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Could Andy Murray pull off a Goran Ivanisevic? Off to Kentucky, and more griping about the coronavirus—Ti #14
A battle to control the baseline. A clash between Venus and Serena. Tough draws made worse by the coronavirus. And wild cards for the US Open.
13 Aug, 2020
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Hello and welcome to the fourteenth issue of Tennis inbox. In case you missed it, on Tuesday we released an interview with podiatric surgeon Dr. Zach Thomas. Dr. Thomas shared his wealth of knowledge on the evolution of tennis shoes, advances in shoe technology, and what to look for when buying.

Read the interview.

In this week’s issue we look back at a famous run by a wild card, check out a few results from the WTA event in Lexington, Kentucky, and see a contrasting style of tennis battle for supremacy. Read on to find out more.

Andy Murray and Kim Clijsters receive wild cards

By now you’ll probably know that Andy Murray has been granted a wild card to the 2020 US Open. Murray, who won the US Open in 2012 after defeating Novak Djokovic in five sets has been battling a consistent string of injuries for the past few years.

Murray returned to the game in late 2019, nine months after a hip resurfacing surgery, where a metal implant was inserted into the joint. The three-time Grand Slam champion went on to have a dream run and win a title in Antwerp, Belgium, defeating Stan Wawrinka in the final. Though it seemed like he was set for a successful return to the tour after that performance, Murray pulled out of the 2020 Australian Open citing injury concerns.

His wild card to the US Open will be the first time he’ll be competing in a tour event in 2020. If his ranking is the defining metric (currently #129), then Murray has slim chances of lifting the trophy. But as we tennis fans know, rankings aren’t everything.

We only need to look to the case of Goran Ivanisevic. In 2001, after being awarded a wild card into Wimbledon, Ivanisevic went on to claim the title, defeating Australia’s Pat Rafter in the final. As we’ve noted before, the team at Wimbledon have a way of producing excellent little films. The one below tells Ivanisevic’s story, encapsulating the lows of his career finally topped by a high:

Could Andy Murray pull off a similar feat? He certainly has the experience for it. And with a diminished field on the men’s side of the draw, Murray will be one of the men’s wild cards to keep a close eye on.

Belgian Kim Clijsters will be the wild card to watch on the women’s side of the draw. A past champion, Clijsters showed amazing form while competing at the World TeamTennis event which was held at The Greenbrier resort in West Virginia.

Other wild cards

Men:

  • Ulises Blanch (#242)
  • Maxime Cressy (#164)
  • Sebastian Korda (#224)
  • Thai-Son Kwiatkowski (#183)
  • Michael Mmoh (#182)
  • Brandon Nakashima (#220)
  • JJ Wolf (#144)

Women:

  • Usue Arconada (#138)
  • CiCi Bellis (#302)
  • Francesca Di Lorenzo (#128)
  • Caroline Dolehide (#134)
  • Ann Li (#131)
  • Robin Montgomery (#597)
  • Whitney Osuigwe (#143)

Palermo, The Top Seed Open

The Palermo Ladies Open marked the start of “official” tennis so to speak, and concluded with an unexpected champion in Fiona Ferro (#44). Ferro beat Anett Kontaveit of Estonia in the first tour-level event in nearly six months.

This week we’re turning our gaze to The Top Seed Open in Lexington, Kentucky. The event is already drawing attention thanks to its second round clash between Serena and Venus Williams. The match will be the 31st time that the pair square off, with Serena leading the H2H 18–12. The match is scheduled for today! (Thursday 13th August.) Venus beat Victoria Azarenka 6–3, 6–2 in the first round, while Serena defeated American compatriot Bernarda Pera 4–6, 6–4, 6–1.

The new generation is also doing well: 17-year-old Leylah Fernandez upset 7th seed Sloane Stephens 6–3, 6–3 while another young star, 16-year-old Coco Gauff, beat 2nd seed Aryna Sabalenka in a topsy-turvy 7–6(4), 4–6, 6–4 encounter. Fernandez will play Shelby Rogers next, and Gauff will take on 8th seed Ons Jabeur.

A name we spotted in the draw that we didn’t expect to see: Vera Zvonareva. Zvonareva was once a consistent fixture at the top of the WTA tour, achieving a career-high ranking of #9 in 2005.

See the draw below:

Made worse by the coronavirus

Now that tournaments are (slowly) returning to normal, we can start thinking about the impacts of tough draws on players in this new coronavirus age. As The Tennis Podcast host Catherine Whitaker notes in the latest edition of the show:

“A tough draw now feels all the more brutal given the length you have to go to just to get to a tennis tournament. It was previously a bit rubbish if you go somewhere, get a tough draw, [you’re] out in the first round, and then you’re on a plane to the next place. But if you’ve had to quarantine, or make sacrifices in terms of seeing friends, family, make compromises just to get to a place to be able to play tennis, to get there and to be dumped out in round one or to be handed a shocker of a draw feels all the more unjust somehow.”

This is true. But restarting the tours isn’t going to be easy by any means. The path ahead is still uncertain and organizers and players are going to have to sacrifice their usual protocols to get professional tennis rolling. That being said, yeah, we get it. Flying to another country and going through various struggles to play in the first round only to then bomb out in your first match sounds like every professional tennis player’s nightmare.

Whitaker and her co-hosts go on to discuss the case of Brit Johanna Konta, who flew to Chicago and then drove the 370 miles (~600km) to Lexington, Kentucky in a rental car. Konta is apparently keeping the rental car and is driving to New York for her next tournament, which is about 700 miles (~1100km) away. Konta is doing so to minimize her risk of being infected by the coronavirus by reducing the amount of time she spends in airports, airplanes, and in crowded transit hubs. Given all of Konta’s efforts in getting to Lexington, her first round defeat to Marie Bouzkova would have been especially difficult.

Contrasting ways of controlling the baseline

Tennis today can be a monotonous affair. Players have gotten so good at striking balls that there is sometimes a lack of variety in matches. But we don’t have to travel back far to find two contrasting—and entertaining—styles of play: 2005 in Montreal; Andre Agassi and Rafael Nadal.

Controlling the baseline is important in any match, and in the video below we get to see two contrasting philosophies on how to do it. Andre Agassi elected to hover right on the baseline, take the ball extremely early, and thus apply pressure to his opponent. Nadal used (and still today uses) a different strategy: his high and heavy balls are designed to push his opponent far behind the baseline so that he can step up and control the court.

This 2005 encounter is fascinating tennis because we get to witness each player trying to apply their specific style of play to the rally.

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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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