Archives for April 2020

Coronavirus: Squeezing the 2020 tennis year

By staff writers

Question: What to do with the 2020 tennis year in the time of the coronavirus quarantine?

We can pretend that in three-and-a-half months, the players will walk on the court and will play in the matches on the ATP and WTA tours. 

Obviously, the coronavirus pandemic has become the biggest threat to professional tennis in the Open era. The elongate shutdown – starting with Indian Wells in March – has created havoc for the tours, tournaments (including the feeder tours), national governing bodies and the ITF. The support staffs, including officials, physios, agents, etc. have all been hit hard. A year without Wimbledon … it’s worse than shocking, it’s numbing.

But, no group has had it rougher than the lower-ranked players. Considering the years that they have worked, trained and practiced to get into or near the top 100, they are now going months without tournament earnings. These are the players who don’t have the clout to do television commercials or appear in magazine ads, earning substantial off-court income. This financial burden could put some outstanding players into a career-wrenching stall. The players really want to play the events and not just stay at home. We care about these players and hope the tours and tournaments can make some adjustments to get as many players back on court and earning prize money.

Hopefully, our tireless doctors, nurses, researchers and other medical staff will somehow get us through this mess. The next step is to get players back into tournaments, whether with or without fans.

The Quebec government has canceled the women’s edition of the Canadian Open. The question is when will they play every week, starting in Toronto (for the men), Cincinnati, the US Open, Roland Garros and then the Asian swing? But, is it fair to the spring tournaments to just watch their franchises suffer?

The fans really want to see play resume at the tournaments, whether in person or on television. But, how can you put on a tournament, especially with fans, if everyone has to stay six feet apart?

Squeezing down

If play resumes in August (that may be a big “if”), it will mean five months of tennis will be lost. How can you squeeze 10 months of tennis into five?

Play less, play shorter. That may mean making some hard decisions on how tournaments are played in 2020. Any real changes could also affect pro tennis after the coronavirus is defeated or disseminated.

Do you like the three out of five at the Slams, or do you want to see them in just two out of three? The very best players — as Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic have won 56 Grand Slams — can take down most every opponent in the majors. They do it year after year because, when they are playing beyond three hours, they wear the lesser players down. Physically and mentally. So, few men have won the majors because their opponents are exhausted. That is huge, and that is why these great players rarely lose in the majors.

When watching at home, we can find some five-setters riveting. Others, even in finals, not so much. The endless trek through five sets just runs too long. Casual fans have to wonder if it makes sense to sit and watch TV for four-plus hours.

How do you condense tournaments? Shorter matches and less players in some tournaments so other competitors can play in other tournaments.

So, we think the majors and tours should start rethinking their match schedules. Consider reducing the length of the 2020 slams to 10 days. Changing week-long tournaments to five days. Give tournaments the their week slots they lost from March to July and then move the competitions to late summer and fall.

Here are some solutions. With the men, at the US Open and Roland Garros, use two out of three sets, rather than three out of five. For the women, who already use two out of three, they can switch to the best of two sets and then use a match tiebreak, not another set. Plus, at these Slams, instead of having a 128-player draw, they can go down to 96 or 64. Instead of using two full weeks, they can reduce them to 10 days. That could work. 

Of course, everyone’s goal should be to make more playing opportunities to the lower-ranked players. They don’t have revenue streams from huge endorsement deals. So, before the main draw, the all 2020 tournaments could expand the qualies. Additionally, they could reduce those matches to two short sets and a match tiebreak. The matches would contain added intensity from the first point.

That would be a blast. That may be a real solution to heal the coronavirus wounds and salvage the 2020 tennis year.

Agassi in 2003: Eight is Not Enough

We started in May 2001, 20 years ago. We have posted well over 1,500 articles.

As coronavirus began to strike the tennis world, Indian Wells cancelled the tournament on March 9. Right after that, the tournaments pulled out quickly, including Miami, Barcelona, Madrid, Rome and Roland Garros. Now, the WTA and the ATP have shut down until June 7. Or even further. No one really knows.

However, if you love tennis, you can reminisce with We are resurfacing many of our best stories, written by Matthew Cronin.

There’s not much to say about Andre Agassi’s 6-2, 6-2, 6-1 final round devastation of the unremarkable Rainer Schuettler at the ’03 Australian Open, save the fact that the German was as undeserving as an opponent that Agassi has ever seen in the final of a major.

However, that doesn’t take away anything from Agassi eighth Grand Slam title, because as the 32-year-old said, nothing is guaranteed in the rough-and-tumble world of the ATP Tour – especially winning important matches.

“There’s not a single day that’s promised to us and this day means so much,” Agassi said. “I am so honored. To win down here again was just more than I could dream of.”

That is a classic Agassi exaggeration, but he’s not the only Slam titlist to vanquish a psyched-out opponent at major during the last decade: think Kuerten over Corretja at Roland Garros, Sampras over Pioline at the US Open or Rafter over Philippoussis in N.Y. 

That Agassi can keep pocketing huge titles at 32-years-old while his younger opponents keep coming up with ways to turn themselves into road kill shows just how important thinking is in the sport. Andre no longer is the tour’s hardest hitter and certainly can’t serve anyone off the court, but his three to ten ball combinations are the stuff that higher algebra is made of. When he executes his plans (left-right-left-center-right-left into open space), his foes are left scratching their heads.

With the title, Agassi is now a member of the Slam top-10 list, something that appeared unthinkable back in early 1992, when in his fifth year on tour, he hadn’t found a way to win a major. But then came his first Slam crown at Wimbledon on a surface usually dominated by men who could ring up at least a dozen aces and we all knew the Las Vegan had something special. Today, some 10 and half years later, we are watching one of the most improved and court-conscious players in history.

 Here’s a list of the top-10 men in Slam singles titles:

14 – Pete Sampras 
12 – Roy Emerson 
11 – Bjorn Borg
11 – Rod Laver 
10 – Bill Tilden
8 – Jimmy Connors
8 – Ivan Lendl 
8 – Fred Perry 
8 – Ken Rosewall 
8 – Andre Agassi

We see how Agassi ties for sixth on this list, but how do his total Slam accomplishments compare with the rest? You certainly have to him ahead of Lendl, who couldn’t win Wimbledon, and above Connors (gasp!) who couldn’t and wouldn’t find a way to get comfortable in Paris. Agassi is a more versatile player than Fred Perry was, but it’s hard to give him a clear edge over Rosewall yet, because Muscles grinded his way deep well into his 40s.

Are the lofty feats of the top five assualtable for Agassi? Not if he pockest another two majors. It’s nearly impossible to compare Agassi with pre-war players such as Tilden, but he easily stacks up against Emerson, who won so many majors when his greatest rivals were off playing the pros. The careers of Sampras, Borg and Laver are nearly unassailable, but should Andre nail down another Roland Garros or Wimbledon crown, he automatically enters the discussion. None of those folks won twice on four different surfaces. (I don’t mean four different titles twice, like the Rocket did.) Due to Sampras’ dominance of Agassi at the majors, he’ll likely never touch Pistol Pete.

For a guy who nearly gave up on his career in 1997, even to be given a glance as a potential top-five player ever is heady stuff.

“I wish I could put into words how it feels to go out there and lay it on the line and find a way to overcome in some cases the odds,” Agassi said. “In some cases overcome the obstacles and the doubts, the questions, the preparation leading up to it. To do it once would fulfil your career, so it’s crazy for me just to think about it.”