Hello and welcome to the twelfth issue of Tennis inbox. This week, we dive (relatively) deep into missing the Olympic Games and remember some exceptional performances. We see that the Chinese government barring international sporting events impacts the WTA harder than it impacts the ATP. And speculators have most likely been proven wrong—Djokovic and Nadal will compete in North America. Read on to find out more.
A summer without Olympic tennis
Other than all the tournaments we haven’t witnessed because of the pandemic, this year we’re also missing out on the Olympic Games in Japan. Tennis at the Games is always a special treat because it often feels as if players transcend their personal, competitive concerns in an effort to perform for their respective countries. Trying to win an Olympic medal somehow squeezes inspired performances out of athletes—and these performances often result in surprising results at the Games.
Take for example when Monica Puig (currently #90 WTA) defeated Angelique Kerber in the finals of the 2016 Rio Olympics to claim the gold medal for Puerto Rico. On her run to gold, Puig strung together victories against Polona Hercog, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Garbiñe Muguruza, Laura Siegemund, Petra Kvitova, and finally Angelique Kerber.
On the men’s side of the draw, #1 seed Novak Djokovic was ousted by Juan Martin del Potro in the first round. Del Potro, who had been struggling with injury at the time and was granted entrance into the draw based upon a Protected Ranking, would continue a fairytale run to the final where he would eventually lose to Andy Murray. Andy Murray won the gold medal in the 2012 Olympic Games as well.
In the era of the Big 3, Andy Murray’s two gold-medal-winning runs are often forgotten. But they are impressive feats in their own right. (We remember a time when it used to be the Big 4, with Andy Murray nestled right up there. But that’s a conversation for another day.)
Olympic tennis history is replete with such performances and upsets. Perhaps the most famous—and surprising—of these starred Chilean Nicolas Massu. Today, Massu is better known for being Dominic Thiem’s coach. But in 2004 in Athens, Massu made history by winning gold at the singles and doubles events—the first man to do so in the open era (Venus Williams accomplished this feat at the 2000 Sydney Olympics). The Chilean defeated American Mardy Fish for the gold medal in singles after a closely contested doubles final against Germans Nicolas Kiefer and Rainer Schuettler. Massu, along with partner Fernando Gonzalez, saved four match points on their way to the doubles gold medal. Well, they actually saved four gold-medal match points. There. That sounds a bit more impressive.
China says no play this year. ATP will suffer, WTA even more so
Late last week, the tours received dire news: international sporting events would not be held in China for the remainder of the year. The decision came on the back of a recommendation from a Chinese government sports agency, which suggested calling off international sporting events for 2020. The WTA had hoped that it would be able to negotiate with the Chinese government, but that hope ultimately turned out to be a fantasy.
The decision by the Chinese government will mean that several ATP events will either have to be moved—or canceled. The larger impact, however, is to the WTA, which had released a provisional calendar earlier this year with many events taking place in China. They were:
- China Open—12th October
- Tianjin Open—12th October
- Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open—19th October
- Jiangxi Open—19th October
- Zhengzhou Open—26th October
- Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen—9th November
- Hengqin Life WTA Elite Trophy Zhuhai—17th November
- Guangzhou Open—23rd November
That’s a lot of events held in China. And these cancelations beg a few questions: Why are there so many in one country? Will some of them be moved to a different location? Which country or governing body is willing to take on that burden? Will players want to travel there?
We’ll let the New Yorker’s tennis writer, Gerry Marzorati, offer a tangential, final say:
Palermo marches ahead—but Simona Halep is out
In a turbulent time for tournaments, the Palermo Ladies Open is still going ahead. The tournament, which is the first official event to take place after the shutdown of both tours, will attract the eyes—and perhaps ire—of many a tennis fan. Opinions are mixed whether or not the tours need to resume and whether it is safe to even start holding sporting events. Tournament director Oliviero Palma is aware of this global eye. In an email to Reuters, he wrote:
“I honestly feel the responsibility to show the world that you can play tennis, but using all kinds of precautions.”
Sicily, where the tournament is being held, has so far fared better than the rest of Italy when dealing with the coronavirus.
As the tournament offers 280 ranking points, it doesn’t usually attract the stars of the game. Not this year. The draw is supposedly filled with a host of players in the top 20. Palma notes that, “The draw is insane, almost like a Premier.”
Play at the Palermo Ladies Open begins on Monday 3rd August.
While the tournament might be marching ahead, one of the biggest names in tennis is deciding to stay away. World #2 Simona Halep issued a statement via her Twitter account that she won’t be competing in the event this year—though she had previously committed to it.
Expect this to be a common pattern for the next few months; one of players committing initially but then pulling out as they realize that the risks—for them at least—aren’t worth the rewards of competing.
World #1 Ash Barty won’t travel to the United States. Djokovic, Nadal confirmed for Western & Southern Open
In a blow to the Western & Southern Open and the US Open, world #1 Ash Barty has decided to skip both tournaments. Barty said of her decision:
“My team and I have decided that we won’t be traveling to the US for the Western and Southern Open and the US Open this year. I love both events so it was a difficult decision but there are still significant risks involved due to COVID-19 and I don’t feel comfortable putting my team and I in that position.”
Barty made the fourth round in the singles draw last year and was a doubles finalist alongside Victoria Azarenka. Barty is the first big name to officially declare that she won’t be making the trip to North America.
On the men’s side, speculation had been rife as to whether or not Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal would be competing. However, the release of a player field by the Western & Southern Open has laid these speculations to rest (for now). Djokovic, Nadal, Medvedev, Thiem, and Tsitsipas are among the confirmed players who will be playing in the Western & Southern Open, which is being held at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center this year. Pliskova, Kenin, and Bertens have also confirmed their attendance in the women’s draw.
Given that the Western & Southern Open and the US Open are being held at the same venue, it seems inevitable that the players competing in the first will take part in the latter.
How much did players actually receive from those relief funds?
In our first issue of Tennis inbox in May, we reported on the introduction of a ‘Player Relief Programme’ supported by the ATP, WTA, ITF, and the four Grand Slams. Shortly after, the ITF announced a secondary relief program for players ranked 501–700 on both tours. The first payment from these relief programs have already been delivered to players but so far we’ve been in the dark about exactly how much players have been receiving. A report by the Hindustan Times changes that. From its reporting, we can relay that:
“[The Player Relief Programme] gives around $8,600 each (in two installments) to men’s singles players ranked from 101-500, and half the sum to doubles players ranked from 51-175. For women, the ranking cut-off is the same though the amount is reportedly around $10,000 (paid in two tranches).”
Players quoted in the piece also provided the exact sums that they received:
- A male player ranked #438 received $4,300
- A player ranked #642 received $750 from the ITF. This is presumably because they fell outside of the top 500 threshold
The way these amounts are distributed also differs. Players in the top 500 have the funds sent to them directly by the ATP or the WTA, while players eligible for the ITF payment have to write into their national association to collect their payment.
The paltry amount of these payments, specifically for the lower levels, really highlights the financial struggles of players beyond #500. At best, the funds can be used to kickstart their travels once the tours resume. The amounts paid in late May/early June were the first installments of these relief programs. The second installment is “expected this month.”
Any questions regarding tennis shoes?
In the next couple of weeks, we’ll be releasing an interview with Dr. Zach Thomas, who runs the YouTube channel The Tennis Pro Doc. Dr.Thomas is a podiatric foot and ankle surgeon as well as having been a tennis professional in a past life. His YouTube channel is chock-full of information on tennis shoes.
Do you have any questions regarding tennis shoes that you’d like for us to ask on your behalf? We plan to ask him about the new trend we’ve seen of pros sliding on hardcourts, and whether this is facilitated by a change in shoe technology. If you have specific questions, leave them in the comments section.