Dog days of summer, but not for tennis: champions, challenges, and structural changes abound

It will be a cold day in hell when there is a complete break from tennis’s summer schedule

Marianne Bevis
By Marianne Bevis
Andy Murray
Andy Murray is set to make his return on the hard courts Photo: Marianne Bevis

The ‘dog days’, the hot sultry days that meander across the northern hemisphere from July to August, send many in search of relief from weekly toil and oppressive weather.

But it will be a cold day in hell when there is a complete break from tennis’s summer schedule. So as the tour prepares to hit the hard road to the final Major of the year in New York, it is time to try and get up to speed.

Ranking surges for early birds

The second half of summer may be geared towards the hard courts of North America—and Atlanta this week is the first hard-court event since March—but even in the tiny window left by a Wimbledon that now fills the first fortnight of July, there is room for a brief clay swing plus one last hurrah for grass in Newport.

· Steve Johnson won a second title in one season for the first time with a Newport victory, and jumped 14 places to No34. His first title came just two years ago, also on grass, in Nottingham: The 28-year-old now has four trophies.

· Marco Cecchinato won on the clay of Umag, after winning his maiden title in Budapest in April. Before 2018, the Italian had won just four main-tour matches, and now not only has two titles but made a stunning run to the French Open semis. From a ranking of 107 in March, he is at a career-high 22.

· In the same week, Fabio Fognini won on Bastad’s clay, taking him up to 14—just one spot short of his career-high of four years ago. With 31 match-wins, the Italian is just five wins short of equalling his 2017 total match-win tally (36-23). However, he lost his opener in Gstaad.

· Anastasija Sevastova won one of the two WTA clay Internationals last week, in Bucharest, and following her final run Mallorca, she rises back to the top 20. That makes two titles from five finals since her return from premature retirement in 2015.

· Alize Cornet won a sixth career title in Gstaad without dropping a set, her first title in two and a half years. She jumped 14 places in the ranks, up to 34—though lost in the first round in Moscow, where Aliaksandra Sasnovich is poised to overtake her following a semi run there—improving on her current career-high of 41.

Four more on clay:

ATP 500 Hamburg, ATP 250 Gstaad, ATP 250 Kitzbuhel, WTA International Moscow

Hard road back to New York

The five-week run-in to the US Open, which links seven WTA and ATP tournaments on the road to New York, is already under way.

The men are in Atlanta—though some WTA players are starting hard-court preparations in China in Nanchang. Then the men head for the ATP500 in Washington, where they are joined by the WTA—though the big women’s names will open their account in next week’s San Jose Premier, the likes of Garbine Muguruza, Serena and Venus Williams, and Victoria Azarenka.

Hot on their heels comes the gruelling Masters/Premier 5 double-header, Canada’s Rogers Cup and its cousin south of the border in Cincinnati. Those with enough stamina can even squeeze in the ATP Winston-Salem/WTA New Haven in the week before the US Open.

Player news for US Open Series

· Andy Murray makes his return after playing just three matches this year—his only three matches since Wimbledon 2017. He joins the Washington field, and has taken wild cards for Toronto and Cincinnati: NB He is ranked 838, as he pointed out ‘with pride’ in Instagram this week.

· Roger Federer, world No2 and twice a champion from six finals at the Rogers Cup, has withdrawn from this year’s Toronto field, as he continues to trim his schedule. He said: “Unfortunately with scheduling being the key to my longevity, I have regrettably decided to withdraw from Toronto.” He turns 37 during the Canadian tournament.

· Tomas Berdych has pulled out of the entire US Open Series, having already missed Wimbledon with back injury. Since reaching the quarters of Australian Open and Rotterdam, and the semis of Marseille, he has won just three matches in eight tournaments, 11-11 for the year. His only match-win since the Miami Masters was on the grass of Stuttgart. He is ranked 58, his lowest in 14 years.

· Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, a former champion in Toronto, will also play no part in the US Open Series. He has not played since retiring injured in Montpellier in February, had knee surgery in April, and is currently ranked 64, his lowest in 11 years.

· Stan Wawrinka has a wild card into Washington next week as he continues his tough return following double knee surgery last summer. He is 6-10 for the year, and has played and lost only one match in the US capital before: in 2010 when ranked 110. He is currently 201, and will hope to pick up one of the remaining wild cards into Cincinnati, though has thus far failed to receive one for Toronto, where he may play qualifying.

· Murray, Serena Williams and Azarenka—all former No1s and champions at one or both of Cincinnati and the Rogers Cup—all have wild cards to both tournaments.

· With her San Jose entry, Williams will thus play three back-to-back weeks, as she looks to build fitness and momentum ahead of her home Major. Already up to 27 after her final finish at Wimbledon, Williams’ return has been little short of remarkable. She played only three events before Wimbledon, following the birth of her daughter last September and post-natal health problems, to leap from 491 in March.

· Azarenka also began her season at Indian Wells, ranked 204, following custody battles over her son, then made the semis in Miami, but she has not got beyond the second round since. She is ranked 110.

· With seven first-round losses this year, and 9-14 for the season, 36-year-old David Ferrer is ranked 62, his lowest in more than 14 years. He missed much of this year’s clay season before the birth of his son, and has contended with injury problems, and there were strong hints in an interview with El Larguero this week that retirement is on the horizon [translation courtesy of @FerruFansite]:

“Next year I’ll play some invitational tournaments, the ones I like the most, and I’ll see where and when I retire… I want to live this US Open as if it were my last Grand Slam.

“I have so many problems with my Achilles tendons that when I get up and I practically can’t go downstairs. It has been an agony.”
He added: “I would like to retire at home, at the Godó [Barcelona] or in Madrid.”

He is scheduled to play Toronto, Cincinnati and New York.

And in other news…

· Mikhail Youzhny, a former No8 but now at 105, has announced his retirement on home soil, at the St Petersburg Open in September. With just five match-wins this year, and increasing amounts of time on the Challenger and qualifying circuits, the Russian single-hander is set to play Washington next week. The 36-year-old will surely hope to become only the second Russian man to reach 500 wins: He has three to go.

· Wedding bells for… Martina Hingis, Karolina Pliskova, Tsonga, Dani Valverdu

Challenger circuit changes for 2019

· Singles main draw will increase from 32 to 48, plus a 4‐player qualifying event, with two advancing into main draw.

· Hotel accommodation for all main draw players, and all players will earn prize money.

· There will be five ATP Challenger Tour categories: 70, 80, 95, 110 and 125, providing a clear structure and easily defined brand.

· Increased services across ATP officiating as well as ATP medical services, with better access to qualified physiotherapists.

· All main draw singles matches to be streamed online.

· From 2020, ranking points will begin at Challenger level only, a change that will significantly reduce the number of ATP-ranked players.

Describing the changes, an ATP press release said: “The move is aimed at improving the player pathway up and down the tennis ecosystem, while positioning the ATP Challenger Tour as the first stage of professional tennis. The change will also serve to more accurately define the breadth of men’s professional tennis, leading to better services and conditions provided for true professional players, while providing a clear delineation between the professional ranks and the transitional ranks beneath.”

And in case you missed it—US Open Series innovations

Another press release, issued by the USTA, ATP and WTA, explains innovations in the US Open Series, including the US Open, to formalise the speeding up of play. Although the exact location has yet to be determined, a “clock” will be placed in a position visible to players, fans and the umpire.

Warm-up: the 1-5-1 rule: 1 minute from walk on to coin toss; 5 minutes’ warm-up; 1 further minute to be ready to play. Violations will receive a post-match fine not a ‘time violation’.

Serve:

· 25 seconds to serve: following the point, the score will be entered, the umpire will announce the score, and then start the 25-second clock. If the player has not started the service motion at the completion of the 25-second countdown, the umpire will give a time violation.

· After even-numbered games: umpire will start the clock when the balls are all in place at the server’s end of the court.

· The receiver is responsible for playing to the server’s reasonable pace.

· Umpire will have the ability and discretion to pause the clock, and either resume the clock from the same time or reset the clock to 25 seconds.

And finally, some Wimbledon facts and figures

Most aces during Championships: Serena Williams, 48; John Isner, 214

Fastest Serve: Williams, 125mph; Milos Raonic, 147mph

Viewing figures: Women’s final, 4.6 million; Men’s final 4.5 million; most viewers, R3 between Novak Djokovic and Kyle Edmund, 6.54 million

Ticket resale: £236,429

Donations to Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum include:

· Angelique Kerber’s signed dress as worn in the Ladies’ final

· Kevin Anderson’s signed shirt, racket and shoes worn during the Gentlemen’s final

· John Isner’s shoes worn during the longest Gentlemen’s semi-final in history of The Championships, 6hrs 36mins

· Stefanos Tsitsipas’ racket: first man from Greece to reach the R4 of a Major in Open era

· Mike Bryan’s signed racket used during the Gentlemen’s Doubles final

· Federer’s signed Uniqlo shirt as worn in the Gentlemen’s quarter-finals

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