10sBalls.com • TennisBalls.com

Tennis Views From Alix Ramsay For The Upcoming Year End ATP Championship in London

By Alix Ramsay

It will be a strange way to say goodbye to London: the city in lockdown, the cavernous arena of the O2 empty save for the players, officials and cameramen and the vast complex surrounding the main court boarded up and lifeless until December 2 at the earliest.

Normally at this time of year, everyone is hanging on by their fingertips: after 11 months of schlepping around the globe, we all need a rest. No matter; Christmas is coming and there is usually an end-of-term feel to the ATP Finals – one more week and then it will be the holidays and we can all have some fun. A few weeks of festive frolic in the cold winter of the northern hemisphere and then it will be time to head south to Australia’s sunshine to start all over again. It is a good time of year.

Usually, the O2 is decked out with lights and Christmas trees, the hallways are filled with people grabbing a bite and a pint before the tennis starts and the atmosphere is unfailingly electric. Yes, the well-oiled latecomer stumbling his way to his seat while clutching four glasses of lager (a generous round given that he came alone) is annoying as he disrupts the action on court, but we do miss him. We miss them all.

A photograph showing the O2 Arena during the mens doubles semi final match between Colombia’s Robert Farah and Juan Sebastian Cabal and Raven Klaasen of South Africa and Michael Venus of New Zealand at the ATP World Tour Finals tennis tournament in London, Britain, 16 November 2019.

Of late, we have become accustomed to watching tennis on TV as it is played out behind closed doors but that familiarity doesn’t make it any less soulless. And after 12 hugely successful years in London, the ATP Finals deserves better than soulless for its grand farewell.

Not that there is anything to be done – Covid 19 has seen to that. But what we do have is the best eight singles players and doubles teams ready to sort out the bragging rights before the season ends.

Novak Djokovic (assuming nothing untoward happens between now and Sunday and that he is fit and well) is the obvious favourite. He has had a couple of weeks to celebrate equalling Pete Sampras’s record of six year-end No.1 rankings and should be refreshed and ready to chase down more records: Roger Federer’s tally of six ATP Finals trophies is as good a place as any to start.

Serbia’s Novak Djokovic arrives ahead of his final match against Germany’s Alexander Zverev at the ATP World Tour Finals tennis tournament at the O2 Arena in London, Britain, 18 November 2018.

Of course, Pistol Pete finished the season as top banana for six consecutive years; Djokovic’s half dozen has been spread over nine years. As the sages contemplated this fact in their TV studios over the weekend, they came to conclusion that Sampras’s record would never be beaten: we would not see dominance like that again. But that is what we all said when Sampras won his 14th grand slam title in 2002 – and then look what happened. Still, the sensible money is on Djoko adding a few more No.1 seasons to his collection before he is done.

Then there is Rafa Nadal. This is the 16th time he has qualified for the end-of-year jamboree but only the 10th time he has been able to play. Had it not been for the catalogue of injuries that has blighted his career (if you can say that a 20-time grand slam champion’s career has been ‘blighted’), he may actually have won the ATP Finals by now. And won a handful more major trophies along the way.

Rafael Nadal of Spain in action against Daniil Medvedev of Russia during their round robin match at the ATP World Tour Finals tennis tournament in London, Britain, 13 November 2019.

Playing indoors on a hard court is not Rafa’s occupation of choice but that is how and where the ATP Finals are played (apart from two dismal, outdoor, hardcourt years in Houston back in the Noughties). In a normal year, he is invariably tired and sore come November and his best results in London have been two finals in 2010 (lost to Federer) and 2013 (lost to Djokovic). This year, though, is not normal as we all know. And this year, Nadal, despite his semi-final loss at the Paris Rolex Masters, is feeling positive.

“It has been not a bad tournament,” he said after losing to Alexander Zverev in Paris. “I spent hours on court. Of course, I wanted to win the tournament, but it’s always difficult. But I had the right attitude during the whole event, I think, fighting in every match.

“That give me the chance to play four matches that I think that will be helpful for London. I need to adjust a couple of things, but I am doing well on all the important things, no? So, let’s see. I have one week and a little bit more to keep working, and I hope be ready for it.”

Which brings us to Zverev, the London champion of 2018. This will be a year to remember for the German, but possibly not for the reasons he had expected.

Germany’s Alexander Zverev celebrates with his trophy after winning against Serbia’s Novak Djokovic in their final match of the ATP World Tour Finals tennis tournament at the O2 Arena in London, Britain, 18 November 2018.

He reached his first grand slam final at the US Open. At last, he had laid down some sort of marker at a major event. He then came back to Europe and, after the French Open, ripped through the indoor swing, winning two titles in Germany and only having his 12-match winning streak ended by Daniil Medvedev in the Paris final. But no one was really talking about that.

Round about the time that Zverev was winning his second German title, his ex-girlfriend, Brenda Patea, announced that she was expecting his child. He is not the first young man to find himself in such a situation, nor will he be the last. But when the news broke, he said all the right things and, generally, seemed happy with the thought of impending fatherhood despite his youth..

“I will be a father at the age of 23,” he posted on social media. “And I am very much looking forward to the child. Even though Brenda and I are no longer together, we have a good relationship and I will live up to my responsibility as a father. Together we will take care of the little person that is about to grow.”

So far, so good. But no sooner had Patea announced her news than Zverev’s previous ex, Olga Sharypova, accused him of physical abuse during their relationship. She claimed that he hit her head against a wall, that he tried to ‘strangle’ her with a pillow – this was serious.

Zverev’s initial response to the allegations – and, to make it clear, these are only allegations – was mentioned at the bottom of his response to Brenda’s announcement. At the end of October, he said on social media:

“Then there are the unfounded accusations of my ex-girlfriend Olga Sharypova,” his post read. “They make me very sad. We have known each other since we were children and shared many experiences together. I very much regret that she makes such statements. Because the accusations are simply not true. We had a relationship, but it ended a long time ago. Why Olga is making these accusations now, I just don’t know. I really hope that the two of us will find a way to deal with each other again in a reasonable and respectful way.”

Sharypova said later that she did not want damages or financial compensation; she simply wanted women to know that victims of domestic abuse were not alone, that this was an issue.

Zverev, when asked directly by the tennis correspondent of the Press Association in the UK whether he would be taking legal action against Sharypova, given the nature of the accusations, refused to bite.

“So far, I have said everything,” Zverev said in Paris. “I have said everything in my statement. There is nothing more that I can say right now.”

But since those first allegations on social media, Sharypova has given and in-depth interview to a tennis magazine. In that she alleges that Zverev punched her in the face and that she tried to kill herself by injecting insulin that was in Zverev’s hotel room. She claims that only when Zverev found “an official” from the tournament – the Laver Cup – did she survive the insulin overdose when said official helped her. Again, these are just the allegations that Sharypova has made.

And since then, Zverev has been very chippy about his situation. He was thumped by Medvedev in the final in Paris – in charge in the first set and then ground into the dust in the next two…just ran out of puff – and when he came to make his runner’s up speech, he got it wrong. Oh, so wrong.

“There’s going to be a lot of people that try to wipe the smile off my face,” he said behind his Covid mask. “But under this mask I’m smiling brightly. I’m probably going to be a father soon. Everything is great in my life right now. The people keep trying…. but I’m still smiling under this mask.”

Winner Daniil Medvedev (L) of Russia and runner-up Alexander Zverev of Germany pose with their trophies after the final match at the Rolex Paris Masters tennis tournament in Paris, France, 08 November 2020.

In my part of the world, we have royalty; we have Queenie. And her mantra is “never complain; never explain”. Alas, Zverev has complained but not explained. That is not a good look. And given that some of the alleged actions took place in New York, you would not wonder if an NYPD official wanted to delve a little deeper. That, too, is not a good look. But that is for Zverev and the ATP – who have been deafening in their silence over this matter – to deal with.

For the moment, we have the ATP finals and some serious tennis to contend with. Would that anyone could be there to see it.