common.

I think it’s gone 360 and we really need to show that sport has changed in particular. That it is inviting and welcoming for people because it has a long history of discrimination.

There has been quite a bit of research, especially on pride Games about attitudinal change. One of the things to note is that one-off events don’t do that much. They raise awareness, but they are not going to solve homophobia and transphobia in sport. One thing to know about Tennis Australia and the Glam Slam is that there are also other events going on leading up to this (Australian Open Pride). But I think this event in particular highlights Pride and some of the challenges.

My research found that playing tennis in inclusive and safe environments significantly improved the lives of LGBTI people. That’s why these Pride Games and Pride Day’s show a significant increase in mental and social health, as well as overall wellbeing.

UBITENNIS: One thing I noticed when the Australian Open posted their Pride video on social media, it brought up the debate over the Margaret Court Arena and whether it should be renamed due to her history of anti-LGBTI remarks. I was just wondering what your opinion on the matter is being both Australian and a member of the LGBTI community?

DR STORR: The Margaret Court Arena is an interesting and complex topic still. I think Tennis Australia has suggested that they would potentially change the name but unfortunately Melbourne Park is owned and run by the Olympic Park Trust. So in order to do that (renamed a court) it needs to be the Olympic Park Trust.

Tennis Australia doesn’t have the naming rights. I think it potentially will change. The name of John Cain Arena has changed a number of times but I think having that name (showcased on an arena) doesn’t show that Tennis Australia is not inclusive.

Tennis Australia is doing so much work behind the scene and investing money. They have invested in research through the University I was working at. There are not many sports who are investing in this.

I think there is going to be a significant evidence-base (data) to show the positive impact of these events in terms of tickets sold, brand awareness etc.

There is an absolute commitment from Tennis Australia in terms of time, resources, energy and funding. This is all-year round and not just when the Australian Open is on.

UBITENNIS: So what does the future hold when it comes to promoting LGBTI issues in tennis considering there is no openly gay player on the men’s Tour?

DR STORR: I think in the coming years there will be a few more bits going on. I have a colleague, Lou, from Pride Sports UK who has been commissioned to initially do some research and insight around LGBTI inclusion.

Tennis is probably welcoming and inclusive in this respect. I wouldn’t say it is like a player couldn’t come out because it is an individual sport which makes a difference compared to team sports. But the proof will be in the pudding when somebody comes out. I think there is going to be a lot more work from the ATP and the other Grand Slams.

Tennis hasn’t really engaged in LGBTI inclusion. You got Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King but it is important to engage with LGBTI communities moving on into the future.

You can find out more about Storrs academic work related to LGBTI issues in sport HERE or follow him on twitter.

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US Open Daily Preview: Carlos Alcaraz and Casper Ruud Play for the Men’s Singles Championship

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Carlos Alcaraz at the end of Friday’s semifinal (twitter.com/usopen)

History will be made on Sunday at the US Open.  In an unprecedented men’s championship match, the winner will not only earn their first Major title, but also become the World No.1 for the first time.  So much is on the line for both 19-year-old Carlos Alcaraz and 23-year-old Casper Ruud.

 

Alcaraz comes from humble beginnings, growing up in a small village called El Palmar in Murcia, Spain.  His father was a semi-professional tennis player, and Carlitos picked up the game from a very young age.  In 2018, he joined the tennis academy of former world No.1 Juan Carlos Ferrero, who quickly recognized the talent and potential of Alcaraz, and has been his primary coach ever since.  His idol is fellow Spaniard Rafael Nadal.

Ruud is the son of former top 40 player Christian Ruud, who also serves as his coach.  Casper grew up in Oslo, Norway, and continues to set new records for Norwegian players: the first to win an ATP title, to reach a Major final, and to be ranked in the top 10.  And like Alcaraz, his idol is Rafael Nadal.


Casper Ruud (5) vs. Carlos Alcaraz (3) – 4:00pm on Arthur Ashe Stadium

Alcaraz is looking to become the youngest World No.1 in history, and the first teenager to ever achieve that feat.  He is the youngest men’s finalist at a Major since Nadal at Roland Garros in 2005.  Just last year, Carlitos was ranked outside the top 100.  But since last summer, he has skyrocketed up the rankings.  He leads the tour with 50 match wins in 2022, and is 5-2 lifetime in ATP finals.

Ruud, currently ranked No.7, is looking to make the biggest rankings jump to No.1 of all-time.  This is his second Major final out of the last three, after being a surprise finalist three months ago in Paris.  In that championship match, he was routed by Nadal 6-3, 6-3, 6-0.  Overall, Casper is 9-4 in finals.

Alcaraz is 2-0 against Ruud, having claimed both those matches in straight sets.  They occurred a year ago on clay in Marbella, and six months ago in the final of the Miami Masters on a hard court. 

It’s hard to fathom Carlitos will be close to 100% physically on Sunday.  He is coming off three consecutive five-set wins that went late into the night or the morning, and even had to save a match point in his especially epic five-setter against Jannik Sinner.  As per Ravi Ubha, Alcaraz is the first player since Andre Agassi in 2005 to win three straight five-setters in the round directly before a Major final.  However, the youngster is remarkably fit, and continues to recover surprisingly well from his grueling five-set battles.

The second half of Ruud’s road to this championship match was considerably less complicated, spending over four hours less on court than Alcaraz since the fourth round.  Casper will be the much fresher competitor, yet even though he possesses previous experience in a Major final, he has much less experience in defeating top players.  He is 0-5 at Slams against top 5 opposition.

Unlike Ruud, Alcaraz has a favorable record against the top 10, having claimed seven of his last nine matches.  His incredible mix of speed and power make his game nearly impenetrable when he’s at his best.  And considering his comfortable victories over Casper in the recent past, Carlitos is the favorite to win his first Major title and become the new World No.1.


Also on Sunday, the women’s doubles championship match will be played at 1:00pm local time.  It’s Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova (3) vs. Caty McNally and Taylor Townsend.  Krejcikova and Siniakova are vying for their sixth Major as a team, and their third of the season.  This title would complete their career Grand Slam.  McNally was a finalist at last year’s US Open alongside Coco Gauff.  Townsend is a two-time Slam semifinalist, including earlier this season at Roland Garros.  This is only Katy and Taylor’s second event as a team.


Sunday’s full Order of Play is here.

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US Open Daily Preview: Iga Swiatek and Ons Jabeur Play for the Women’s Singles Championship

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Iga Swiatek during Thursday’s semifinals (twitter.com/usopen)

The championship match in women’s singles at the last Major of the year is fittingly between the two best players of 2022.  They are also two of the sport’s most likable competitors, with plenty of flair and aggression in their games.

 

Iga Swiatek 56-7 this season, with six titles, all of which were accumulated during a 37-match winning streak.  The world No.1 has more than double the points of all other players this season.  And the two-time Roland Garros champion has now achieved her first Slam final on a hard court.

Ons Jabeur is 44-13 on the year,with two titles.  She will reach a career-high ranking of No.2 based on this result, her second Major final this summer.  Ons is the first woman to achieve back-to-back Major finals since Serena Williams in 2019.


Iga Swiatek (1) vs. Ons Jabeur (5) – 4:00pm on Arthur Ashe Stadium

Swiatek’s best tennis has often escaped during her this event, and she’s spoken openly regarding the court speed and tennis balls not being to her liking.  But she has still advanced to this final fairly economically, dropping only two sets through six matches.  Iga has now claimed her last nine matches against top 10 opposition, and is a perfect 9-0 in tournament finals within the last two years, claiming all nine of those in straight sets.

Jabeur was only 10-8 this season on hard courts prior to this fortnight, and went just 2-3 on this surface in August after her highly disappointing loss in the championship match at Wimbledon, where she won just four of the last 16 games after securing the first set.  However, she dropped only one set in her first six rounds, and dominated a red-hot Caroline Garcia in the semifinals by a score of 6-1, 6-3.  Ons is 2-3 in finals this year, and only 3-6 lifetime.

Swiatek and Jabeur have split four previous meetings, and split their two encounters on hard courts.  They played once before at a Major, with Ons prevailing in three sets in the round of 16 at last year’s Wimbledon.  When they met this season, in the final of Rome on clay, Iga was comfortably victorious 6-2, 6-2.

Swiatek will look to dictate play from the baseline, but will need to cut down on her unforced error count.  In all of her six matches this tournament, she has struck more errors than winners, averaging a -8 differential.  Jabeur is an excellent server, especially for her height, but will need to dramatically increase her first serve percentage.  In her semifinal against Caroline Garcia, it was only 43%.  Iga’s aggressive returns would easily exploit that on Saturday.

Based on her play this year, as well as her outstanding record in finals, Swiatek is the favorite to win her third Major title.  But regardless of the outcome, if these two competitors both play anywhere near their best tennis, they could create one of the most memorable finals in recent memory.


Also on Saturday, the mixed doubles championship match will be played at 12:00pm local time.  It’s the Aussie team of Storm Sanders and John Peers (4) vs. Kirsten Flipkens and Edouard Roger-Vasselin.  Peers and France’s Roger-Vasselin have both previously won a men’s doubles titles at their respective home Slams.  Flipkens retired from singles after this year’s Wimbledon.  Her and Sanders are both vying for their first Major title.


Saturday’s full Order of Play is here.

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US Open Daily Preview: The Men’s Semifinals

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Carlos Alcaraz in the quarterfinals (twitter.com/usopen)

The men’s semifinals feature four players all vying for their first Major title.  Roland Garros runner-up Casper Ruud is the only remaining man who has previously played in a Slam semifinal.  Carlos Alcaraz, Frances Tiafoe, and Karen Khachanov are all making their debut at this stage of a Major.  And both Ruud and Alcaraz have a chance to leave New York as the new world No.1 if they win the title, or if one reaches the final and the other loses in the semifinals.  Which two men will advance to Sunday’s championship match, and which one will become a first-time Slam champ? 

 

Also on Friday, the men’s doubles final will be played.  And it is a blockbuster between the top two seeds.


Karen Khachanov (27) vs. Casper Ruud (5) – Not Before 3:00pm on Arthur Ashe Stadium

Ruud has reached this semifinal rather efficiently, dropping only three sets.  And in the one five-setter he played, he comfortably claimed the fifth set 6-0.  Casper previously had the reputation of being a clay court specialist, but he’s now 17-6 this season on hard courts, and was a finalist at the Masters 1000 event in Miami.

Khachanov was a two-time Major quarterfinalist before this fortnight, yet those results came on clay and grass.  He had never previously advanced beyond the third round of a hard court Slam.  None of his matches at this event have been easy, as he lost at least set in each.  Karen is coming off consecutive five-setters against Pablo Carreno Busta and Nick Kyrgios.

Their only prior encounter occurred two years ago on clay in Rome, with Ruud prevailing 6-1 in the third.  And Casper looked extremely sharp in the last round against another big server, Matteo Berrettini, returning aggressively and breaking the Italian five times across three sets.  Ruud will also be the fresher competitor on Friday, despite each player having two full days of rest.  Casper should be favored to reach his second final out of the last three Majors.


Carlos Alcaraz (3) vs. Frances Tiafoe (22) – Not Before 7:00pm on Arthur Ashe Stadium

These are two of the sport’s most exciting, charismatic young stars.  But only one will reach their first championship match at a Major this week.

Tiafoe has exhilarated the New York audience, and dropped only one set through five matches.   He is a perfect 6-0 in tiebreaks during this tournament, and spent significantly less time on court than Alcaraz.

Carlitos has played consecutive epics that ended early in the morning.  In the fourth round, he came back from a set down in the fifth to defeat Marin Cilic.  In the quarterfinals, he played for five hours and fifteen minutes, and until nearly three in the morning, to overcome Jannik Sinner in what was easily the best match of the year to date. 

Tiafoe and Alcaraz have only played once, a year ago on clay in Barcelona, with Frances winning in straight sets.  Even though that was only 17 months ago, Carlitos was ranked outside the top 100 at the time, and he’s now the ATP’s winningest player in 2022.  However, while he’s one of the fittest athletes in the sport, he can’t possibly be 100% coming into this semifinal.  Even by five-hour match standards, that quarterfinal with Sinner was incredibly taxing, with an extremely high level maintained throughout the match.  And that will be a huge advantage for a confident Tiafoe, who also thrives playing in front of big crowds, and in night matches in his home country.  I like Tiafoe’s chances of becoming the first American man to reach a Major singles final since Andy Roddick.


Other Notable Matches on Friday:

Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury (1) vs. Wesley Koolhof and Neal Skupski (2) – Ram and Salisbury are the defending champions, while Koolhof and Skupski are easily the best men’s doubles team of 2022, with six titles.  These teams split two meetings earlier this year on hard courts.


Friday’s full Order of Play is here.

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