From almost any perspective 2020 will stand alone as a year to remember, and not so fondly. There has never been a comparable twelve months. The world was swept by an upgraded version of the plague. The headliner was a virus known as COVID-19. Boundaries and rules meant nothing. The virus simply did what it did because it could.
Everyday life everywhere took on a new “typical”. Tennis wasn’t immune to the virus, nor the ramifications of dealing with it. A brand new collection of words became part of everyone’s everyday-speak.
The newly adopted vocabulary included: quarantine, pandemic, mask, social-distancing and bubble, along with virus and of course, COVID-19.
The game reflected the times. Hidden behind masks and trying to follow stringent guidelines, tennis played on, fashioning its own path along the way.
Looking back on some of what took place we will try to take readers on a walk on and off the court in the year just passed when moving ahead regularly required making detours.
What if…? As the bushfires ravaged the area around Melbourne, the decision was made, due to the roasting temperatures combining with the almost unbreathable air that polluted Melbourne, to postpone the Australian Open.
Looking now at the fact that COVID-19 brought about the cancellation of both the BNP Paribas and the Miami Opens, the Australian Open could have been played in the time slot that it has chosen for 2021.
As Things Turned Out…
The Fédération Française de Tennis was audacious. In mid-March, the organization postponed Roland Garros initially from September 20th to October 4th. COVID-19 concerns changed those dates to September 27th until October 11th.
It was hoped that 11,500 spectators could be admitted daily and dispersed among the Stade Roland Garros show courts (Court Philippe Chatrier, Court Suzanne Lenglen, Court Simonne Mathieu and Court 1). The health department finally mandated that there would be 1,000 mask-wearing attendees per day.
Wimbledon proved why it is The Championships. Acknowledging the gravity of COVID-19 situation, it was decided on April 1st to cancel the tournament (and it wasn’t an April Fools’ joke).
For the past 17 years The All England Lawn Tennis Club has had an insurance policy in case the tournament had to be cancelled. The astute planning by management resulted in a $141 million pandemic payout in 2020.
The USTA joined the Slams change dates game in June announcing that the US Open would begin in late August and finish in mid-September. Maintaining its “Broadway Big” status, it was decided to stage the Western & Southern Open, as a warm-up event at the fan-less Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadow, New York.
Osaka Deserves Nobel Consideration …
In New York, Dominic Thiem of Austria was the men’s titlist, edging Alexander Zverev of Germany, 2-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 7-6, to win his first big four championship.
In high drama, Naomi Osaka of Japan defeated the rejuvenated and resurgent Belarusian, Victoria Azarenka 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 to claim her third slam trophy.
In a year that was exhausted by death, criminal government incompetence, anger, road-rage like eruptions in society and much more, Osaka made an impact. During the Open she “facemask messaged” match by match.
Her desire was pure and unfettered. She wanted to create an awareness of what had been taking place and have people “see the names”, of the Black victims of police violence, such as Ahmaud Arbery, Philando Castile, George Floyd, Trayvon Martin, Elijah McClain, Tamir Rice and Breonna Taylor.
Following Floyd’s death at the hands of a group of rogue policemen in May, she traveled to Minneapolis, Minnesota and took part in the peaceful protest that was held. In July, she co-wrote an article that appeared in Esquire Magazine concerning racism and what it was like “being all things together at the same time…”
After Jacob Blake, an African-American, was shot in the back multiple times by a policeman in Kenosha, Wisconsin, she withdrew from her Western & Southern Open semifinal. Realizing the significance of her decision, tournament officials suspended play at the National Tennis Center for the entire day in support of her social justice expression.
As an individual who is actually quite shy, Osaka had made a momentous decision. Because of the platform provided by her extraordinary tennis talent, she would use the resulting attention to help stem systemic racism. (It was fitting that during the final days of the US Open, the works of eighteen artists were featured in “Black Lives to the Front”. It was a Black Lives Matter art exhibit that was on display in the lower rows of the empty seats at Ashe Stadium.)
Given the USTA’s attempt to bring about significant racial change, along with focusing on altering the public’s perception of the organization, the PR effort crumbled when Osaka was restricted during the trophy presentation ceremonies.
Asked if she had thought about wearing one of her “telling” masks when she addressed the audience, she said she had…but was told not to do so…” More revealing, she added, “I just did what they told me…” Who were they? Was this an official dictate or a television move, or…?
After the awakening that she brought about during the two tournaments held at the National Tennis Center, an enlightenment that the Open and tennis benefitted from, Naomi Osaka should have been shown more respect…
Having turned 23 in October, she received the ultimate accolade when Sports Illustrated named her Sportsperson of the Year. In addition, the editors and the beat writers named Osaka the Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year in honor of her noteworthy activism and her on court success.
Polish History Rewritten…
Polish tennis history has catalogued the successes realized by Wojciech Fibak and Agnieszka Radwańska in the Open Era. In the 1930s, Jadwiga Jędrzejowska gained notice. She was a formidable baseliner with a telling forehand.
Because tennis officials, as well as fans, had difficulty pronouncing her name, she was known as “Jed” or “Ja Ja”. In 1939, she was a Roland Garros finalist. The legendary Simonne Mathieu, the French player for whom a show court at the facility is now named, defeated her 6-3, 8-6. The singles opponents then joined forces to down Alice Florian and Hella Kovac from Yugoslavia, in the doubles final, 7-5, 7-5.
This year, in Paris, Poland’s tennis history was rewritten. Iga Świątek, who three months earlier had completed high school, ended up, out of the classroom, graduating with honors. She passed her on court practical exam by overwhelming Australian Open titlist, Sofia Kenin of the US, 6-4, 6-1 in the Roland Garros women’s final.
Claiming her initial career title, Świątek became the first player from Poland to secure a Slam singles trophy. (She earned the 2020 WTA Most Improved Player Award, too.)
At 19, Świątek was the youngest woman to win in Paris since Monica Seles, who represented Yugoslavia, in 1992. And added to that, Świątek, at No. 54, was the lowest ranked performer to earn the women’s championship since computer rankings were first utilized in 1975.
In seven matches, the most games she relinquished were five. (This happened in the second and third rounds against Hsieh Su-Wei of China, 6-1, 6-4 and Eugenie Bouchard of Canada, 6-3, 6-2, along with Kenin in the final).
Following her match with Hsieh, Świątek, the 2018 Wimbledon Junior Girls’ singles winner, was captivating as she explained that at the Warsaw Open, ten years earlier, she had been a ball person during the tournament and had been thrilled to have an opportunity to hit with Hsieh.
Kenin – The Real Winner…Djokovic Trophied Too
In Australia, Novak Djokovic captured a record-setting eighth tournament title, (and 17th Grand Slam win) by downing Thiem, 6-4, 4-6, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4. He campaigned resolutely after that, winning 26 straight matches until petulance became his competition in the fourth round at the US Open. His emotional flair-up resulted in his first defeat.
True, the Adria Tour that he and his family had arranged turned into a COVID showcase during the game’s pandemic pause. It put a smudge on his season results up to that point. (Incidentally, both he and his wife Jelena tested positive following the exhibition series.)
On the biggest stage in tennis, he angrily whacked a ball and hit a linesperson in the neck in New York, resulting in default and ultimate defeat. It served to increase the size of the earlier blemish. It is a shame that such willful behavior had to tarnish the Serbian’s No. 1 finish in the ATP rankings for the sixth time. He also was selected the Best Tennis Player In 2020 by the European Press Agencies.
Then before the US Open kicked off he, along with Vasek Pospisil of Canada, (who ironically earned ATP Comeback Player of the Year honors), resigned from the ATP Player Council and formed the Professional Tennis Players Association (PTPA), (planning to serve as Co-Presidents). Overall, Djokovic had quite a year…
Sofia Kenin’s year was better. The spunky sprite from Pembrooke Pines, Florida, nicknamed Sonya, claimed her first major title in Australia, surprising home country favorite Ashleigh Barty, 7-6, 7-5 in the semifinals and dispatching Spain’s Garbiñe Muguruza, 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 in the final. She was later a Roland Garros finalist and achieved a Top 10 ranking for the first time in her career. She finished 2020 at No. 4 and was selected WTA Player of the Year.
Medvedev Closes The Year Impressively…
Going into the Rolex Paris Masters and the Nitto ATP Finals, his last 2020 events, Daniil Medvedev had put together a decent year. But, in truth, the 6’7” Russian really hadn’t lived up to his expectations. Things changed at the AccorHotels Arena, which is situated in the Bercy neighborhood of Paris’ 12th arrondissement.
Medvedev was stellar in the singles final, which featured the game’s future in terms of age, height and sheer athleticism. In that contest, he defeated Alexander Zverev of Germany, 5-7, 6-4, 6-1.
Then, 19 days later, Medvedev brought the men’s tennis season to a close at the Nitto ATP Finals at the O2 Arena in London. He slipped past Thiem, 4-6, 7-6, 6-4 in the trophy round.
With the championship, he became only the second Russian to win the year-end tournament. (In 2009, Nikolay Davydenko downed Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina, 6-3, 6-4.) US Open titlist Thiem is now “0” for “2” in London, having come up 6-7, 6-2, 7-6 short in last year’s contest with Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece.
With the Nitto ATP Finals moving to Turin, Italy in 2021, many had hoped that the last show in London would pit No.1 Djokovic against No. 2, Rafael Nadal of Spain. But “Youth was served” in the semifinals when Medvedev edged Nadal 3-6, 7-6, 6-3 and Thiem trimmed Djokovic 7-5, 6-7, 7-6.
In the end, the 24-year-old Russian dropped the curtain on 2020 with 10 straight wins, two significant titles and a career high No. 4 ranking to boot.
Ons Jabeur plays with a lot of style, an approach she has called “Crazy Shots…” The Tunisian does it because of the joy the creative shot making brings her. At the Australian Open, she became the first Arab woman in history to reach the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam event by defeating Qiang Wang of China, 7-6, 6-1.
The round before, Jabeur brought Caroline Wozniacki’s career to a close, defeating the Dane, 7-5, 3-6, 7-5. (In the same round, Wang had been magnificent, surprising Serena Williams, 6-4, 6-7, 7-5).
Tournament winner Kenin slipped past the 25-year-old Jabeur, 6-4, 6-4, in the quarterfinals.
Jabeur earned further acclaim at Roland Garros by becoming the first Arab woman to reach the last 16 in Paris when she edged No. 9 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, 7-6, 2-6, 6-3 in the third round.
In Jabeur’s next match, Danielle Collins of the United States was 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 better. More noteworthy, Jabeur finished the year at a career-high No. 31.
Podoroska’s “Tournament To Remember”
Argentina’s Nadia Podoroska had never won a main draw singles match at a Grand Slam. Ranked No. 131 going into Roland Garros, she passed two three set tests, one in the second round, 6-3, 1-6, 6-2 against Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan and another in the fourth round when she stopped Barbora Krejčíková of the Czech Republic, 2-6, 6-2, 6-3.
After scoring a 6-2, 6-4 quarterfinal victory over Elina Svitolina of Ukraine, she became the third women’s qualifier in the Open Era to reach a Slam semifinal. Looking to surpass the 2004 achievement of countrywoman, Paola Suárez, she was unable to do so.
Elena Dementieva of Russia ended Suárez’s memorable performance, 6-0, 7-5 in the Roland Garros semifinals. Świątek concluded Podoroska’s “Tournament To Remember” 6-2, 6-1 in that same round. Her showing capped a year in which the 23-year-old earned WTA Newcomer of the Year honors.
Bushfires soiled the air quality but not the spirit of “help” leading into the Australian Open. Nick Kyrgios increased awareness when he tweeted, “I’m kicking off the support for those affected by the fires. I’ll be donating $200 per ace that I hit across all the events I play this summer”.
Following the Aussie’s lead, ATP Cup participants contributed to the WWF’s Australian Wildlife and Nature Recovery Fund. WTA performers raised funds for the Australian Red Cross.
During the COVID-19 break from competition, a number of other players used the time off to help out where they could. Roger Federer and his wife, Mirka made a substantial donation to assist the most vulnerable families in Switzerland.
Juan Sebastián Cabal of Colombia did the same thing for needy families in his hometown of Cali. Grigor Dimitrov, who comes from Haskovo, Bulgaria, provided ventilators to the town’s hospital. Novak Djokovic and his wife Jelena contributed a significant sum to purchase medical equipment and supplies in Serbia.
Two-time German Roland Garros doubles champions Kevin Krawietz and Andreas Mies did their part. Krawietz worked at Lidl, a supermarket in Munich. Mies joined German football player, Bastian Oczipca, to deliver fruit to essential workers and those in the special needs community.
WTA 4 Love was active distributing meals and masks, along with taking part in other COVID-19 relief projects. Andy Murray donated his Virtual Madrid Open winnings to Britain’s National Health Service and Player Relief Fund. Rafael Nadal made contributions to several organizations that were providing assistance.
Andy Roddick’s Foundation created the Family Emergency Fund. Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi provided daily workers in Pakistan with ration bags for their families.
Jannik Sinner of Italy came up with a very clever approach to making a difference. He created the SinnerPizzaChallenge and promised to donate ten Euros that would be matched by Starwing Sports, (his management company), for every photo that he received of a pizza that looked like him or an important Italian. The money was used to fund the purchase of medical supplies needed throughout Italy.
Having A Voice…
Osaka, along with Coco Gauff of the US, attended Black Lives Matter peaceful protests. Frances Tiafoe and Sloane Stephens, among the concerned players from the US, spoke out in support of the demonstrations.
In Belarus, Vera Lapko was among the Minsk marchers in mid-August, objecting to the rigged election that put Alexander Lukashenko, the despot who has ruled the country for 26 years, in power once again. Ilya Ivashka, Victoria Azarenka and Daria Gavrilova offered encouragement on social media.
Bubbles Were The Talk…
Not to make light of what took place, but the French combination of Benoit Paire and Kristina Mladenovic were regularly in the “Bubble And Testing” news. Paire qualified for the “Tester Of The Year” trophy while Mladenovic earned “Friends Can Be Trouble” recognition.
The perversely talented Frenchman was in and out of the weekly “playing/not playing reports” after an odd trifecta where he received positive and negative test results in New York, Hamburg and Paris.
The Frenchwoman should have an asterisk next to her name since she didn’t test positive. She made the mistake of playing cards with Paire at a player hotel in New York, which brought about her removal from the US Open Doubles, along with her partner, Timea Babos of Hungry.
From the end of tournament play in the spring until late in the year, everyone was learning, in some cases, on a daily basis, something new about dealing with COVID-19.
The attempts made by all the championships were conscientious when it came to testing and most of the follow-up. Mistakes resulted because of the complexity of pandemic issues that were faced by the US Open and Roland Garros.
The most glaring “protocol collapse” happened in New York when the “Paire Group” – countrymen Adrian Mannarino, Grégoire Barrère, Richard Gasquet and Édouard Roger-Vasselin, along with Mladenovic, and two players from Belgium, Kirsten Flipkens and Ysaline Bonaventure – (people who spent time around him) were sanctioned.
Problems resulted when the Open followed New York State guidelines, but the player hotels were in Nassau County. Different counties meant different COVID-19 restrictions, which forced all of the players involved to sign a variety of waivers.
The USTA, having not worked with healthcare officials in Nassau county, had to alter the rules on the fly. In the end, the “Paire Group” suffered.
At Roland Garros, Fernando Verdasco of Spain was forced to withdraw and so was Damir Dzumhur of Bosnia. Verdasco claimed his test result was a false positive. Dzumhur had to pull out because his Serbian coach Petar Popovic had tested positive.
Both players discussed suing the Fédération Française de Tennis because the “play/not play” rules were changed allowing a competitor who could prove, he/she had previously been infected could then be allowed to participate.
Those who watched Alexander Zverev’s 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 fourth round Paris loss to Jannik Sinner of Italy could probably tell he wasn’t in top form. After the contest the reason became obvious when the German admitted to having a fever and not being able to breathe then concluding, “I shouldn’t have played”. But, later, he tested negative.
Sam Querrey of the US wryly observed that a true bubble would require “10,000 rooms” for players, teams and coaches, along with the entire hotel staff. As FFT Director General, Jean-Francois Vilotte, pointed out, “We do not think in terms of a sealed bubble”.
Notable Paris Qualifyings…
Renata Zarazúa played through the Roland Garros qualifying and put her name in the Mexican tennis history book. After defeating French junior Elsa Jacquemot, who won the 2020 Girls’ title, 6-1, 6-2, she became the first woman from her country since Angélica Gavaldón in 1994 to reach the second round in singles. There, Svitolina, the No. 3 seed, defeated her 6-3, 0-6, 6-2 in a well contested match.
Mayar Sherif, an intercollegiate tennis star at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California, became the first Egyptian woman to qualify for a major in Paris. A 2020 Grand Slam Development Fund grant recipient, the No. 171 ranked player at the start of the tournament, proved to be formidable as she forced Karolína Plíšková, the No. 2 seeded Czech, to work overtime, in the first round, to secure a 6-7, 6-2, 6-4 win.
Italian Roland Garros Success…
Martina Trevisan of Italy, who qualified for the 2020 Australian Open, also qualified in Paris.
But that was not her real Roland Garros story. Neither was reaching the quarterfinals where tournament champion Świątek defeated her, 6-3, 6-1. A tape measure shows that Trevisan, perhaps if she is stretching, stands all of 5’3”. But what she lacks in stature she makes up for by playing with lefthanded craftiness and a level of tenacity that surpasses her height. (In today’s game, women average 5’7”.)
That determination was clear when she defeated Coco Gauff of the US, 6-4, 6-2, 7-5 in the second round. Maria Sakkari, the formidable Greek talent, was the next to fall to the diminutive Italian, 1-6, 7-6, 6-3.
Then, No. 5 seed Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands was dispatched, 6-4, 6-4 in the fourth round. Those victories by the No. 159 ranked performer drew attention.
But there was a lot more to Trevisan. Her candor bordered on confessional. Last summer, she began to open up about personal issues. She discussed having spent time confronting a problem.
Her struggle began in 2010 and consumed her for four years. More frightening, it kept her from participating in tennis. Unbeknownst to most people in the game, she was a member of a “secret society”, one that has included Madison Keys of the US, Eugenie Bouchard of Canada, as well as former players such as Marion Bartoli of France and Monica Seles of the US. She suffered from an eating disorder.
A combination of factors – her father’s illness, pressure to live up to being an elite junior, as well as tension with her mother who is a tennis coach, combined with unhappiness about her body’s muscular appearance – led her to eat next to nothing on a regular basis.
She finally sought professional help and has made steady progress in her dealings with anorexia and the mental issues that accompany the affliction. Her return to competition has been as steady as her honesty in working with the problem.
Proud of what she has accomplished, Trevisan is clear about what she wants those facing those sorts of issues to know – Never give up.
When Daniel Altmaier became a professional in 2014, it seemed that he had potential. Reality was different. Shoulder and back trouble limited the German’s tour successes.
Prior to qualifying for Roland Garros, the 22-year-old had never appeared in a major. His fondness for playing on Terre Battue was evident as the No. 186 ranked player dismissed Feliciano Lopez of Spain, Jen-Lennard Stuff of Germany and No. 7 seed, Matteo Berrettini of Italy and all of them in straight sets.
In keeping with the three set theme, fittingly, Pablo Carreño Busta of Spain ended Altmaier’s spectacular run in straight sets, 6-2, 7-5, 6-2.
Qualifier Marco Cecchinato of Italy is the answer to the ultimate tennis trivia question – Name a current lesser “known” men’s competitor who has won at least one singles and one doubles match at each of the majors?
Cecchinato owns this one-of-a-kind Grand Slam tournament double. He made his best showing in a “Big 4” at 2018 Roland Garros. That year, he upset the No. 10 and No. 8 seeds Carreño Busta of Spain and David Goffin of Belgium in the third and fourth rounds.
In the quarterfinals, he downed Novak Djokovic, the No. 20 seeded Serbian who had been injured and off the tour for a time, (which resulted in the low seeding), in four sets. He lost to Dominic Thiem of Austria, 7-5, 7-6, 6-1 in the semifinals. This year in Paris, he reached the third round where Zverev sent him packing, 6-1, 7-5, 6-3.
What’s The Time…?
Italian qualifier Lorenzo Giustino and Frenchman Corentin Moutet were involved in a two-day six hour and five minute, rain-delayed, first round match that was Tour de France energy consuming. It showcased stubbornness that rivaled drinking day-old espresso.
The No. 157 ranked Giustino finally upset his twenty-one year old opponent ranked No. 71. The score said a good deal – 0-6, 7-6, 7-6, 2-6, 18-16. For Giustino, it was a spectacular first tour victory. Added to that, he hadn’t realized until his coach told him, that there was no fifth set tie-break in Paris.
In his next match, Diego Schwartzman, the Argentine version of a roadrunner, swept aside his weary foe, 6-1, 7-5, 6-0. Nonetheless, the twenty-nine year old Giustino left Stade Roland Garros after receiving accolades for being the winner of the second longest match in tournament history. (The longest match was also a first round battle, in 2004, when Fabrice Santoro defeated French countryman Arnaud Clement, 6-4, 6-3, 6-7, 3-6, 16-14 in a record-setting match that took six hours and thirty-three minutes.)
France’s Clara Burel, the 19-year-old former ITF Girls’ No.1, took almost three hours (two hours, fifty-seven minutes) to defeat Arantxa Rus of the Netherlands, 6-7, 7-6, 6-3.
This first round contest concluded at 12:10 a.m. the latest a Roland Garros match ever finished. (This was only possible because the delay in contesting this year’s championships allowed lights to be installed on various courts throughout the facility.)
Serving wins and loses matches. It always has and always, within reason, will. As mentioned above, Trevisan downed Gauff in three sets.
More amazing than the surprise victory was that the 16-year-old from Florida contributed 19 double faults to her opponent’s point total (in one instance, she double-faulted away an entire service game).
As staggering as that number is, it doesn’t match Mariam Bolkvadze’s accomplishment at the $100,000 Dubai Challenger in December.
In the first round, the Georgian had 22 double-faults in a set against Lidziya Marozava of Belarus but won the match 6-3, 7-6. The lefthanded Bolkvadze wasn’t as fortunate in the second round against Mika Dagan Fruchtman of Israel. She lost 7-5, 2-6, 10-8 and added 17 double faults to her tournament total.
While these figures are astounding, a glance through a tennis record book reveals an even more remarkable “double fault” showing. At the 1999 Australian Open, Anna Kournikova of Russia, played Miho Saeki of Japan in the second round.
The 17-year-old Russian won the match 1-6, 6-4, 10-8 but there was more to the score. Over all, there were 21 service breaks and the two players combined for 149 unforced errors…and Kournikova totaled 31 double faults. (She eventually lost in the fourth round to Mary Pierce of France in the singles, but she teamed with Martina Hingis as she claimed her first Grand Slam doubles title.)
It’s Time For Hawk-Eye Live…
Hawk-Eye Live made an electrifying debut at the US Open. The electronic line-calling method was used on all but Arthur Ashe and Louis Armstrong Stadia.
On the outside courts, lines-people were not needed. There was a chair umpire, but “The Hawk” made the calls and “it” was the final word. (Imagine trying to argue with a decision announced by a “Tennis Siri”.)
During the first week of the tournament, James Japhet, the managing director of Hawk-Eye North America said, that at that time, 225,000 calls had been made and there were only 14 errors, which “isn’t too bad.” (In real terms, that is less than one-tenth of a percent.)
So, why wasn’t Hawk-Eye Live on all the courts? As Randy Newman sang in his “Land of Dreams” album in 1988, “It’s Money That Matters”.
Tournament Director, Stacey Allaster admitted that sponsorship agreements were one of the reasons for maintaining the status quo, keeping lines-people on Ashe and Armstrong… (Perhaps Ralph Lauren, the company that “kitted out” the officials and ball people on the courts may have been at a loss to figure out what shirt size Hawk-Eye Live might need to wear.)
Roland Garros adhered to its tried and true tradition and relied on chair umpires who climbed down from their towers and paraded across the court to find a mark somewhere near where the shot that was being questioned had landed.
Not only is the “tradition” time consuming, many top-players want the tournament to move into the modern age when it comes to officiating and use Hawk-Eye Live. Holding strong, the tournament’s attitude toward making the change is “nous verrons…” (We will see…)
Anyone Seen Waldo?
Dealing with Covid-19 protocols was puzzling for players. In some cases, the “do’s and don’ts” changed during the event. Though there were some general rules that carried over from tournament to tournament, it came down to “stand alone” interpretation and subsequent enforcement by tournament officials. This is what happened to Sam Querrey at the St. Petersburg Open in October.
He tested positive before the start of play. So, did his wife, Abby Dixon and his young son, Ford. The Querreys were planning to follow the protocol dictates and quarantine at the Four Seasons tournament hotel. But the family’s grasp of the rules differed from those the tournament was enforcing.
The more discussion that took place the more confusing the situation became. This led to a Querrey decision – Escape. That’s what the family did, stealthily leaving St. Petersburg on a private plane. No one knew where they were, which brought about a “Where’s Waldo?” like search.
Word is the family ended up in a Western European country. Querrey, of course, broke the COVID-19 protocol rules of the tournament, along with ATP regulations.
Though “Waldo” Querrey hadn’t packed the bold red and white-striped shirt, at the end of December the ATP decided to issue a suspended $20,000 fine for breaching COVID-19 protocols at the St Petersburg Open. But the fine will be forgiven if he does not commit further breaches of health and safety protocols related to COVID-19 within a probationary six-month period.
Querrey grew up in Southern California, which might lead to a logical sort-of Waldo segue. Venus and Serena Williams were residents for years and Sloane Stephens maintained a Southern California-Florida relationship for some time. All four have strong ties with the area, but are MIA most of the time.
As youngsters, the sisters played a few local junior tournaments. Otherwise, they were content to work, under their father Richard’s direction, at East Compton Park, in Compton, California. Located in a culturally mixed African American/Hispanic area, drive-by shootings were commonplace.
Having heard about their one-of-a-kind talent, I traveled to Compton to watch them run through drills. Then, in May 1990, I watched them compete in a Youth vs. Experience match, involving Southern California stars of tomorrow playing stars from the past.
In what turned out to be a preview of the women’s game, Venus and Serena stole the show. They were fearless balls strikers with wonderful gap-toothed grins. But, what really stood out was a comment made by tennis legend, Jack Kramer.
After watching Venus, who would turn 10 on June 17th and Serena, whose ninth birthday would take place on September 26th, he admitted being very impressed by their court savvy. But, more telling, the International Tennis Hall of Famer believed that Serena had more potential.
In 2011, Venus announced she had Sjogren’s Syndrome. Since then, she has adroitly handled the complexity of playing and contending with the illness. This year though, her record was 1-8 and her year-end ranking was No. 78. Maybe she should consider taking a permanent leave of absence and devote her attention to interior design and clothing development?
We first crossed paths with Sloane Stephens and her delightful mother, Sybil Smith, at Roland Garros in 2010. In talking with Smith, who was an All-American swimmer at Boston University, we discovered she grew up in Fresno, California. Coincidently, her son Shawn Ferrell would become a baseball and football standout at Notre Dame High School, (which I attended), in Sherman Oaks, California. Since our meeting in Paris, Smith has remained a friend.
What does this have to do with Sloane? Since winning the 2017 US Open, Sloane, who has been “Black Lives Matter” outspoken, has often performed in lackadaisical fashion. Last year, she was 4-11 and her ranking dropped to No. 39. Since she became engaged to football (soccer star) Jozy Altidore, she has more than just tennis in her life…Perhaps a “ciao” to tennis should be inserted and a hello to life away from the game might be considered.
In recent years, Serena has been devotedly focused. Since winning the 2017 Australian Open, tying then passing Margaret Court’s record 24th Grand Slam singles trophy has become an obsession. In ’20, she had a formidable 17-5 showing but she finished the year at No. 11. More to the point, she has failed in five straight majors to better Court…Maybe spending added time with her precocious daughter Olympia would offer her more in the long run?
The cheers received for staging the US Open and Roland Garros were deserved. Regretfully, they matched the mantra-like drone throughout both tournaments as to how much money was being lost in holding the events.
The COVID-19 testing requirements and the protocols necessitating “hotel bubbling” and monitoring that was ultimately required practically erased any income resulting from sponsor agreements.
The US Open explained it annually earns $140 million in assorted media rights fees. It has an eleven-year, $825 million deal with ESPN, which works out to about $75 million annually.
Without fans and other assorted income sources, tournament profits were expected to be off by nearly 80 percent. That means, that the 17 USTA sections, which share in the financial success usually realized were in trouble. The shortfall caused the sections to reduce staffing and programming. Future growth was brought up short by budget limitations; the focus became “let’s maintain”.
Staging any activity during the time of COVID-19 was and is risky. Holding a two-week event was almost tempting fate, but they pulled it off. Were “Bravos” deserved? Absolutely. Were there “Needed Do Overs?” No question.
As mentioned earlier, the Fédération Française de Tennis wanted to allow 11,500 spectators per day into the Stade Roland Garros show courts. The Minister of Health reacting to a surge in virus cases decided the tournament would have to make do with 1,000.
Last year Roland Garros realized around €260 million (more than $319 million dollars). In 2020, while still having sponsors and broadcasting support, along with a sundry list of souvenir sales, there were massive expenditures.
A roof was added to Court Philippe Chatrier and lights were added around the grounds. The lights were originally intended to be installed merely on the show courts, but in the end, they were placed on twelve Stade Roland Garros courts. There were additional costs of player hotels, virus testing and other assorted expenses brought about by COVID-19 life in a modified bubble.
It is estimated that more than €130 million (almost US$160 million) was lost this year. The deficit has made some officials unhappy that the decision was made to stage the tournament.
Given the health restrictions and other limitations that were in place, it was not wise. In view of the staggering financial losses, there was talk about taking legal action. Only time will tell if this is becomes a reality.
Forgetting the “It’s great to be back playing…” good feelings that resulted, what is going to be the long-term result of holding the US Open and Roland Garros? Will the losses bring about increased sponsorship fees and higher ticket prices?
Only a look at this year’s P & L’s (Profit & Loss Statements) will divulge what the future really holds for the two majors. And the chance of seeing unredacted tournament paperwork is pretty slim…
Hung Up Their Racquets …
With their careers winding down, some players selected a specific tournament to say, “Au revoir”. For others, “calling it quits” just happened. Because COVID-19 played its own game during 2020, using rules that are still being defined, a wide collection of pros retired.
The following is a sampling of those who packed their racquet bags for a final time. Bob and Mike Bryan hoped to put the wrap on their illustrious career, where it all began in New York in 1995, but the twins made their announcement in August before the start of the Open. Wozniacki exited after losing to Jabeur in Australia in January. Ekaterina Makarova of Russia also left the game in January. Maria Sharapova, the Russian/Californian, bowed out in February, as did Johanna Larsson of Sweden.
March was the month Rika Fujiwara of Japan and Anna Tatishvili, the Georgian-born American left the competitive game. The cancelation of the BNP Paribas and Miami Opens, along with Charleston, cancelled Vania King’s “official walk away”, but she ambled on.
Pauline Parmentier segued into the sunset at home, Roland Garros. Carla Suarez Navarro had decided to retire at the end of the year. Sadly, she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and began chemotherapy treatment in September.
In October, both Santiago Giraldo of Colombia and Julia Görges of Germany decided it was time to step away.
Others who departed included Leander Paes of India. A trio from Brazil – Carlos Berlocq, Teliana Pereira and João Souza – did the same. Jamie Hampton of the US and Jessica Moore of Australia, along with a duo from Spain – Pere Riba and Silvia Soler-Espinosa – were among those who said, “Thanks…It’s been fun…”
Who Is Next…?
Rather than give a plethora of facts and figures as reasons why, the following group of players appear to be solid “Keep An Eye On…” candidates for 2021 – Carlos Alcaraz of Spain, Leylah Annie Fernandez of Canada, Ugo Humbert of France, Andrey Rublev of Russia, Casper Ruud of Norway, Emil Ruusuvuori of Finland and Jannik Sinner of Italy.
Bien Joué, Rafa…
Roland Garros should give serious thought to reestablishing the challenge round. Dominating the weather, scheduling, opponents and the balls, Rafael Nadal secured his 13th La Coupe des Mousquetaires and matched Roger Federer’s record of 20 Grand Slam singles titles. On Terre Battue, he is the best. He slides alone.
Words aren’t sufficient to describe his, for lack of a better word, omnipotent presence on the court in Paris. He exudes supremacy on the surface. So, looking to the future, the Men’s Singles could become a 128 All Comers’ Draw.
Nadal could do personal appearances during the two-weeks leading to the “Others” final, then on the Wednesday of week three in Paris, which should provide sufficient recovery time for the winner to be prepared to face formidable Spaniard.
Humor aside, “Bien Joué (Well done) Rafa.
At the Rolex Paris Masters, Nadal added to his season’s success, defeating countryman Feliciano López, 4-6, 7-6, 6-4 in the second round to join Jimmy Connors of the US, Federer and Ivan Lendl of Czechoslovakia/US as the fourth player to win 1,000 ATP matches.
After all he accomplished, the gracious 34-year-old admitted having his fellow players honor him with the 2020 Stefan Edberg Sportsmanship Award for the third year in a row greatly pleased him. “I want to be remembered as a good person more than a good tennis player,” he told the ATP. “That’s why this trophy means a lot.”
For tennis, 2020 will never be rivaled. In October, one irresponsible official told the media that all they were covering was “COVID, COVID, COVID…” As the saying goes, “Truth can be a bitter pill…”
Or as a young girl from the US Midwest offered in her Washington Post winning summary of the year, “2020 was like taking care to look both ways before you cross the road, and then being hit by a submarine.”
And it certainly was for everyone. Yet, the game stood strong. It wobbled a bit, made a few mistakes because the COVID-19 game rules were constantly changing, but, in the end, tennis found a way to do itself proud.