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Starting over in Canada

Matt Zemek

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Tennis With An Accent

By many reasonable measurements (not all), Cristian Garin, Laslo Djere, and the rest of the tennis community are in the middle of the 2019 season. The Rogers Cup in Canada marks the start of the second half.

If you wanted to be more precise and exacting, sure, the midpoint of the season is the week when Roland Garros gives way to the grass warm-ups. Five of the 10 months in the women’s tennis season have been completed.

Purely in terms of surface-specific tennis, the sport ends its second main block (spring clay after winter hardcourts) and prepares for its third (grass) and fourth (summer/autumn hardcourt) transitions. The grass warm-up period before Wimbledon leads tennis through June to the halfway point of the calendar year.

Yet, one can make a perfectly reasonable case that when Wimbledon ends, the first half of the tennis season truly ends. Canada is the true start to the second half of the season. The basis for such an argument lies in the reality of work, and how constantly athletes must work to maintain sharpness and fluidity.

If a highly-ranked player gets knocked out of Roland Garros relatively early, s/he can take a one-week vacation. There is no “next tournament” to go to in most cases. The grind of clay tennis requires a break if it can reasonably be found. However, if a top player makes a deep run at Roland Garros, it is harder to fully decompress: Another major tournament is just three weeks away.

A quick vacation is realistic, but genuine decompression — unwinding and spending extended time without hitting a tennis ball, a true escape from work — is not easily attained in June. Wimbledon is just around the corner.

Grass season — as I have noted when discussing Naomi Osaka’s struggles on lawns — is so short that unless you are a member of the Big 3 (Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal both played zero ATP Tour warm-up events before Wimbledon, and they did just fine, thank you), you need the time on court to adjust to the surface before going to the All-England Club.

Time is too precious and limited to take a full-on escape from tennis between Rolly G and SW19. The sport briefly pauses before the Halle-Queens-Birmingham-Eastbourne explosion of grass activity, and then Wimbledon arrives. The seven weeks from the start of Roland Garros through the end of Wimbledon are the busiest seven weeks of the tennis year.

Purely in terms of chronology, Cristian Garin, Laslo Djere, and other pros might arrive at the season’s midpoint in June, but in terms of workflow, tennis’s true “pause button” is pushed when Wimbledon ends.

When Wimbledon concludes, the sport finally breathes. Of course, tennis doesn’t fully stop until Davis Cup — now Pique Cup — ends in late November and gives way to the December recess, but if there IS an in-season period when tennis players get a chance to decompress, it is after Wimbledon.

Yes, not all players seek the refuge of rest and a faraway place (or home) in which to get away from life. Clay-court specialists or players ranked outside various rankings thresholds (the top 30 for anyone interested in a U.S. Open seed, the top 80-90-100 for players trying to get direct entry into the U.S. Open main draw, etc.) will play post-Wimbledon clay or hardcourt 250s. Late July is a time to pounce on opportunities when top players and second-tier players seek a pina colada or a hammock, if not both.

Yet, the larger point is plain: After Wimbledon, it really is time for elite players to rest. Some will skip Canada and make Cincinnati their comeback point. Being “prepared” for the U.S. Open often means being rested for the U.S. Open, which is a contrast to grass, in which preparation (more) often requires playing on the green stuff to adjust to the different bounce on the surface.

After Wimbledon, players realize that the next seven months of tour play — August, September, October, November, January, February, March — will be on hardcourts (save for the South American clay swing for those interested).

When the tours come to Canada for the Rogers Cup, it feels like tennis is restarting after the emotions and historic weight of Wimbledon have been processed for yet another year.

Cristian Garin and Laslo Djere — who both made their mark on the 2019 clay season — were very much a part of that process of starting over in Canada. Milos Raonic and many others were part of that process as well.

On this Monday in Montreal, Garin was able to win a tight second set to close out Djere in straight sets. Two formidable clay players are out of their element on concrete, and to be sure, clay ought to be represented more on the ATP Tour. Yet, this is the schedule they have been given.

This is the layout they must navigate.

It is time to start over in Canada. Let’s see what stories emerge this week and beyond, as the unofficial second half of 2019 begins.

Matt Zemek is the co-editor of Tennis With An Accent with Saqib Ali. Matt is the lead writer for the site and helps Saqib with the TWAA podcast, produced by Radio Influence at radioinfluence.com. Matt has written professionally about men's and women's tennis since 2014 for multiple outlets: Comeback Media, FanRagSports, and independently at Patreon, where he maintains a tennis site. You can reach Matt by e-mail: mzemek@hotmail.com. You can find him on Twitter at @mzemek.

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