BNP Paribas Open 2022…Świątek, Fritz And A Different Tennis Paradise

By Mark Winters

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Having taken place last October because of the competitive schedule adjustment brought about by the pandemic in China, the BNP Paribas Open returned to its normal calendar date in March 2022. Though proof of vaccination was required to enter the Indian Well Tennis Garden tournament site, (known as “Tennis Paradise”), there were more sun visors in evidence than face masks. It was a return to “normal”…almost. It would have been just that…had the conflict in Ukraine not been taking place. Still, the play was regularly remarkable, even in the windy, struggle to “keep your balance…” conditions. For many, though, it was difficult to focus totally on the matches and mentally erase reports of the daily atrocities that were occurring…

Świątek And Fritz – Storybook Reality…

Play on March 20th, the final day of the BNP Paribas Open, kicked off with the Women’s Singles. The Men’s Singles trophy battle followed. Iga Świątek of Poland, seeded No. 3, faced Maria Sakkari of Greece, who was seeded No. 6 then No. 3 seed Rafael Nadal of Spain took on Taylor Fritz, the No. 20 seed, the “Homeboy” from Rancho Palos Verdes, California.

Both matches were played in challenging conditions, which became worse later in the afternoon. They were more suited to dirigible flying than hitting accurate tennis shots.

The breeze didn’t bother the 20-year-old Świątek in the least. She blew Sakkari away, 6-4, 6-1. The match was filled with as many errors as there were scraps of paper flying around the stadium. The winner converted six of eleven breakpoints (54.5%) while the finalist was three for four converting breakpoint opportunities (75%). When it came to total points, Świątek earned 63 of the 111 points played (56.9%) and Sakkari 48 of 111 (43.2%). Both players double faulted only seven times apiece (an impressively low number since they had to “chase”, service tosses, in some cases literally, in order to make contact).

Iga Świątek in Tennis Paradise. Photo: Rob Prange

The Nadal – Fritz confrontation could have taken place at an ER (Emergency Room). Nadal has chronic pain in his left foot; every time he is on court it is not a question of “if” it will hurt but “how much..” on a particular day. In his semifinal against countryman Carlos Alcaraz, a three hour and 13 minute tussle, he also had to deal with discomfort in his left pectoralis that made it difficult to breathe.

At Roland Garros in 2021 Fritz damaged his right knee on match point during his second round loss to German Dominik Koepfer and was “wheelchaired” from the court. He had meniscus surgery on June 9, 2021 but thanks to his rehab tenacity, he was able to play The Championships at the end of the month. (In London, he reached the third round losing to Alexander Zverev, another German, in four sets.)

Toward the end of his hour and 50 minute, 7-5, 6-4 semifinal victory over Andrey Rublev, Fritz tweaked his right ankle…but thought nothing of it. The next day, just beginning his warmup before the final, he took a side-shuffle step…“and screamed. I’ve never experienced worse pain in my life before a match…Honestly I was trying to act tough because I had (television) cameras on me.” The warmup ended as quickly as it had begun and Fritz hobbled to the locker room. He had the ankle examined and retaped. He waited a bit then went back to the court for another warmup “go”. The result was the same as his first experience – Excruciating pain.

His team – coaches Michael Russell and Paul Annacone, along with physio Wolfgang (Wolf) Oswald – advised him not to play. But Fritz is known for being strong-willed as well as physically tough. There was no way he wasn’t going to play one of the game’s all-time greats in a “home” final. So, he spoke with the tournament doctor who numbed the ache in his ankle with an injection. (Post-match, he said that he felt no pain at all during the contest.)

(Following the match he said, “I apologized to my team for being so incredibly stubborn…In the end, I am glad I made this decision.”)

The result was a 6-3, 7-6 victory for the No. 20 seeded, 24-year-old over the No. 4 seed.  

Taylor Fritz embraces his trophy. Photo: David Silpa

From the start of the final, it was apparent that Nadal wasn’t himself. Fritz roared through the first few games going up 4-0. The courageous battle-tested Spaniard gritted his way back into the first set and broke serve cutting the lead to 5-3 before Fritz closed it out.

Nadal asked for a medical timeout at the beginning of the second set and left the court. He returned and his game seemed to have more vigor. He broke but Fritz broke back for 2-2. From that point on they traded serve holds until the tiebreak. Fritz continued to be formidable. He went up 2-0, but Nadal, using his “No Surrender” fervor, went ahead 5-4. Fritz stayed calm and just kept thinking “…there’s no reason I can’t win this…” and did taking the last three points and the title. (Match statistics – Fritz won 82 of the 154 points played (53%) and Nadal collected 72 points which was 47% of those contested.)

During the trophy presentation, Fritz explained, “This is like a childhood dream come true, like a wild dream you never expect to actually happen…”

His father, Guy Fritz was a former tour competitor, before becoming a highly regarded teaching professional in Southern California (having worked with the likes of CoCo Vandeweghe and his son.) When he was a youngster, Fritz annually attended the tournament with his parents. (His mother, Kathy May was a Women’s Top 10 performer.) He remembered, “My dad told me that I was going to win this tournament one day when I was a little kid. It was pretty tough not being emotional with my parents, especially my dad. He was just really, really proud of me. It’s really tough to get a compliment out of him.”

In an exchange with May, a day after the final, she was effusive. “He didn’t play his best tennis until the Rublev match. He fought through two matches before that playing fairly tight; not his usually aggressive style. I was very impressed with how he came out against Nadal. He hurt his ankle the day before and wasn’t sure he would be able to play. He did…and stuck to his game plan. He stayed in the moment. Taylor had an incredible match and an incredible tournament.”

Taylor Fritz at 11 with his parents Kathy May and Guy Fritz.
Source: The San Diego Union-Tribune

During his press conference following the final, Fritz said he was going to have an MRI on his ankle to determine the severity of the injury. May, a long-time friend, said, “He had the MRI today (March 21st) and it showed soft tissue inflammation, which was great news. We were afraid it might be a stress fracture. He’s going to see how it is in a few days. He was in a lot of pain so I think it’s going to take a while for him to recover. We’ll have to wait and see. I would like him not to play Miami and let it heal…but knowing Taylor, he will want to play…just look what he did after Roland Garros in 2021.”

Last year, Świątek lost to Sakkari three times. This February, she defeated her in the Doha semifinals and went on to win the tournament. After Indian Wells, her record for 2022 was a tour leading 23-3 and with the Sakkari decision, she had won 11 matches in a row. The BNP Paribas Open victory resulted in her becoming No. 2 in the WTA rankings matching the highest ranking by a Polish player ever…Agnieszka Radwańska was No. 2 in 2016. Even more impressive, she is 5-0 in career finals and has surrendered a mere 16 games in those contests.

Admitting that her desert triumph was “surreal…” she added that her success this year was due to being “…more focused on finding solutions…I want every match to be a lesson for me.”

Nadal holds his finalist’s trophy as he’s applauded by tournament director Tommy Haas. Photo: Karla Kinne

Nadal rarely lacks candor…and it makes him one of the classiest players on the tour. Following the final, (his record for the year is now an impressive 20-1), he discussed the physical problems he was having. “When I’m breathing, when I’m moving, it’s like a needle all the time inside,” he said. “I get dizzy a little bit because it’s painful.

“It’s a kind of pain that limits me a lot. It’s not only about pain, I don’t feel very well because it affects my breathing.

“But it’s not the moment to talk about that honestly, even if it’s obvious that I was not able to do the normal things today. That’s it. It’s a final. I tried. I lost against a great player.”

(After arriving in Barcelona on Tuesday, March 22nd, the 35-year-old had a variety of tests and they revealed that he sustained a rib stress fracture of the third left costal arch in his match with Alcaraz. According to his medical team it will take him four to six weeks to recover.)

Fritz became the first American to win the Men’s Singles title since Andre Agassi defeated Pete Sampras 7-6, 7-5, 6-1 in 2001 when the tournament was The Tennis Masters Series Indian Wells. As Jean-Yves Fillion, CEO of BNP Paribas USA, pointed out in trophy presentation, Taylor Fritz was the first American to win the BNP Paribas Open…and it was a dramatic victory moving the Southern Californian to No. 13 in the ATP rankings.

Unseeded But Not Unexpected…

The championships earned by the two BNP Paribas Open doubles teams weren’t that startling even if the men’s and women’s titlists were unseeded. In truth, their success was not unexpected.

John Isner and Jack Sock, the wild card US duo, downed Santiago González and Édouard Roger-Vasselin, a Protected Ranking, 39 and 38 year-old tandem from Mexico and France, 7-6, 6-3 in the Men’s Doubles title round. Sock completed a “Desert Trifecta” having won with Vasek Pospisil of Canada in 2015 and Isner in 2018. Xu Yifan and Yang Zhaoxuan, the 33 and 27-year-old partners from China, edged No. 4 seeds, Asia Muhammad of the US and Ena Shibahara, who was born in Mountain View and lives in Rancho Palos Verdes (both in California) but competes for Japan, 6-4, 7-6 for the Women’s Doubles trophy.

“Slava Ukraini!” (Glory to Ukraine)

During the March 9 – 20 championships, tennis was regularly an adjunct to what was taking place 6,416 miles away. On court performances were occasionally waylaid, almost taken hostage, by the horrific daily barbarism visited on Ukraine. Competitors from the countries involved in the conflict, along with those from the international tennis community, were “End The War…Now!” standard bearers.

Anna Kalinskaya, the 23-year-old from Moscow, wrote “NO WAR” on the pink heel cushions of her tennis shoes. Dayana Yastremska’s story about escaping Odessa (Ukraine), with her 15-year-old sister, Ivanna, was a regular topic of conversation. Yastremska was one of the players who wore blue and yellow tennis (colors of the Ukrainian flag) outfits or used the same color hair ribbons when they competed. Świątek of Poland, the No. 3 seed, tweeted that she would wear a blue and yellow ribbon saying, “I want to show, even if symbolically, my solidarity with Ukraine.”

On March 11th, Christopher Clarey, the widely acclaimed New York Times columnist, wrote, “At Indian Wells, Ukrainian Tennis Stars Take Their Fight to the Court”. (It is a must read feature.) In it, he discussed a first round match between Marta Kostyuk of Ukraine and Maryna Zanevska of Belgium. It was a battle of wills and emotions that Kostyuk eventually won, 6-7, 7-6, 7-5 after more than three hours in the blistering sun and swirling wind.

More important, at its conclusion, it called attention to the “Sisterhood”, brought about by the conflict. Kostyuk is a 19-year-old from Kyiv. Zanevska, who is 28-years-old, was born in Odessa. She immigrated to Belgium in 2008 and became a citizen in 2016.

Clarey revealed, the players didn’t hide their emotions at the end of play.  Zanevska, said, “I told her that everything is going to be all right.” Kostyuk offered, “I told her that everything is going to be OK, that our parents are going to be OK.”

Marta Kostyuk talks to the media after her first round. Photo: Rob Prange

Kostyuk’s tennis potential is matched by her directness…She wants the Russian players to be more outspoken about what their country is doing to hers. Anxious to see something other than words, something of substance take place, she told Clarey, “I don’t agree with the action that has been taken. Look at the other sports. Look at the big sports, what they did.”

Kostyuk explained that her family was in one location and she didn’t know if the next day she would wake up and “… still have a family…” She added, “I’m coping the way I’ve been coping. Everyone is different. I chose to fight. I came here. At the beginning, I was feeling guilty that I’m not there. You know, the whole family is there but not me. I was feeling guilty that I’m playing tennis, that I have the sky above me that is blue and bright and very calm and mixed feelings. But you can’t be in this position, because everyone is fighting how they can fight, and my job is to play tennis, and this is the biggest way I can help in the current situation.”

Victoria Azarenka, seeded No. 13, was distraught during her round of 16, 6-3, 6-4 loss to No. 17 seed Elena Rybakina. Rybakina is a 22-year-old Moscow born performer who represents Kazakhstan. Azarenka tweeted, “I am devastated by the actions that have taken place over the last several days – against – and in Ukraine. It’s heartbreaking to see how many innocent people have been affected and continue to be affected by such violence. Since my early childhood, I have always seen and experienced Ukrainian and Belarusian people, as well as both nations, friendly and supportive of one another. 

“It is hard to witness the violent separation that is currently taking place instead of supporting and finding compassion for each other. 

“My heart is with everyone directly and indirectly impacted by this war that is causing such pain and suffering for so many. I hope and wish for peace and an end to the war.” 

The umpire approaches a distraught Victoria Azarenka during her match with Elena Rybakina. Photo: Charles Baus

Speaking with Clarey, Zanevska thoughtfully offered, “It’s a very tricky thing because I see that all other sports are removing Russians from their competitions. And in the tennis community they did a few steps like removing the flag, and I can imagine it’s tough for the Russian players as well. But really unfortunately, Ukraine needs support as much as possible from all over the world, all the communities, all the types of sports. It counts. I do feel really sorry that the Russian players have to go through this, but the Ukrainian people are going through much worse things.”

Which is why Kostyuk is doing her utmost as a representative of her country, “Yes, because I showed once again what it’s like having a Ukrainian heart and putting everything I can on the court. And leaving everything out there.” 

Blue And Yellow…Off Court

On March 15th AP (Associated Press) reported that The Championships was having discussions with the British government about players from Russia. Sports Minister, Nigel Huddleston, offered, “…Many of us would be willing and able to [allow them to] compete as non-aligned, non-flag-bearing entities. But I think it needs to go beyond that. We need some potential assurances that they are not supporters of Vladimir Putin and we are considering what requirements we may need to try and get some assurances along those lines.”

Teams from Russia and Belarus are not eligible to participate in either the Davis Cup or the Billie Jean King Cup. The ATP, ITF and WTA are allowing players from the two countries to compete as unaffiliated contestants. Steve Simon, WTA Chairman and CEO, said,  “I feel very strongly that these individual athletes should not be the ones that are being penalized by the decisions of an authoritarian leadership that is obviously doing terrible, reprehensible things.” (As of this story’s posting, none of the Russian or Belarusian players have directly condemned Putin.)

They Said It…

After defeating Sloane Stephens 3-6, 6-1, 6-2 in the first round Naomi Osaka, who was playing her third tournament in six months, said, “I felt like I was fighting for my life. I was playing against her. I was playing against this wind. It was crazy.

“But I kept thinking that she was going through the same circumstances as me, so I just have to will myself to try as hard as I could.”

After being defeated by Veronika Kudermetova, 6-0, 6-4 in the second round, Naomi Osaka explained her emotional reaction on court, (after the opening game of the match), to a female spectator shouting, “Naomi, you suck”. Osaka said, “To be honest, I’ve gotten heckled before. It didn’t really bother me, but it’s like, heckled here. I’ve watched a video of Venus and Serena getting heckled here and if you’ve never watched it, you should watch it. And I don’t know why, but it went into my head and it got replayed a lot.”

Naomi Osaka addresses the crowd after her match against Veronika Kudermetova. Photo: Getty

Andrew Krasny, the widely respected on-court host at the BNP Paribas Open, addressed the verbal crassness Osaka experienced, (following her comments to the crowd before leaving the stadium after the match), saying “Out of about 10,000 people, one person’s voice can’t weigh out 9,999 others…We love you here.”

Jenson Brooksby surprised No. 5 seed Stefanos Tsitispas, 1-6, 6-3, 6-2 in the third round. The Greek, however, wasn’t impressed. He explained that the 21-year-old from Sacramento, the capital of the state of California, was simply, “Putting balls back. That’s what makes him difficult. He’s not a very explosive player, but he’s able to get balls back. He’s not the most athletic player as well. He’s just able to read the game well, play with his pace, play with the opponent’s pace. He’s able to read the game well and stay consistent. There’s nothing that he has that kills, I would say.”

Trailing 2-5 (down two breaks of serve) in the third set of his second round match against American Sebastian Korda, Nadal admitted, “I thought I was lost today…Normal thing with this kind of match, in that position, of 100 matches probably you going to lose 90. But if you give up, you’re going to lose 100.” The Spaniard didn’t give up and won the second round tussle 6-2, 1-6, 7-6 to keep his 2022 record a perfect 16-0.

A New Nick…Sort Of

Nick Kyrgios, who received a Men’s Singles wild card, was the subject of a Reuters story early in the event. According to the piece, before the tournament began, the always entertaining Australian, “…gave a hilarious cooking demonstration at a Citibank-sponsored tennis dinner…” After fricasseeing Sebastian Baez of Argentina, 6-4, 6-0 in his first match, he admitted, “I’m just excited to be back at this tournament. It has been a couple years because of the (coronavirus) pandemic and taking time off to get my mind and body right.”

Pain in his left knee was a constant companion for almost two years. Emotionally he had been in pain even longer. As he pointed out, “I was really struggling. I wasn’t happy.

“The tennis world wanted me to be a certain player, and I was trying to be something that I wasn’t for so many years. It put me in a dark place. I was letting people down. I fell out with my family. It was tough.

“One day I looked in the mirror and said that this isn’t the type of person that I’m trying to be. And now I’m a completely different person. I’m comfortable in my own skin, I’m not trying to please anyone. I’m not trying to be anyone else.

“I’m Nick Kyrgios and I just go out there and play and have fun and if I win, I win and if I lose, I lose.

“Life is good.”

Nick Kyrgios enjoys himself at Indian Wells. Photo: Gallo Images

Ask about his transformation, Kyrgios, who will turn 27 on April 27th, pointed to Costeen Hatzi, his girlfriend (sitting in the first row during the press conference).

“My body feels as good as it has ever felt. I feel like I’m moving and playing really well. It’s good to be back.”

He performed that way dropping a mere 12 games in his first three matches. He received a walkover into the quarterfinals because Jannik Sinner, the No. 10 seeded Italian, was ill.  

Facing Nadal, he reverted to the Nick who had misplaced the remote control. He not only lost the match, 7-6, 5-7, 6-4, he lost his cool. After being ahead 4-2 in the first set, Nadal became even more relentless (if such is possible for the Spaniard) while Kyrgios became erratic. He relinquished the service break and didn’t win a point in the tiebreak. Having regrouped in the second set, his shot-making and composure were exemplary until 2-2, deuce, in the third set.

At ad-out he was “Osakaed…” when a fan shouted during his second serve. He dropped the point, the game and subsequently the match…

A separate story would have to be written to summarize what ensued. Kyrgios launched a filibuster-length tirade. He unleashed on chair umpire Carlos Bernardes, and a heckler who was making unhelpful suggestions. Kyrgios gestured towards actor Ben Stiller (who happened to be sitting in the first row of the stadium with his wife Christine Taylor) and asked the heckler “Do I tell him how to act?!”

After shaking hands with Nadal, Kyrgios hurled his racquet to the ground and it bounced across the court, almost impaling one of the ball boys.

Prior to the contest, Kyrgios had said he enjoyed playing the best in the game, (like Nadal), because, “I like the villain feeling…” In Nadal’s press conference after, what was overall a wonderful display of elite competition, the winner praised his opponent’s talent, acknowledging that when he was motivated and passionate he could defeat anyone. But, he pointedly concluded with a very un-Nadal like comment about the racquet throwing saying, “The ATP should review and make decisions…”.

“Curiouser And Curiouser…”

Maybe it was because the courts were “waiting on hold…”, (during a customer service telephone call), slow and/or the parching desert air combined with blustery wind blasts but as Alice (in Wonderland) said, after the magic cake had a delayed effect, the following results, (with all the singles seeds receiving first round byes), were “Curiouser and curiouser…” 

In three hour 15 minute second round “survival” Botic van de Zandschulp edged No. 9 seed  Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada 7-6, 6-7, 6-3. The second round fallout also featured Aslan Karatsev, seeded No. 22, continuing his “vanishing” act losing 7-6, 6-4 to US wild card Steve Johnson. Countryman, Karen Khachanov, the No. 25 seed, disappeared 6-0 6-3 against Jenson Brooksby. Tommy Paul of the US stayed on script outlasting the No. 3 seed Alexander Zverev of Germany, 6-2, 4-6, 7-6 in another second round contest.

Jasmine Paolini plays Aryna Sabalenka. Photo: Mark J. Terrill/AP

The Women’s Singles was similarly eventful. Second round departures included: Jasmine Paolini of Italy dispatching Aryna Sabalenka, the No. 2 seed, 2-6, 6-3, 6-3. Alison Riske of the US, after relinquishing the first set 6-0, made a dramatic course change. She claimed the next two sets, 6-3, 6-1 to defeat Garbiñe Muguruza of Spain, the No. 8 seed. In a “big hitting, big missing” display Shelby Rogers of the US was 7-5, 7-6 better than Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia, the No. 10 seed.

Isner and Sock, (who has become the latter day John McEnroe meaning that he can team with anyone and win), took full advantage of their wild card stopping the No. 1 seeded Croatian duo Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic, 7-6, 3-6, 10-7.

Australian Open champions, Thanasi Kokkinakis and Kyrgios, the wild cards from Down Under, surprised Ivan Dodig of Croatia and Marcelo Melo of Brazil 7-5, 1-6, 10-2. (In the second round, “IS” defeated “The Special Ks”, 6-3, 7-6)

Women’s Doubles first round “head shakers” included Eri Hozumi and Makoto Ninomiya of Japan straight-setting Veronika Kudermetova and Elise Mertens of Belgium, the top seeds, 6-3 6-3; along with Alizé Cornet of France and Leylah Fernandez of Canada sidelining the No. 2 seeds, Samantha Stosur of Australia and Shuai Zhang of China, 1-6, 7-6, 10-8 

The last of the “Curiouser And Curiouser…” concern two players who had been on lengthy losing streaks. Wild card Sam Querrey of the US defeated Tallon Griekspoor of the Netherlands 6-7, 6-2, 6-4 ending his “had not won a match in almost forever” (actually, since The Championships in 2021). Katie Volynets of the US, another wild card, earned her second career singles victory (making her tour record 2-11) outlasting Arantxa Rus of the Netherlands, 4-6, 6-4, 6-1.

Quality Qualifiers…

Jaume Munar of Spain made his way through the Men’s Singles Qualifying. So did Shāng Jùnchéng of China, (who is known to many as Jerry Shāng). What are the odds that two of the 12 qualifiers would meet in the first round? Not having any idea, let’s just move to the fact Munar defeated Shāng, 6-3, 6-4 in the first round. He then sidestepped countryman Pablo Carreno Busta, the No. 16 seed, in his next match 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 before Fritz ended his desert stay, 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 in the third round.

While Munar deserved kudos for his performance it was overshadowed by the successes enjoyed by Harriet Dart of Great Britain and Daria Saville (née Gavrilova), who was Moscow born but became an Australian citizen in 2016 (and married Aussie doubles standout Luke Saville on December 4, 2021.)

Dart vanquished Ana Konjuh of Croatia, 6-1, 3-1, Retired (due to dizziness) in her opening match. Elina Svitolina of Ukraine, the No. 12 seed, was her next victim, 2-6, 6-3, 6-3. Kaia Kanepi of Estonia fell 7-6, 6-3. Madison Keys of the US, seeded No. 25, halted the “darting” 6-1, 6-4.

Daria Saville wears the Ukrainian colors on court. Photo: Clive Brunskill

Saville has been slowly regaining her competitive form after undergoing Achilles tendon surgery in February 2021. Once a Top 20 performer, her comeback has been “a tough go…” necessitating qualifying appearances until her ranking reaches the level that allows direct draw acceptance.

She opened her desert campaign defeating Shuai Zhang of China, 6-3, 6-2. Ons Jabeur of Tunisia, seeded No. 9, was next to fall 7-6, 6-7, 6-4. Mertens, the No. 20 seed, was on the short-end of a 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 score. Down 4-1 in the first set against Maria Sakkari of Greece, the No. 6 seed, Saville was forced to retire because of left thigh injury.

At the end of February, she was outspoken in her support of Ukraine, saying she would wear blue and yellow (the colors of the country’s flag) at Indian Wells. Saville’s most telling comment was a Tweet in which she said (in part) “Silence in the current situation is equal to complicity. Putin, stop the war. Army, come home!”

By The Way…

Simona Halep, seeded No. 24, didn’t bring Coco Gauff, an 18th birthday present on March 13th, the day of her match with the No. 16, seed.  The Romanian won the third round contest, 6-3, 6-4.

Annually the tournament presents the Bud Collins Media Award to an individual(s) who through their writing, commentary or photos has made an impact when it comes to increasing awareness of the event. The 2022 honorees were Jon Wertheim, a Sport Illustrated Executive Editor/Senior Writer and Tennis Channel commentator, and the late Luigi Serra, who was born in Florence, Italy, survived the war, became an engineer talented enough to design nuclear power plants while teaching himself photography, a field in which he became an award winner.

For the past six years the tournament, along with its Bank of the West subsidiary, has awarded scholarships to seniors graduating from Coachella Valley High School in Thermal, California. Samantha Campos, Fernando Ruiz – Chavez, Justin Garnica and Lydia Rodriquez were the 2022 recipients. Fillion, CEO of BNP Paribas USA, congratulated the honorees saying, “…not only have they worked so hard to achieve success both on and off the court, but they have also showed us what it means to give back to their families, their school and their community.”

For the past five years the award winners each received $15,000. In 2022, the amount was increased to $20,000 per student.

Short Lived, But…

On February 28th Daniil Medvedev became the 27th ATP player to earn the No.1 singles ranking. His reign lasted until March 14th when he suffered a 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 third round loss to ever adventurous shot maker Frenchman Gaël Monfils.

Gaël Monfils in his win against Daniil Medvedev.
Photo: Michael Cummo/BNP Paribas Open

Patrick Rafter, the formidable Australian serve and volleyer, topped the ATP rankings on July 26, 1999. A week later, (Monday, August 2nd to be exact) Pete Sampras regained the position, (but Andre Agassi finished the season No. 1). Curiously, that same year (1999), Carlos Moyá, who now guides Rafael Nadal on tour, reached No. 1 on March 15th and held the top position until March 28th.

Having joined Rafter and Moya, Medvedev was very open about the shortness of his stay. He admitted not playing well while “Gaël played really good…” Addressing the loss of the No. 1 ranking (to Novak Djokovic), he candidly admitted, “Is it better to be No. 1 for, let’s say, one week in your life or never touch it? … I think it’s still better to at least touch it.” 

Something that so few who have played the game professionally have ever been able to dream about, let alone accomplish.

“Chump Change…”

Tuesday, March 8th was International Women’s Day and taking full advantage of the attention that resulted, The Big Seven – ATP, ITF, WTA, along with the Australian Open, Roland Garros, The Championships and US Open – announced  each of the organizations was donating $100, 000 for humanitarian aid and support of the Ukraine Tennis Federation (UTF).

It was certainly a commendable decision but…the contributions were not totally for the UTF since they were also supporting the Global Giving’s Ukraine Crisis Relief Fund. A week earlier, The Big Seven condemned Russia’s attack and created the “Tennis Plays For Peace” campaign.

At first glance, the funding appeared to be magnanimous but when the reality of the total contributions – $700,000 – is analyzed…In today’s economy the amount is “Chump Change…”

Attempting to determine the yearly income of each of the seven is not easy since they “creatively manage” their Profit and Loss statements. Pre-pandemic figures enable a “guestimate” on their current finances to be made…but it would be safe to say that none of the seven are on their way to the “Poor House”…particularly in view of the fact that it has been reported that ITF’s “estimated” annual revenue is “currently…” $69.8 million.

Since The Big Seven control the game, it is a shame that they couldn’t have gone further into their pockets for more “loose change…” given that annually they individually enjoy seven figure profits even in “down times…”

Not Blown Away…

The BNP Paribas Open returned to its normal tour date which was a plus for the game. Adding to the tournament’s upside were the victories of Iga Świątek and Taylor “I’m Playing At Home…” Fritz. On the offside, it was shame that the fierce desert winds couldn’t, somehow, have blown peace into Ukraine…

Postscript…Mucked Up Mambo

Novak Djokovic is a marvelous athlete; flexible and able to change direction quickly. It is almost as if he is a “throwback” to the Great Depression when Dance Marathons were popular because they offered participants a meal, entertainment, an opportunity to win cash prizes and shelter.

As readers well know the Serbian tried to “mambo” into the Australian Open but his back and forth movements were not award winning…He was unable to participate because of his “not anti-vax but not going to be inoculated” stance. Prior to dropping a 6-4, 7-6 Dubai Tennis Championships quarterfinal contest to Jiří Veselý of the Czech Republic (and relinquishing his No. 1 ranking to Medvedev), he continued to dance saying he wanted to play both the BNP Paribas Open and the Miami Open but was waiting to see if the US CDC (Center of Disease Control) would change its travel restrictions.

They were not altered…Visitors flying into the US needed to be fully vaccinated and the 34-year-old wasn’t. Remaining true to his “My Importance…” doctrine, he “officially withdrew” from the tournament (and the Miami Open) on March 9th.

While it was expected, the last minute decision “mucked up” the Men’s Singles draw, forcing the event to do some dancing of its own. A number of tennis officials have suggested that the ATP should fine Djokovic for “mamboing” the Men’s Singles draw. Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria, the No. 33 seed, was placed in Djokovic’s spot. Had Djokovic waited another day a Lucky Loser would have taken his place. As it is turned out, Joao Sousa a Lucky Loser from Portugal then filled Dimitrov’s place in the draw.

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