Murray’s film, Federer’s globetrotting, Middle East exhos, and more: The tennis ‘off’ season
‘Tis the season of ceremonies, awards and preparations for 2020
With the WTA and Fed Cup finales done in Shenzhen and Perth in early November, and the ATP and Davis Cup finales completed a fortnight later, theory has it that now is the time to kick back, unwind, rest and recover, before the treadmill of the tennis calendar begins once more.
And the theory looks promising. Not until 4 January does the season kick off for the women—back in Shenzhen—just a day after the ATP Cup makes its debut across three Australian cities: Perth, Brisbane and Sydney.
In practice, the story is rather different. For while this is the month when media outlets are full to bursting with ‘best of the year’ polls and reviews, for the players themselves, 2019 has been consigned to the ‘been there, done that’ locker.
Certainly, it is the time of year when players post photos of sun-kissed beaches—or, in a notable departure for many this winter, of Iceland—there are also lots of aches and pains to nurse. All too soon, the physical training and planning must begin, coaches and players will begin the all-important appraisals of strengths and weaknesses, make tweaks to shots or adjustments to tactical patterns.
And bodies and minds have to be refreshed and ready before they hit the hot, hard courts that lead to the first Major of the year: The Australian Open begins just three weeks after New Year’s Eve.
Along that road to Melbourne are the preparatory tournaments—a mere five of them spread over two weeks in the women’s calendar, and four for the men, with the ATP Cup taking up 10 days across the 4,000km breadth of Australia. So the schedule is immediately demanding, along with the Australian summer weather.
But time first for matters away from tour calendars, draws and ranking points. Time for travel and discovery, time for revelations and relationships, time for some honing and tuning in exhibitions and invitationals. The news just keeps coming…
Andy Murray: Resurfacing
For more than 18 months, beginning before he underwent what he believed would be career-saving hip surgery in January 2018, Andy Murray agreed to a warts-and-all documentary, filmed by director Olivia Cappuccini—his brother-in-law’s girlfriend.
Of course, the story that unfolded was much longer, much more painful, a truly in-depth exploration of Murray’s physical and emotional journey through failed comebacks and more invasive surgery. And quite rightly, Murray and Cappuccini have won plaudits at every turn since his story was aired on Amazon Prime.
Roger Federer: a man on the move—and on Swiss coins
While some colleagues spent a week playing the Davis Cup Finals in Madrid, Roger Federer was playing to huge audiences in several Latin American cities: Santiago, Buenos Aires, Bogota [cancelled due to government curfew as Federer and his touring partner Alexander Zverev readied to play], Quito and Mexico City—where the two men set a new record for a tennis match, over 40,000 fans. From there, Federer flew to New York, where he ran the streets in ON trainers to mark his investment in the new Swiss footwear company.
And on the subject of Swiss investment, the Swiss mint’s launch of a CHF20 coin— featuring a living person, in the shape of Federer, for the first time—showed that not everything in Federer’s efficient homeland runs like clockwork. The site crashed almost immediately, as the CEO admitted: “We had 2.5 million clicks… We expected and planned for high demand, but we never imagined it would be this big.” The 35,000 coins sold out within hours of the site getting back online.
NB Federer and Zverev, who last year played the no-longer-available Hopman Cup ahead of the Australian swing, will instead play an invitational event in Hangzhou, China, on 28/29 December.
Saudi Arabia onto tennis map for first time
Not without some controversy, a clutch of tennis’s top men will converge in Saudi Arabia for the first time. Whether bringing high-profile sport to historic Diriyah, on the outskirts of capital Riyadh, will help lift the curtain on the country’s human rights record or not, only time will tell. But there is no denying that big money and big names are the order of the day for this tennis debut: Stan Wawrinka, Daniil Medvedev, David Goffin, Fabio Fognini and Gael Monfils are among the eight who will play from 12-14 December.
Nadal, Djokovic, Sharapova begin 2020 preps in star-packed Abu Dhabi
Move on a couple of days, and another Gulf state promises even bigger star power. The Mubadala Championships in Abu Dhabi, moved forward in the calendar to 19-21 December, has drawn five of the world’s top 10 men to its 12th edition, including No1 Rafael Nadal and No2 Novak Djokovic. ATP Finals champion Stefanos Tsitsipas is also playing, plus Medvedev and Monfils hot foot from Saudi Arabia.
And if that is not enough to pull the fans, Maria Sharapova will play for the first time since the US Open, in a 2019 season during which the Russian won only three matches after reaching the fourth round of the Australian Open.
NB Sharapova then heads to the Hawaii Open invitational (which also features Kei Nishikori and Angelique Kerber), on 26-28 December.
Life goes on…
… as the coaching merry-go-round cranks up, personal partnerships are sealed, and a few surprises emerge. Here are a few.
· Kiki Bertens married fellow Dutch Remko de Rijke, one year after announcing her engagement to the coach.
· Roberto Bautista Agut completed an emotional season with his marriage to long-time partner Ana Bodi Tortosa. The Spaniard suffered the sudden death of his father during his country’s triumphant Davis Cup run, and back in July, he had to postpone his bachelor party after reaching his first Major semi-final at Wimbledon.
· Nishikori signed up former doubles No1 Max Mirnyi to his coaching team, to work alongside current coach Michael Chang.
· Karolina Pliskova announced that Daniel Vallverdu would be her coach following a decision to part with Conchita Martinez. Olga Savchuk, who worked with Pliskova at the Zhengzhou Open, will also be a part of the team. Vallverdu joined Wawrinka’s team this summer, and is still listed under the Swiss player’s bio.
· Rafael Nadal marked his 200th week at No1, an achievement matched by only five other men.
· Caroline Wozniacki, a former No1 and Australian Open champion, has announced that she will retire from tennis after the forthcoming Australian Open.
· Carla Suarez Navarro, a former No6 in the world, is to play one more season before she too retires from tennis at the end of 2020.
· Former doubles No1 Sania Mirza has announced that she plans to return to the tour in 2020 after more than two years away, during which time she gave birth to a son. She hopes to be ready to play doubles and mixed doubles at the Australian Open.
Usually announced during the ATP Finals, the shortlists for the 2019 Awards have this year been pushed back to December—presumably in a move to make the trophy presentations a highlight of the new ATP Cup in the opening days of 2020. Those in contention are:
Determined by ATP rankings
ATP Tour No1: Rafael Nadal
ATP Tour No1 Doubles: Juan Sebastian Cabal, Robert Farah
Shortlisted by media, voted by players
Comeback Player of the Year
Most Improved Player of the Year
Stefan Edberg Sportsmanship Award
Voted by players
Newcomer of the Year*
Voted by fans
ATPTour.com Fans’ Favourite
Chosen by ATP
Arthur Ashe Humanitarian Award
WTA Awards—all voted by media
Player of the Year, singles
Players of the Year, doubles
Elise Mertens/Aryna Sabalenka
Kristina Mladenovic/Timea Babos
Zhang Shuai/Samantha Stosur
Barbora Strycova/Hsieh Su-Wei
Most Improved Player of the Year
Comeback Player of the Year
WTA Newcomer of the Year