The first day of the French Open saw Aryna Sabalenka breeze into the second round but the talking point of the match occurred just seconds after it had finished.
Approaching the net her opponent, Marta Kostyuk, refused to shake hands with the world No.2. Her decision to do so was because of Sabalenka’s home country supporting Russia in their war against Ukraine. It is not the first time that a Ukranian player has done this on the Tour but the crowd reception was something that has rarely occurred before. Kostyuk was booed off the court as a result of her gesture, even though it was widely expected that she would do this before the match.
The situation adds to the frustration of Ukrainian players with some of them previously calling for tougher penalties to be implemented on Russian players due to the conflict. Something the governing bodies of tennis refused to do this as they argue that players shouldn’t be punished for the actions of their governments. The only exception was Wimbledon and the Lawn Tennis Association who last year banned Russian and Belarussian players from their events amid fear of those athletes being used for propaganda by the Russian regime.
One of those watching Kostyuk’s match was journalist Sergey Kontorchik who is the founder of the Ukranian tennis website BTU. As somebody who follows the actions of his compatriots on the Tour every week, he admits the reception given to fans at Roland Garros to Kostyuk caught him off guard.
“This is quite surprising to me. I think Marta and our players have explained quite clearly the reasons why this is happening,” Kontorchik tells Ubitennis.
“If somebody still doesn’t understand why Ukrainian players don’t shake hands with players from countries that kill Ukrainians and wage an invasive war, they won’t understand it anymore.”
Kontorchik lives in Dnipro, a city located in the centre of the Dnipropetrovsk Region which borders Donetsk. On Friday two people were killed and 30 injured following a Russian missile strike on a outpatient clinic in Kontorchik’s city.
The situation involving Kostyuk is even more surprising given the recent support that was shown towards one of her peers, Elina Svitolina, who won the Lyon Open title on Sunday.
“Not really, maybe somewhere in smaller tournaments,” Kontorchik replied when asked if he remembers any other players from his country going through a similar scenario to that of Kostyuk.
“Even in yesterday’s final (of the Lyon Open), the public was quite on the side of the Ukranian.”
Quizzed about the incident during her press conference, Sabalenka said she understood her rival’s decision to not shake hands with her. Adding that Kostyuk shouldn’t have exited the court in the way that she did. Sabalenka has previously said players are entitled to hate her if they wanted to and has called for politics to be kept out of the sport.
“I understand why they are not shaking hands with us. I can imagine if they gonna shake hands with us, and then what’s gonna happen to them from the Ukrainian side. So I understand that. And I understand that this is not kind of like personally, you know,” she said.
“I think she didn’t deserve to leave the court that way.”
Sabalenka also adds that she believes that ‘normal people’ would not support the ongoing war. This a rare statement from an athlete from either Russia or Belarus to make about the current situation.
“I said it many, many times: Nobody in this world, Russian athletes or Belarusian athletes, support the war. Nobody. How can we support the war? Nobody, normal people will never support it.” She said.
“Of course, we don’t support war. If it could affect anyhow the war, if it could stop it, we would do it. But unfortunately, it’s not in our hands.”
However, that comment has been met with scepticism from Kostyuk who has publically called for the Australian Open champion to clarify her view about who she backs in the war and why.
“She never says that she personally doesn’t support this war,” Kostyuk replied during her press conference.
“I feel like you (the media) should ask these players who would they want the war to win because if you ask this question, I’m not so sure these people will say that they want Ukraine to win.”
EXCLUSIVE: Yoshihito Nishioka’s Coach On Injury Setback, US Open Showdown With Wawrinka
The road to Yoshihito Nishioka’s first round match at this year’s US Open has been a frustrating one.
In June the 27-year-old looked to be on the verge of reaching his best tennis at the French Open where he made the fourth round for the first time in his career. Nishioka’s run in Paris was not a one-off with the Japanese player also making the last 16 of the Australian Open in January. However, since the French Open, he has only been able to register one win on the Tour.
In recent months he has struggled with a stress fracture on his femur that cut short his grass-court campaign and resulted in him missing four weeks of crucial training. After losing his opening match at Wimbledon, he played four tournaments across North America with his sole triumph being against Gregoire Barrere in Cincinnati.
Guiding Nishioka on the Tour is his coach Christian Zahalka who has previously worked with the likes of Marina Erakovic, Nadia Petrova, Kimiko Date and Misaki Doi. The two began working together last year.
“Yoshi injured himself at Roland Garros that pretty much cost us the whole grass court season and we could not practice for a month,” Zahalka told Ubitennis on the first day of the US Open.
“So honestly we are playing a bit catch up to regain form the last few events. But we are getting close.”
Nishioka faces a tricky first round encounter at Flushing Meadows where he will play Stan Wawrinka, who won the tournament in 2016. Their only previous meeting saw the Swiss veteran prevail in three sets but that was six years ago in Indian Wells.
“Wawrinka is a highly motivated player at the moment,” said Zahalka. “It will be a difficult first round match with a big fight needed from Yoshi.”
Nishioka is currently ranked five places higher than his upcoming opponent at 44th in the ATP Pepperstone rankings. However, he is yet to shine at the US Open where he will be making his ninth main draw appearance this year. He has lost in the first round six times and the second round twice. The only players he has beaten at the event were Paul-Henri Mathieu in 2015 and Feliciano Lopez in 2019.
Despite the disappointing results, Zahalka is staying upbeat about Nishioka’s chances in New York.
“This is my first US Open with Japanese Rock so I cannot comment on what happened in the past here,” he said.
“But I see no reason why he cannot have success at the US Open.”
Nishioka’s clash with Wawrinka is scheduled to take place on Tuesday. He is one of four Japanese players in the men’s main draw this year.
EXCLUSIVE: Saudi Arabia’s Plans For Hosting The Next Gen Finals
Tennis is heading to the country following weeks of speculation. Although there is likely to be some criticism coming amid the intention of organisers to hold the event during the offseason in December from 2024 onwards.
Sources have confirmed to Ubitennis that the ATP Next Gen Finals will be moved to Saudi Arabia from this year onwards with the inaugural event taking place immediately after the Davis Cup Finals.
Jeddah will be the event’s host city which features the eight highest-ranked players under the age of 21. According to those familiar with the situation, the 2023 edition had initially been planned to take place in December but had to be brought forward due to the FIFA Club World Cup tournament which will be hosted at the same venue. It wasn’t confirmed until last month that the football tournament will be played in Jeddah in what was described to Ubitennis as a ‘last-minute change.’
The prospect of hosting the tournament immediately after the Davis Cup finals could be problematic at the end of a long season. However, this situation is trying to be played down as a one-off.
It will be held on at the King Abdullah Sports City where the venue has six tennis courts just outside the main stadium, as well as another indoor arena that can hold up to 12,000 people. Other events to have been hosted there include the 2021 International Handball Federation Men’s Super Globe tournament, as well as a boxing match between Oleksandr Usyk and Anthony Joshua.
What is the most striking aspect of the plans is the report that from 2024 the Next Gen finals will take place over a week during the second part of December which is in the middle of the off-season. It is unclear why the ATP have pushed for such a thing to occur and why they have agreed to this. During the bidding process for a host city, they said the following in March:-
‘This year’s tournament is expected to take place in December, with the exact dates to be determined with the successful bidder.’
One explanation for such a date might be the number of exhibition events that take place in the Middle East during this time. So instead of players participating in them, they would play this event. However, the idea of expanding an already long Tour calendar is one that will attract criticism. Plus there is yet to be any public response from players who might influence the current plans.
ATP CEO Andrea Gaudenzi recently told The Financial Times that ‘positive’ talks have taken place with officials from Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, WTA boss Steve Simon visited the country earlier this year and was said to be highly impressed. It appears that both governing bodies are interested in investment from the country as long as it doesn’t have significant implications on the Tour’s structure which has happened in other sports.
Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund has invested heavily in sports, including the £300M takeover of football team Newcastle United. In golf, they funded the LIV Tour which split the sport before a shock merger between the Tour’s was announced a few weeks ago.
Critics have accused the Middle Eastern nation of using sport to help improve its image which has been marred by allegations of human rights violations. This is commonly known as sportswashing.
One of those concerns is related to LGBT players playing in the country. A Saudi official told Ubitennis that gay players or media members would be welcome with their partners as long as they respect local culture. Basically, public displays of homosexuality will not be encouraged and could prompt a backlash from locals.
“I think the WTA is going to make sure that we are in a safe environment,” openly gay player Greet Minnen told Ubitennis. “All the LGBT players are wise enough to not provoke anything or hold hands when we are not at the (tennis) club.’
“I think we have to respect the culture there but it’s not going to be an issue as the WTA will make sure it is a safe environment for us.”
The Next Gen finals began in 2017 and had been hosted in Milan until now. Previous winners include Jannik Sinner, Carlos Alcaraz and Brandon Nakashima.
It is understood that a contract confirming the relocation of the event to Saudi Arabia will be signed next month.
Conchita Martinez: How Acaraz Can Improve, Muguruza’s Future And Advice For Andreeva
Almost 30 years have passed since Conchita Martinez won the biggest title of her career at Wimbledon.
In 1994 she battled to a three-set win over nine-time champion Martina Navratilova to become the first-ever Spanish woman to claim the title. The triumph occurred in just her third main draw appearance at the Grand Slam. Since then only one other player from Martinez’s country has managed to emulate her in the women’s tournament. That was Garbine Muguruza in 2017 who has been mentored by the former champion in recent years.
Martinez is in action again this year at The All England Club where she is taking part in the women’s invitational doubles tournament. On Tuesday morning Ubitennis caught up with the former world No.2 during an hour-long media session that featured a series of former champions.
In her home country, the talking point of the sport concerns the rapid rise of Carlos Alcaraz who at 20 has already won one Grand Slam trophy, four Masters 1000 events, and has spent almost 30 weeks as world No.1.
“I think he is already doing an amazing job but, of course, there is still a lot of room for improvement,” Martinez tells Ubitennis.
As to what these improvements are, the 51-year-old believes Alcaraz needs to explore coming to the net more often, especially when playing on the grass. According to Wimbledon’s official statistics, in his first four matches played this year, the top seed has come to the net on 83 occasions and won the point 56 times. This equates to a winning percentage of 67.5%.
“I would like to see him, especially on the grass, go to the net a little bit more sometimes,” she said.
“He does this on other surfaces and is very brave. When he’s down a break point and then does a serve and volley to win the point, this is great for his confidence.’
“He needs to work on everything. His slice and going to the net. From the back, he is doing amazing and is very aggressive. He can hold the point when he wants to, so he needs to work on that to become an even better player.”
The current status of Mugurza
Martinez speaks about Alcaraz from the perspective of both a player and a coach. After winning 33 WTA titles before retiring, she went into the world of coaching. Her work with Muguruza was recognised in 2021 when she was named WTA Coach of the Year. She has also had stints mentoring former world No.1 Karolina Pliskova and was captain of her country’s Billie Jean King Cup team.
Martinez’s work with Muguruza has been put on ice for the foreseeable future after the tennis star opted to take an extended break from the sport. She confirmed that Muguruza will not be playing again this year on the Tour and a return date is still to be decided.
“She is taking her time and will not be playing again this year. We will see when she is going to start practising for next year,” Martinez explained.
“Every week we chat and see how she’s doing. She’s enjoying her time off right now.”
Even when Muguruza does come back to action there is no guarantee that this successful partnership will resume.
“We have to see. We stopped as she was going to take a longer time off than expected so we parted ways but you never say no to what may happen in the future,” she commented.
Muguruza’s decision to step away from tennis followed a series of disappointing results. In a social media post earlier this year, the two-time Grand Slam champion said she wanted to spend more time with her friends and family which has been ‘healthy’ for her.
Advice for Andreeva
It is not the first time a player has had to step away from the limelight due to the demands of playing tennis. Trying to deal with Tour life is far from easy, especially for younger players.
One of those rising stars is 16-year-old Mirra Adreeva who reached the fourth round of Wimbledon as a qualifier on her debut. She almost booked a place in the quarter-finals after leading Madrid Keys by a set and 4-1 but lost. If she had won, Andreeva would have been the youngest Wimbledon quarter-finalist since 1997.
So what advice would Martinez, who also reached the fourth round of a major at the age of 16, give to a rising star such as Andreeva?
“You have to have a very good group of people around you that are going to keep you humble and fit,” she said.
“I think she does that. She’s winning matches, going far in Grand Slams, and beating great players.’
“You have to see next year how she will cope with defending points. The most important thing is that she keeps practising and focusing on what she has to do to get better. It’s great what she is doing now but she has to maintain it.”
Martinez won more than 700 matches during her time on the Tour.
Carlos Alcaraz beats Yannick Hanfmann on his debut at the China Open
Jessica Pegula and Maria Sakkari advance to the semifinal in Tokyo
Asian Games Champion Qinwen Zheng Reveals Shock Departure Of Coach Fissette
‘Super happy’ Holger Rune Reacts To Winning First Match Since Wimbledon In Beijing
Top seed Iga Swiatek Dumped Out Of Tokyo By Kudermetova
‘Bulls**t’ – Expert Involved In Simona Halep’s Anti-Doping Case Blasts Four-Year Ban
Maria Sakkari ‘Scared’ Of Anti-Doping Testing Measures After Halep Ban
Gutsy Novak Djokovic Prevails In Grueling Battle With Medvedev To Win US Open
Iga Swiatek Dismisses Criticism Over Recent US Open Exit
COMMENT: Novak Djokovic Proves His Greatness At US Open
(VIDEO EXCLUSIVE) Steve Flink, Ubaldo Scanagatta Review The 2023 Wimbledon Men’s Final
(VIDEO EXCLUSIVE) Steve Flink, Ubaldo Scanagatta Review The 2023 Wimbledon Women’s Final
(VIDEO): Novak Djokovic Faces Sinner Test, Women’s Semis Take Centre Stage
(VIDEO): Novak Djokovic Sets Rublev Quarter-Final Clash
(VIDEO EXCLUSIVE) Plenty Of Surprises Could Occur In This Year’s Wimbledon Women’s Draw
Hot Topics3 days ago
South Korean No.1 Kwon Faces Disciplinary Action After Asian Games Meltdown
Hot Topics2 days ago
Fit-Again Holger Rune Targets ATP Finals Qualification
Hot Topics3 days ago
Carlos Alcaraz Set For China Debut With Eyes Set On Reclaiming No.1 Spot From Djokovic
Latest news2 days ago
Iga Swiatek survives Mai Hontama to reach the quarter final in Tokyo
Hot Topics2 days ago
Novak Djokovic Upbeat About The Future Of Men’s Tennis As He Praises Alcaraz
Hot Topics2 days ago
‘The Full Package’ – Maria Sharapova Hails The Rise Of Coco Gauff
Latest news2 days ago
Daria Kasatkina Criticises Decision To Not Use Roof At Sweltering Pan Pacific Open
Latest news3 days ago
Karen Khachanov beats Yoshihito Nishioka to claim his first title since 2018