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RG18

THE FLIP SIDE

Saqib Ali

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Jane Voigt

Bernard Tomic is one of those players who has pretty much squandered his tennis talents. He’s known more for partying and fast cars, although he won three career titles and reached a career high of number 17 over two yeasr ago.

Other than that there’s not much for many to like about Tomic. He makes opponents wait, he has been accused of tanking more than once, and has incited useless arguments with tournament officials. However, a sympathetic ear is essential to understanding this Australian 25-year-old. He’s the product of rough parenting from father and coach John, who has been kicked off tournaments for aggressive behavior but is in Paris with his son.

Enter Marco Trungelliti, the flip side of Tomic. A qualifier like Bernie, Trungelliti became yet another lucky loser on Monday — by a route many would not have traveled. The Argentine left Paris for his home in Barcelona on Sunday after losing in qualifiers, only to learn he would play Tomic if he could get back to the City of Light by 11 a.m. Monday. No problem. Trungelliti, his brother, mother and grandmother stuffed themselves and their gear into a small car, drove 11 hours and over 1,000 kilometers to make the match. Presumably a bit road-weary, he nonetheless outplayed and ultimately turned back Tomic, 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, 6-4.

“[The tournament] told me I was first alternate,” Trungelliti told Tennis Channel after the match. “Once we knew the chance we drove a lot.”

His grandmother, who will turn 89 in a month, had never seen Marco play a match and had never seen a tennis match, for that matter.

“She never went to the court,” he began. “She never watched tennis. Not even myself.”

The troupe had packed some sandwiches and coffee before pulling out, dusting plans to go to the beach. They stopped three times en route, although Marco insisted upon a real meal later in the evening.

“We stopped to eat because I knew I had to eat,” he said, smiling. “I was trying not to think too much [about the match].”

Trungelliti has played in seventeen major tournaments, advancing to the main draw three times. Last year in Paris he lost in round two to Guillermo Garcia-Lopez who, on Monday, took out 2015 champion Stan Wawrinka. Trungelliti also lost in the second round in Paris and Melbourne in 2016.

Therefore, as the kilometers clicked by on the family’s trip north, he “tried to think of it as a normal match.”

It was anything but. By the time Tomic decided to walk on court, the stands were packed. Anticipation was high, as the story of the mighty Marco had spread like any good story on social media.

Trungelliti played his predominantly defensive game, sprinkled with accurate drop shots that caught the baseline-hugging Tomic off guard or, as some might interpret, uninterested in acting on.

Tomic, known for a booming serve at six-foot-five, whacked 12 aces to Marco’s 16. Although Tomic outdid his opponent on first serve percentage, 62 percent compared to 53, Trungelliti won more points on his first and second serves: 73 to 57. He also won more points off his second serve. Plus he saved more break points. He outplayed Tomic from every conceivable stat angle: first-serve return points won, second-serve return points won, and break points converted. He outscored Tomic in winners: 68 to 39. The two were tied in unforced errors: 37.

For his job well done, Trungelliti earned €20,000, half the first round prize money. Nick Kyrgios, who withdrew Sunday and caused this ruckus with “Who’s the REAL lucky loser to play Tomic?”, earned the same amount in prize money. The splitting of first-round prize money is a new rule this year developed by the Grand Slam Board.

After beating Tomic, Trungelitti smiled wildly and gestured thumbs-up to cheering fans on Court 9. According to Reuters, “he waved around the court as he left the arena showing this is one tennis player who is intent on making the most of a second chance.”

“‘I am feeling so relaxed,” he said as he grinned, according to the same source. “‘For me it is perfect. I lost [in qualifying], I left, I ate barbecue — which for an Argentine is one of the reasons to stay alive — so I am very, very relaxed.’”

Compare that elation and positive energy to the clipped answers Tomic gave in press, and were tweeted by Ben Rothenberg, following the match:

“Well, it was okay, no?”

“Yeah, I guess I was okay.”

“Yeah, we’ll see. We’ll see what’s next.”

“Yeah, but it changed, then I had to play. That’s it.”

“What do you mean? Next question.”

“I go home to Monaco and that’s it.”

Trungelliti had never played Tomic until Monday. We bid one player a farewell and are happy to see that the right side of the coin landed face up on the terre battue.

*

Source of  image Getty Images

 

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RG18

NADAL’S OWN NOVELTY

Saqib Ali

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Matt Zemek

The biggest upset at the 2018 men’s Roland Garros tournament was not Marco Cecchinato over Novak Djokovic. It was something much bigger: Through the first six rounds of play, the men produced a better, more interesting, more compelling tournament than the women. That hadn’t happened in a few years. The 2017 Australian Open was great on both the men’s and women’s sides. The last time the men were unambiguously better than the women? If you have a clear answer, good for you, but it won’t come from the past three years. The men have occasionally matched the women and usually fallen short.

At Roland Garros in 2018, the men were better. (more…)

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RG18

WOMEN’S TENNIS: THIS KIND OF SOCIALISM WORKS

Saqib Ali

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Matt Zemek

Socialism sounds good in theory but never ends up well in practice, they say.

“They” obviously aren’t watching women’s professional tennis these days.

Remember when Serena Williams continued and extended her control over the WTA Tour at the 2017 Australian Open, following a 2016 run in which she made three major finals and a fourth semifinal? That 2016 season was also a campaign in which Angelique Kerber reached three major finals and won two. Not a lot of sharing happened on the WTA Tour, and when Serena lifted her 23rd major crown in Melbourne, it seemed that women’s tennis would remain a monarchy run by Serena, not a democracy in which various players had an equal say in the year’s most important tournaments.

Then came Serena’s pregnancy, and in a heartbeat, the WTA became a vast expanse of questions and uncertainties.

We have seen on the ATP Tour how the injury-based absences of top players have created voids — not only in terms of consistent results at majors, but also the overall quality of play. This just-concluded French Open was one of the ATP’s better majors in a while, but over the past two years, men’s tennis at the Grand Slam tournaments has been largely dreary and uninspiring. Most finals have been numbingly predictable snoozefests, and without proven players to take charge in halves or quarters of draws, many random results — “someone will win because someone has to, not because someone is transcendent or special” — have proliferated. The 2017 Roland Garros tournament was like this. The 2017 Wimbledon tournament offered glimpses of such an identity. 2017 U.S. Open was the ultimate representation of this dynamic over the past 18 months. The 2018 Australian Open largely fit this description as well.

Missing the top stars the past 18 to 24 months has noticeably hurt the quality of the ATP Tour, so when Serena had to tend to the task of childbirth, everyone naturally wondered how women’s tennis would respond.

The results have been unpredictable, just as they have been with the men (hello, Sam Querrey making a Wimbledon semifinal; Kevin Anderson playing Pablo Carreno Busta in a U.S. Open semifinal; Hyeon Chung and Kyle Edmund making Australian Open semis; Marco Cecchinato making these just-concluded Roland Garros semis). However, women’s tennis has produced the compelling major finals men’s tennis has failed to deliver. Just compare the two Roland Garros finals we witnessed over the weekend.

More than that, women’s tennis is crowning the new champions men’s tennis is failing to produce.

Since the start of 2010, men’s tennis has created only three first-time major champions: Andy Murray at the 2012 U.S. Open, Stan Wawrinka at the 2014 Australian Open, and Marin Cilic at the 2014 U.S. Open.

Ever since Serena stepped away from the sport in early 2017, the WTA — in a span of five major tournaments — has exceeded the men’s total of first-time major winners this decade.

Jelena Ostapenko last year at Roland Garros; Sloane Stephens at the U.S. Open; Caroline Wozniacki in Australia; and Simona Halep this past Saturday in Paris have all crossed the threshold. If the men — #ATPLostBoys — can’t pass the baton to younger generations just yet, the WTA is doing exactly that, and in supremely entertaining fashion. What is even more noteworthy: The players at the center of the WTA’s balanced distribution of signature championships are removing significant what-if burdens from the sport.

2018 Roland Garros - 24 May

Both Images taken from – Jimmie 48

Ostapenko is the outlier in the group, but Stephens has answered questions about who will be the next American player to follow in Serena’s footsteps — not to the same extent, of course, but certainly in terms of being a constant threat to do well at the biggest events in the sport.

In 2018, Wozniacki and Halep have both removed the eight most oppressive words in tennis or golf from their necks: “Best player never to have won a major.” The unpredictability we all expected in women’s tennis once Serena stepped away has been the happiest, most productive unpredictability one could imagine. The combination of entertainment value and redemptive stories has been off the charts.

The flow of life on the WTA Tour has been so cathartic and inspiring that after Wozniacki and Halep removed burdensome labels from their careers, there’s no similarly acute example remaining of a player currently in contention at majors who is trying to banish her demons. Karolina Pliskova, at 26, is the oldest player without a major in the current WTA top 10. As she gets to age 28 or 29, her story might become more poignant, but as someone who has made only two major semifinals and only one major final, Pliskova doesn’t have the accumulation of memorably painful defeats both Wozniacki and Halep absorbed before those two finally broke through. Wozniacki’s and Halep’s respective triumphs this year carried so much impact because the tennis world was aware how often they had climbed the hill, only to be knocked down to the valleys below. Pliskova’s story doesn’t carry the same weight — not yet. The WTA has written the two foremost feel-good stories it possibly could have authored in 2018.

The one still-active player on the WTA Tour who can legitimately claim to be the “Best Player Never To Have Won A Major” is Agnieszka Radwanska, now 29 years old. However, she is outside the top 25 and hasn’t been a top threat at the majors for roughly two years. (She lost to Serena in the 2016 Australian Open semifinals.) Among active players in contention at the year’s biggest tournaments, no first-time major hopefuls carry the promise of hope or the weight of longing to the degree Wozniacki and Halep offered.

In an age when so many sports teams — internationally and in America — are winning their first huge championships in their respective realms of competition, the WTA is in step with the times. That the WTA’s evolution has coexisted with a high quality of play and gripping major finals shows that this version of socialism — wide and relatively even distribution of resources — works in practice, not just in theory.

We will see at Wimbledon if it continues.

 

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RG18

Testigos de la grandeza

Saqib Ali

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Briana Foust

Mientras veía a Rafael Nadal intentar completar el tercer set de la final masculina de Roland Garros a la vez que resistía un calambre en su mano izquierda, de repente, comprendí algo que me impactó: cada pequeño detalle debe darse para que un jugador encuentre el santo grial del tenis, también conocido como ganar un gran título de grand slam. No puede haber ningún accidente.

Ningún conductor ebrio, como el que frenó a Thomas Muster, ni un fanático desequilibrado, como el que interrumpió el curso de la vida de Mónica Seles. No puede haber ninguna lesión, como las muñecas vulnerables de Juan Martín Del Potro o ninguna distracción que pueda causar algún problema personal. Ni siquiera se puede sufrir un lapsus de concentración porque eso le abre la puerta a rivales hambrientos que siempre están trabajando para mejorar. (more…)

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