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No doubt many of you were along for Bianca Andreescu’s wild ride in Florida last week, as well as for its dismal screeching halt.
Still, her results in Miami certainly surpassed all expectations.
In seven days, she competed in six matches. Her smooth first round was followed by four three-set battles. By the time the final came around, she had spent three more hours on the courts than her rival Ash Barty. And let’s not forget that the Canadian’s main goal wasn’t focused on performance.
Regular readers will remember what Sylvain Bruneau said when I spoke to him last week. “Of course, there are objectives in Miami,” affirmed the 55-year-old coach. “Those goals are related to tennis, to the things we want to improve before and during the tournament. There are also goals related to how she’s feeling. Are there set objectives in terms of performance? No, not at all. We’re really working on finding her game. Fifteen months is a long time to be out, and her return in Australia was anything but productive, as we talked about earlier. So, no, it’s not about getting to the semis or the final or winning.”
I ran into Sylvain at IGA Stadium in Montréal the day before the final. “Looks like she’s ahead of schedule!” I said with a wink. Ever humble and reserved, he nodded and shared how impressed he was.
Still, the unexpected and disheartening denouement brought back excruciating flashbacks of 2019, when aches and pains, forfeits and a knee injury that ultimately kept her out of the game for over a year interrupted her climb.
In Miami, Bianca herself confirmed that she had suffered a minor ankle injury earlier in the week. When she stumbled early on in the second set against Barty, her reaction and low spirits brought us all right back to three years ago. Though her retirement was a glum ending to a phenomenal run, as far as her future, it remains far less dramatic than one may have initially thought.
The next day, both Bianca and Sylvain Bruneau were reassuring. “The injury isn’t serious and doesn’t undermine Bianca’s clay season. However, she won’t play Billie Jean King Cup [formerly Fed Cup] against Serbia on April 16 and 17,” confirmed the coach in an email.
Andreescu would have preferred to play, of course. In a message relayed on Tennis Canada’s Twitter feed, she wrote: “…This does mean that, unfortunately, I won’t be able to compete in Billie Jean Cup. I love representing Canada, so this decision was not easy, but I want to make sure I’m prepared for the clay court swing ahead and for the rest of the season.”
The question that remains is how her clay court season will pan in light of a much bigger problem: the global pandemic. We’ll get back to that a little later.
Who will compete in BJK Cup?
Bianca Andreescu (6) has declined to play Billie Jean King Cup against Serbia. According to Open Court, so has Eugenie Bouchard (120), who withdrew from a few events (perhaps by choice, perhaps due to her ranking) after her unceremonious exit from Monterrey.
For Tennis Canada, the next logical choices were the two women who follow Andreescu and Bouchard in the WTA singles rankings: Leylah Annie Fernandez (72) and Rebecca Marino (223). Carol Zhao (426) and Sharon Fichman round out the fab four led by captain Heidi El Tabakh.
Without World No.10 Gabriela Dabrowski, the doubles competition rests on the shoulders of Sharon Fichman (54) and either Fernandez or Marino. At this point, any predictions would be highly speculative, since the captain will only make the decision when the time comes based on how the competitors are feeling once the singles matches have been decided.
The headline comes as no surprise.
With the uptick in the virus and its variants and third lockdown ordered by President Emmanuel Macron, all signs point to another postponement for the French Open.
Set to get underway on May 23 in Paris, then moved a week later (May 30), the major may be delayed even later, like it was a year ago.
According to the new president of the Fédération Française de Tennis (FFT) Gilles Moretton, who remains in contact with the government, several options are on the table. Speaking to Agence France-Presse, he confirmed that organizers were considering everything from a limited number of fans in the stands to none at all.
“There is a full range, but it can start in a closed room and continue to levels that are not 100%. All our options are ready,” he explained.
Seeing as the situation is no better elsewhere in Europe, it’s expected that the lead-in tournaments will also feel the impact.
What will tennis’ post-COVID-19 reality be?
The COVID-19 pandemic kept the sports world at a standstill for 13 months.
Now, slowly but surely, athletes are finally returning to their stadiums. Initially empty, the stands are gradually filling depending on the country and its pandemic management. All that’s left to do is cross our fingers that our strategies to control and slow the virus will set the stage for a return to a new normality in the second half of 2021 and 2022.
That said, there is positivity in some of the collateral impacts. Will vestiges of the pandemic remain once we’ve come out the other side?
Masks, distancing and testing
Masks, distancing and testing could become a reality as early as 2022. Some nations are seeing encouraging signs in their COVID-19 counts, but fears of yet another wave will likely persuade tournament organizers to err on the side of caution.
As the old saying goes, you can never be too careful!
It’s the eternal debate of man vs. machine.
Many tournaments have adopted the innovative Hawk-Eye technology, whose margin of error is a very tiny three millimetres. But don’t remind the players—they won’t like it one bit! The aim, of course, is to limit the number of people on the court in these pandemic times.
On one hand, chair umpires love Hawk-Eye’s line calling technology. Though some players still ask for a replay once in a while, the machine is always, ALWAYS right and thus curbs a lot of arguments and never-ending discussions.
On the other hand, some umpires unintentionally ease up on the job since they no longer have to track every ball in case they need to overrule a line judge. I’ve yet to see an official overturn Hawk-Eye’s decision. It’s not totally infallible but the technology still manages to hush the disagreements.
Still, Hawk-Eye has put a lot of women and men out of work, and if the majority of the events that can afford the device choose to invest in it, line judges won’t be returning to the courts any time soon.
And let’s not forget how much the fans in the stadium and at home relished player challenges and deliberated on the final verdict based on what they had seen with their own eagle eye.
Even before COVID-19, a lot of fans, including myself, were annoyed that ballpersons had to also play the supporting role of servant/towelperson.
Today, towel boxes are installed so pros can manage their sweat themselves as they play pandemic tennis.
Of course, the improvement also has its downsides, since players now have to walk all the way to their box to towel off (and take advantage of the opportunity after practically every point). In the end, the great idea works against another great idea meant to speed up the matches: the shot clock.
Now, the game is even slower.
But keeping players healthy is the priority, right?
Has the pandemic led to changes that should become permanent? Send me an email or Tweet to let me know what you think!
Your body, your billboard
Tattoos in tennis are nothing new but still aren’t as common as they are in football or basketball, for example. Though they date back thousands and thousands of years, tattoos are a form of body art that had yet to bring in a sponsorship deal. Until now, that is.
We’ve seen boxers do it, and now a tennis player has tossed her hat into the proverbial ring to use her body for ad space.
Her name is Oleksandra Oliynykova.
The 20-year-old Croatian athlete has spent most of her time between World No.650 and No.700 on the WTA Tour. She therefore competes in ITF W15, W25 and W60 tournaments but has yet to play in one this season.
Since she probably won’t be making a living off prizemoney and sponsorships, she’s taken matters into her own hands and turned to new technologies. She aims to achieve her longer-term financial goals with nonfungible tokens or NFTs.
So, what’s an NFT? We turned to the New York Times for an explanation:
“An NFT is an asset verified using blockchain technology, in which a network of computers records transactions and gives buyers proof of authenticity and ownership. The current boom is mostly for digital assets, including images, GIFs, songs or videos. Most importantly, NFTs make digital artworks unique, and therefore sellable.
Now, artists, musicians, influencers and sports franchises are using NFTs to monetize digital goods that have previously been cheap or free. The technology also responds to the art world’s need for authentication and provenance in an increasingly digital world, permanently linking a digital file to its creator.”
Back to Oliynykova.
Last week, she auctioned off a 6-inch x 3-inch area of her arm as an NFT on the OpenSea digital marketplace. Six days later, she had earned 3 ethereum (that’s nearly US$6,300!).
According to an article in Front Office Sports, the trend actually started in the 2000s. Boxer Bernard Hopkins made six figures when Golden Palace paid him for painting an ad on his back. Québec boxer Éric Lucas did the same for an online casino.
Oliynykova isn’t the only member of the WTA to dabble in NFTs. Jessica Pegula, who has risen 50 spots in the rankings since mid-August 2020 (No.83 to No.33), became the first professional tennis player and first female athlete to release limited-edition NFT trading cards.
Whether Oleksandra Oliynykova hits it big or not, she probably won’t surpass the originality of the tatted tennis aces who came before her, from the spectacular angel’s wings on Svetlana Kuznetsova’s back to Nick Kyrgios’ tributes to Kobe and LeBron, Polona Hercog’s sleeve, Dustin Brown’s portrait and Bethanie Mattek-Sands’ floral art.
They’re just a few of the players who have found highly creative and personal ways to express their respective personalities, convictions, dreams and outlooks on life.
Head over to Baseline for more.
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