Saturday, March 14, 2020

Tennis in the Time of Coronavirus: The Blessed and the Cursed

And just like that...

With the week beginning with the late Sunday announcement that the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells would not be held, the first sports domino fell in what would be an historic week. Within five days, following in the footsteps of similar earlier sometimes-isolated instances in Asia and in the European soccer leagues, a black cloak came down over North American sports as the continued coronavirus outbreak saw every major sport on the continent either suspend or cancel their respective season schedules. The NBA, NHL and MLB halted their seasons for at least a month, while the XFL cancelled the remainder of its inaugural season. The golf tours soon followed suit, with April's The Masters postponed. The heart of the NCAA's basketball seasons -- the men's and women's tournaments -- were cancelled. Broadway went dark, music events were cancelled, museums and schools closed, and numerous television shows went audience-free or shut down filming entirely. Many worked from home, or self-quarantined after a Covid-19 diagnosis or exposure to an individual with the virus.

As all of Italy closed down in Europe and fears rose about a similar near future across the ocean, North America saw calls for frequent handwashing, social distancing and a ban on gatherings of large groups increase as shortages of tests for the virus artificially slowed the growing number of confirmed cases in the U.S., and the usual panic-fueled runs on supermarkets brought out both the worst and best of society as the executive office simultaneously let loose a daily stream of misleading, confusing, hypocritical and/or uninformed statements that only further worsened the ability for all to focus on the task(s) at hand, while sycophantic underlings attempted to heap public praise on the administration's vastly wanting actions both before and during the outbreak.

On the tennis front, while the ATP announced a six-week halting of its schedule, the ITF postponed the Fed Cup Finals event, as well as its junior circuit and challenger events until April 20. The final 2nd Round matches of the week's ten in-action events were being played as late as Wednesday afternoon. The WTA, though ahead of the wave with the Indian Wells announcement, saw the steady cancellations of individual tournaments over the next two months, but not any sort of view-from-the-top, all-encompassing decision about the upcoming schedule.

A decision on the European clay season is expected next week, though it seems a likely foregone conclusion at this point that there won't be one. Roland Garros, too, would appear a near-certainty to become the first scheduled slam in a quarter-century to be cancelled due to outside factors.

Wimbledon would then officially be on deck (and discussions about either the British government or AELTC cancelling SW19 have already been rumored, along with the All-England Club's reluctance to play without fans in attendance), with the North American hard court season waiting in the wings. With the future containment of the outbreak on U.S. shores unfadingly in question with a preening in-way-over-his-head executive at the top of the political food chain continuing to exist in a personally self-aggrandizing, fact-lite (who-can-I-blame?) alternate reality, nothing good can be certain here, either.

The last year without all four slams being contested was 1986, though that was due to the Australian Open's place on the schedule being moved from December '86 to January '87. Prior to that, it took World War II raging through Europe to call off a tennis major. Even then, at Roland Garros, a a closed "Tournoi de France" was held from 1941-45, though the French Tennis Federation no longer views those tournaments as "official" events and lists RG as having been "cancelled" during those years.

Thus, with the tennis season trapped in amber until further notice, this will be the first of (however) many updates of past special posts, of-the-moment ruminations and/or other future-peering thought pieces to appear in this space for the foreseeable future (along with the weekly peeks at what the WTA's top players are doing during their unscheduled break).

First up, here's one last reminder of where we (or, you know, they) were when everything came to a full stop, via a callback to an old segment I used to do, "The Blessed and the Cursed...


Sofia Kenin: won the Australian Open, stumbled a bit as a follow-up, then found her winner's mentality (if not her "A"-game) just in time for the world to shut down
Elena Rybakina: at the time of the season's suspension, she led the tour in wins (21) and finals (4), had won a title, reached the Top 20 and won her first slam MD matches. She may have been in line to plant a flag in Indian Wells as a future slam title run predictor ala Osaka and Andreescu (2018-19).
Simona Halep: even more "chill" than usual, Halep reached the AO semis and played/won Dubai as if it was a "fifth major"
Garbine Muguruza & Conchita Martinez: Spaniards in arms, Muguruza had rediscovered her on-court balance and reached the AO final, while new coach Martinez was announced as a 2020 Hall of Fame inductee
Hsieh Su-wei & Barbora Strycova: 17-1 on the season, they'd won three titles, reached five straight finals (dating back to '19) and were runners-up at the AO
Serena Williams: in Auckland, she'd won her first title since becoming a mother. Getting ahead of the tour itself, Williams has already announced a personal six-week "solitude" break.
Ons Jabeur: after ending Caroline Wozniacki's career in Melbourne, she'd become the first Arab woman to reach a slam singles QF, reach a Premier QF (Doha) and rank in the Top 40
Leylah Fernandez and Leonie Kung: even without Andreescu on tour, 17-year old Fernandez had given Canada a tour singles finalist in Acapulco, making her the second youngest (Gauff) player in the Top 125. 18-year old Swiss Kung had reached the Hua Hin final in just her second career WTA main draw appearance.
The Bracelet: Aleksandra Krunic's status as Serbia's Fed Cup Good Luck Charm showed continued strength in the February Europe/Africa Zone I competition, as she'd joined with Nina Stojanovic to win three deciding doubles matches to advance the nation to the (now postponed) Playoffs
Renata Zarazua and Giuliana Olmos: in Acapulco, Zarazua had become the first woman from Mexico to reach a tour-level singles semi in 27 years, while countrywoman Olmos' doubles title had made her the first Mexican representative to win *any* tour title in Mexico. Zarazua had reached the QF in a $25K challenger in Irapuato, MEX when the ITF suspended play.
Asia Muhammad & Taylor Townsend: they'd won a tour title in Auckland (their first as a duo) and at the WTA 125 Series event in Indian Wells just days before the big event was called off
Sania Mirza: in her first event back since missing more than two years while having a baby, Mirza had won her 42nd career WTA doubles title in Hobart, then teamed with Ankita Raina in March's delayed Fed Cup Asia/Oceania I Zone play (her first FC action since '16) to win two deciding doubles matches and clinch a third tie victory to lead India into the (eventual) World Group Playoffs for the first time ever
Victoria Jimenez Kasintseva: at the AO, after saving a MP early in the tournament, VJK had gone on to become the first Andoran to win a slam junior singles crown
Yui Kamiji and Jordanne Whiley: with #1 Diede de Groot hitting her first significant career roadblock, Kamiji claimed her first wheelchair singles slam in over two years in Melbourne, while teaming with best friend Whiley (fully back from her pregnancy break) to win their tenth WD slam crown (first since '17). In the last rankings, #2 Kamiji had edged to within 1000 points of de Groot, while Whiley had returned to the Top 5.
Anastasia Rodionova: the Aussie won Tennis Australia's Wild Card Playoff tournament to reach the AO MD, where she'd posted her maiden MD win in her home major. Her doubles title in Hua Hin was the first of her WTA career (she'd been 0-6 in finals).
Generation PDQ: Kenin's AO win was the fifth in the last six majors by a member of GenPDQ. Additionally, through the opening thirteen events this season, six finalists (one winner) were aged 20 or younger. In the scheduled ranking update in a week, nine of the Top 100 will be 20-or-under, as will 24 of the Top 200.

Bianca Andreescu: she hasn't played since her October knee injury at the WTA Finals. At first disappointed that the injury would keep her from defending her Indian Wells title, it turned out that even a healthy Andreescu wouldn't been trying to win back-to-back crowns in California. With another month and a half (at least) to rehab, the Canadian will (hopefully) be looking to burst back onto the scene later this year. Maybe just like she did last summer in Toronto.

Indian Wells: at first criticized in some corners for the "overreaction" of deciding to not hold the event late last weekend (even w/o spectators), the BNP Paribas Open turned out to be the proverbial "canary in the coal mine" as the next four days saw essentially *every* major North American sporting league/tour call a halt to competition, or cancel the remainder of entire season schedules.
Steve Simon: while the ATP and ITF collectively cancelled vast swaths of each tour's schedule, the WTA CEO has consistently seemed to leave such decisions to each individual tournament, whose decisions have trickled in over the course of the past week, with the fate of the EuroClay (unofficially, at least) and grass court seasons still unannounced heading into this weekend.
Mayar Sherif and Sandra Samir: days after both Egyptian players had swept the singles and doubles titles at their respective events the previous weekend, the two were set to face off for the first time in a 2nd Round match in the $25K challenger in Cairo when the remainder of the tournament was cancelled on Wednesday.
Tsvetana Pironkova: sometimes timing can be, well, a bit spellbinding (such an announcement at this time could only be topped by a similar gesture from JJ, right?).

2020: ravaged by Australian fires in January, as well as a string of retirements through the first two months of the calendar, all tennis has now been stopped for (at least) six weeks due to the coronavirus outbreak, with the likelihood of no clay court season and (at least) one slam cancellation likely coming soon.
Diede de Groot: the world wheelchair #1, upset by Zhu Zhenzhen in the 1st Round in Melbourne, hadn't won a singles match in nearly three months, a drought that will now likely last quite a bit longer. She was 10-1 and en route to a near double Grand Slam season a year ago.
Naomi Osaka: hiring Wim Fissette, often a fixer of "broken/flagging" dreams in recent jobs, was always likely to be either a brilliant or wrongheaded move by the two-slam slam champ. On the two-year anniversary of her Indian Wells title run, it's been closer to the latter... with "no-show" losses to Coco Gauff (AO 3r) and Sara Sorribes Tormo (FC) her last two matches before the season's would-be suspension.
Angelique Kerber: injuries kept the German vet out of action after the Australian Open, as she'd once again dropped out of the Top 20 in the recent rankings.
Sloane Stephens and Venus Williams: U.S. Open semifinalists two and a half years ago (w/ Stephens winning the title), Sloane went 1-5 (with four losses to #100+ players) while Venus' was winless and riding a career-worst five-match losing streak dating back to '19.
Victoria Azarenka: amidst continued off-court issues to be dealt with, Azarenka played for the first time since the U.S. Open, but won just four games in her only match in Acapulco. She then announced another "break from tennis," though soon-to-develop circumstances would have prevented her from playing anyway.
Genie Bouchard: now the *sixth*-ranked Canadian (barely in the Top 350), Bouchard saw her Week 1 surge prove to be short-lived for the second straight January. A year after her '19 Auckland singles QF result (and WD title) after which she went 6-17, she reached another QF this year, only to fail to win another MD match afterward.
Fed Cup: after the format change was derided in 2019, part of 2020 zone play was delayed due the coronavirus outbreak in Asia, and now the the 2020 Finals in Europe (set for April) have been postponed, as well.
Karolina Muchova: a 2-4 start wasn't exactly her "dream scenario" after a breakout '19 that saw the Czech win her first tour title, play in a slam QF, notch her first Top 10 win, and reach the Top 25
The 2020 Season? might it have *already* ended?



[Australian Open]
1941-45 - World War II
1986 - Tournament moved from Dec.'86 to Jan.'87
[Roland Garros]
1915-19 - World War I
1940 - World War II
1941-45 - World War II (unofficial Tournoi de France held) *
1915-18 - World War I
1940-45 - World War II
[U.S. Open]

* - [from Wikipedia] Tournoi de France, is a name retroactively given to the annual French championship tennis tournament at Roland Garros during World War II. After liberation this wartime resumption of a prewar tournament that took place in Zone occupée ceased to be recognized as being part of the annual French Championship (French Open) series. The tournament organizer the Fédération Française de Tennis states that the years between 1941–45 was a period when the tournament had been "cancelled".



















Blogger colt13 said...

It is to the point that I have NFL Game Pass on in the background just to have some sports noise.

Like the Blessed and Cursed segment.

There was only one player in the main draw of the 3 cancelled tournaments in the previous year:
2018 Hong Kong
2019 Budapest
2019 Indian Wells


Fed Cup finals can just get kicked to November like it normally is, since they picked an indoor arena.

Curious if some players walk away early. No clue if Mandy Minella was planning to stay involved in the sport, but will she stick around until Luxembourg?

Stat of the Week- 0 - The number of times US Open has been skipped.

Todd has already listed the years that the slams were skipped. Australian Open was not affected by WW1, as they did not hold first edition until 1922. On the other hand, US Open has run every year since 1887!

So what happens this year? Well, when you have a leader that doesn't lead, that causes problems. And though that describes Trump, who is not equipped to lead, this is a tennis blog.

One reason that CEO is overpaid, is that they sometimes take the hit for a situation not of their own making, then resign to help public perception. It is fair to say that Steve Simon hasn't done anything. To not announce cancellations is doing a disservice to the public.

Now I know that there are multitudes of people to keep happy- directors, sponsors, players, etc. And I have done this myself- make a true statement at the time, which due to circumstances changes. There is no shame in having to change course because of new information. The lack of it might cost Simon his job.

What is a guess for the rest of the season? That we get all three slams left, but not when we expect them. No byes. Expanded Q-fields. My guess, and my thoughts on this will probably change by the week are:

May-US Only- IW/Miami.
June-UK Only- Eastbourne/Birmingham/Nottingham/Wimbledon.
July- Olympics get moved to 2021 or 2022, so a couple of clay events in France ending with Roland Garros.
August- US/Canada swing, with everything pushed back a couple of weeks.
September- End of US/Canada swing. US Open runs into October.
October- Linz/Luxembourg/Moscow.
November- Fed Cup and WTA Finals in Hungary.

Asia gets skipped, those smaller events like the new grass one in Germany get skipped, and you probably end up losing 15-20 events this season.

Quiz Time!

Tsvetana Pironkova is coming back. Where did she win her only WTA title?

D.San Antonio

Interlude- Mad Cow. SARS. Ebola. Why has COVID-19 hit so much harder? Leadership. Those were the days. So her is Those Were the Days by Mary Hopkin.


Ahh, Pironkova. The woman who disappeared, then gave birth, announces her comeback in a week where literally everything shut down.

Owner of one or the more unique careers, having reached a slam SF without ever reaching the Top 30, (A)Nottingham is wrong, because she never got past the QF of a regular tour event on grass. 2017 Nottingham QF was her best.

It is not (D)San Antonio, though her SF there in 2016 was her last.

It also is not Istanbul, though that was her best clay event. A French Open QF in 2016, she only bettered that result on clay 3 times, twice in Istanbul- 2005 and 2008. Her 2008 SF loss was to Radwanska, whom she beat to reach the French Open QF in 2016.

That leaves (C)Sydney. Probably wasn't a guess, as there is a reason that she announced this comeback after the tour left Australia. She actually never made it past the 2nd rd of the Open there, reaching and falling 8 times. Yet in 2014, she won Sydney by defeating in order #7 Errani, #6 Kvitova, and #9 Kerber.

Not a light week of work.

Sat Mar 14, 09:29:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Although they are apparently beginning to start to re-open some things in China now, so maybe come the fall some events in Asia *might* be in the mix.

(NOTE: I forgot the logo for the top that's supposed to look a little like the Love in the Time of Cholera book cover, so I added that since I took the time to do it the other day. Ha.)

Good point about Minella, and maybe a few others, as well, depending on how long this might last.

Quiz: Sydney. Finally, I *knew* that one. :)

Sat Mar 14, 10:02:00 PM EDT  

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