The head of the women’s WTA Tour has come out against any move which would see players from Russia and Belarus being banned from tournaments following the invasion of Ukraine.
Steve Simon has told BBC Sport that he believes that players should not be punished due to “decisions of an authoritarian leadership.” On February 24th Russian launched a military offensive on neighbouring Ukraine and it is speculated that elements within Belarus are supporting them. In the wake of the war there has been an outpouring of condemnation with various sanctions placed on Russia. The International Olympic Committee has also recommended that athletes from those two countries are banned from sporting events.
However, tennis has taken a different approach to the situation. In a joint-decision made by the seven governing bodies, players are allowed to continue playing but only as a neutral athlete. The tennis federations have also been suspended from team events and the Kremlin Cup in Moscow has been suspended until further notice.
“You never know what the future may bring,” Simon told BBC Sport.
“But I can tell you that we have never banned athletes from participating on our tour as the result of political positions their leadership may take.
“So it would take something very, very significant for that to change, but again we don’t know where this is going.”
However, it is possible that Simon’s view of the matter may not be enough. On Tuesday it was confirmed that the British government is looking into the prospect of allowing Russian athletes into their country in order to compete. It has been suggested that if those players do not condemn the war, they may be banned from entering. Daniil Medvedev, Andrey Rublev and others have all called for there to be no war. However, none of them has gone as far as criticizing their government.
“We are talking to various sports about this and what the response should be there,” Sports minister Nigel Huddleston he told the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) committee. “Absolutely, nobody flying the flag for Russia should be allowed or enabled.’
“But I think it needs to go beyond that, I think we need to have some assurance that they are not supporters of Vladimir Putin and we are considering what requirements we may need to get assurances along those lines.” He added.
In Russia authorities have reportedly arrested more than 14,000 people for anti-war protests, according to independent monitoring group OVD-Info. The country’s media regulator has blocked various websites for reporting what they claim is false reporting on a war. Furthermore, organizations have been advised to use the phrase ‘military operation’ and not war. Critics of the war can be fined and even sentenced to prison in some cases.
Simon concedes that if governments implement such rules his organization will have no option but to follow them.
“It will force us to change our position, because obviously we have to follow the rules of government,” said Simon.
“I feel very, very strongly that again these individual athletes should not be the ones that are being penalised by the decisions of an authoritarian leadership that is obviously doing terrible, reprehensible things.
“But if that happens, which is again part of the overall strategy of making Russia, and Russian citizens, pay the consequence for the decision their government has made, then it won’t be something that we support.
“We are hopeful that they will refrain from that because I think there are an awful lot of other issues that go with it.”
The BBC has confirmed that the All England Club, who oversees the running of Wimbledon, is currently involved in discussions with the government regarding this matter. It is unknown as to when a decision will be made.
US Open Daily Preview: Novak Djokovic Plays Daniil Medvedev for the Men’s Singles Championship
On Sunday in New York, the men’s singles and women’s doubles championship matches will be played.
Two years ago in the final of this same tournament, Novak Djokovic was just one match away from the ever-elusive calendar-year Grand Slam. But on that day, a nervous and drained Novak succumbed to Daniil Medvedev, who claimed his first and only Major title to date. Now in 2023, Djokovic vies to avenge that painful loss in the same round of the same event, and win his record-extending 24th men’s singles title at a Major.
And in the women’s doubles championship match, it will be Gabriela Dabrowski and Erin Routliffe (16) vs. Laura Siegemund and Vera Zvonareva (12). This is a second Major final for Dabrowski in women’s doubles, and she’s already a two-time Slam champ in mixed doubles. Routliffe is a Major final debutante.
Siegemund and Zvonareva won this tournament in 2020. Siegemund also won mixed doubles at this event in 2016, while Zvonareva has three US Open titles in women’s doubles (2006, 2012, 2020), two in mixed doubles (2004, 2006), and of course was a runner-up here in singles back in 2010.
Daniil Medvedev (3) vs. Novak Djokovic (2) – 4:00pm on Arthur Ashe Stadium
Djokovic is 44-5 on the year, and has now reached all four Major finals in 2023, where he’s 2-1 thus far. He’s won five of his six matches this fortnight in straight sets, and came back from two sets down in the third round against his fellow countryman, Laslo Djere. Novak already has four titles this year (Adelaide, Australian Open, Roland Garros, Cincinnati), with his only loss in a final coming against Carlos Alcaraz at Wimbledon. In his career, Djokovic is 95-40 in ATP finals, and 23-12 in Major finals.
However, Novak has a sorted history at this particular Major. He is only 3-6 in US Open finals, which is a startling stat for a man easily considered the best male hard court player of all time. By contrast, he’s a perfect 10-0 in Australian Open finals.
And in the last three years, this tournament has been particularly frustrating for Djokovic. In 2020, he was disqualified in the fourth round for hitting a linesperson in the neck with a tennis ball. In 2021, he suffered the aforementioned loss to Medvedev while playing for the Grand Slam. And in 2022, he was unable to enter the United States due to his vaccination status.
Medvedev is 55-11 in 2023, with five titles (Rotterdam, Doha, Dubai, Miami, Rome). Four of those titles, all on hard courts, came between February and March of this year. Daniil’s results had tapered off in recent months, and he uncharacteristically went just 3-2 on North American hard courts heading into this tournament. But as he often does at hard court Majors, Medvedev built his confidence as the tournament progressed, dropping only three sets through six matches.
Ahead of his semifinal against Alcaraz, Medvedev stated he would have to play “11 out of 10” to defeat Carlitos. And Daniil did just that, performing at an extremely high level in that match. He won 82% of his first serve points, and saved eight of the nine break points he faced, showing how well he played the critical points in the match.
Medvedev is 20-13 in ATP finals, and just 1-3 in Major finals. That includes two soul-crushing five-set losses to Rafael Nadal, and a one-sided straight-set loss to Djokovic, which occurred at the 2021 Australian Open. Medvedev is yet to play anyone not named Nadal or Djokovic in a Major final.
Novak and Daniil have played 14 times across the last seven seasons, with Djokovic leading their head-to-head 9-5 overall, and 8-4 on hard courts. At Majors, Novak leads 2-1. After losing to Medvedev is the final of this event two years ago, Djokovic went on a revenge tour against him, winning their next four encounters. But Daniil claimed their most recent meeting, six months ago in the semifinals of Dubai.
These are definitively the two best ATP hard court players of the past five years. Since August of 2018, they have combined to win 34 titles on this surface, with 17 each. But at this level, there is no comparison. During that same span, Djokovic has won five hard court Majors, even with missing a few because of vaccine protocols, while Medvedev has procured just one.
On the last day of the 2023 US Open, Novak is the favorite to pick up yet another hard court Major. And that’s not despite his history in New York, it’s because of it. After what Djokovic has gone through in recent years at this event, including his 2021 loss to Medvedev, he’ll be exceedingly motivated to reassert his authority on Arthur Ashe Stadium. And unlike 2021, Novak comes into this match fully fresh, after a straight-set victory over Ben Shelton on Friday. Plus, he’s on an 11-match winning streak, and has won 24 of his last 25 matches, dating back to the start of Roland Garros. Simply put, Djokovic is currently at the height of his abilities.
And when’s he’s in this kind of form, an extraordinary level is required of his opponents. No other player can consistently match Novak’s well-rounded skillset, and his superiority reveals itself even more so in the best-of-five format. Daniil already had to reach an astounding level to advance beyond Alcaraz in the semifinals. Maintaining that level for a second match in a row, and under the pressure that comes with a Major final, will be an extremely challenging task. Djokovic will regain the World No.1 ranking on Monday regardless of Sunday’s outcome, but I expect him to do so as a 24-time Major champion.
Sunday’s full Order of Play is here.
US Open Daily Preview: Aryna Sabalenka Plays Coco Gauff for the Women’s Singles Championship
The championship match in women’s singles, as well as in mixed doubles, will be played on Saturday.
Aryna Sabalenka will become the new World No.1 on Monday, and on Saturday she plays for her second hard court Major title of 2023. But standing in her way is the WTA’s hottest player of the summer, Coco Gauff, who is playing for her first Major title at the age of 19. Who will win this blockbuster final: the best player of the year, or the best player of the summer?
And in the mixed doubles championship match, it will be Jessica Pegula and Austin Krajicek (1) vs. Anna Danilina and Harri Hellovaara. This is a first Major final in this discipline for all four players, though Pegula, Krajicek, and Danilina have all been in men’s or women’s doubles finals at Slams, with Krajicek winning this year’s Roland Garros alongside Ivan Dodig.
Coco Gauff (6) vs. Aryna Sabalenka (2) – 4:00pm on Arthur Ashe Stadium
Sabalenka picked up her 50th victory of the season in her semifinal comeback against Madison Keys. Aryna got blitzed in the first set by a score of 6-0, and Madison even served for the match in the second set. But Keys blinked in that moment, and Sabalenka took full advantage, finding her game and claiming the last two sets in tiebreaks.
Aryna conquered plenty of demons in that semifinal, as she was 1-5 in Major semis, with all five losses coming in three sets. She’s been the WTA’s most consistent performer this season at big events, and the last time she won a Slam semifinal, she went on to defeat Elena Rybakina in the Australian Open final. The first set against Keys is the only set she’s dropped this fortnight, as Aryna dominated her first five rounds in New York.
Gauff overcame a much more challenging path to this championship match, losing a set in three of her first four matches. Yet Coco has tightened up her game as the tournament has progressed, losing just two games to Roland Garros champ Jelena Ostapenko in the quarters, and taking two tight sets against Roland Garros runner-up Karolina Muchova in the semis.
Just like Sabalenka, this is her second Major final in singles, but Gauff did not play well in hers. Last year in Paris, she managed just four games against Iga Swiatek. But 15 months later, the 19-year-old American is a different player. She 17-1 the past six weeks on hard courts, with titles in both Washington and Cincinnati. Adding Pere Riba and Brad Gilbert to her coaching team this summer has paid immediate dividends.
Coco leads their head-to-head 3-2, and they are tied 2-2 on hard courts. Their first three matches on this surface all went three sets, though most recently at Indian Wells this past March, Aryna comfortably prevailed 6-4, 6-0.
Sabalenka will look to dictate play from the baseline and with her serve, and take advantage of Gauff’s weaker wing, her forehand. Coco also has a good serve, and will look to utilize her speed advantage, and that dangerous backhand of hers. Yet the biggest difference between the two may be their temperament. While it’s something Aryna has vastly improved, she can still become extremely cranky on court when things aren’t going her way, as she did in her semifinal against Keys. Coco is much better at staying positive on court amidst adversity.
This feels like Coco’s moment. Four years after she broke onto the scene as an impressive 15-year-old, and just two months after the wake-up call that was her first round loss at Wimbledon, it’s all come together for Gauff, who has developed into a top tier player. And in recent years, we’ve seen how vociferously influential the crowd on Arthur Ashe Stadium can be in big US Open matches. At her home Slam, Coco Gauff is the favorite to win her first Major title.
Saturday’s full Order of Play is here.
US Open Daily Preview: The Men’s Semifinals
The men’s singles semifinals are set for Friday, as is the men’s doubles championship match.
The men’s semifinals feature three US Open champions, and a 20-year-old American making his Major semifinal debut. The last two winners of this event will face off, as 2022 champ Carlos Alcaraz plays 2021 champ Daniil Medvedev. And three-time champion Novak Djokovic takes on assertive newcomer Ben Shelton.
And in the men’s doubles championship match, it’s Rohan Bopanna and Matthew Ebden (6) vs. Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury (3). This is a second Major final in men’s doubles for 43-year-old Bopanna, who was a runner-up at this same event 13 years ago. Ebden teamed with Max Purcell to win the gentlemen’s doubles title last year at Wimbledon. Ram and Salisbury are two-time defending champions, and if they win, they would become the first men’s doubles team to three-peat at this tournament in 109 years.
Ben Shelton vs. Novak Djokovic (2) – Not Before 3:00pm on Arthur Ashe Stadium
“I know that they want to get a scalp, they want to win… but it ain’t happening, still.”
That’s what Djokovic said two months ago on Centre Court after his quarterfinal victory at Wimbledon, regarding the younger generation of players trying to take his spot atop the sport. Novak thrives on fighting them off, and has made a career out of beating the belief out of them. But will the powerful and confident Shelton benefit from never having played Djokovic, and never having lost to him?
On Tuesday night, Ben displayed just how strong his self-belief is, and just how uncompromising he’s willing be in the critical moments of big matches. After splitting the first two sets with fellow American Frances Tiafoe, Shelton grabbed the lead in the third-set tiebreak, before double faulting his lead away, going for two overly-aggressive second serves. Yet when facing set point, he still pummeled a forehand return right into the corner of the court at 105 mph. Ben claimed that tiebreak, seemingly breaking Frances’s spirit, and easily took the fourth set and the match. That’s the kind of power and mentality can threaten Djokovic, and Shelton’s lack of scare tissue from previous losses to the all-time great is an advantage he has over many other of Novak’s recent victims in the latter stages of Majors.
Novak is the only male player to reach every Slam semifinal this season, and he’s 3-0 thus far, with victories over Tommy Paul, Alcaraz, and Jannik Sinner. He’s is 35-11 lifetime in Major semis, and astoundingly has claimed 21 of his last 22, and his last 11 in a row dating back to the 2019 French Open.
Within the past decade, Djokovic has only lost two Major semifinals, and those two losses came under extreme weather conditions: an incredibly hot and humid day nine years ago in New York when he lost to Kei Nishikori, and an extremely windy day four years ago in Paris when he lost to Dominic Thiem. And with the recent heat in New York forecasted to subside on Friday, Novak is a considerable favorite to achieve his 36th Major final, extending his Open Era record in men’s singles. It wlll be incredibly difficult for Shelton to maintain a high-enough level to oust Djokovic and his exhausting all-court abilities.
Carlos Alcaraz (1) vs. Daniil Medvedev (3) – Not Before 7:00pm on Arthur Ashe Stadium
This should be an incredibly compelling contest between the two winningest ATP players of 2023. Alcaraz is 58-6, with six titles, including his second Major at Wimbledon. Medvedev is 54-11, with five titles.
For Daniil, this is a second Major semifinal of the year, and his seventh overall. He is 4-2 in this round, though is his last Slam semi two months ago at Wimbledon, he lost to Alcaraz in straight sets. All of Medvedev’s previous wins at this stage of a Slam have occurred on hard courts.
Alcaraz has now advanced to the semifinals in his last four Major appearances, and he is 2-1 in this round. He’s dropped only one set so far this fortnight, to Dan Evans in the third round. Medvedev has dropped two sets, both to Australians (O’Connell, de Minaur).
Carlitos leads their head-to-head 2-1, and has taken their last two encounters. That includes the aforementioned Wimbledon semifinal from this past July, as well as the final of Indian Wells six months ago, though it’s worth noting Daniil was completely drained for that contest after winning 19 consecutive matches in the span of five weeks. Medvedev’s victory came two years ago at Wimbledon, but that was before Alcaraz rose to the top of the sport.
Medvedev definitely peaked between February and May of this season, and hasn’t won a title or reached a final since. He arrived in New York with little form, going just 3-2 on North American hard courts. However, he has steadily increased his level at this tournament has progressed, and has spoken openly regarding how pleased he is with the way the US Open courts are playing this year. And he’ll be relieved to find cooler temperatures for this semifinal than his sweltering quarterfinal on Wednesday.
It’s important to remember this is the first time Carlitos has defended a Major title in his young career. And no man has defended this title in 15 years, when Roger Federer won his fifth in a row back in 2008. Plus, Alcaraz has been sporting tape on his upper left leg this week, so he is nursing an injury to at least some degree.
After the epic Wimbledon final in July, and the equally-epic Cincinnati final in August, the tennis world has been hyper-focused on the potential of a Djokovic/Alcaraz rubber match in New York. But I don’t see that happening. As dynamic as Carlitos’ game is, Daniil defends on this surface better than anyone not named Djokovic, and can draw more errors out of Alcaraz than any player the Spaniard has faced to this stage. And in a match that will likely extend to four or five grueling sets, the extent of Carlitos’ injury will be revealed.
Friday’s full Order of Play is here.
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