July 11, 2024

Open Court

MORE TENNIS THAN YOU'LL EVER NEED

For the second straight year, Ben Shelton will be Team World.

The women get going at the Wimbledon qualifying even as the ATP and WTA events in Bad Homburg, Mallorca and Eastbourne heat up.

And the posh exhibitions in the London area at the “Boodles” (Rublev v Fery, plus the Tsitsipas brothers) and Hurlingham (Fonseca v Popyrin – a Boobles favorite) start today.

(Men-only exhibitions, just in case you were keeping track. We are. How about at LEAST some mixed, eh, wut? It’s 2024).

There’s just a lot of grass-court tennis happening

And that includes the Canadian women at Roehampton, where Marina Stakusic is making her Wimbledon qualifying debut.

She made short work of France’s Carole Monnet first thing this morning (6-0, 6-1 in 61 minutes) as we await Rebecca Marino and Carol Zhao later in the day.

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The All-American Laver Cup team

For the second straight year, American Ben Shelton has been named to the Laver Cup Team World squad which will take on Team Europe in Berlin in September.

This time, he’s far more deserving of course. A year ago he was ranked in the mid-30s but he had that secret ingredient: he’s managed by Roger Federer’s Team 8, which co-owns and runs the event.

A year on, he’s No. 15, the No. 3 American and, most pertinently, the fourth-highest ranked non-European player.

The three ahead of him – Alex de Minaur, Tommy Paul (also managed by Team 8) and Taylor Fritz have all been selected.

Which leaves two captain’s picks. The captain, despite all the 18-months-in-advance hype for the appointment of Andre Agassi – in 2025 – remains John McEnroe.

He could go with two Americans: Sebastian Korda and stalwart Frances Tiafoe. Or Canadian Félix Auger-Aliassime. Or South Americans Sebastian Baez and Nicolas Jarry (less likely). The token non-North American a year ago was Argentina’s Francisco Cerundolo.

The 2023 “Team World” squad in Vancouver (Photo: Laver Cup)

Is Kazakhstan in Asia? Well, technically? Maybe they could stretch it for the Russian Alexander Bublik.

Will Nick Kyrgios be back and leapfrog all of them?

On the Team Europe side, they announced Rafael Nadal would play all the way back in April; hard to know if that still stands. They also plan to have local Alexander Zverev, and Daniil Medvedev.

We know that Holger Rune and Andrey Rublev won’t be part of it; they’ve committed to an actual ATP tournament in Hangzhou, China that week.

But since the vast majority of the top players are European, filling the roster shouldn’t be a problem.

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Rybakina withdraws again

The end of Elena Rybakina’s stay in Berlin was concerning, when she dashed for the facilities just four games into her match against Victoria Azarenka.

Abdominal pain, officially. And another non-finish/non-started to add to the Kazakh player’s turbulent season.

Rybakina, who turned 25 last week, began the season looking unbeatable in winning her opening tournament in Brisbane. She lost early in Adelaide and the Australian Open before again looking impressive in winning Abu Dhabi and making the Doha final.

But she withdrew in Dubai before her quarterfinal against eventual champion Jasmine Paolini. She withdrew from Indian Wells. She looked weary and had a LOT of three-setters in Miami. But she still made the final. She won Stuttgart (beating Iga Swiatek along the way).

She made the Madrid semis, losing to Aryna Sabalanka in one of the matches of the season so far – and then she was out of Rome. She looked listless in a quarterfinal loss to Paolini at Roland Garros that almost came out of nowhere with the way she dispatched her first four opponents in straight sets.

And then, Berlin. Already in Wimbledon practicing, Rybakina opted to pull out of Eastbourne, where she was the top seed – long after the tournament had begun – and leaves a giant hole at the top of the draw.

(She withdrew last year as well)

There’s no doubt she has, as she has said, played a fair bit of tennis. But the way she has looked at some of the events she did make the date for is concerning.

In the big picture, it doesn’t help the WTA to have a top-five player who cannot reliably show up for the bigger events.

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Pre-Slam events get slammed

It’s not a new thing that players will withdraw from a tournament they entered the week before a Grand Slam event.

Especially on the WTA side, where more players compete that week than on the ATP side, where they’re conserving energy to play best-of-five sets.

This week alone – in addition to Rybakina’s late pullout – Birmingham runnerup Ajla Tomljanovic, Berlin runnerup Anna Kalinskaya and semifinalist Victoria Azarenka all sent their regrets to the 500-level tournaments in Bad Homburg and Eastbourne.

Formerly a 1000, the Guadalajara tournament has been bounced round since then and now, as a 500 the week before the US Open in an Olympic year, and a fair distance from Queen’s, it’s going to struggle to get a good field.

If that’s par for the course, and it would be one thing if these were smaller, WTA 250 tournaments (although bad for the tournaments, obviously). But the WTA has seemingly gone for a new strategy of scheduling higher-level 500 tournaments the week before majors.

They’ve upgraded Strasbourg the week before Roland Garros, have two 500s this week just before Wimbledon and have placed the 500 in Guadalajara the week before the US Open. In tandem with that, they’ve modified entry rules so that it’s nearly impossible for any WTA 250s scheduled for the same weeks to attract a good field.

If these 500 events, which offer close to $1 million in prize money, cannot reliably have the top players show up, that’s a big issue.

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Maybe it’s not a coach problem?

Maria Sakkari stood by longtime coach Tom Hill for years, even as the opiniati was convinced his lack of experience meant he wasn’t the one to get her to the next, top level.

When she finally parted ways with him, she hired the experienced David Witt, who had worked with Venus Williams and Jessica Pegula.

She loved him in Indian Wells, their first tournament together.

She loved him in Charleston.

The “new coach” bump was real with a final at Indian Wells, a quarterfinal in Miami and a semifinal in Charleston.

But after desultory first-round losses at Roland Garros and then in Berlin, Witt was done.

He apparently failed the “what have you done for me this week” test.

On the bag for now is Julien Cagnina, the handsome 30-year-old Belgian former player who has been her hitting partner.

Witt-less, Sakkari went to Bad Homburg and, as the No. 1 seed, snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in a 2-6, 6-2, 7-6 (4) loss to lucky loser Jule Niemeier that had her all kinds of angsted.

The 28-year-old double-faulted three times in the deciding tiebreak.

Maybe it’s not the coach.

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Another week, another plaque for Thiem

No Wimbledon for Dominic Thiem, who still decided to play a grass-court tournament in Mallorca this week. He’s a member at the Mallorca Country Club, where the event is being held.

But it ended up with opponent Gaël Monfils posting his first victory on grass since … 2021. And his first win over Thiem ever, in his seventh try.

These last stages of Thiem’s career can’t be much fun at all – getting recognized for his stellar achievements after he loses, everywhere he goes.

In Mallorca – where, as it happens, he first suffered the wrist injury that basically is ending his career back in 2021 – he got a plate from Toni (Uncle Toni) Nadal, the tournament director.

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Kordas weaving an ATP legacy

Kordas – père et fils – on court at the US Open in 2021 (Photo: Pete Staples/USTA)

The father-son team of Petr and Sebastian Korda have done something never done in the open era, with Sebastian’s arrival in the top 20 this week after making the Queen’s Club semifinals.

They are the first father-son duo to both rank in the top 20 in the open era.

Sebastian, 23, has a way to go to match Dad, who won the Australian Open in 1998 and reached No. 2 in the world.

But he has time.

There have been a few notable fathers and sons on the ATP Tour, but not many.

Christian and Casper Ruud on the practice court at the US Open in 2022.

Aussie Phil Dent reached No. 17 back in 1977, while. American son Taylor ALMOST got to them to the 20-20 club, reaching No. 21 back in 2005.

France’s Christophe Roger-Vasselin peaked at No. 29 back in 1983 while son Edouard – born five months afer that career high, got to No. 35 in singles and as high as No. 6 in doubles as he heads to the Olympics in Paris at age 40.

Norway’s Christian Ruud’s career high was No. 39 back in 1995. Son Casper, born three years later, has been as high as No. 2 in the world. As with the Kordas, pops is the main coach.

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The “Nordic Battle” is ON

There was some banter back and forth on social media between Ruud and Holger Rune about this.

But in the end, a “home-and-away” exhibition series between Denmark’s Holger Rune and Norway’s Casper Ruud has become a reality at the end of the season.

They will play Nov. 30 at the Varner Arena in Asker, Norway. And then three days later, Dec. 3, at the Royal Arena in Copenhagen.

These two are the finest male players their countries have produced, by a long way.

They’re radically different people, and aren’t exactly besties even though people expect, in that way people have, that they’d be good pals because … they’re both Scandinavian? Or something. But despite a bit of a fractious start, they seem to have settled in with each other.

The Royal Arena can host more than 13,000; the Varner Arena, an indoor hockey arena, has a capacity of about 3,700 and is located in a town of about 50,000 about a 40-minute drive from Oslo.

For previous editions of the Daily Drill, click here.

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