Wilander In Agreement With Federer That An ATP/WTA Merger Could Be Good For Tennis

WASHINGTON, April 28, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

Seven-time Grand Slam singles champion Mats Wilander, now respected as a tennis commentator and analyst at Eurosport, says with the coronavirus shutdown that has halted pro tennis, now is an ideal time for re-branding the sport in an effort to attract a new generation of fans.

During a recent telephone interview with Reuters, Wilander, 55, who now resides in Hailey, Idaho (USA), said, “Truth is, and I hate to say it, we are going to lose the greatest player of all time in terms of interest in a year or two when Roger stops.” Roger, of course, is 20-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer.

“We have a new breed of men and women that are really exciting, great athletes, great attitude but they are missing out on a bit of the limelight while the likes of Federer and Rafa Nadal and Novak (Djokovic) continue to play.

“Now is the time to re-brand the sport a little to attract a younger audience. Maybe we can see more men’s and women’s combined events so the young players can be marketed better.”

Further, the Swede said that “Tennis has always been at the forefront of equality between men and women’s prize money. This is a perfect time to somehow make it a working relationship where we combine. 

“Some tournaments wouldn’t work as men’s and women’s event but others would. It’s about demographics and being flexible and adapting to the market. But it’s a necessity for tennis to attract younger fans going forward.”

Virtual tennis provides thrills, laughs

The first day of the Mutua Madrid Open Virtual Pro provided thrills and laughter – and a few hiccups –  all for a good cause. Although it’s too early to predict how it all might turn out, at least one player, Belinda Bencic, came ready and focused to play. She was attired in full kit from head to toe and walked upstairs into her family room with her racquet bag slung over her shoulder and arranged her towels just like it was a regular tournament. Then, she promptly beat Carla Suárez Navarro 3-1 in her first group match. It took just nine minutes. Later in the day, Kei Nishikori shutout Frances Tiafoe 3-0 in a mere five minutes.

Of the 24 group play matches Monday, one of the most highly-anticipated matches pitted Rafael Nadal against Denis Shapovalov. The Spaniard prevailed 4-3 (3) in only 11 minutes, hitting 17 winners  and outpointing Shapovalov 25-20. Virtual Nadal was attired in an orange muscle shirt and white shorts and, not surprisingly, displayed some of his real-life idiosyncrasies. The real Nadal could be seen in the lower-left corner of the screen during the match wearing a white t-shirt and baseball cap. Unfortunately, throughout the brief encounter, fans were unable to hear either player comment on the match, which was a chief criticism noted by fans on social media.

Throughout, the fast pace of the single-set matches (first to three games – win by two – with tie-breaks at 3-all) meant most of them went quickly, enough to whet a fan’s appetite. Virtual play allowed for little room for error by the players. In the end, it was gaming skills, which requires tremendous hand-eye coordination, that proved to be a great equalizer.

Among double winners on the first day were Diego Schwartzman, Sorana CirsteaStefanos Tsitsipas and Caroline Wozniacki.

“I haven’t done anything since January,” the former World No. 1 Wozniacki said, quoted by the WTA website. “I haven’t seen my racquets, I haven’t played any tennis … so I’m fresh, that’s for sure. I have a lot of energy to go play!”

Round-robin group play continues on Tuesday, with the knockout quarterfinal round on Wednesday and semifinals and finals on Thursday.

Behind the Racquet – Roberto Bautista Agut

Roberto Bautista Agut, 32, recalls in his first-person Behind the Racquet essay, which he wrote for the Instagram series earlier this month, how his parents wanted him to make his dreams come true no matter the situation. “I kept playing and fought harder than I ever did. That was my way of making it worth it.”

The World No. 12 Bautista Agut recalled how following his mother’s death in 2018 he was playing some of his best tennis. “I was there for my family as much as I could, but I couldn’t throw away what I have worked all my life for. I never game up.”

Then, in November 2019, Bautista Agut’s quadriplegic father passed away during Spain’s Davis Cup tie against Canada. “I got to be with him his last few minutes and played a match 24 hours later. It was what my father wanted for me.” 

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“My mom passed away in 2018. I was at the club I used to train at when I got a call after practice. I found out my mom went to sleep and didn’t wake up. It was 100% unexpected. She was very young, only 52 years old, but was supporting a lot of stress from taking care of my father. He was in the bed in the next room when my mom passed away. Back in 2016 my father was in an accident. My father fell while he was cleaning our horse stables and became paralyzed. From my father’s accident he became a quadriplegic, couldn’t move from the neck down. He used an artificial breathing machine since he couldn’t do it himself. We had two people, plus my mother, who took care of my father 24 hours a day. Then when my mom passed away and it was all on my wife and I. I would practice and then use my free time to go home and visit my father in the hospital or the house. I knew that during this time I could not stop playing. I had to help my father. In the beginning we didn’t know how much the treatments would cost or all of his operations. I know that besides the money playing tennis is what my father wanted for me. My parents wanted me to make my dreams come true no matter the situation. I kept playing and fought harder than I ever did. That was my way of making it worth it. During this horrible time is when I played some of my best tennis. I was there for my family as much as I could, but I couldn’t throw away what I have worked all my life for. I never gave up. It was November of 2019, when my father passed away. It was during the Davis Cup match against Canada. I got to be with him his last few minutes and played a match 24 hours later. It was what my father wanted for me. His passing was a little unexpected but my family knew that it could happen any day or month. Even though I knew this, once your father passes away you face that. These tough moments made me stronger and more powerful. It gave me a strength others didn’t have. It made me more focused and motivated. I did everything I could to fight hard on the court to show my mother and father that their hard work was worth it.” @robertobautistaagut Go to behindtheracquet.com for extended stories, podcast and merch.

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What they’re saying

After her opening win against at the Mutua Madrid Open Virtual Pro Monday, Belinda Bencic was asked how she is spending her time at home in Switzerland during the Covid-19 lock down: “I think it is important to make a routine so as to not become lazy.” Bencic said she’s enjoying things like exercising and cooking. “I’m doing things at home I never had the time to do. I’m reading books, painting. It’s actually very nice.”

What they’re sharing on social media

ATP / The commentary we all needed from Andy Murray

Elina Svitolina, Ukraine, currently ranked No. 5 / Tennis anyone?

Angelique Kerber, Germany, currently ranked No. 21 / Virtual tennis: fun but I need more practice