Let The Virtual Mutua Madrid Open Begin!

WASHINGTON, April 27, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

Opening day of the the Mutua Madrid Open Virtual Pro has arrived and a full slate of 24 group matches, plus two charity matches, are on Monday’s order of play of the four-day tournament. Don’t worry, though, matches will be fast and there’s no threat of weather delays in virtual tennis.

Play commences at 3 p.m. Madrid time (CEST) with Diego Schwartzman facing David Ferrer followed by Carla Suárez Navarro against Belinda Bencic. Then, third on court (not before 3:30 p.m.) will be Rafael Nadal against Denis Shapovalov. Nadal, a five-time Madrid Open champion on the real clay courts, will also play a charity match not before 4 p.m. against YouTube star DjMariio.

In the Mutua Madrid Open Virtual Pro, everyone will be competing using a PS4 controller and play in a re-creation of Manolo Santana Stadium at Caja Mágica in the video game Tennis World Tour (Nacon Gaming). The tournament continues through Thursday, with Monday and Tuesday competition in round-robin qualifying groups for both men and women. The top two players in each of the four men’s and four women’s groups will advance to a knockout quarterfinal draw on Wednesday with semifinals and finals set for Thursday.

Each of the four men’s and women’s groups boasts at least one Grand Slam champion or a former World No. 1.

“We’ve had a great response from all the players,” said tournament director Feliciano Lopez. “From the first moment when the initiative was conceived, they were prepared to help.

“It’s the first virtual tournament. It’ll be a fantastic tournament, the bar is high, the players are ready and it’s certainly going to be spectacular.”

The Mutua Madrid Open Virtual Pro will donate 50,000 euros to the Madrid Food Bank that will help reduce the social impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. The tournament includes a total purse of 300,000 euros (split evenly between the ATP and WTA), from which the winners will be able to decide how much they donate to their tour peers, who are currently suffering economically from the coronavirus shut down of the professional tennis tours.

The Mutua Madrid Open Virtual Pro can be followed in English on the Mutua Madrid Open Facebook page and in Spanish on the PlayStation España Facebook page. It will also be streamed live in the United States on Tennis.com and on the Tennis Channel app.

What they’re writing

While the idea of combined tennis tours has been around for 50 years – since the 1970s – it took Roger Federer making a suggestion on social media last week to boost the idea into the limelight during the global pandemic. In “Could a Merger of Men’s and Women’s Tennis Come Out of This Hiatus,” Christopher Clarey, tennis correspondent for The New York Times, writes: “Combining the tours — a complex and ego-imperiling task that is far from fruition — could create more leverage for unified deals with sponsors, broadcasters and data companies. It could also provide a more coherent experience for fans, who now typically need multiple cable and digital subscriptions to follow the men’s and women’s games. Plus it might streamline the calendar, even if some separate men’s and women’s events remain, and eliminate differences in the rules. (The WTA, for example, allows in-match coaching; the ATP does not.)”

What they’re saying

World No. 2 Simona Halep, interviewed via email by Christopher Clarey, tennis correspondent for The New York Times, has expressed support for an ATP/WTA merger. “Tennis has suffered from there being so many separate organizations in the past, and I believe that we would be stronger together. This global crisis gives us time to think and plan, probably an opportunity that won’t come along again, so I’m interested to hear more about these conversations.”

Behind the Racquet – Elise Mertens

World No. 23 Elise Mertens, born in Leuven, Belgium, started playing tennis when she was four years-old and began entering under-18 events when she was just 13. Now, at age 24 and a professional since 2013, the Belgian No. 1 knows no other life. She says she loves tennis “and wouldn’t do anything else.”

Despite the constant travel that accompanies being a pro tennis player, Mertens confesses in a first-person Behind the Racquet essay, which posted to the Instagram series over the weekend, “It is not easy to always stay motivated away from home. 

“I’m just a simple person. I am an animal lover, with a few dogs and turtles at home.” She resides in Harmont-Achel, Belgium, about 119 kilometers northeast of Brussels. “… Sometimes just need a little bit of that home feeling.”

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“That winning feeling keeps you going, the passion keeps you going. I used the inspiration from other players in order to raise my level of tennis to theirs. After reaching 500 you get a feel of it, and just want more. It doesn’t always go as fast you want and tennis players are not very patient. I always think there is someway to improve. The worry was not about me being too lazy but more about fixing my mentality. It took me a while to play against top 100 players, or girls who have won WTA titles, and truly believe I could beat them. ⁣ ⁣ I’m just a simple person. I am an animal lover, with a few dogs and turtles at home. I just enjoy being at home relaxing with my friends and family. During tournaments you have the same routine every day which can get boring. It is not easy to always stay motivated away from home. People outside of tennis never understand how I can constantly travel all the time. I really do not know any other life. I started playing tennis when I was four years old and started to play under 18 events when I was only 13 years old. That was when I began to travel full time. I don’t really have that feeling that I’ve missed out on anything. I still managed to have some friends at home that I get to see every once in a while. I love the sport and wouldn’t do anything else. The toughest part of the tour for me is the travel and not being home as much as I want. I just don’t have the time to do usual things like sit on the couch at home, be with my dogs, or see my family or friends. I was lucky to at least have my mom who used to travel with me a lot to tournaments. People always think being on the road is exciting. The fans only see the matches, which is the fun part, but there is much more going on off court. It all becomes a routine. It is important to break the rhythm sometimes. I love what I do and it is my passion, but it is important to mix up the routine. Even if it is as simple as changing how you eat. I go to different restaurants as often as I can or even stay at an apartment so I can cook myself. Sometimes just need a little bit of that home feeling.” @mertenselise⁣ ⁣ Go to behindtheracquet.com for extended stories, podcast and merch.

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What they’re sharing on social media

Art meets tennis / Rafa Nadal shares an IG Live chat with Roger Federer

WTA Way Back Machine / A look back at Stuttgart 2019

#TennisAtHome / Alexander Zverev and Stefanos Tsitsipas