THE FRENCH OPEN AND WIMBLEDON – CHANGE COMES TO TENNIS
As I sat watching Carlos Alcaraz come close, really close to making an early exit from the French Open last night – it struck me that the Tennis world as we knew it has changed so much, so quickly.
Alcaraz is the shot across the bow – the announcement that finally the wheel is beginning to turn. That the Big 3 (really now the Big 2) may finally have to cede their hegemony. This of course is huge, given how long it has been. But is the first shot really change?
Alcaraz has two Masters titles – but there have been flickerings before. For example, Sascha Zverev won two consecutive Masters titles in 2017. Alcaraz however, boasts back to back wins over the Big 2. Sascha back then too had beaten Djokovic to win his first Masters and Federer to win his 2nd!!
This time though it feels different. Alcaraz just seems to have the goods. Not only did he earn those two back to back wins, but he also beat Djokovic by out hitting him. He has amazing skills and clearly believes he belongs with the greats, that he can beat the best.
180 DEGREE TURN
This has brought about an amazing change. For as long as most fans have watched tennis, who will win La Coupe des Mousquetaires has had one answer, if Nadal was fit and healthy. The only challenge to him realistically was Djokovic. Now both are in the mix and given Djokovic’s performance here last year he is atleast as much a favourite as Nadal. With Alcaraz being a distinct possibility – this is the first time in years that one feel the men’s title is not a foregone conclusion.
To add to that, the draw is so hugely lopsided that all 3 are in the same half along with some of the next wave of aspirants – Zverev and Felix, to name two.
While there is a new uncertainty to the men’s outcome, there is a full turnaround on the women’s side. To my mind, Iga Swiatek not winning this year would be as big an upset as Nadal not winning in 2008. She is far and away the leading player on the women’s side this year.
What a turnaround. Since Serena’s dominance waned, uncertainty has been the name of the game on the women’s side while unprecedented stability has ruled the men’s side. Since the US Open in 2015, 25 Slams have been played and 15 different women have won. Of these 14 have won for the first time during this period!! 9 have won only 1 slam. One of those being Swiatek herself.
Swiatek currently sits on an incredible 29 match winning streak. While this is remarkable by itself, in the last 21 of these she has dropped one set!!! Only in 5 out of the 43 sets played has she been pushed to playing to 7!! She won Rome dropping just 21 games in 5 matches. At Miami earlier this year it was 26 games in six matches!! Incredible performance.
This rise of Swiatek has coincided with disarray among the women who have the game to take it to her. Barty who would have changed this whole discussion, if she was still in the draw, has retired. Osaka and Andreescu are both already out, and both have no real track record on clay in any case.
There are quality players still in the draw. Halep has the experience and the clay court nous to win as she has before at Roland Garros. Ostapenko is another former winner still in the draw. Belinda Bencic, Olympic gold medal winner, who comfortably saw off Andreescu is a definite threat. She plays one of the other threats in the next round, the up-and-coming Leylah Fernandez. Paula Badosa too has a great record this year and is in good form. She is also the World #3. And then there are many other really good players in the draw.
But given Swiatek’s current form, the fact that she has already won this tournament in 2020, and is clearly comfortable on clay; it will be a major surprise if she does not hold up the trophy when the red dust has settled.
There is one dark horse in my mind for this year's French Open – Amanda Anisimova. It is always treacherous, to make predictions, but given how she has played in 2022, it does look like she is poised for a major breakthrough at some point. It was not a surprise entirely when she beat Osaka in the first round. She took out some quality players in both Madrid and Rome before falling in the quarters. A former prodigy, injury and other off-court issues kept her out of the limelight for the past couple of seasons, but she looks back and hungry for more, hungry to scale higher and fulfil her potential.
ON TO WIMBLEDON
And so on to Wimbledon!! Much of the talk the past week has centred around the unprecedented decision by the tours to take away rankings points from the tournament because of the All England Cllub choosing to bar Russian and Belarussian players from competing.
This is again a massive change in the world of tennis. The past has generally seen the tours opt for the safe option, the middle path, the non-controversial ‘comme ci comme ca’ approach. This decision is a bold move, completely out of character!!
At the outset let me say, that I wholeheartedly support this decision by the ATP and the WTA. The choice Wimbledon made, offended me deeply. I believe it should offend everyone deeply. This is an individual sport, the concerned individuals are not representing their country. It seems pretty obvious that most are not in favour of war and most are not connected with the ruling clique in Moscow.
But what is so offensive to me, is that this is just playing political football with the tennis players. The real reason Wimbledon has done this is British government pressure. They have literally said so. I believe that the government is trying to do this tough guy act to prop up its image which is floundering in the wake of Partygate. They are trying to create a distraction. Honestly, the same was done at the Australian Open. I hope Mr Johnson has paid attention to the Australian election results!!
It is downright hypocritical for the country which hosted Londongrad all these years (do bear in mind that Crimea was annexed in 2014), which has no ban on Russian citizens floating about the UK spending money there, to suddenly clamp down on something just because it has visibility.
All said and done, bravo ATP! Bravo WTA! You have taken a truly courageous decision and in my opinion, the right one. Now please do something to restore the Davis Cup!! (That is for another column 😊)