Rebecca Marino at the US Open 1st round

Photo : Camera Work USA

After three solid wins in the qualifying event of the US Open, our resilient Canadian Rebecca Marino was assigned to no.5 seed Elina Svitolina.  

So much for the luck of the draw. 

As expected, Rebecca’s stay in Queens ended in a 6-2, 6-3 loss to the Ukrainian champion.   

But let’s get back to the draw, which hasn’t been all bad for our Canadians, from the highest to the lowest ranked among them.  

For instance, Félix Auger-Aliassime (12) was pitted against 31-year-old qualifier Evgeny Donskoy, who’s currently No.152. 

Everything went according to plan, and Félix moved on to the second round after a hard-fought four-hour battle. Tennis Canada wrote a great recap of his match, as well as Leylah Fernandez’s win earlier in the day.

Felix Auger Aliassime holds his fists up after a awin
Photo : Camerawork USA

Some players were super lucky, like qualifier vs. qualifier and (even better) qualifier vs. hometown hero with a wildcard.   

Can you imagine how relieved No.138 Alex Molcan of Slovakia must have been when he had to confront No.189 Cem Ilkel of Turkey and not the mighty Novak Djokovic?  

Ilkel, 26 years old, posted his biggest win at the Quimper Challenger 80 in France in February 2020. Nothing too impressive. On the other hand, Molcan was on a roll at the ATP 250 in Belgrade until he ran into the aforementioned Djokovic. Since then, he’s been 15-4 in five tournaments, including three Challenger events.  

Wondering who won the battle of the unknowns? Ilkel.  

Not to be outdone, the WTA hosted its own contest at Flushing Meadows. Serbian qualifier Olga Danilovic (145) had the good fortune of crossing paths with 20-year-old wildcard Alycia Parks (246) of the US. Logical prevailed, and Danilovic earned the win.  

Those are just a few of the players who benefitted from the draw. And good for them!  

To vax or not to vax 

As the vaccination passport comes into effect here and elsewhere, tennis will soon have to decide how it will reduce the risks associated with the transmission of COVID-19.  

While anti-vaxxers Novak Djokovic and Stefanos Tsitsipas aren’t budging on their position, Andy Murray added his voice to Roger’s and Rafa’s on the long list of big names who support the jab. 

Without making a huge case about it, Murray expressed his opinion at a presser the weekend before the US Open, citing the next major in Melbourne with Australia on the verge of tightening the rules on large-scale events.  

“I feel I’m enjoying kind of a fairly normal life, whereas for the players that haven’t, it’s different. I’m sure they’ll be frustrated with that. (…) I’m happy I’m vaccinated. I’m hoping that more players choose to get it in the coming months.” 

Andy Murray

This past May, Federer confirmed he had been vaccinated to protect those around him and said he was happy to have done so considering how much travels.  

Three months later, Nadal echoed his thoughts and then some: “The only way out of this nightmare is vaccination. Our responsibility as human beings is to accept it. I know there is a percentage of people who will suffer from side effects, but the effects of the virus are worse.” 

Novak Djokovic, on the other hand, has never hidden his opposition and was chastised for organizing the Adria Tour last summer in the Balkans. Despite the good intentions, there were no distancing or safety measures even though most people in attendance weren’t vaccinated. The World No.1 was promptly dubbed No-vax Djo-covid.  

In April, he doubled down and said he hoped the vaccine wouldn’t become mandatory. He refuses to say whether he is vaccinated or not.  

As for Tsitsipas, he’s a bit of a contradiction. A short time after being a spokesperson for a Greek campaign to implement safety measures during the pandemic, he turned around and expressed doubts about the vaccine.  

“No one has told me anything. No one has made it a mandatory thing to be vaccinated. At some point I will have to, I’m pretty sure about it, but so far it hasn’t been mandatory to compete, so I haven’t done it, no.” 

But the tennis world was having none of that.  

As for anti-vaxxer Gilles Simon, his dreams of playing in his last US Open were dashed when he was forced to withdraw because his coach tested positive. Speaking to L’Équipe, he said he could have chosen to be tested on a regular basis but didn’t feel like getting vaccinated.  

Ben Rothenberg even wrote a piece about how tennis players are lagging behind compared to other professional athletes in the Sports of The Times.

It’s clear that the WTA and ATP will have to put their foot down and get their anti-vaxxers—whose choice now has more to do with blind egotism than personal preference—on board.

King Richard 

Making a good biopic isn’t easy, especially one about a notable personality. Fans will inevitably draw parallels between the actors on the screen and people in real life.  

A sports biopic poses an extra challenge: depicting the sport itself. So much so that you sometimes wonder whether filmmakers should find athletes and teach them to act and not the other way around  

But that’s what stunt doubles are for.  

Individual sports add yet another layer of difficulty, since there’s a limit to an actor’s ability to mimic the movements of exceptional athletes.  

That said, I can’t wait to see how Will Smith will fare when he takes on Richard Williams, dad to superstars Venus and Serena, in King Richard. Slated for release in November, the film promises to be one of those sports biopics that thrills fans (and perhaps disappoints a few).  

It isn’t Smith’s first rodeo. He played Muhammad Ali in Ali (2001) and Dr. Bennet Omalu in Concussion (2015), and it’s safe to assume he’ll do a good job with Richard Williams.  

Venus and Serena, who are famous on a whole other level, are played by Saniyya Sidney (Venus) and Demi Singleton (Serena). The actresses were 13 and 12 years old, respectively, when they made the movie in 2020. And their resemblance to the sisters is pretty impressive.

Williams sisters and their father in the early 1990's
Cast of the film King Richard

If Richard Williams hadn’t managed to achieve the unthinkable, his story would have been the stuff of a fantasy film. The larger than life character (to say the least) had zero tennis experience but still decided to make his two daughters the legends they are today when they were only four years old. 

He had even dreamed up a 78-page plan with every detail on their training regimens BEFORE THEY WERE EVEN BORN.  

Three decades later, Venus and Serena have a combined 170 titles, including 68 crowns in singles, doubles and mixed doubles from the Slams, Olympic Games and Billie Jean King Cup, and $136M in prize money.  


They also likely exceeded their uncommonly ambitious father’s wildest predictions. 

Here are two lines from the trailer that sum things up pretty well.  

“I think you might just have the next Michael Jordan,” says coach Rick Macci. 

“Oh no, brother man. I got the next two!” replies Richard Williams. 

Tennis in the movies 

There are a bunch of films on team sports, car racing and Olympic disciplines but very few on individual sports like downhill skiing, golf and tennis. 

Biopics of tennis players are especially rare. I can only think of two worth mentioning. Coincidentally, they were both released in 2017.   

Battle of the Sexes is about the unlikely and high-profile challenge laid down by Bobby Riggs to Billie Jean King. The film itself is pretty light but still serves as the basis to tell the story of the revolution set in motion by King and group of women seeking greater autonomy and better prize money. I actually wrote about the Original 9 who changed the game right here in July.  

Their battle of the sexes led to the creation of the WTA and progress on equality issues in pro tennis.  

As much as I enjoyed Battle of the Sexes, I preferred Borg vs. McEnroe on the rivalry between two polar opposites that culminated in one of the greatest matches of all-time at Wimbledon in 1980.  

Shia LaBeouf as Johnny Mac is bearable, but Swedish actor Sverrir Gudnason as the Ice Man is bracingly fantastic. Stellan Skarsgard as respected coach Lennart Bergelin only adds to this subtle film with decent tennis scenes.  

And what’s not to love about young Leo Borg playing his dad as a kid? He did a great job as young Bjorn, who rallied with garage doors and had trouble controlling his anger (until he gained total control of his emotions, that is).

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