A welcome return to Tennis!

us openThe Tennis Tribune has been off the grid for some time, for reasons which were out of our control and currently cannot discuss further, however we are pleased to announce our return. We will be covering the latest tennis stories and strive to deliver all tennis related news over the forthcoming months. We will firstly look ahead at what the future holds for tennis in 2020.

The tennis world was brought to a sudden halt on March 9th, when the renowned mandatory tournament Indian Wells announced its cancellation due to the rapid outbreak of Covid-19. This was the first tournament to announce its cancellation, of which was announced abruptly at the last minute, after many tennis players had arrived to its location, many traveling from different continents, and then having to find themselves trying to find a flight out of the country as the country announced the inevitable, that it was closing its borders.

This was to set the precedence as many tournaments followed suit before both the WTA & ATP Tours officially announced the postponement of all tournaments indefinitely. One tournament to act fast and to some opinions, acted selfishly, Roland Garros, announced it had intended to reschedule its tournament to the last 2 weeks of September. This was announced to the world without prior informing the other grand slams and both the WTA & ATP Tour. The rescheduling of the tournament would result in the Laver Cup being cancelled and the subsequent postponement/cancellation of other tournaments that were due to be played in the two weeks that Roland Garros had rescheduled to.

Fast forward a few months later, an official road map was announced to the public. Professional tennis would recommence in August through to November, with a packed calendar which features the combined ATP Masters and WTA Premier 5 tournament “Western & Southern Open” followed by the US Open, followed by back to back combined ATP & WTA clay court tournaments held in Madrid and Rome, followed by Roland Garros.

Prior to the commencement of the Western & Southern open, the WTA intends to recommence its tour in Palermo, Italy on August 3rd, and the ATP tour to recommence in Washington on August 17th.  The Western & Southern Open which is usually played in Cincinnati, will be held at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Centre in New York City, the same centre as the US Open. The reasoning behind this is to create a “bubble” for the players, allowing them to play in two tournaments back to back in the same city and to help avoid the risk of transmission due to traveling from city to city. As the Western & Southern Open will be held at the National tennis centre in New York, the US Open qualifying has been cancelled for the year. Further events usually played at the US Open, have also been cancelled, including Mixed Doubles, Juniors and Wheelchair events. This has been met with some controversy, particularly in the wheelchair tour, the Australian number 1; Dylan Alcott, who has 16 grand slam titles to his name has expressed his disappointment and received support from fellow abled players such as Sir Andy Murray. The USTA responded with an official statement, suggesting that they will do their best to schedule a wheelchair event. Only time will tell.

The US Open will be held without spectators, and also without media officials in attendance. There will be no lines men in the outdoor courts, thereby resulting in the players solely relying on the umpire and Hawkeye. This should cause for some on court disagreements amongst the players & the umpire, which should provide some entertainment for the viewers at home.

One player to officially confirm their participation at the US Open, is Serena Williams, who will be eyeing to win a record breaking 24th grand slam. I’m sure there will be plenty of discussion around Serena amongst her peers in the run up to the tournament, as it has been revealed that Serena has had a new tennis court fitted on the grounds of her house, which will be an exact replica of the new surface to be played at the US Open; LayKold. This will be the first time that the US Open will be played on the aforementioned surface, previously played on DecoTurf. Some players may deem this to be an advantage to Serena Williams, and perhaps the US Open is on the cusp of witnessing a record breaking career record, whereby Serena Williams win’s her 7th US Open title and more importantly a 24th Grand Slam title, equalling the record held by the controversial Australian, Margaret Court.

It has yet to be seen what players, if any, confirm their withdrawal from the US Open. Simona Halep has expressed her wish to only participate in events held only in Europe. Rafael Nadal, the king of clay, who is the defending champion at both the US Open & Roland Garros, may announce his withdrawal in the following weeks, as he throws with the idea of focusing only on clay court tournaments to better his chances of winning another Roland Garros title. With Roger Federer announcing he has halted his 2020 season after having surgery on his right knee, and with the uncertainty of travel restrictions from various countries, the impending withdrawal of other players is to be expected.

Top 10 Grass court players -#6

Milos Raonic (R/U in 2016) & Simona Halep (2019 Champion) – Photo taken from their respective Instagram pages

ATP #6

Ranking 6th on our list is the Canadian Milos Raonic. Once ranked number 3 in the world, Milos has seen his ranking fall in recent years due to suffering many injuries. Regardless of that, Milos has beaten the best of the best including a remarkable win against Roger Federer in the Semi Finals at Wimbledon in 2016. Milos would end up finishing runner-up to Andy Murray.

In addition to being runner-up at Wimbledon in 2016, Milos has also fallen at the last hurdle at Queens’ London, losing to Murray once again, and losing to Federer at the Stuttgart Open in 2018.

WTA #6

Narrowly missing out on being placed in the top 5 of our grass court players is a player who first entered the world’s top 10 on January 27, 2014 and hasn’t fallen out of the top 10 since. Simona Halep, currently ranked number 2 in the world, lifted her 2nd WTA Title on the grass courts in the The Netherlands, defeating Kirstin Flipkins in straight sets.

Simona has seen her grass court game flourish ever since, defeating the 7 time Wimbledon Champion Serena Williams  in the Final at Wimbledon in 2019 by a score line of 6 2, 6 2.

Top 10 Grass court players – #7

The players ranked 7 on our list of top 10 grass court players are both 2 time champions on the grass courts at Eastbourne, England.

Feliciano Lopez & Karolina Pliskova (Photo credit – ATP & WTA Player profiles)

ATP #7

The holder of 7 ATP Singles Titles is ranked 7th on our list. The Spaniard Feliciano Lopez plays his best tennis on the grass courts of England, with wins over multiple Grand Slam Champions including Rafael Nadal, Stan Wawrinka, Marin Cilic, Andy Roddick and Marat Safin.

In addition to wins over the elite, Lopez is a 3 time Quarter-Finalist at Wimbledon, a 2 time champion at Eastbourne and a 2 time champion at Queens’ London. It is yet to be determined if Feliciano will continue to play, with the news of a new born on the way. Here’s hoping he will continue to bring his ‘A Game’ to the grass courts once more.

WTA #7

Appearing 7th on our list is the current World #3 and former World #1, Karolina Pliskova. Pliskova first tasted success on the lawn courts of Birmingham in 2015 where she fell at the last hurdle, losing to Angelique Kerber in 3 sets. A year later, Pliskova would go one step further and win the title in Nottingham. Pliskova is also a 3 time finalist at Eastbourne, lifting the trophy on 2 occasions.

Although Pliskova has never made it past the 4th round at Wimbledon, it is just a matter of time before the WTA Tours’ leading ace holder delves further into the draw.

Top 10 Grass court players – #8

Both of the players ranked 8th on our list are former top 10 players and have reached the Semi Finals at Wimbledon!

John Isner & Johanna Konta (Photo credit – ATP & WTA Player profiles)

ATP #8

Up next on our list of top 10 grass court players, is the American John Isner. Standing tall at 6ft 10, Isner’s biggest strength is his serve, which is often the deciding factor in a match played on grass. Isner’s best performance at a grand slam, has been at Wimbledon, when he reached the Semi Finals in 2018. Isner has had repeated success on the grass courts at the Hall of Fame Open in Newport, Rhode Island where he has won the title on 4 occasions.

Isner has many accolades to his name, including participating in the 2 longest professional matches ever played, defeating Mahut 70-68 in the 5th set at Wimbledon in 2010, and losing to Anderson 24-26 in the 5th set in 2018. As a result of his matches lasting a significant amount of time, Wimbledon have introduced a 5th set tie-breaker to be played once it reaches 12 games all.

WTA #8

Hailing from Sydney, Australia, but now representing Great Britain, Johanna Konta appears 8th on our list of top 10 grass court players. Konta has accumulated plenty of notches on her belt, with wins on the grass courts over former Wimbledon champions including Kerber, Kvitova and Halep.

Although Konta has yet to win a grass court title, she is Great Britain’s best chance of lifting the Ladies Wimbledon Singles Trophy, as she has experienced a significant amount of success on the grass courts of England, with runner up finishing’s at Nottingham in 2017 & 2018 (losing both finals in 3 sets) and being a Semi Finalist at Wimbledon in 2017.

Top 10 Grass court players #9

Nicolas Mahut & Coco Vandeweghe (Photo credit – ATP & WTA Player profiles)

ATP #9 Nicolas Mahut

Appearing just ahead of his French compatriot Richard Gasquet, Nicolas Mahut is ranked 9 on our list of grass court specialists. Mahut may be most known for the part he played in the longest match ever recorded, losing to John Isner in the first round at Wimbledon in 2010. Although Mahut is currently hovering around the 200 rank in the world, he has a fully stacked grass court resume including wins over Nadal and Murray at Queens’ London and Wawrinka on the grass courts in The Netherlands.

Currently aged 38, Mahut has played in 6 career ATP single finals, and all have been on grass, winning 3 Rosmalen Championships in The Netherlands (2013, 2015 & 2016) and winning the Hall of Fame Open in Newport, Rhode Island in 2013. Mahut has also lifted the Wimbledon Double’s title in 2016 & was runner up in 2019. Although the majority of his competitors have age and fitness on their side, Mahut’s experience on the grass is a force to be reckoned with to this day.

Photo credit – The Tennis Tribune – July 9, 2019

WTA #9 CoCo Vandeweghe

The former top 10 ranked WTA Player, CoCo Vandeweghe finds herself earning the 9th berth on our countdown. Currently ranked just outside the top 200 in the world as a result of sustaining an ankle injury which has kept her out of action for the guts of a year. CoCo has won 2 titles on the grass courts in The Netherlands, lifting the Rosmalen Championship trophy in 2016 and 2018.

With wins over a handful of top 10 players on the grass courts, such as Radwanska, Wozniacki and Johanna Konta, Coco has found her serve to be her main asset, which often is the deciding weapon on the grass courts. If CoCo can overcome her ankle injury, she is sure to be an unwanted opponent for many seeded players who could face her in the opening rounds of forthcoming tournaments.

Photo credit – The Tennis Tribune – June 18, 2016 – Aegon Classic Birmingham

Top 10 Grass court players #10

As Covid-19 has disrupted the 2020 Grass court season, The Tennis Tribune will be dedicating the next fortnight to the tours’ grass court specialists. Commencing today, we will be revealing who is ranked 10th in our top 10 list. Read below to find out who have earned themselves a berth in our competitive list of grass court players.

Richard Gasquet & Donna Vekic (Photo credit to ATP & WTA Player profiles)

ATP #10 Grass court specialist

Kicking off our top 10 ranked grass court specialists is the former top 10 ranked French veteran, Richard Gasquet. Gasquet who is currently ranked 50 in the world (Career high ranking 7) has achieved a considerable amount of success on the green turf. With 3 grass court titles to his name including back to back wins in Nottingham in 2005 & 2006, and most recently lifting the title at the Rosmalen Championships in The Netherlands in 2018. Gasquet who is probably most known for one of the best single handed backhands on the tour, has clocked up his most grand slam match wins at Wimbledon, reaching the second week on 7 occasions, including reaching the semi-finals in 2007 and 2015.

Although Gasquet may have had his best years behind him, most recently falling at the first hurdle at Wimbledon for the last 3 years, one can never count out the skilled grass court craftsmen! With wins over Andy Roddick and Stan Wawrinka at Wimbledon, Gasquet is sure to be a player that many will fear to play, and for that reason alone, Gasquet deserves a place in the top 10 list.

WTA #10 Grass court specialist

Commencing our list of top 10 WTA Grass court players, is the young Croatian Donna Vekic. Vekic made her professional debut on the WTA tour during 2012, and quickly became a fan favourite for many. Vekic first encountered success on the English grass reaching the final on her first attempt at the Aegon Classic in Birmingham in 2013, defeating 3 seeded players before succumbing to Daniela Hantuchova in a tight two set final (6 7, 4 6).  Vekic would later go on to achieve more success by adding the Aegon International tour in Nottingham as an annual event to her calendar. Vekic lifted the title in 2017, defeating Johanna Konta, and was most recently a runner up to Caroline Garcia in 2019.

Her best performance at Wimbledon thus far, is a 4th round showing in 2018, defeating the 2017 US Open Champion, Sloane Stephens in the 1st round. Vekic currently aged 23, has her best tennis ahead of her and is a main contender to lift the Wimbledon title over the next few years.

Top tips for Day 1 of the Australian Open

Round 1, Day 1 – €10 Double returns €50

  • Sloane Stephens to defeat Shuai Zhang at odds of 7/4

Stephens, the reigning US Open Champ is the underdog for this match up as a result of her losing her last five matches. #TheTennisTribune is tipping Sloane for the win, as she leads the head to head with 2 wins to 1 loss and often brings her game to the main stage. Sloane has won 30% of her WTA Tour level matches at Grand Slams.

  • Kaia Kanepi to defeat Dominika Cibulkova at odds of 5/6

#TheTennisTribune is tipping Kanepi to upset the 24th Seed Cibulkova. Kanepi leads the head with 3 wins to 1 loss. Kanepi most recently reached the Quarter Finals of the US Open as a qualifier.

 

Reigning Roland Garros Champions to play the opening day of the 2018 Australian Open

The reigning Roland Garros Champion, Jelena Ostapenko will open proceedings on the Rod Laver Arena in under eight hours. She will compete against the 2010 Roland Garros Champion, Francesca Schiavone. This will be Jelena’s third time competing in Melbourne, compared to Francesca’s milestone of seventeen appearances. Although they have never faced each other and with Jelena being the bookies favourite, one can never underestimate Francesca, who often brings her A Game to these prestigious Grand Slam events.

The most intriguing match up of the opening day, follows the battle of the Roland Garros Champions. Venus Williams, the 2017 Australian Open Finalist will face the former top 10 player, Belinda Bencic. Belinda reached a career high of #7 at the beginning of 2016, before facing numerous injuries which ultimately lead her to undergo wrist surgery which forced her off the tour. Belinda made a sensational comeback during September 2017 on the ITF tour and WTA 125k series, by winning four tournaments. Belinda’s improved form followed her to Australia as she commenced her Aussie Open preparations by winning the Hopman Cup in Perth partnering Roger Federer. Although Venus leads the head to head with four wins, the outcome of their forthcoming meeting is too close to call.

Grigor Dimitrov, the #3 seed will commence his Aussie Open campaign against an Austrian Qualifier Dennis Novak, who is making his first Grand Slam main draw appearance. Rafael Nadal, the 2009 Aussie Open Champion, and reigning Roland Garros and US Open Champion will face the second oldest participant in the main draw, Victor Estrella Burgos. Victor, aged 37, largely participated in Challengers and Futures Events for the majority of his career. He made his first Australian Open appearance in 2015. Victor is most known for being the oldest first time winner of an ATP Title, when he won the first edition of the Ecuador Open in 2015. Victor has gone on to win a hat-trick of titles in Ecuador and remains to be the only champion to have ever lifted the trophy.

Other intriguing first rounds on the opening day on the women’s side of the draw include the 2016 Olympian Gold winner, Monica Puig face the 2011 Us Open Champion, Sam Stosur. Sam leads the head to head series with four wins to one loss, with Monica winning their last battle. One factor to bear in mind ahead of their next meeting is the fact that Monica has never lost in the first round of the Aussie Open, while the Aussie Sam Stosur has fallen at the first hurdle on the last two occasions. Dominika Cibulkova the 2014 Aussie Open Finalist will face Kaia Kanepi, Kaia leads the head to head with three wins and one loss. Can Monica continue to reduce the deficit in their head to head  and can Kaia continue to maintain her record against the Slovakian Dominika Cibulkova?

On the mens side, we will see a battle of future rising stars, who are competing in the main draw for the first time. The Canadian Denis Shapovalov, aged 18 will face the Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas, aged 19. Both obtained top ten wins to their names last year, Denis defeated Nadal in Montreal, while Stefanos defeated the Belgian David Goffin in Antwerp. This match up could be the first of many. Jack Sock, the 2017 Paris Masters Champion, will face the Japanese Yuichi Sugita. Both commenced the season in similar fashion, dropping their opening match in Auckland. Yuichi can carry some confidence into the match up as he defeated Jack in their sole meeting last year on the hard courts in Cincinnati in straight sets. Who of the two rising stars will win their first Aussie Open match and can Jack Sock equalise his head to head against Yuichi?

Qualifying Draw features a quadrant of former Top 10 players

With the Women’s Singles Qualifying Draw about to commence shortly, a lot of eyes are on four players in particular. Usually the Qualifying Draw doesn’t get much attention, but with the inclusion of four former Top 10 players, including three previous Grand Slam Finalists, one reaching a career high ranking of #2, it can be certain that everyone will be watching intensively to see if these four ladies reach the main draw and who they get drawn against in the First Round.

The oldest of the four, Patty Schnyder, first appeared at the Australian Open at a young age of 17 in 1996. Patty’s first appearance wasn’t to be a memorable one. She lost in the first round of the Qualifying Draw. Fast forward 8 years and it would prove to be Patty’s best result at a Grand Slam where she reached the Semi-Finals, losing to the World #2 Kim Clijsters. Patty would go on to win 11 WTA Titles and reach a career high ranking of #7 before retiring in 2011. Patty would later come out of retirement in 2015 and rejuvenated her career, by playing on the ITF Tour. Since making her comeback, Patty has played 8 finals on the ITF Tour, winning 4. Patty’s ranking has soared up to #150, which has earned herself a berth in the Qualifying Draw. This will be Patty’s second consecutive Grand Slam that she has played in the Qualifying Draw and third overall in her career.

Two of the former top 10 players include the former #1 Doubles Team, the Italian duo, Roberta Vinci and Sara Errani. Both have contrasting reasons for competing in the Qualifying draw as opposed to being granted direct entry to the main draw. Roberta, the 2015 US Open Finalist, who reached a career high ranking of #7 in 2016, has seen her ranking fall as a result of losing in the opening round of the four Grand Slams in 2017. Towards the end of 2017, Roberta announced that she intended to retire in May 2018, where she will play her last professional WTA Singles match at the Rome Open.

The second of the Italian duo, the 2012 Roland Garros Finalist, Sara Errani, found herself caught up in controversy during 2017. She was suspended from the Tour after failing a drugs test. She had inadvertently taken her mother’s medicine after eating a contaminated meal that her mother had prepared. Sara was stripped of all ranking points obtained and prize money earned from the date she failed the test until the date her suspension had finished.

The final of the former top 10 players participating in the Qualifying Draw is the former #2, the 2010 Wimbledon and US Open Finalist, Vera Zvonareva. After her most successful year on the WTA Tour, Vera found herself prone to numerous injuries which forced her off the tour. Vera would later reappear over the next few years for a handful of matches before going on hiatus to finalise her studies and commence a family. Similar to Patty Schnyder, Vera rejuvenated her career on the ITF Tour.

All four ladies are in different brackets of the Qualifying Draw, therefore all can qualify. With the withdrawals of Serena, and Victoria Azarenka, and the ongoing comebacks for Maria Sharapova and Petra Kvitova, and the new lease of life for Agnieszka Radwanksa and Angelique Kerber, the 2018 Australian Open is proving to be the most exciting and wide open draw in years.

australian open

Vika’s withdrawal and Murray’s hip-op

The day started off down under with an announcement that was expected for some time, the two-time winner of the Australian Open, Victoria Azarenka’s impending withdrawal from the tournament was confirmed. Victoria came back from maternity leave during June 2017, only to leave the tour again in July as she found herself trapped in a custody battle for her only child, which is still ongoing.

As Victoria Azarenka and Serena Williams; the defending champion are both out of the competition, only two previous champions remain in the draw, they include the five time grand slam winner Maria Sharapova and the two-time slam winner Angelique Kerber. The draw ceremony which will be held on Thursday, 11 January, usually has the defending champions present. As Serena will not be travelling to Melbourne, it has been announced that Maria will take her place at the ceremony.

As previously reported, the five time Australian Open Finalist, Andy Murray expressed his concerns about participating at the Australian Open, Murray revealed this afternoon that he underwent surgery on his hip in Australia, and is hoping to be back in time for the grass season, “My plan is to be back playing around the grass-court season – potentially before then – but I’m certainly not going to rush anything,”.  The former number one has seen his ranking fall to number 19, if Murray’s rehabilitation goes to plan and is back for Wimbledon, his ranking will stand at around number 150.

Although Vika and Andy will miss this year’s Australian Open, both should be considered as contenders to lift the 2019 Title!

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Azarenka and Murray share the podium at the 2012 London Olympics