Murray, Bertens Win Virtual Titles From Home

WASHINGTON, May 1, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

Andy Murray won the Mutua Madrid Open for the third time – only this time he didn’t have to leave the comfort of his sofa at home. Thursday’s title was a virtual one as the World No. 121 showed his adroit gaming skills by trading a tennis racquet for a PS4 controller. Still, his 7-6 (5) victory over World No. 10 David Goffin of Belgium in the ATP final of the Mutua Madrid Open Virtual Pro was a satisfying one for him.

“Of all the matches I played, that felt like a proper match. We were a similar level,” said Murray after his title win. “I think (David) is genuinely a little bit better at the game than me. He was able to use the drop-shot and the inside-out forehand and stuff like that. He had a few more options but my serve was probably the biggest difference.”

Meanwhile, Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands, came into the Virtual Pro looking to successful defend her 2019 Madrid clay-court title. The stoic Bertens won the WTA final over Fiona Ferro of Spain, 6-2, in a battle of previously undefeated players. Bertens reached the championship match with a 7-5 win over Caroline Wozniacki from Denmark, while Ferro upended previously unbeaten Sorana Cirstea of Romania 6-3. Throughout, the World No. 7 Bertens was a quiet study, who always seemed in command of every match she played.

With pro tennis suspended due to the novel coronavirus pandemic until at least July 13, much of the tennis world’s focus this week has been on virtual tennis. While the Virtual Pro under the guidance of Mutua Madrid Open tournament director Feliciano Lopez wasn’t without a few hiccups and bugs that need to get worked out, it brought out a lot of enthusiasm from the 16 ATP and 16 WTA players who competed all week long.

The undefeated Murray reached the final by walkover after Argentina’s Diego Schwartzman had a “connection issue” that gave him a competitive advantage against the Scotsman. Schwartzman won a super tie-breaker 10-6 in lieu of a regular match before the two attempted to play offline to no avail. Through Schwartzman’s selfless sportsmanship, Murray was through to the title match.

“You deserve to be in the final,” Schwartzman said to Murray. “We need to split the prize money we share to the foundations. And then you play the final. I think it’s going to be better for TV for everyone. If you are in Europe, the transmission is better.”

In the second semifinal, Goffin advanced over Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, 7-6 (6) by saving a match point with an ace over the previously undefeated Greek star.

Twice, Murray served to stay in the 33-minute final against Goffin and even trailed 5-4 in the tie-break before he strung together the last three points of the match. His eighth ace set up match point. Murray finished with 33 winners against just two unforced errors while Goffin hit 36 winners and eight unforced errors. Murray outpointed Goffin 49-40.

“It was good,” said Murray. “I enjoyed it, there’s not much we can do just now. We spend most of the days indoors and can’t get out much, so it was a fun thing to do.”

In reality, Murray, a three-time major champion, won his first Madrid title on a hard court in 2008, then prevailed on in 2015. He’s been sidelined the entire 2020 season due to injury.

Murray and Bertens each won 150,000 euros. Murray said afterward he would donate half of his winnings to the NHS and the other half to the tennis player relief fund.

Against Ferro, Bertens fired 21 winners and committed just one unforced error during their 12-minute title match. Afterward, during a post-match interview from her home, she was all smiles. “I’m feeling great, of course, it’s my first virtual tournament victory. Once I got the PlayStation, I started practicing, because if I do something I want to do it right,” Bertens said.

“I hope everyone had fun watching. I think it was unbelievable that so many players competed. We can’t play real tennis, but I hope our fans enjoyed the last few days.”

What they’re saying

In a Sky Sports Italia interview published Thursday, World No. 1 Novak Djokovic admitted that he nearly quit tennis after his 2010 French Open quarterfinal loss to Austria’s Jurgen Melzer. At the time, the loss was the ninth straight Grand Slam in which Djokovic failed to reach the final after he won his first major trophy at the 2008 Australian Open. However, in time, Djokovic found liberation following his emotional defeat. From there, he began the long trek toward becoming one of the best players performing under pressure among his generation.

“I cried after this knockout,” Djokovic admitted during the interview with Sky Sports Italia, conducted in Italian. “It was a bad moment, I wanted to leave tennis because I saw everything black.” 

Looking back on the loss to Melzer, Djokovic reflected upon it, saying “It was a transformation. Because after that defeat, I freed myself.”

Djokovic has come a long way since 2010. Now, he owns 17 Grand Slam singles titles, the most recent coming earlier this year at the Australian Open. He also jumped out to an 18-0 win-loss record before the novel coronavirus pandemic shut down the ATP Tour until at least July 13.

What they’re writing

Carole Bouchard, French tennis journalist, writing for tennismajors.com, from “Tennis Coaches Plead for a Better Job Security Amid Covid-19 Crisis”: “… And all around the world, we see talks of setting up relief funds for players, especially for the lower-ranked players. What we’re not hearing enough is that there’s another population left to struggle right now, a population that financially depends on the players. Their coaches. 

“What’s happening with them right now? Here’s the heart of the matter: coaching on the Tour, event at the top level, has zero job safety. If their players don’t do the right thing, coaches land in a non man’s land. Whether it is the around 200 who are certified by the Tour, or all the other ones.”

Behind The Racquet – Donna Vekic 

Donna Vekic, the talented twenty-fourth ranked Croatian, remembers becoming interested in tennis at age six because she had grown too tall to continue with gymnastics. “Why not tennis? From the first day I was really into it,” she recently revealed in a first-person essay she wrote for the Instagram series Behind The Racquet. “I remember rolling my ankle in my house before the first practice but still went. I enjoyed tennis from the beginning but probably because I was so competitive. I hated to lose and needed to win. I do really love tennis. There is nothing quite like playing a night match, especially at Grand Slams. you can tell I love tennis when I spent the whole day on site and the first thing I do when I get back to the hotel is turn the TV on and watch more tennis.”

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“There is nothing quite like playing a night match, especially at Grand Slams. You can tell I love tennis when I spend the whole day on site and the first think I do when I get back to the hotel is turn the TV on and watch more tennis. I remember having one of my longest losing streaks. I was around 16 years old and lost seven matches in a row, and this was when I was restricted to the amount of professional tournaments I could play. I couldn’t just play week after week to try and get that win. I finally won my first match after a while at Indian Wells. It was such a relief. After losing a couple matches it gets in your head, thinking I didn’t have what it took. The struggle was moving up the rankings quickly. I was 16 and already top 100 in the world. I won my first WTA event at 17. Every time I reached a final or won a tournament, the next few after would be a waste. I would lose early from all the pressure I put on myself to have to win. I really didn’t enjoy playing from around 18-20 years old. Everyone expected me to keep on winning from when I was 16. It just doesn’t always happen like that, it’s so rare. Now when I see all these young girls, I know it will eventually stop. From then it’s just how they deal with it and move pass it. A lot of the pressure is coming from media. I remember reading an article where they called me a ‘tourist’ at the tournament. I was never into reading too much about myself, didn’t pay too much attention to it all. It was easier at times because I wouldn’t spend too much time in Croatia to listen to what people said. Even if you don’t try you always hear that people are talking about you. I was still working hard, practicing, doing everything right, but it was just not being shown in matches. I finally admitted to myself that I wasn’t enjoying tennis. Things changed and my ranking went from outside the top 100 to top 20 in the world. I really grew up, through the natural process of growing up and just became older. I cannot say it was because I was working harder, I was just smarter about it all.” @donnavekic Go to behindtheracquet.com for extended stories, podcast and merch.

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What they’re sharing on social media

ATP Tour / #ClapForKeyWorkers

Serena Williams, United States, currently ranked No. 9 / Phenomenal rally

Kiki Bertens / A message from your 2020 Virtual Pro champion