Novak Djokovic Steps into his Leadership Role

Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon recaps the apparent latest decision of Novak Djokovic.

The coronavirus global pandemic has paralyzed folks around the world, both within tennis and just generally in every sphere of life.

As a result, everyone everywhere simply has way too much time on their hands. This can be both a good and a bad thing; we’re all accustomed to living healthy and busy lives, but what do you do if and when there’s nothing you can do but stay home and, like, simply be?

Well that can bring out both the good and the bad in people. And this week, we’ll highlight one of each.

Let’s start with the good.

You read that right. Novak Djokovic, current best player in men’s tennis and president of the ATP Player Council, apparently wants to take his leadership role to heart and intends to take steps to ensure the financial well-being of all fellow pros.

Granted, this is a late-breaking story so it’s not like we know all the details involved; as time progresses, we will likely learn more and more.

But as we’re writing this column, we know that the great Djokovic enlisted the help of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal to create a plan for a Player Relief Fund and, ultimately, the raising of hopefully no fewer than $4 million. In his letter, which you can read in full here, Djokovic mentions that the ATP Tour has already pledged $1 million to the fund to help specifically players ranked between No. 150 and No. 400. For his part, the Serb wants to raise money to help out players ranked from No. 250 to No. 700, the players that Djokovic calls “the grass roots of tennis and base of professional sport” and those with the smallest financial security of all.

How can we do this? Well, says Djokovic, it’s up to Top 100 singles players and Top 20 doubles players to step up and contribute to the fund based on a sliding scale—between $5,000 and $30,000 each depending on where players are ranked. If this happens, that adds another $1 million+ to the fund and Djokovic’s hope is for all Grand Slam events to then contribute $500,000 each. There’s also something that can be done with the World Tour Finals prize money, should that event even ever happen.

There are more details if you’d like to know them but those are the clear highlights. In the end, the Big 3 wants to give each of the players ranked between No. 250 and No. 700 the lump sum of $10,000.

Whether this happens or not remains to be seen but the fact that Djokovic, Nadal and Federer have all backed the idea and lent their name to it speaks volumes. This is good news because there is a clear need for such an initiative since the 2020 season is increasingly looking like it will be shelved for the foreseeable future…if not forever. Tennis players, you might recall, don’t have guaranteed salaries of any kind and while the likes of Djokovic and company have plenty to eat, the same can’t be said for other, lower-ranked players.

We love this initiative for at least four different reasons. First, it targets directly those who need it most: $10,000 might not sound like much but consider that it’s more than half of the prize money No. 294-ranked Matthew Ebden has captured so far this year. In that sense, it’s extremely needed in this trying time; it’s fun to see folks and players participate in things like the “100 volleys” challenge, or whatever else, but ultimately these won’t help you pay your bills. Thirdly, this is a poignant example of folks coming together and trying to work toward a common goal and not looking to throw anyone under the bus. (We’re looking at you, Roland-Garros organizers.)

Finally, it’s coming from our favourite player ever so we’re bound to be all-in. Sometimes, that’s all there is to it.

Now, remember the beginning of this article? While he was putting into motion this would-be plan, Djokovic was also basically outing himself as a sorta-maybe-kinda-anti-vaxxer for the coronavirus?

Novak, what you even doing man wtf???? Smh.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Can the US Open Save the 2020 Tennis Season?

One by one, they’ve all been falling down like flies.

When the world pandemic of Covid-19 first started messing with our tennis schedule, it first did so by attacking and overwhelming the BNP Paribas Open and the Miami Open—two of the biggest “kind of a big deal” events on the tennis calendar, but not the single two biggest events in the world. There was still hope then, is what we’re getting at.

But then, the actual biggest events in the world started getting postponed or cancelled. So far we’ve had the French Open organizers decided that they would reschedule their event to September in a classic case of selling off the bear’s skin before having killed it (and in what’s looking increasingly like a superfluous move), but also and perhaps most importantly the beloved Wimbledon decided that the 2020 edition would be cancelled.

Next came the cancellation of the Montreal Rogers Cup, bringing us to mid August now. The question on everyone’s mind would be whether the next domino to fall would be the biggest one, the massive pot of gold at the end of the proverbial rainbow that is the tennis season, the US Open in Flushing Meadows.

As things stand right now at the time of this writing, the biggest party of the tennis season is still slated to be played in late August. Which is to say that as of this writing, the US Open is still slated to save the tennis season—and Steve Furgal’s International Tennis Tours is there to help you save it along with it.

You see, the travel agency is an official US Open and United States Tennis Association partner. As they write it on their website, “pick your hotel, choose your level of seating and let us take care of the rest.”

Sounds great, doesn’t it?

Here’s the part where you counter with something like, “Well you know it’s great that they want to take care of the rest, but what kind of rest will there even be in the time of Covid-19?” On the one hand, we entirely agree: if and unless things change drastically, there will be no tennis played this summer—in New York or elsewhere—so in this case, don’t bother planning a trip to the Big Apple to watch the best tennis players in the world.

But we’re here to talk to you about what’s on the other hand, the scenario where things do improve and an event like the 2020 US Open does happen. Just imagine how big the biggest party in tennis would be after all this time off. If that’s what happens, then Steve Furgal is the place for you; if you want to turn your Flushing Meadows experience into a fairytale, look no further.

This comes in the form of first-week packages or second-week packages, each coming with four sessions of tennis and their choice of four- or five-star hotels. Diehards of the sport will also likely see the VIP Experiences or Labour-Day packages as appealing options. (Natives of New York actually have the option of Loge + Hospitality, which is not too shabby.)

One thing to note: no matter which option you pick for your stay, you’re in for a treat, a raucous atmosphere and, most importantly, likely to see the great Novak Djokovic emerge victorious.

That’s a promise.


Who’s on Your Tennis Dream Team?

Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon completes a fun little hypothetical exercise.

In these bleak times of isolation and absolutely no tennis played, we have little choice but to let our imagination run free and give in to the hypotheticals.

Would Novak Djokovic still be unbeaten if tennis hadn’t stopped last month? Might Rafael Nadal be on its way to sweeping everything on clay court? What other, new stupid nonsense BS might Nick Kyrgios have treated us to in the meantime? How blessed by the Gods is Roger Federer to have taken four months off to nurse an injury right at the onset of a world pandemic? (Oops, that last one isn’t exactly hypothetical lol.)

All important questions to varying degrees in the sense that they take us away from our daily routine of not doing a lot of things and transport us to an alternate reality where things are still happening.

This is precisely what the below tweet from Tennis TV accomplishes when they ask their fans what their dream team would look like.

If you would play this game with us for just a minute, let’s run through our all-important choices in this fully hypothetical exercise in order to create the ultimate dream team of the #TennisElbow column.

Big 3 – Novak Djokovic

We’re picking our choice for the current best men’s player of all time and we’re not even blinking twice. In all likelihood, Novak Djokovic will finish his career as the man with the most Grand Slam titles in history, with the most prize money won and with the most weeks spent at No. 1 in the world. He also has a firm grasp on everything central that unfolds on the ATP, not to mention a winning head-to-head record against both Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer here.

But mostly we’re picking Djokovic because this exercise asks us to create our dream team. Our dream wouldn’t be complete without our favourite player ever.

Young Guns: Daniil Medvedev

The thing about this category is that, like, Dominic Thiem is a full two years older than the other three listed? You might look at our choice and think that we’re underrating Thiem’s candidacy, his 16 career titles, 3 Grand Slam finals and No. 3 ranking spot.

But we feel like Medvedev should be the clear choice. Not only has the 24-year-old managed to grab seven career titles, he’s also made one Grand Slam final (and did just about everything but capture the title once there) at last year’s US Open.

Giving him the edge, above all, is the Russian’s dominance over the latter half of the 2019 season, when Medvedev reached six straight tournament finals, including three Masters event to go along with his US Open nod. Right or wrong, we just don’t see Thiem going on such a run.

Legends: Bjorn Borg

Justice for Bjorn Borg, please. The Swede was perhaps the first “best player ever” in men’s tennis—or at the very least, its first ever true superstar. Borg turned pro in 1973 and, starting the year after that, proceeded to pretty much rule men’s tennis like his own kingdom. Not only was Borg ranked No. 1 in the world from 1977 through 1980, he also was the first in the sport to grab over $1 million in prize money in a single season and also the first to capture 11 Grand Slam titles. By no means the lone star in the sport, he was certainly among those most responsible for making tennis that much more popular in the 1970s. (That’s what tends to happen when you grab six Roland-Garros titles and another five at Wimbledon.)

And my god, such glorious hair!

Trick shotters: Gael Monfils

Look, this is both not complicated but also heartbreaking. We absolutely keep renewing our membership on the Nick Kyrgios’s hype train, but it’s been nothing but an easy ride; the fact that the Kyrgios experience is such a relentless and thankless is probably half the fun. On any day, the Australian can trounce any other player on tour…or he can lose an easy matchup, like, 6-1, 6-0.

But since this category calls for us to pick one player known for his trick-shot ability specifically, Gael Monfils is the only possible choice; the man’s prowess is unequaled. He’s also, you know, himself quite the accomplished singles player.

Grand Slam Champions: Stanislas Wawrinka

Is this our hottest of takes here? All of our lives we’ve been told that this current era of men’s tennis was the golden age built around the career and presence of a big four: the three names you think of, alongside the name of Andy Murray.

But looking at the underlying numbers of Murray’s career, he stands much closer to fellow competitors inside this group of Grand Slam champions than he does of Djokovic, Federer or Nadal.

Meanwhile, Stanislas Wawrinka was for a time in the middle of the last decade perhaps the most destructive force in men’s tennis. We’re also trying to be proactive here: adding Wawrinka to our team would guarantee us that he wouldn’t foil Djokovic’s plans, as he has done no fewer than three times at the three Grand Slam events he won.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Can Felix Auger-Aliassime Notch a Top 3 Win in 2019?

Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon works on a hypothetical for Felix Auger-Aliassime.

You’ll excuse us for feeling a little patriotic these days, but as your Canadian friend will tell you after the Raptors win in the NBA Finals: yeah, we’re feeling ourselves.

It starts, as these things tend to do these days, with a tweet—from our esteemed editor-in-chief no less. Look here it is.

Obviously, this is just a hypothetical and you probably think to yourself that we could have just wrote about this topic any given week, that today maybe we should have just wrote about either of the Roland-Garros finals instead. And yet? And yet, we’re writing this the Monday after Felix Auger-Aliassime made another final in his young career, so this is fairly timely and relevant.

The subtext in wondering whether the young man can notch a win against the three best players of his era at either of the remaining Grand Slam events, is that we want to know just how good can FAA get and how quickly.

Auger-Aliassime’s surge in 2019 has been quick and rapid and maybe the reason why we’re wondering about the youngster’s chances on the biggest stages of the sport is that it feels like a foregone conclusion that FAA will make it to the NextGen ATP Finals.

Still only 18 years old, the Canadian has reached No. 21 in the world (at time of writing this) and figures to keep climbing through the ranks. Though he’s turned pro all the way back in 2017, he’s only really been in our collective consciousness since the launch of this season. This, in turn, means that every day, week and month he has been living his best life: the hard work and the points to defend should come in 2020 but for now? Enjoy it, kid, it’s all gucci.

That said, the tweet above speaks of Auger-Aliassime possibly shocking the tennis world at either of the two remaining Grand Slams of the season. It’s still a hypothetical: so far the biggest win of his young career remains either a quarterfinal win over Borna Coric in Miami or a second-round win against Stefanos Tsitsipas in Indian Wells—but can he add another name to his kill list? We gotta say that we can kind of see it happen maybe?

Novak Djokovic

We start with the current best player in the world and, well, good luck here. At Roland-Garros, Novak Djokovic came to within a hair of good fortune of having the privilege to compete for a fourth Grand Slam title in a row, or more likely to get pummelled in the final by the next man on the list.

Why it will not happen against Djokovic: Sure, the Djoker’s play has suffered from bouts of inconsistency recently, but those haven’t happened at the majors. Should FAA ever beat Djokovic, it’s likely that it’ll happen in a best-of-three setting and at an event that Djokovic, like, doesn’t care much about.

Why it will happen against Djokovic: If Auger-Aliassime is to beat Djokovic, it will be because he catches the Serb on a day where things don’t work out well for him. The Canadian is a precocious and well-rounded player, but Djokovic is perhaps the single most well-rounded player we’ve ever seen; a win for the former would be more telling of the latter than vice-versa.

Rafael Nadal

No matter what happens the rest of the way, Rafael Nadal can rest easy knowing he’s done his part in the tennis season during the clay court season. The Spaniard is still great in 2019, but the hill you face in a match against him does not feel as insurmountable as it once did.

Why it will not happen against Nadal: FAA better hope the draw pits him against Nadal early on at Wimbledon, because the Spaniard seemingly gets better the more he plays. A quick overview of his career Grand Slam performance timeline seems to say that when Nadal loses at a Grand Slam, he tends to do so early on and spectacularly.

Why it will happen against Nadal: Auger-Aliassime could very well overcome Rafa because the matches at Grand Slams will occur on grass and hard courts, two surfaces perfectly suited to his play and working against Nadal’s style. Not only that, but before a semifinal berth a year ago, Nadal’s results at Wimbledon since his win in 2010 had been extremely pedestrian. If FAA beats him, it’s likely coming at Wimbledon.

Roger Federer

The Swiss is the final and third member of the Big Three referenced in the tweet above.

Why it will not happen against Federer: What stands out most in Roger Federer’s career, perhaps even more than the 20 Grand Slam titles, is his consistency ever since he first captured a major at the 2003 Wimbledon: since then, he’s made the quarterfinals or better at 53 of the 61 Grand Slams he competed in. What we’re saying is that Federer will not lose against Auger-Aliassime at a major this season.

Why it will happen against Federer: Yeah no, sorry we have nothing.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

French Open 2019: Men’s and Women’s Draw Preview and Analysis

Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon previews the 2019 Roland-Garros tournament.

Welcome to Paris for the second big prize, Roland-Garros, on the 12-month rainbow ride that is this 2019 tennis season.

By the time you read this, you’ll have seen a few matches under way already—the Roland-Garros schedule says that Angelique Kerber will battle Anastasia Potapova on Court Philippe-Chatrier to kick things off, so good luck to the German as you’ll see from our predictions below.

We’ve learned a thing or two from the previous run through a short and sweet clay court season and now that the draws have been released, we’ll try to put things in perspective.

From what we can tell, both draws are ultimately pretty satisfying. They tend to be when it’s a Grand Slam, sure, but we feel like they’re especially juicy this year. (Then again, maybe we say that every year too. Oh well.) In keeping up with our tradition of previewing the main draws of every event that’s “kind of a big deal” in importance, or even more, let’s see if we can pick the Paris quarterfinalists correctly for both men and women.

Women’s draw

The WTA draw is pretty wide-open, with a few of the favourites either injured or not playing all that well and giving way to a number of other players to try their hand at it.

The first section is nominally Naomi Osaka’s to lose but, though she righted the ship a little bit after a rough post-Australian Open stretch, all eyes will be on Serena Williams. We shouldn’t expect much, if anything, from the great champion, so let’s hedge our bets here and say she makes the final eight, but not more than that.

Meanwhile, Simona Halep arrives in Paris in form and as the defending champion. She’s got the best odds to win the French Open Women’s Singles. The pressure is on her, and she hasn’t always responded well in the past when this was the case, but for what it’s worth we believe in her here. We’re eager to see what young American Amanda Anisimova can do: if she’s supposedly the real deal, she’ll manage to grab a handful of wins in Paris in what’s a tricky, but fair, main draw.

Which Sloane Stephens will show up? We’re choosing to believe in the American who made a run to the 2018 Roland-Garros semifinal rather than the one who hadn’t made it past the fourth round before then, but we’re not entirely confident. As for her quarterfinalist opponent, let’s go with another player who’s accustomed us to high highs and low lows in Belinda Bencic.

Has anyone played as well in 2019 as Karolina Pliskova, the French Open second-seed and favourite to emerge from a fairly okay bottom section and with already two titles to her name this season against only seven defeats? Dear reader, the answer is no.

Quarterfinals: Naomi Osaka over Serena Williams; Simona Halep over Anett Kontaveit; Belinda Bencic over Sloane Stephens; Karolina Pliskova over Angelique Kerber

Semifinals: Simona Halep over Naomi Osaka; Karolina Pliskova over Belinda Bencic

Final: Simona Halep over Karolina Pliskova

Men’s draw

On the men’s side of things, there’s a large boogeyman overseeing everything but how well he does perform remains to be seen. And in any case, we’re likely to see another case of “same old, same old.”

In the top section, Novak Djokovic was dealt what’s ultimately a fairly easy draw. Sure, there are tricky opponents here and there, notably a likely fourth rounder against mirror image Borna Coric, but the Serb should emerge unscathed here.

The second section of the men’s draw has everyone’s favourite non-Big 3 contender in Dominic Thiem, and we wish nothing but to him as well as to see him battle Juan Martin del Potro in the quarterfinals if their match resembles their epic 2017 US Open battle.

Moving to the lower half, everyone will understandably be looking at Roger Federer, who will compete in his first French Open since 2015. But we’re seeing tiny Diego Schwartzman shocking the world before the Swiss has a chance to impress. As for the fourth section, there is Rafael Nadal looming, ready to jump on any poor fool standing in his way as his march to another French Open title continues.

Quarterfinals: Novak Djokovic over Fabio Fognini; Dominic Thiem over Juan Martin del Potro; Diego Schwartzman over Stan Wawrinka; Rafael Nadal over Daniil Medvedev

Semifinals: Novak Djokovic over Dominic Thiem; Rafael Nadal over Diego Schwartzman

Final: Rafael Nadal over Novak Djokovic

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Will the real WTA champion please stand up?

Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon wonders what’s behind the extreme parity of the first quarter of this women’s tennis season.

It’s the age-old, the “chicken or egg” question if you will but transposed to women’s tennis.

So far in 2019, the WTA has held 15 different tournaments that have been won by… 15 different players.

Wait, really? Yes, really.

Every single week that we’ve had an event, a new champion has emerged and we’ve yet to crown a repeat winner. Some will say that this is really pretty on-brand for women’s tennis if we look at the previous 15 years or so, that it’s just that a sport that’s always been characterized by parity has been moreso than usual recently. That the sport has always been the place for parity and scarcely has there been a central force, beyond Serena Williams, who overwhelmed the entire competition over the past decade.

Part of it has been that we draw this conclusion when we compare women’s tennis to its men counterpart, which has been blessed with a golden generation where perhaps the three best players in history all managed to compete in the same period together at once.

What we mean to say is that this isn’t totally fair to the WTA, but we’ll get back to this idea.

For now let’s focus on our central idea, our chicken and our egg if you will. Such parity in women’s tennis has led us to wonder an underlying cause: is this seemingly lack of dominant players a symptom of great depth, or is it the other way around? (We’re well aware that it’s not exactly a chicken and egg situation. Whatever.)

Knowing what we know in 2019, it does appear like this run has coincided with the ascent of a good number of promising players, ones like Bianca Andreescu who has managed to take the entire world by storm in her first real foray into professional tennis. The parity we see also comes as a result of a number of other players, still relatively young and promising like Belinda Bencic or Ashleigh Barty, finally enjoying a sustained run of excellence.

Perhaps the actual surprising thing about this sudden parity that’s not so sudden is that it comes right when we thought we were entering the Naomi Osaka era. The Japanese is the current best player in the world and holder of the most recent two Grand Slam titles, and she’s looked like the type of player who had the poise and mental might to conquer all and to stay at the top.

She’s also still just 21 years old, so perhaps it’s entirely expected to see her struggle a little bit as she steps into the limelight and tries to emerge from the considerable shadow of Serena Williams’s on women’s tennis. It’s one thing to get to the top but it’s quite another to stay at the top—and yet, Osaka remains at the top, even as she’s struggled so far in 2019.

Now, remember when we said this isn’t totally fair to the WTA? Well it just so happens that men’s tennis has had a similarly parity-rich start to the 2019 season, with no fewer than 19 different champions for 19 tournaments before—who else?—Roger Federer grabbed a second crown in Miami. Plus, while men’s tennis has been basking in the afterglow of a golden generation, this wasn’t always the case. Glance over the 1998 ATP season Wikipedia page, or even the 1999 one, and you’ll see that it’s pretty slim pickings.

Just like it did for the ATP, this will not last and we’ll see a repeat winner before long. Probably. And yet, we’re writing this as Madison Keys and Caroline Wozniacki battle for the Charleston Open, with the former emerging victorious in two sets to none.

You guessed it, it’s her first title of 2019.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG