Photo : BNP Paribas Open
Usually a spring fixture on the tours, the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells was moved to the first two weeks of October for reasons we’re all familiar with.
And because it’s in the fall, the 2021 tournament marks the start of the last leg of the season. Some players will be fighting to pick up the points they need to qualify for the year-end championships, while others will be competing to (re)gain some confidence and feel good on the courts before taking a few weeks off.
Our WTA headliners Bianca Andreescu and Leylah Fernandez have had very different seasons. So much so that only seven rankings stand between them. Bianca is No.21 (down 14 since January 1), and Leylah is No.28 (up 50 since January 1).
Aside from her highly successful and highly publicized return to tennis in Miami, Andreescu is 16-11 (7-9 since that Floridian final against Ashleigh Barty on April 4).
Fernandez is 18-12 (including qualifying matches) since the start of the tournament she won in Monterrey, Mexico on March 21. She’s also been big wave surfing since her final in NYC.
Now that she’s mingling with the world elite, bigger and better obstacles lie ahead. For Leylah, the real work starts now.
For Andreescu, the pressure is behind her. There’s no doubt she’s been trying to find her bearings after two years of ups and downs, including a long list of injuries, COVID-19 and a new coach.
But let’s get back to the events that officially close out the calendar: the WTA Finals and the ATP Finals.
Both tours have already confirmed their early entries based on ranking: Barty, Sabalenka, Krejcikova and Pliskova on the women’s side and Djokovic, Medvedev and Tsitsipas on the men’s.
There aren’t enough points left on the table for our Canadian women to sneak into the mix in Guadalajara, but No.11 Félix Auger-Aliassime has a chance to be in the top eight in Turin.
After his Grand Slam semi and very first Laver Cup, he’ll be back in action to wrap up the season on a high note. His success depends entirely on the adductor strain that forced him out of San Diego and whether or not he can muster the same confidence and control he’s had since June 10 in Stuttgart, when he embarked on a swing that’s led him to a very neat 19-8 record.
Depending on where he chooses to play, Auger-Aliassime could collect enough points to go to Turin, either as a competitor or an alternate.
Denis Shapovalov, on the other hand, will be looking conclude the year on a positive note. He said so himself in a joint interview with Félix before things got underway in San Diego last week.
Besides the tennis talk, it was great to see the two of them joking around together, especially considering how much their lives have changed since that summer in 2017 when they were bunking together and Denis shook the tennis world by taking out the World No.1.
Tennis’ Scandinavian thaw
Casper Ruud was already pretty famous in his native Norway, but, in the past six months, he’s made a name for himself beyond Scandinavia and even beyond Europe.
Not only is he Norway’s best player of all-time, he’s coming off a great season in which he rose from No. 27 in April to No.10 today.
With his 6-0, 6-2 win in San Diego over Cameron Norrie of Great Britain, Ruud claimed the very first hard court title of his career and brought his record to 43-12. He has the most tournament titles in 2021 with five, adding the San Diego Open to his trophies from Geneva, Bastad, Gstaad and Kitzbühel. Remarkably, he won the Swedish Open, Swiss Open and Austrian Open in an 18-day interval between July 15 and August 1.
Initially, Casper was mainly known for being the son of Christian Ruud, Norway’s former best player of all-time. The elder Ruud climbed as high as No.39 in October 1995 but never won an ATP title. That makes Casper one of the many kids who grew up in their athlete parent’s shadow only to better the family record, like Jacques and Gilles Villeneuve, Brett and Bobby Hull, Alex and Pierre Harvey, Moises and Felipe Alou and Steph and Del Curry.
Casper’s shiny new title places him only 50 points away from the No.9 spot held by Roger Federer. Since we won’t be seeing the Fed Express in competition any time soon, Ruud could get as high as No.8, depending on how much momentum he’s able to marshal.
In the race to the ATP Finals, he’s 8th, just 60 points behind Rafa in 7th place.
The interest in Casper Ruud’s emergence is perhaps due to the fact that Norwegian and Scandinavian players haven’t been breaking a lot of tennis records of late.
There was a time when the Swedes, like 10th-century Vikings, invaded all the leading tournaments. In nearly two decades, great champions like Bjorn Borg, Stefan Edberg and Mats Wilander picked up 26 Grand Slam titles between them (1974 to 1992).
And since then? No one out of Sweden or even Scandinavia has won a major.
Even so, in addition to Casper Ruud, there are northern talents, like Swedish brothers Mikael and Elias Ymer, who are No.85 and No.163, respectively. There’s No.89 Emil Ruusuvuori of Finland and the promising Danish teenager, 18-year-old Holger Vitus Nodskov Rune (No.124).
As far as Norwegians, Casper may get a bit lonely on tour. His only countryman, 24-year-old Viktor Durasovic, is No.402.
ATP investigates allegations against Zverev
World No.4 Alexander Zverev of Germany is the subject of an internal investigation by the ATP, which will be looking into the 2019 partner abuse allegations levelled against him by his former girlfriend Olga Sharypova.
In an official statement on October 4, ATP CEO Massimo Calvelli affirmed the Tour, which has taken a lot of flak for its silence on the matter, was following the recommendations of an independent report on the safety and protection of individuals.
“As an organisation, we recognise the need to be doing more to ensure everyone involved in professional tennis feels safe and protected. The recommendations of the Safeguarding Report will help us approach this in a robust way. We are committed to making meaningful steps forward and know this won’t be an overnight process.”
Fans who follow tennis closely are likely aware of the efforts invested by journalist Ben Rothenberg of the New York Times to shed light on the accusations. He sat down with Olga Sharypova in 2019 and published her account a year ago in Racquet magazine. In August, he updated and expanded the story in Slate.
A few days after the piece was released, Zverev’s camp responded by pursuing legal action against Rothenberg and Sharypova.
Caroline’s swan song
Caroline Wozniacki will come out of retirement for an exhibition match against her friend Angelique Kerber at the Royal Arena in Copenhagen.
Another one of Caroline’s close friends, Serena Williams, was initially slated to play but had to drop out due to a scheduling conflict.
Caroline Wozniacki brought her career to a close after a third-round loss (6-0, 6-1) to Ons Jabeur at the 2020 Australian Open.
On June 11, she gave birth to Olivia, her daughter with former NBA star David Lee.
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It’s as if they’ve always been around.
Together, Roger, Rafa and Novak hold 60 of the last 73 Grand Slam titles in men’s singles (20-20-20) and deserve their own record book covering past two decades.
What if they were still playing 20 years from now? Or 30 years from now?
I came across a montage from recent years at Roland Garros. These are the types of interviews you could watch.
With children and…your grandchildren?
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