Sunday, September 26

Tennis players lose all sense of enjoyment but the show must go on | Tennis

IIn the round of 16 at this month’s Argentina Open in Buenos Aires, all hell broke loose with the explosion of Benoît Paire. The world number 31 was leading by a set against young Argentine qualifier Francisco Cerundolo when he disputed a line call. After raising his voice while raging at the referee, Nacho Forcadell, Paire ended the discussion by spitting bitterly on the mark of the contested ball. It was the beginning of a protracted and excruciating meltdown that ended with Paire blatantly sinking the final games. He closed the game with a deliberate double fault.

None of this is new. Paire, 31, is well known for his volatility, his aversion to effort, and his greater interest in the travel and social benefits of his profession than the real competition. But after the match, the Frenchman posted a lengthy statement on Instagram explaining his frustrations: “The ATP circuit has gotten sad, boring and ridiculous,” he wrote. “I know you’re going to say you don’t realize how lucky you are, blah blah blah, but playing in closed stadiums with no atmosphere is not the reason I play. Having to stay in a hotel or club and be prohibited from leaving without risking a fine, where is the pleasure of traveling? For me, tennis has become a profession in bad taste. “

Paire’s comments reflected the worst of tennis in the last 12 months: the inability of some players to understand that there is minimal sympathy at a time when many people around the world have also found their lives limited in some way, particularly because he has the means just don’t play. Still, what is clear, while these abnormal times last, is that Covid fatigue has established itself throughout the sport.

Last month veteran and former Top 10 player Gilles Simon mentioned that motivation had waned when he decided to take a break from touring: “My heart is no longer there to travel and play in these conditions, unfortunately I have to take a break. to be able to preserve myself mentally ”, wrote the French. “Hoping morale returns as soon as possible.” When Simon left, his good friend and compatriot Jo-Wilfried Tsonga returned after a year off due to injury. Not even the joy of competing for the first time in so long was enough for him. “We are not motivated, there is no fun,” he concluded.

Empty stands at the Australian Open
Empty stands at the Australian Open Photograph: James Ross / AAP

During his run to the semi-finals of the Dubai Open, where he emerged on Friday, Denis Shapovalov explained that he had felt exhausted after the Australian Open quarantine experience and that he had deliberately chosen to lighten his schedule and compete in new tournaments to stay fresh. . He also pointed out the various reasons why most gamers choose to keep playing. “We have other obligations from the sponsors, contracts that oblige us to play as well,” he said. “So sure that’s definitely the reason a lot of players keep playing, because otherwise I feel like a lot of players just wouldn’t play at all.”

Such prospects were expected. In the midst of his Australian Open career, Novak Djokovic and other players had called for an NBA-style bubble in tennis. But that bubble cost the NBA roughly $ 180 million, while Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley said the event cost A $ 100 million (£ 56 million). It is not realistic. The ATP and WTA tours, made up of independent tournaments that rely heavily on ticket sales, have neither the finances nor the supporters to make such an effort work.

Apathy has also recently led to further questioning of rule changes since the beginning of the pandemic. The reduction in prize money throughout the tour has become a point of contention and Alexander Zverev called the current ranking system “absurd”. Although the rankings generally take into account only the previous 52 weeks of results, they currently allow players to retain accumulated points as of March 2019, protecting them from falling through the rankings in these uncertain times. It means that Roger Federer is still in sixth place despite his hiatus.

The players were isolated until two weeks before the Australian Open.
The players were isolated until two weeks before the Australian Open. Photograph: William West / AFP / Getty Images

As is often the case, the problems of the best players are the least urgent. The real complications are further down the pecking order, as the rules make it extremely difficult for lower-ranked players to move up the rankings. The ITF women’s circuit has been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Over the past week there were three ATP Challenger events with prize money of around $ 52,000 (£ 37,500). The biggest women’s tournaments below this week’s WTA main tour were a handful of $ 15k events.

The last few months for Britain’s Francesca Jones underscore the challenge. Jones was the lowest ranked player to qualify for the Australian Open and later won her first WTA match at an Australian event. Although it was a life-changing month in terms of recognition, it rose less than 40 places in the ranking.

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Still, Jones’ positive outlook is also an example of the diverse perspectives among players. “The rankings are probably, in terms of numbers, a little more difficult to climb,” he said. “But at the same time, it is balanced by the fact that you have nothing to lose.”

The effects of the widespread heartbreak will be apparent over the next two weeks at the Miami Open: 21 players have withdrawn from the main draw, including four of the top six in the world. For the first time since 2004, a Masters 1000 event will take place without Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal. Regardless of his reasoning for retiring, from Federer’s continued recovery to the undesirable prospect of traveling to the United States for a tournament with small prize money and few spectators, the tour continues.

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