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ATP | WTA Tennis Updates And News From Alix Ramsay for 10sBalls

 

Fabrizio Sestini, WTA Director tournament relations Europe & Southern Asia-Pacific, and Mariana Alves, Tournament supervisor. Courtesy of @LadiesOpenPA on Twitter.

By Alix Ramsay

Everyone is holding their breath. Professional tennis will resume – fingers crossed – next week with the WTA’s Palermo Open but until the first player hits the first ball in earnest, no one dare breathe. Nothing is certain; nothing is guaranteed.

The USTA is supposed to make a final decision on Friday as to whether the US Open will go ahead; the organisers of the Toray Pan Pacific Open cancelled their event in Tokyo on Tuesday – and it was not scheduled until November. The Western and Southern Open, now relocated from Cincinnati to New York due to the Covid pandemic, published its entry list on Wednesday and, on paper, looked very healthy: Messrs. Djokovic and Nadal are still officially entered. But neither man has shown any public enthusiasm for travelling to the US.

True, Nadal has been seen hard at work on the practice courts…but only on clay practice courts. Like most players, he appears to be keeping all his options open until the very last minute because the effects of the virus, be they on travel, quarantine or government advice, change hour by hour.

Nadal appears to be keeping his options open for the restart of the 2020 season.

Of course, none of this is earth shattering news. We have been living like this for months and all professional sports have been trying to find a way to open up for business again. And for every step forward that one sport takes, another takes a step back.

Meanwhile, various, small exhibition events have been doing well around the world. And as those players start to flex their competitive muscles again, it has become clear that nothing will be the same when tennis is finally up and running.

For all that the multi-millionaires may sound like pampered softies when they complain about being tired and worn down in their mid-20s (they of the tax-free residences in Monaco or the UAE, they of the flash cars and the frying pan watches that cost the same as a small suburban house), their regular day job is relentless. The travel is non-stop, the tour can seem never ending and when, at last, they get a bit of a break over Christmas, they have to spend it preparing for the coming season. What they are not used to is inactivity – and they have had five months of that this year.

Every player finds coming back from an injury break difficult and it is not just because of the recently mended sore bit. The formerly gammy knee may not be quite as good as it was but that is only part of the problem. There is the business of concentrating on every point, hour after hour. The annoying habit of match nerves kicking in unexpectedly. The distractions and frustrations – not to mention monotony – of being on the road. All these things have to be relearned. Like the callouses on their hands, their ability to deal with every aspect of professional life builds up with time and repetition and, consequently, grows weaker with months spent at home doing nothing.

For those who have been through the process many times before, the comeback may not be any easier but the mental processes needed to deal with it become more natural.

Nadal has had more than his fair share of injury crises over the years and he has learned how to deal with the rollercoaster of emotions that go with them: the depression over the diagnosis, the mind-numbing rehab, the first steps back, the disappointments over losing and the highs over winning. And he has learned how to put it all into perspective in order to get himself back to the top. Others do not have that wealth of experience.

Rafael Nadal after defeating Daniil Medvedev during the men’s final match of the 2019 US Open Tennis Championships.

As the players come back, they are all in the same boat. They have all been forced into mothballs by the pandemic and they have all had their hopes of a return to work dashed month after month. But who will be able to deal with the competitive reality of getting back on to a match court and fighting for ranking points and reputation? That will be fascinating to watch.

Andy Murray is planning to play at the US Open – should it actually happen – and it will be his first grand slam appearance since the Australian Open in 2019. Back then, he was playing what he seriously thought would be his last tournament.

Former number one, Andy Murray plans to play the US Open should it happen.

He finished 2016 as the best player in the world, he lost his mojo at the start of 2017 (he had achieved everything on his wish list) and then, just as soon as it seemed he had got it back at the French Open, his right hip imploded over five sets in the semi-final against Stan Wawrinka. Rest, surgery, rehab – nothing worked. He was in agony every single day thereafter.

But less than three weeks after his tearful admission in Melbourne last year that his career was over, he had hip resurfacing surgery and walked, limp-free, in June into Queen’s Club to win the doubles with Feliciano Lopez. From there, his comeback gathered momentum until he won the 46th title of his career by beating Wawrinka (irony, anybody?) in Antwerp.

Murray and Lopez lift the championship trophy after winning their mens doubles final at the Fever Tree Championship June 2019.

After that great Sunday afternoon, Murray had more injury problems to deal with – all connected to the recovery from the surgery – and he has played just one professional match since then.

That said, he has been playing at the Battle of the Brits events, two exhibition tournaments arranged by Jamie, his brother, and in the first he showed flashes of the old Andy: the dogged, resilient (if sometimes grumpy), singles champion of the past.

The second, a mixed event (in which he is only playing doubles to manage his resources prior to the US Open) saw him lose his opening match – a mixed doubles with Jodie Burrage. That would be the same Jodie Burrage, the world No.289 who is so unknown outside the UK that WTA website does not know her height, age, birthplace or whether she plays left or right-handed. And the same Jodie Burrage who beat Johanna Konta in her opening singles match. That Jodie Burrage. Go, Jodie.

Speaking at the Battle of the Brits, Murray warned everyone that when – or, possibly, if – tennis resumes in the next weeks there will be upsets aplenty. He is prepared for losses (he has been ever since he got back on court last year) but who knows who else will be, as Tumaini Carayol wrote in The Guardian.

Murray and Burrage lose their first round mixed doubles match at the Battle Of The Brits.

“You just can’t replicate matches in practice, it just isn’t the same,” Murray said. “It is different on the body, on the mind. The pressure is just different and no matter how hard you try to make your practices as challenging and difficult as matches, they just aren’t.

“Some players who have had injury lay-offs will probably be a little bit more experienced in terms of coming back after a long period, but it’s an opportunity for players. There will be upsets. Going into the US Open with potentially only one or two matches in the Cincinnati event in New York, it will make for some interesting results, that’s for sure.”

This is not to say that 10sballs is tipping Andy to win the US Open (although, if I had a fiver to spare, I would….but as one of Scottish descent who never wastes so much as a Kleenex, that ain’t going to be happening), but it does suggest that some players may have their noses put out of joint when we do, finally get up and running.

Now we just have to get up and running.