Photo: Peter Power|Photo: AP Photo/Lee Jin-man|Sunday
Welcome back to #PointsWereMade, tennis fans! After discussing the state of the ATP Tour in last week’s edition, we’re on to the debate over who has been impacted the most (either positively or negatively) on the WTA Tour by the current pandemic situation, which has resulted in the a hiatus from professional tennis worldwide.
Caro A.: It is obviously a difficult time for everyone. Although I can’t wait for everything to start again when these uncertain times are behind us, I think that (from a strictly tennis perspective) there is indeed a silver lining for some players that will still benefit from this pause rankings freeze. On the other hand, plenty of other others won’t.
Victoria J.: There are for sure two categories of players during this whole situation, those who will benefit and those who will be negatively affected… and this could not have happened at a more critical point in the season. There’s never an ideal timing for professional sports to be put on hold as they account for not only the entertainment of fans worldwide but the livelihoods of many in the industry – especially tennis players – but a lot of major tournaments in the tennis calendar, including two Grand Slams and a number of Masters 1000 and WTA Premier events, have been affected by the global pandemic.
Players are losing out on opportunities for some big points. On the other hand, quite a few players will be holding on to crucial points from previous years, especially Grand Slam winners.
Jeff D.: From a narrative perspective, I felt like the WTA was off to such a compelling start to 2020 as well. You had the intrigue of new stars emerging out of seemingly nowhere as well as some of the more well-known stars performing well below their usual best. I was keen to see who was going to consolidate their momentum and who was going to be able to break out of their slumps, if ever. The break will certainly level the playing field as soon as tennis returns.
Oliver W.: Agree with Jeff – the tennis season was off to such a great start and it’s such a shame it’s been stopped in its tracks. The WTA is full of so many great players and it feels like anyone can win any given tournament, which is one of the things that makes it so exciting. Hopefully, tennis is back sooner rather than later once the global health situation is under control so we can watch all these players in action again, doing what they do best.
Recovering Bianca catches a break with rankings freeze
JD: It’s no secret that Canadian tennis has been on fire as of late on both the ATP and WTA Tours, so naturally, as Canadian tennis fans, it’s a bummer to have to wait for the next chapter for a lot of our talented contingent – although it’s all for the greater good, ultimately.
CA: I think Bianca is absolutely our Canadian player who benefits the most from the rankings freeze. Since the freeze was dated back to before the BNP Paribas Open in Indian wells, the defending champ was able to keep her points from last year’s triumph, which she would’ve lost this year given she had already withdrawn from the tournament with her ongoing knee recovery. Now she had time to recover 100% before returning to the game with a large chunk of her points still in tact.
However, since by her own account she was nearly ready to make her return to competition, it’s a shame that we couldn’t see her do it – as early as Miami, even. This would’ve allowed her to try to accumulate more points on the clay and grass seasons since she was absent during the same period last year due to injury.
VJ: I think that this is definitely a hard time for all players, injured or not, as they are losing out on the opportunity to improve their game and go out and get important ranking points. This is crucial for none more than Leylah Annie Fernandez, who had got off to a stellar start to the season, reaching the final in Acapulco in February and notching a win against World No. 5 Belinda Bencic in Fed Cup. Her momentum was halted dead in its tracks.
Although she is hard at work training at her residence in Florida, there is no better way to prepare for the professional tour than match play, which she unfortunately can’t do at the moment.
JD: It’s been an up-and-down couple of years for Genie Bouchard and personally I was keen to see how she’d be able to play off her momentum from the start of the year. She’s spoken about her return to the top being a process since hiring her new coach Jorge Todero, and she proved that mindset was paying off at the start of the season with her quarter-final finish in Auckland. Although she had to pull out of Fed Cup with a wrist injury, she’s looked eager to get back in action since the hiatus was announced.
Also have to feel for Françoise Abanda, who posted some solid results in her own comeback to tour life. She’s a Fed Cup gladiator and it would have been great to see her return to her element now that she’s back to full health.
OW: It’s true, Canadian tennis has been on the rise and it’s shame we haven’t been able to watch their continued progress this year. However, it has been entertaining seeing them engage with fans on social media during what these difficult times for everyone. Sharon Fichman in particular, who herself had a strong start to the season, has been doing an awesome job of keeping her followers updated on her fitness routine and diet.
Thinking about it, that could make a decent Tennis Canada content series… Watch this space!
Serena’s longevity will be tested in as quest for No. 24 is put on pause
JD: It’s hard to ignore one of the biggest stories in tennis – Serena’s quest for a historic Grand Slam title No. 24 – and how the current hiatus will affect it. Does the delay help her pick apart what hasn’t been working since her return to tennis following the birth of daughter Olympia? Or, with the clock ticking in terms of her overall longevity in the sport, does this hurt her chances?
CA: Honestly, that’s a tough one for me. I think the clock is definitely ticking for her. Despite not having had a great 2019 season (by her own lofty standards), I feel like the depth of new young talents on the circuit is starting to take its toll and I wonder if Serena can hold on. Perhaps this break will allow her to work on certain weaknesses and make sure she’s in tip-top shape for the return of tennis worldwide.
To be continued… but I would like that to be the case!
VJ: If the clock is ticking for Serena, the opposite is true for some of the more recent Grand Slam champions. Naomi Osaka (22), Ashleigh Barty (23) and Sofia Kenin (21) all have the majority of their careers ahead of them, notwithstanding injuries or other external circumstances. Barty, for instance, collected a lot of points in 2019 and only had to defend a few at the start of this year, thus retaining her status as No. 1 until tennis picks back up again.
JD: Speaking of Naomi Osaka – it wasn’t exactly the brightest start to the season. She had a decent run in Brisbane before narrowly losing out to Karolina Pliskova in the semis, but then flamed out early as the defending champion in Melbourne at the Australian Open. There, 15-year-old Coco Gauff upended the Japanese superstar, who struggled to adjust to a Plan B when Plan A wasn’t working.
Osaka is just way too talented to have too long of a slump, and after failing to defend her US Open title last year, she finished the season on a winning streak, claiming titles in Osaka (the city) and Beijing before pulling out of the WTA Finals after one win. Would Indian Wells have been her 2020 turnaround? We’ll never know.
OW: Sofia Kenin will be disappointed. She started the season on fire with her first Grand Slam title at the Australian Open and followed that up with another title at the Lyon Open in France. You’ve also got to feel for Kim Clijsters. The Belgian and four-time Grand Slam champion only made her comeback to the Tour in February and played just two matches before her return from retirement was cut short by the hiatus.
New faces miss the chance to consolidate early-season success
JD: Kenin’s Slam triumph was definitely one of the more surprising stories of 2020 and I was looking forward to seeing how we’ll she’d do after that. It was a two-match losing streak for her right after Melbourne, but rebounded nicely by winning a smaller title in France – right before the tour was paused.
The 21-year-old American wasn’t the only newly-emerging star early in the season, however. Players like Coco Gauff, who reached the fourth round of the AO and Ons Jabeur, the first-ever Arab woman to reach the quarters of a Grand Slam, will be missing out on some major momentum after sizzling starts to 2020.
CA: I have a harder time finding who among the rising new talents will benefit from this ranking freeze. I think players like 20-year-old Elena Rybakina who had a phenomenal start to the season (4 finals, including 1 title) would have benefited from the continuation of the season since she only has new points to accumulate. Last year, during this same period, the Kazakh was competing in ITF tournaments.
VJ: Although she may not have had the hottest to the start of the season, compared to her breakthrough performances last year, Coco Gauff is one player who is missing out on the opportunity to hone her craft and keep accumulating ranking points. As she had virtually no points to defend from the start of 2019 (seeing as she was playing on the ITF Circuit), it would have been a perfect time for her to move up the rankings and play with nothing to lose.
Yet, there’s also an argument to be made that it might be an opportunity for the American prodigy to take a step out of the limelight and enjoy being a young teenager. She still has quite a few years left of tournament restrictions due to her age (she’s still just 16!) and it might help to have a little time to regroup mentally before she has to bear the weight of expectations once again.
Coco Gauff recently opened up about moments of doubt and considering a year off from tennis as she struggled with depression.
OW: So many emerging talents on the WTA Tour – it’s really exciting!
I’ve got to give a mention to Ons Jabeur. The Tunisian became the first Arab women to reach a Grand Slam quarter-final when she made the final eight at the Australian Open earlier this year and, at No. 39, she is the highest-ranked Arab player in WTA history. She had a 15-5 record when the hiatus started and it feels like it came at such an inopportune time for her.
What are your thoughts on the tennis hiatus and rankings freeze? Who benefits and who is disadvantaged by the pause in the tennis calendar? Join the conversation with us on our Facebook page or on Twitter! #PointsWereMade