Category: Tennis

Star-Studded Field Ready to Restart WTA Stateside

With eight Top 40 players ready to mix it up, the WTA will hit the ground running at Lexington on MondayThe big names are ready to roll at the Top Seed Open in Lexington, Kentucky.

The Williams sisters will be joined by six other Top 40 players as the WTA holds it first tournament on American soil since the Coronavirus stopped the tour in early March.

Tennis Express

Top-seeded Serena Williams will square off with fellow American Bernarda Pera in the first round, and she could face her sister Venus in the second round—if 40-year-old Venus Williams can get past Victoria Azarenka.

Serena says she is taking no risks when it comes to social distancing and protecting herself from the coronavirus. Five million Americans have already tested positive for Covid-19 in America.

“I’ve been a little bit of a recluse,” Williams told reporters on Saturday in a virtual press conference. “I started self-distancing before, like early March, or something.”

Williams says her own personal health has made her even more careful than she might have otherwise been.

“I don’t have full lung capacity so I’m not sure what would happen to me. I’m sure I’ll be okay but I don’t want to find out," she said. "I have like 50 masks that I travel with; I never want to be without one. So health concerned, I’m super, super careful with what I’m doing and everyone in the Serena bubble is really protected because, at the end of the day yeah it’s cool to play tennis but this is my life and this is my health, so I’ve been a little neurotic to an extent but that’s just what I have to be right now.”

Third-seeded Johanna Konta, who faces Marie Bouzkova in first-round action, is also being extra careful. The British No.1 flew to Chicago and rented a car to drive to Lexington to keep her risk of exposure low.

“I arrived in the states on Thursday,” she told Ros Satar of Britwatch Sports in a virtual press conference on Sunday. “I actually flew from London to Chicago and then we rented a car and drove from Chicago, so we are going to keep that car and actually drive it to New York, to just try to really mitigate how much time I spend in airports and airplanes, just to be as vigilant as possible with that.”

The Lexington draw also features Aryna Sabalenka, Coco Gauff, Amanda Anisimova, Ons Jabeur, CiCi Bellis and Sloane Stephens.

Main draw begins on Monday.

American Sloane Stephens, who also is active in the WTA’s Player Council, is happy to see her peers have the opportunity to get some work as the tour begins to roll again. It could be a short season, with the Asian swing cancelled and other events in Europe also falling by the wayside.

For now, at least, the opportunity is here for those players that need the work, and want to compete.

“Being able to get the American players that are still in the states to be able to play a tournament I think it was really important,” Stephens said. “Obviously because there were two tournaments in Europe—we can’t really travel there and back—so obviously it was good to be able to play here before Cincinnati and to be able to have those jobs this week.”

See the full draw for Lexington here:

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Sloane Stephens: Successful US Open Will Depend on Player’s Respect of Bubble

The former champion says that players ultimately hold the key to making the US Open Covid-freeBy Chris Oddo | @TheFanChild | Saturday August 8, 2020

American Sloane Stephens hopes that tennis players and their entourages are ready to accept the important responsibilities that await them at the 2020 US Open.

The 27-year-old 2017 US Open champion talked to reporters today at a press conference ahead of the Top Seed Open in Lexington and said that even though the US Open’s protective bubble is designed to keep the coronavirus out, it’s ultimately up to the players and how much responsibility they take upon their own shoulders.

Tennis Express

The jury is still out on whether or not tennis can handle that responsibility, Stephens says.

“My honest opinion is, I’ve said this from the very beginning, I said this on the first call we had with the USTA, that it might ultimately depend on others being responsible, and I think a lot of tennis players haven’t taken enough responsibility to take care of the other people surrounding them and the world surrounding them, so that’s been a little disappointing,” she said.

It has been a tricky summer for the sport and several top players have made the mistake of not taking the virus seriously enough. At the Adria Tour in the Balkans, World No.1 Novak Djokovic tested positive along with several other players, including Grigor Dimitrov and Borna Coric after holding events in Serbia and Croatia with very relaxed social distancing enforcement.

Governments played a role in the problem, as Serbia had cleared major sporting events as it relaxed its policies. It’s another example of the complicated communication that must take place between the tours, the players and governmental authorities. Mixed messaging, as we've seen in the United States, won't cut it.

Stephens says she’ll have her fingers crossed that things will go well in New York.

“We’re going in this bubble, we’ll just have to see,” she said. “I’m not sure what will happen, I’m not sure if people will take it seriously, but we just have to wait and see. I would hate for it to be a situation where someone actually gets sick or gets the virus or something terrible happens, but that is the reality of people not taking responsibility or doing what’s best for other people surrounding them and their co-workers and fellow players or whatever, so I guess I’ll just have to pray.”

The American says that now is the time for players to think about their peers and the world at large and stop being selfish.

“Yes, I definitely think we’ve seen a lot of [selfishness],” she said. “I guess going to the US Open they better have the National Guard out there or something, because it’s going to be a treat to see all the crazy things that happen, but fingers crossed for a safe and Covid-free US Open.”

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Andy Murray Says More Top Players Will Pull out of US Open

The former champion says that each player must make this difficult decision based on their own unique circumstances. Andy Murray says that it is very likely that more top players will follow Ash Barty’s lead and pull out of the 2020 US Open.

Tennis Express

“I think we will see it quite a bit,” the three-time major champion said on Thursday. “I have heard some of the top male players aren’t going to play. I would expect that would be the case.”

Murray himself has said he’d like to play the Open if it goes ahead. He is currently competing in the Battle of the Brits and working himself into top form.

“It’s everyone’s personal decision,” Murray said of playing Cincinnati and the US Open. “If they don’t feel safe, and don’t feel comfortable, travelling and going there and putting themselves and their team at an increased risk, then it’s completely understandable. All of the players will have some reservations and it’s whether or not you feel comfortable taking that risk.”

Murray believes that the US Open’s bubble will be effective—it’s the travel to and from the United States that he finds concerning.

“Like I said the other day, my feeling is once we are inside that bubble they created, we will be okay. It’s more the international travel and getting there which I will be a bit concerned about it.” Main draw play at Western and Southern Open begins on August 20 at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York, with the US Open’s main draw starting on August 31, all without spectators.

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5 of the WTA’s Top 10 Will Skip Cincinnati

The Western and Southern Open has released its player field for 2020. What does it mean for the US Open? The player field at the Western and Southern Open (to be held in New York: main draw begins on Saturday, August 23) is set. And a few big names have been left off the list on the WTA side.

Tennis Express

Only five of the WTA’s Top 10 players have committed to play the event, which means that we’ll be waiting expectantly to see which names are not on the US Open player entry list when it is released next Monday.

For now we know that World No.1 Ash Barty and World No.2 Simona Halep, along with Bianca Andreescu, Naomi Osaka and Elina Svitolina, will not be playing Cincinnati.

Of course, missing Cincinnati does not preclude a player from playing the US Open (which begins the following week, on August 31) but one would think that a player motivated to play in New York would want to get to Cincinnati to pick up some extra matches after a long layoff.

Andreescu, who is the defending US Open champion, has still not played since injuring her knee at the WTA Finals Shenzhen last year. Osaka is believed to be in good health, and staying in the United States, so her absence from the Cincinnati entry list comes as a bit of a surprise.

Halep, Barty and Svitolina have all indicated that they are not too excited about coming to the New York. It wouldn’t be surprising if all three elect to pass on the US Open.

On the men’s side a few notable names were left off the list as well: Gael Monfils, Stan Wawrinka, Fabio Fognini and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

The US Open player entry deadline lands on Monday August 3. Stay tuned for more info.

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USTA Cancels Orlando Events

USTA says it could not create safety bubble required for two Challenger events.
The North American summer hard-court season continues to shrink.

The USTA cancelled a pair of Orlando ATP Challenger events scheduled for next month. The cancellation comes after the Citi Open in Washington, DC was slashed from the calendar due to Coronavirus concerns.

More: Agnieszka Radwanska Gives Birth

The Orlando Open presented by Nemours 1, scheduled for August 22-29th, and the Orlando Open presented by Nemours 2, scheduled to be held August 29-September 6th, both at the USTA National Campus in Orlando, Florida have been cancelled. Both Challengers were created in an effort to provide prize money for lower-ranked players unable to qualify for the US Open. 

The US Open is set to start on August 31st at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. The USTA confirmed it still plans to host both the Western & Southern Open and the US Open in succession at the National Tennis Center as scheduled amid a safety bubble designed to protect players, coaches and staff from Coronavirus.

The USTA said after consulting with its medical advisory group it made the decision to axe the Orlando events because creating the safety bubble necessary to ensure protection from COVID-19 was not logistically or economically feasible. 

"Although detailed health and safety protocols had been planned, without the creation of a controlled environment that includes a comprehensive and contained lodging, transportation, food and beverage, and medical testing program in place, as will be the case for the Western & Southern Open and US Open, proper risk mitigation would not be possible – and in the case of these events, this type of environment would logistically and financially be difficult to create," the USTA said in a statement. "As the health and safety for all those involved is the greatest concern of the USTA, these factors, coupled with the current rates of COVID-19 in Florida, were key in driving the decision making process."

Tennis Express

The complete USTA statement on the cancellation is here:

Due to the situation surrounding COVID-19, the USTA has made the decision to cancel the Orlando Open presented by Nemours 1, scheduled to be held August 22 – 29, and the Orlando Open presented by Nemours 2, scheduled to be held August 29 – September 6, both at the USTA National Campus in Orlando, Fla. The decision to cancel these two ATP Challenger 150 events was made with input from the USTA Medical Advisory Group, to ensure the health and safety of all those involved with these tournaments.

Although detailed health and safety protocols had been planned, without the creation of a controlled environment that includes a comprehensive and contained lodging, transportation, food and beverage, and medical testing program in place, as will be the case for the Western & Southern Open and US Open, proper risk mitigation would not be possible – and in the case of these events, this type of environment would logistically and financially be difficult to create. As the health and safety for all those involved is the greatest concern of the USTA, these factors, coupled with the current rates of COVID-19 in Florida, were key in driving the decision making process.

Photo credit: Jennifer Pottheiser/USTA

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Johanna Konta Begins Trial Run with Thomas Hogstedt

The British No.1 has parted ways with Dimitri Zavialoff. Top-ranked Brit Johanna Konta has made a change to her coaching team.

Tennis Express

The World No.14 has parted ways with Dimitri Zavialoff and hooked up with Thomas Hogstedt on a trial basis.

Hogstedt will be the sixth coach in six years for Konta, who has also worked with Esteban Carril, José Manuel García, Wim Fissette and Michael Joyce.

Zavialoff and Konta had tremendous success, after beginning together in November of 2018. Reportedly Zavialoff's desire to travel less is what helped make the split unavoidable.

More: Johanna Konta Q&A with TN's Richard Pagliaro

She reached the semis at Roland Garros, becoming the first British woman to do so since 1983, and re-entered the Top 20 in June for the first time in 15 months. She also reached the Wimbledon quarterfinals and the Rome final.

Hogstedt is a well-known entity who has coached Maria Sharapova, Li Na, Simona Halep, Tommy Haas and many others. He is 56 years old.

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Lucky Letcord Podcast: SBJ’s Bret McCormick on Potential WTA/ATP Merger

On today's edition of the Lucky Letcord Podcast Chris Oddo and Bret McCormick discuss what a potential WTA/ATP merger might look like and wonder about some of the hurdles.

Today on the Lucky Letcord Podcast Bret McCormick of the Sports Business Journal joins host Chris Oddo to share his insights on what a potential WTA/ATP merger would look like.

Lucky Letcord Podcast

Talk of a potential merger between the tours bubbled over in late April when Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal took to Twitter to show their support for a union of the tours. Since then many important names in the sport of joined in, including WTA founder Billie Jean King.

But with all the pressing matters that the powers that be in tennis need to tend to of late, as the coronavirus rages, conversation has slipped to the back burner.

That's why we brought McCormick in. He's been talking to people behind the scenes about this topic for a while now, and in late June he released his article on the subject, which can be found here:

Have a listen and get hip to the nuances of the relationship between the tour and how a union might affect sponsorships, TV rights and the media enterprises that are owned and operated by both factions.

Who would benefit? How can it happen? Is it even possible?

Join us for a discussion!

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Clijsters on Comeback Keys

Hall of Famer talks motivational power ahead of her World TeamTennis comeback.
Patience and positivity fuel Kim Clijsters' comeback.

The 37-year-old Belgian returns to action playing for the New York Empire in World TeamTennis.

More: Djokovic Derides "Witch Hunt", Unsure on US Open

The 45th WTT season starts on Sunday. Clijsters and the Empire will take on the Washington Kastles on Monday, July 13th at 5 p.m. Eastern time.

WTT’s 63-match regular season, scheduled from July 12-30th at The Greenbrier “America’s Resort” in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, will either be televised or live-streamed on CBS, CBS Sports Network, the CBS Sports app, Tennis Channel, ESPN+ or Facebook Watch.

The Hall of Famer joined fellow former US Open champion Sloane Stephens and WTT CEO Carlos Silva on a conference call with the media today. Clijsters said patience has been vital during the sport's shutdown due to coronavirus.

Tennis Express

"I think in the last few months just being patient [is key]," Clijsters said. "As an athlete, a lot of athletes we're so used to setting goals: short-terms goals long-term goals and obviously with the schedule changing so often, which is normal the last few months with everything that's happened, you have to adjust. You've had to find motivation and things that can trigger you to go out there and still work hard.

"I think that's something when I've read stories from other players and athletes from other sports it's hard to find that internal motivaton and not know when am I competing again. When am I going to be feeling that adrenaline coming from a crowd or from playing in big moments? So I think it's important to be more patient even. I think that has probably been the most important lesson for me."

One of the few players to hold the world No. 1 ranking in singles and doubles simultaneously, Clijsters was juggling training and home-schooling her three children with husband Brian Lynch. Clijsters and her family, who split time between their homes in New Jersey and Belgum, were in the Garden State when the coronavirus outbreak hit the United States.

Fifteen years removed from winning her first of three US Open championships, Clijsters said the COVID-19 crisis has not dampened her enthusiasm for the comeback.

"Trust the process and of course in my situation I've got a lot of questions from the Belgian media," Clijsters said: "Do you still want to go through with it? Do you want to still keep playing now with everything going on? Yes, it doesn't mean just because Coronavirus happened that I'm not interested in playing more tennis.

"Of course, there's some challenges combining parenting at home, teaching the kids at home and still going to practice was challenging. At the same time, we get through that together and we've had great family momembnts so you learn if you just try to see the positive things out of the moments you're in I think that's another big lesson you learn." 

For the second consecutive year, CBS Sports will televise the WTT Playoffs live. CBS Sports Network will air the WTT Semifinals at 2 p.m. Eastern and 5 p.m. Eastern on August 1st before CBS’ first live broadcast of the August 2nd WTT Final at 12 p.m. ET. Tennis Channel will air replays of all WTT Playoffs matches,

Photo credit: @DDFTennis

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Donna Vekic and Torben Beltz, on Different Pages, Part Ways

The 24-year-old Croatian is in the market for a new coach ahead of tennis' resumption. Torben Beltz and Donna Vekic have parted ways. Beltz, who worked with the Croatian for two and a half years, starting in 2018, helped Vekic break into the Top 20 for the first time last season.

Tennis Express

But apparently they are not on the same page anymore, and Vekic’s reply to Beltz’s tweet on Wednesday is evidence of this.

“Unfortunately Team Donna and I had different views in setting up the practice and tournament schedule for the restart of the tour which is why we will go separate ways!” said Beltz on social media.

To which Vekic replied: “Well this is the first time I’m hearing of different views in practice and tournament schedules…?”

The 24-year-old World No.24 reached a career-high No.19 in the world last year.

Beltz, the former coach of Angelique Kerber, guided the German to two of her three major titles in their second stint working together.

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Kerber: Dual Dream

Former No. 1 states two tennis dreams.
Coronavirus crisis has shut down the sport and provided players time to ponder tennis dreams.

Angelique Kerber shared dual dreams: win Roland Garros to complete the career Grand Slam and partner Alexander Zverev in mixed doubles at the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games.

More: Becker Battles Kyrgios in Twitter Tiff

The former world No. 1 told German Sky Sport winning "Paris would be a dream." Kerber is a two-time French Open quarterfinalist.

The 2018 Wimbledon winner, who won the Australian Open and US Open in 2016, did not reveal when and where she plans to launch her return to tournament tennis.

Tennis Express

The 32-year-old Kerber said she wants to play both singles and mixed doubles "with Sascha Zverev" at the Tokyo Games.

Kerber and Zverev previously partnered at the Hopman Cup leading Germany to successive finals in 2018 and 2019 where they fell to the Swiss squad of Roger Federer and Belinda Bencic.

Photo credit: Mark Peterson/Corleve

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Matic: Don’t Blame Djokovic

"[Serbia] allowed everyone to do whatever they want," Manchester United soccer star says.
Serbian soccer star Nemanja Matić is defending compatriot Novak Djokovic in the aftermath of his Adria Tour debacle.

The Adria Tour, which launched in Djokovic's native Belgrade, featured high-fives and hugs between players and little social distancing or masks among fans.

Watch: Tsitsipas Sings for His Supper

Several players, including Djokovic, Grigor Dimitrov, Borna Coric and Viktor Troicki, contracted coronavirus after playing the Adria Tour.

While Djokovic, an organizing force behind the tour, has taken the brunt of the backlash against reckless behavior on the Tour, Matić says the Serbian government opened up the country and gave the world No. 1 approval to host the Adria Tour.

Tennis Express

"People need to understand that the situation in Serbia was better than here," Matić, who plays for Manchester United, told Sky Sports. "The country allowed everyone to do whatever they want, everything was open, the shopping centres and the restaurants.

"So they started to live normal lives because our country was closed for three months completely. You were not allowed to walk on the street, you couldn't leave your home, so it was different than [England].

"But when they opened they said 'you are more than free to do whatever you want'. Before that tournament, there was a game with 20,000 people and nobody said anything about that."

Photo credit: Adria Tour Facebook

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Watch: Tsitsipas Sings for His Supper at UTS

The Greek is making hits on and off the court. Not only is Stefanos Tsitsipas excelling on the court at the Ultimate Tennis Showdown in the South of France, the World No.6 is also polishing up his singing chops.

Tennis Express

One of the fun parts of the UTS format is the changeover interviews after every quarter. That means fans get at least four minutes of Tsitsipas, live and unscripted, and sometimes the results can be quite hilarious. Here The Greek tells commentators Pete Odgers and Jenny Drummond that he’s going to sing some Justin Timberlake—never mind that he actually sings Timbaland.

There was also plenty of excellent tennis from Tsitsipas. He’s now 5-1 and in first place after three weeks of tennis in the South of France. There are two more weeks to play.

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