Hello and welcome to the fifteenth issue of Tennis inbox. In just over three short months of being “alive,” we’ve had over 500 subscribers sign up! And we’ve grown mostly through word of mouth and organic growth. So we’re starting this issue off with a small thank you—to you. Thank you for subscribing, reading, and for sharing Tennis inbox.
On to the issue: The American swing is finally here, there have been a few more withdrawals from the US Open, and Stan Wawrinka and Ernest Gulbis are playing in a Challenger… what? Read on to find out more.
The American swing is here
While the WTA has already kicked things off, the ATP has been a little slower. The Citi Open was canceled due to scheduling and organization issues, but from Saturday 22nd August we get to watch the Western & Southern Open, being held on the grounds of the US Open. A question that pops to mind: how will tournament organizers differentiate the two events? Will we see different sponsor logos in one tournament compared to the other? Will advertising change to reflect which tournament is being played? So far, we’ve already seen decals for the Western & Southern Open being placed on the courts at Flushing Meadows:
They’ll have to be replaced pretty quickly after the tournament is over! For all the doom and gloom predictions about the North American swing, so far things seem to be on track for a successful couple of tournaments. But, of course, only time will tell.
On another note, since organizers have to contend with empty stadiums, we’re curious to see if they’ll resort to any theatrics to engage viewers from home. If the tour events we’ve seen so far have been any example, then the types of effects we saw at the Ultimate Tennis Showdown (pumping in crowd noises) aren’t really necessary. The Top Seed Open did just fine without manufactured crowd noise.
Nonetheless it’ll be interesting to see what the ATP, the WTA, the USTA, and their broadcast partners have come up with to make tennis without a crowd more “engaging.”
More withdrawals, coronavirus positives
Both defending champions from last year’s US Open will not compete this year. We previously covered Rafael Nadal’s decision to not travel and play in the Western & Southern Open and the US Open, but on 14th August the women’s defending champion, Bianca Andreescu, announced to her fans via Instagram:
Andreescu is not the first player to cite the pandemic as a reason to withdraw from the open. We can’t recall the last time both defending champions did not compete in a Grand Slam. Do you know?
World #8 Belinda Bencic is another high profile withdrawal from the US Open. Bencic stated on her social media on 15th August that she had “made the difficult decision to skip the US swing in New York and [that she would] return to the tour starting in Rome next month.”
As of now, only four women from the current top 10 will be competing in Flushing Meadows: #3 Karolina Pliskova, #4 Sofia Kenin, #9 Serena Williams, and #10 Naomi Osaka.
On the men’s side, Japanese star Kei Nishikori has had to pull out from the Western & Southern Open due to a positive coronavirus test. The news about Nishikori, who has been training in Florida, broke on 17th August. Nishikori will release his plans for the US Open tomorrow—but will he even be allowed to compete?
A new (provisional) ATP calendar
Provisional is an important word right now. It all depends on how the world’s handling the coronavirus. Which is why the ATP keeps releasing schedules which it specifically calls “provisional.” On 14th August they released their latest:
This new calendar includes details of the European indoor swing as well as a move which sees the Internazionali BNL d’Italia move up a week. ATP Chairman Andrea Gaudenzi said of the new calendar:
“Tennis is starting to find its way back and, while we must first and foremost look after the health and safety of everyone involved, we are hopeful we will be able to retain these playing opportunities and produce a strong finish to the season. I would like to commend the tournaments for their continued commitment, flexibility and resourcefulness in finding solutions to operate under these challenging circumstances.”
Results from the tour
The smattering of tour events around the world are yielding some interesting results. Perhaps it is expected given how little matchplay players have had over the first six months of this year.
The Top Seed Open
Over in Lexington, Kentucky, favorite Serena Williams lost to #95 Shelby Rogers 6–1, 4–6, 6–7 (5) in the quarterfinals. But the bigger story was that Jennifer Brady walked away with the title, defeating Jil Teichmann of Switzerland 6–3, 6–4. Who is Jennifer Brady? She is: American, is currently at a career-high of #40, and is 25-years-old.
Over in the Czech Republic, #2 Simona Halep worked her way through the draw to lift the trophy at the Prague Open, beating #22 Elise Mertens 6–2, 7–5. Halep appeared a little shaky in her earlier encounters, needing three sets to overcome her opponents in her first two matches, but soon found her form. Halep will not be traveling to the United States for the US Open, so we’ll see her again when the tour transitions back to Europe. Here’s her victory celebration:
There is a Challenger Tour event on right now in Prague as well and two unexpected names are (were) competing in it: Stan Wawrinka and Ernest Gulbis.
Wawrinka is playing the Challenger to presumably play himself into form and ready himself for the European swing, since he is not competing at the US Open this year. The mercurial Gulbis—who can topple the best of them when he’s playing well—lost in the round of 16 to Aslan Karatsev, a 26-year-old Russian ranked #253. Other familiar names still remaining in the Challenger draw in Prague: Pierre-Hugues Herbert (#71), Elias Ymer (#203), and Sumit Nagal (#127).
A finalist on debut
Few players can actually dream of competing at the US Open, let alone making the final on their debut. Yet that’s exactly what Venus Williams did in 1997. At the age of just 17, Venus was the second ever woman to make a Grand Slam final on debut. Pam Shriver accomplished the same feat in 1978. Venus lost to Martina Hingis 6–0, 6–4.
Though she had a promising start to her professional career, Venus would have to wait until Wimbledon in 2000 to pick up her first Grand Slam singles trophy. P.S.: We bet that representatives at Yonex regret not hanging on to the Williams’ sisters.