July 11, 2024

Open Court

MORE TENNIS THAN YOU'LL EVER NEED

From relative peace to absolute chaos during the week before the US Open.

Today’s focus will be the slow creep of capitalism upon the four Grand Slam tournaments.

Now, they’ve always been about the money – let’s not kid ourselves. But monetizing the week before the main event – when the qualifying takes place, and the players try to adequately and serenely prep for the big show – has completely changed the landscape.

Also, Alexander Zverev makes new friends at home. Because he’s just a congenial fellow, isn’t he?

Also – today is the day Wimbledon announces its first batch of wild cards. Some players – like Milos Raonic, for example – will be eagerly waiting.

And he was disappointed.

Weather forecasts

With so much rain everywhere in Europe, and only one roof in play this week (in Halle, on the stadium court), everyone’s watching the radar.

But the news is pretty good for Wednesday.

Queen’s Club: Sunny and cool!

Halle: Cloudy, with the sun coming out mid-afternoon. No rain!

Berlin: Chance of late-afternoon showers

(Right on cue, after 2:30 p.m., they came)

Birmingham: Sunny and cool!

Alexander Zverev – making new friends!

While most of us in North America aren’t laser-focused on the Euros, that’s obviously not the case in Europe.

And so the charming and ever-diplomatic Alexander Zverev felt it was incumbent upon him to complain about the scheduling at his home-country event in Halle, where he’s the No. 2 seed and plays his second round Wednesday evening.

Zverev is fourth on the stadium court, where play begins at noon. So his match likely will conflict with Germany’s Euro opener with Hungary, which kicks off at 6 p.m.

“That was definitely not my wish. But I don’t decide. If I did decide, I would do it differently. To be honest, I don’t think it was a smart move on the part of the tournament,” Zverev said yesterday in his press conference, with the quotes reported by der Spiegel. “If I wasn’t playing, I wouldn’t watch a tennis match either, I would watch football.”

To be fair, he was asked the question by the German wire service DPA. That said, the response was completely up to the 27-year-old adult. The tournament had no comment last night.

And hey, don’t we ALL complain when our job requirements get in the way of our sports watching? He’s just like US!!!!

But that rather … undiplomatic response must have led to a big to-do at home. Because this morning, the tournament – which no doubt pays Zverev handsomely to show up every year – put out a four-Tweet explainer on the scheduling.

We can’t underscore how rare this is.

Here’s the Tweet:

Rough translation:

-Zverev’s match was scheduled Wednesday because his half of the draw all played Wednesday

-All of the other players scheduled on the stadium finished their first-round earlier than Zverev, and so were scheduled earlier.

-Zverev only finished his first-round match on Tuesday at about 7 p.m., so he “should be given as adequate a recovery period as possible”.

-And, even if it were scheduled third on instead of fourth on, it STILL might clash with the football match.

Completely logical.

If nothing else, if also gives fans who constantly complain about scheduling a bit of an inside look at just some of the factors that go into it.

There reportedly is a viewing area to watch the game on site at the tournament. Zverev can always listen to the noises from outside, instead of the sound of the ball, if he’s so aggrieved – the poor thing.

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The Three-Week Slam plan continues apace

When the Grand Slams first began positioning the qualifying week as more than a necessary but unwelcome expense, everything was pretty much free.

It was nice and quiet. Diehards got to watch some great tennis. And it was a nice “calm before the storm” for the athletes as they were able to get optimal preparation for a major done with relative peace.

That was – until the Slams figured there was money to be made.

And now, with the bigger ATP and WTA events expanding to two weeks, why not make a major three weeks?

Wimbledon has plans for this with the relocation of the qualifying tournament from quaint, low-key Roehampton to the golf course across the street from the All-England Club. But they’re running into opposition they probably didn’t expect – at least for now.

Putting aside the poor French (!), “Opening Week” was a huge success at Roland-Garros this year. It also was one massive lineup, and a lot of headaches for the players whose “serenity” was always an RG priority – until they became a pre-tournament revenue opportunity.

Not so at Roland Garros, where they upped the tix to 25 Euros this year, opened up Suzanne-Lenglen for matches (which was great this year, notably with Dominic Thiem). Same lineups for everything. Same queues to get into courts.

And the players are basically besieged as soon as they arrive to site – so much that Rafael Nadal even asked for Court Philippe-Chatrier to be closed when he practiced in there, because it was just chaos.

Enter the US Open, which has been slowly upping the ante on its qualifying week.

Last year’s “US Open Fan Week” was basically lineups, all day long, to take part in the various activities.

From everything bring free, last year it morphed to “mostly free”. Now, there’s free and there’s “premium”.

Called “US Open Fan Week”, you can still watch tennis matches for free; the better events are “separately ticketed signature events”.

That includes “US Open Mixed Madness presented by IHG Hotels & Resorts” !!!

There will be $500,000 US on offer, half of which will go to the winning team.

Teams confirmed at this point are Coco Gauff/Ben Shelton, Naomi Osaka/Nick Kyrgios (Kyrgios is the other client with Osaka’s agency) lovebirds Stefanos Tsitsipas and Paula Badosa and … Taylor Fritz and Aryna Sabalenka. Although that’s subject to change.

The top tier of Arthur Ashe is general seating, at $33. The lower level prices range from $55 to (mostly) $260.

One free event is “Stars of the Open presented by Chase”, which a legends exhibition with Tommy Haas, James Blake and … Garbiñe Muguruza. The better seats – just as those in the main stadiums where the bigger stars practice –are restricted to those who register for the “Fan Pass“. (Which means they gain access to your info to send you lots of fun stuff).

The “Fan Pass” thing was a … work in progress last year, to say the least. Most people didn’t know about it, and they tried to get into the lower rows to watch practices in the two big stadiums – only to be rebuffed by the ushers.

Friday’s “Media Day” is not what you thought it might be. It involves players answering puffball questions on the big court, while the fans scream and the players right next to … try to practice.

Wu Yibing interviewed courtside for the fans while Andy Murray and Holger Rune try to practice before the 2023 US Open.

Even Sunday, the last day before the start of play, when the site was traditionally closed to the public and the players could get their last practices in, is no longer. The site is open that day as well.

On the plus side, Arthur Ashe Kid’s Day on Saturday is still going, and still free.

It’s all officially a circus. As if the US Open weren’t already kind of a circus. KaCHING!!!

Djokovic update

The speculation – especially amongst Novak Djokovic’s extensive fan base – continues about whether he can get back from arthroscopic knee surgery performed during Roland Garros in time for Wimbledon.

The comparison is made to Taylor Fritz, who had knee surgery and was back within three weeks to play Wimbledon a few years ago.

Of course, Fritz was in his early 20s, while Djokovic is 37. Interestingly, Fritz said on Tuesday that Djokovic had reached out to him for some input about how he managed to do it.

There’s also no information about whether Djokovic, who has had a gold medal at what will likely be his final Olympics attempt in his sights for awhile, is even focusing on trying to get on the grass before returning to the clay for the Games.

At any rate, less than two weeks before the start of Wimbledon, it doesn’t seem as though Djokovic is close.

An article in the Serbian outlet Blic says that while Djokovic was training in a Belgrade gym nine days post-op, he still hasn’t even started running yet. He’s beaten the odds before, of course.

Everyone has an opinion, of course. Former player Marion Bartoli declared it “was more likely than not” that Djokovic would play.

Murray’s 1000th match a win

People tend to make a big deal about round numbers.

But when that round number is this big, you’d think it’s justified.

So as Murray took the court Tuesday at Queen’s Club to play qualifier Alexei Popyrin – a dangerous, underrated player on his day – it was a big deal that it was the Brit’s 1000th ATP Tour-level match.

You’d expect, with Fernando Verdasco coaching these days and Richard Gasquet mostly on the Challenger circuit, that Murray could get to No. 3 all time before he’s done.

The top two, let’s be real, are out of sight.

Murray will try to back up that win on Wednesday against another Aussie, Jordan Thompson.

Tremendous field in Gstaad

Ruud, who won Gstaad in 2021, is not in the field this year – of all years.

With the Olympics looming on clay, the short clay-court season that follows Wimbledon is in a rare spotlight this year.

Usually, other than faithful attendance by Casper Ruud, it goes by unnoticed by all but the diehards as tennis takes a big breath between the busy spring and early summer and the hard-court swing ahead.

So the Gstaad entry list, announced Tuesday by the tournament, is a good one.

Entered are seven top-20 players, including top-10 players Alex de Minaur and Hubert Hurkacz.

The others are Stefanos Tsitsipas, Tommy Paul, Félix Auger-Aliassime, Ugo Humbert and Nicolas Jarry.

Matteo Berrettini also will be in the house, along with Stan Wawrinka.

2023 Gstaad champion Pedro Cachin (Pic: ATP Tour)

To give you an idea of how big a deal this is, there wasn’t even a SINGLE top-20 player in Gstaad last year.

No. 1 seed was Roberto Bautista Agut (No. 23). No. 2 was Miomir Kecmanovic (No. 41).

In the final, unseeded Pedro Cachin (ranked No. 90) defeated Albert Ramos-Viñolas, ranked No. 79. Cachin, who drew Novak Djokovic in the first round of Wimbledon and lost in straight sets, probably couldn’t wait to get back on the dirt. He upset Bautista Agut in the second round en route to victory.

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