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Remember when 30 was old for a tennis player? Why Novak Djokovic wins so much, and tournament organizers aren’t messing around with their rules—Ti #11
The Citi Open pulls the plug. Kim Clijsters, Roger Federer, Serena Williams (and a bunch of other players) show that age doesn't account for much these days, and why Djokovic is so hard to beat.
23 Jul, 2020
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Hello and welcome to the eleventh issue of Tennis inbox. In case you missed it, on Tuesday we published an article that took an in-depth look at the racquets that the pros really use. The article explores racquet trends and includes insight from a Master Racquet Technician and Jonas Eriksson of tennisnerd.net. So far, it has garnered nearly 15,000 views.

Read the article.

Old? Still want to play professionally? So what?

There used to be a time when 30 was considered old for a tennis player. Once a player entered the third decade of their existence, their abilities—and bodies—were supposed to go downhill. It was the end. The toll of being a full-time athlete on tour was supposed to be far too taxing for all those foolish veterans still wanting to compete into their 30s. After all, Bjorn Borg retired at the ripe old age of 26. Martina Hingis called it quits at 22 (before a successful comeback), and Pete Sampras announced his retirement at the age of 32.

But a new set of tennis players is flipping this paradigm. Today’s tennis players are competing well into their 30s—and dominating in the process. Consider the ages of some of today’s top players:

  • Roger Federer: 38
  • Serena Williams: 38
  • Venus Williams: 40
  • Novak Djokovic: 33
  • Rafael Nadal: 34
  • Stan Wawrinka: 35
  • Petra Kvitová: 30

If you spoke to a tennis fan from twenty years ago, they would have probably laughed at the idea of players still dominating the game into their 30s. Then again, they would have laughed at the prospect of a bunch of other crazy feats that we’ve witnessed on tennis courts in the last two decades.

Now, Kim Clijsters, 37, is the latest player who hopes to join the ranks of athletes in their 30s still dominating the game. After her retirement towards the end of 2012, Clijsters made her return early this year, losing to Garbiñe Muguruza 2–6 6–7 (7) at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. She then had another loss to Brit Johanna Konta at the Abierto GNP Seguros in Mexico.

But Clijsters has clearly been working hard in the months off. So far in the World TeamTennis event taking place in West Virginia, she’s recorded wins over Sofia Kenin, Sloane Stephens, and Danielle Collins. Yes, they’ve only been single sets in the format that World TeamTennis uses, but the results are still a decent indicator of her current level.

If (when?) tennis returns towards the end of this year, it’ll be interesting to see how she’s competing and what results she can attain. It would be amazing to see a deep Grand Slam run from the always-popular Belgian. If she makes it to the second week of a major, experience will definitely be on her side—Clijsters is, after all, a four-time Grand Slam champion.

The Citi Open is canceled

By now you’ve probably gotten tired of all the speculation around the US Open and the tour restarting. Will it start? It won’t! It will! At some stage, speculation gets to a point where it’s better left ignored.

But we’re having trouble ignoring this announcement from the ATP and what it could potentially mean for the rest of 2020: The Citi Open is canceled. On Tuesday 21st July, the ATP released a statement that the tournament in Washington D.C. would not go ahead due to continuing concerns from the coronavirus pandemic.

Mark Ein, Chairman, Citi Open, said of the cancelation:

“After months of tireless work by our team and close collaboration with our many stakeholders, we are heartbroken to announce that we must unfortunately postpone the 52nd Citi Open until the summer of 2021. With only 23 days left until the start of the tournament, there are too many unresolved external issues, including various international travel restrictions as well as troubling health and safety trends, that have forced us to make this decision now in fairness to our players, suppliers and partners, so that they can have certainty around their planning.”

We speculated as much in last week’s issue. With a constantly changing situation and a still-raging pandemic, we’re sure that it’s a logistical nightmare to try and put an event together.

Hosting a successful Citi Open was an important step for the ATP and organizers as they prepared themselves for the US Open. Now an uncertain cloud looms over the prospect of play in Flushing Meadows, too. All eyes now turn to the Western & Southern Open, which has been moved to the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. If that tournament is canceled, the US Open will probably be as well.

No word on whether or not the WTA will cancel the inaugural Top Seed Open in Lexington, Kentucky. The Top Seed Open, which was originally supposed to take place at the Citi Open, was moved to Lexington because WTA organizers feared “that [the WTA] would have to play second-fiddle to the ATP in Washington, D.C.”

Djokovic is the fastest out of the blocks

Novak Djokovic in 2018. Image credit: Carine06. The image has been cropped.

Have you ever wondered why Novak Djokovic is so good? Yes, we know about his backhand, his amazing court-coverage, and his indefatigable ability to simply will matches into his favor (cough, Wimbledon 2019, cough). But we’re hinting at something else: Scoreboard pressure.

An Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers analysis by statistical wizard Craig O’ Shannessy reveals that Djokovic is the player who wins the highest percentage of games in the first set, “winning almost six out of 10 games in the opening stanza.” In other words, he’s phenomenal at starting out matches on the right foot by racking up his games tally in the first set.

The analysis compared the performances of “442 players who have competed in at least 100 ATP and Grand Slam matches from 1991-2020,” and found that Djokovic sat at the top of the pile, winning 5,990 out of 10,053 games that he has ever contested in a first set. His win percentage of 59.58% (5,990/10,053) is higher than his fiercest competitors, with Nadal winning 59.43% and Roger Federer 59.03% of games in their first stanzas.

The scary fact? Once the data have been adjusted to only include matches played on hardcourts, Djokovic’s game-winning percentage in the first set shoots up to 60.13%.

The analysis shows that Djokovic is quickest out of the blocks on a consistent basis. And once he’s ahead of you, he’s almost impossible to catch.

World TeamTennis organizers aren’t messing around

American Danielle Collins (WTA #51) was dismissed from the World Team Tennis exhibition event taking place at The Greenbrier in West Virginia on Monday. Collins, who was competing for the Orlando Storm, failed to appear for a mandatory coronavirus test, and as a result was removed as a participant from the event.

WTT CEO Carlos Silva said in a statement: 

“We have dismissed Danielle Collins for the remainder of the 2020 World TeamTennis season after breaking our COVID-19 protocols and leaving the Greenbrier Resort and the state of West Virginia. The protocols have been put in place and communicated numerous times to protect the health and safety of our players, coaches, and staff which are of utmost importance to the WTT.”

Tennys Sandgren said of Collins, “She didn’t tell anybody she was going anywhere. We were having a blood test yesterday. In the group chat it’s 3 p.m. and we’re leaving at 3:30 p.m. and she’s like ‘I’m in Charlottesville [Virginia].’” Collins’ alma mater, The University of Virginia, is in Charlottesville.

The decision by WTT might be seen as harsh, but it is perhaps prudent. Organizers are probably on edge and eager to avoid spectacles like the Adria Tour, which was canceled due to a slew of positive coronavirus tests from players.

Collins previously made tennis headlines for her criticism of Novak Djokovic’s then unwillingness to participate at the US Open due to restrictions on entourage size.

Tennis in a hangar

To round out this issue, we leave you with some pictures posted by Petra Kvitová from the bett1ACES exhibition event held inside of a hangar in Berlin. Writing on the event, Tennis.com’s Ed McGrogan put it best: “With the coronavirus having reduced air travel to a tiny fraction of what it once was, this week’s bett1ACES tennis event, held inside Hangar 6 at Tempelhof Airport in Berlin, might be the closest many people will get to a plane for some time.”

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Getting out of your comfort zone—Ti #38

Getting out of your comfort zone—Ti #38

“It seems you can’t go a day or two without some self-development guru or wanna be Simon Sinek telling you that ‘you have to get out of your comfort zone to improve!’ It’s a tried and tested truism in the space of self-improvement. But how does this idea work when it comes to playing tennis matches and competing?”

Is your mental game holding you back?—Ti #37

Is your mental game holding you back?—Ti #37

“Tennis Australia consequently announced that all matches scheduled on Thursday would be postponed a day to give casual contacts—which could be up to 600 people (players, coaches, support staff, etc.)—a chance to get tested. The postponement of play will also give Tennis Australia and the Victorian government a chance to get a handle on just how bad the situation is.”

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