WASHINGTON, November 23, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)
Turin, the capital city of Piedmont in northern Italy that is known for its refined architecture and cuisine, became the 15th city of play host to the Nitto ATP Finals. Looking back at its debut that ended Sunday, following a 12-year run in London, the city embraced the event. First, by showcasing the players at one of its grandest squares, Piazza San Carlos, where the event’s official photo was taken and was the site of a fan village. It continued inside Pala Alpitour as crowds cheered the action on the court from first ball to last ball. Finally, it culminated with Alexander Zverev‘s second Nitto ATP Finals victory Sunday evening.
During one of his press conferences, Zverev was asked what makes playing in Italy special to him.
“What does make it so special in Italy is the fans, because the fans are absolutely insane,” said Zverev, who knocked off World No. 1 Novak Djokovic to reach the final, then beat World No. 2 Daniil Medvedev 6-4, 6-4 to win the title. “It’s the loudest crowd, it’s the most energetic crowd.
“Rome every year is one of my favorite tournaments of the year. I think this one has topped it and I can’t wait to play in Italy every single time in my career. I love Italy so much and I hope Italy loves tennis just as much.”
Casper Ruud, who reached the semifinal round in his first Nitto ATP Finals, echoed a similar sentiment as Zverev. He said: “It’s been great to play in front of these fans. The passion has been unbelievable. I think also the fact it’s been the first year they have this event, the fans have been extra, extra excited. You can really feel the support.
“I felt the support all week. [Saturday], even though it didn’t go my way, they were cheering and applauding. It’s been a very fun week. I can leave Torino grateful, but also hopeful that I will return.”
Pierre-Hugues Herbert, part of the title-winning doubles team with Nicolas Mahut said: “I feel like the Italians, they love tennis. They’re big tennis fans. It’s nice to come in this country and play here. What we have to say also is that, yeah, it’s pretty special. It’s the first year. It’s still a COVID year. It’s still a special way of organizing an event. I think, yeah, they’ve done a good job for a first year.”
Mahut added: “They have done a great job. The atmosphere is great. Of course, I’m pretty sure if we come back next year, it would be even better.”
The Twitter hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai has become a familiar one on the social media website. It refers to Peng Shuai, the 35-year-old Chinese tennis player, who is one of China’s most recognizable athletes and a past Wimbledon doubles champion.
— wta (@WTA) November 18, 2021
After she took on one of China’s most powerful men, Zhang Gaoli, a former vice premier, who she said assaulted her about three years ago, her voice was quickly silenced by her country’s heavily-controlled cyberspace. Her safety and whereabouts has become a mystery for several weeks.
Peng, it seemed, had become the latest example of China’s “iron grip over politics, society and sports, and an object lesson in the struggle facing women who dare to challenge Beijing – even those who have had a history of winning praise from the state,” wrote the New York Times.
Last week, WTA president and CEO Steve Simon demanded for a full and transparent inquiry into the sexual assault allegations Peng made in her quickly deleted social-media post. He stated that without an inquiry the organization that governs professional women’s tennis will consider pulling its events from China, which includes the lucrative WTA Finals that was moved this year from Shenzhen to Guadalajara, Mexico.
Statement by Steve Simon, WTA Chairman & CEO:
The statement released today by Chinese state media concerning Peng Shuai only raises my concerns as to her safety and whereabouts. Peng Shuai must be allowed to speak freely, without coercion or intimidation from any source.
— wta (@WTA) November 17, 2021
In recent days, Simon sent a letter to the Chinese ambassador to the United States seeking assistance. Also, the editor of a Chinese state-run newspaper on Saturday shared video clips said to be of Peng on Twitter. However, they are unverified and Simon called them “insufficient.” Then, on Sunday, Thomas Bach, the president of the International Olympic Committee held a video call with Peng, in which she reportedly told him that she is well and safe but wants her privacy respected at this time. Critics have labeled the video call as staged and tone deaf in terms of women’s rights and protections and in dealing with a survivor of a sexual assault.
Last week, many of Peng’s contemporaries, including Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams, as well as Hall of Fame great Martina Navratilova took to social media out of concern for her safety and welfare.
— NaomiOsaka大坂なおみ (@naomiosaka) November 16, 2021
I am devastated and shocked to hear about the news of my peer, Peng Shuai. I hope she is safe and found as soon as possible. This must be investigated and we must not stay silent. Sending love to her and her family during this incredibly difficult time. #whereispengshuai pic.twitter.com/GZG3zLTSC6
— Serena Williams (@serenawilliams) November 18, 2021
This is bigger than women’s tennis, bigger than tennis, bigger than sport. It’s about basic human rights…
Can’t hear you IOC!!! Last time I checked, Peng Shuai is an Olympian!!! #threetimeOlympian https://t.co/aEIoykIpKR
— Martina Navratilova (@Martina) November 20, 2021
Peng became the subject of many questions directed at players who competed at the Nitto ATP Finals in Turin. Among the comments:
• Nicolas Mahut: “First of all, I think Steve Simon showed a great leadership on this situation. I really appreciate his statement. I think the ATP followed very fast. I’m pretty sure they will walk on the same path. That means if we don’t have any news, if the situation is still the same, I think ATP would be on the same path as WTA. Personally, I think that’s what we should do. Personally, I won’t play in China if the situation is the same. But we have to be united.”
— Tennis TV (@TennisTV) November 21, 2021
• Novak Djokovic: “I support the statement of WTA as an organization and also their president absolutely. … The whole community, tennis community, needs to back her up and her family, make sure that she’s safe and sound because if you would have tournaments on the Chinese soil without resolving this situation, it would be a little bit strange.”
AO to require players be fully vaccinated to play
Last Saturday, while the Australian Open unveiled its “United by Play,” looking forward to bringing back big crowds and an iconic summer vibe to Melbourne, tournament director Craig Tiley also made very clear: The Australian Open will be the first Grand Slam to require players be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 in order to play. The rule has cast doubt on the participation of men’s World No. 1 Novak Djokovic, who has declined to reveal his vaccination status.
Tiley confirmed the tournament’s policy and his announcement ended months of speculation – not to mention mixed messages. It backs what Daniel Andrews, premier of the state of Victoria, has made clear for some time: that players will need to be fully vaccinated as well as Australian Open spectators and on-site employees.
“It is the one direct that you can take that you can ensure everyone’s safety, and all the plying group understands it,” Tiley said on Saturday. “Our patrons will need to be vaccinated. All the staff working the Australian Open will need to be vaccinated, but when we’re in a state where there’s more than 90 percent of the population fully vaccinated – they’ve done a magnificent job with that – it’s the right thing to do.”
After his Nitto ATP Finals semifinal loss to Alexander Zverev Saturday night, Djokovic was asked during his final Turin press conference whether he will play in Melbourne in January and defend his title. He had made it clear that he didn’t feel being vaccinated for Covid-19 should be mandatory. “We’ll see. We’ll have to wait and see,” he said.
Asked if he thought the state government of Victoria (which includes Melbourne) had made the correct decision and whether he had been in recent contact with Tennis Australia, the governing body of tennis is Australia, Djokovic said: “I haven’t been talking to them, to be honest. I was just waiting to hear what the news is going to be. Now that I know, we’ll just have to wait and see.”
Spoke with WTA chief Simon & ATP chief Gaudenzi this week. Gaudenzi, in particular, not happy with Australian Open mandatory vaccination rule. Prefers quarantine option for unvaccinated to allow freedom of entry. Says vaxed top 100 singles at “above 80 %”.https://t.co/81S15HvDL9
— Christopher Clarey 🇺🇸 🇫🇷 🇪🇸 (@christophclarey) November 20, 2021
Nitto ATP Finals doubles runner up Rajeev Ram of the United States, who won this year’s Australian Open mixed doubles title with Barbora Krejcikova of the Czech Republic, was asked in press Saturday about the Australian Open’s vaccination announcement. He said: “I feel like it wasn’t that much of a surprise considering what we knew – how we knew Australia handled the whole situation from last year.
“Whether it’s fair or not, I feel like it’s kind of up to them, right, how they want to run their event, how they feel about their country and all that. I guess I don’t really see that as being unfair, per se.
“I think how players react to it is up to them really. Tough to say that it’s unfair when we as players are going into another country and all that.
“If our tour wants to take a stance on it, it’s a different story. But they can kind of have the rules they want.”
Meanwhile, Zverev expressed hope that Djokovic would be able to play in Melbourne.
“Look, this is a very tough one, because it’s very political,” Zverev said. “This is about the virus that is going on, right? This is not about a tournament or tennis. We are visiting a different country. At the end of the day, the country is allowing us to enter. We need to follow the rules and follow the guidelines.”
In his reporting, New York Times tennis correspondent Christopher Clarey wrote: “Tournament officials have given no indication that any exceptions will be made to the policy, and the Australian Open could be the first of numerous tour events to require vaccination next season.”
To which Zverev responded: “At the end of the day, I’m No. 3 in the world, so if he doesn’t play, it’s easier to win the tournament. This is obvious. Also, he’s No. 1 in the world so he should be there.
“Hopefully, the Australian government will make an exemption or whatever it is that they can do for him to be able to participate there.”
Happy 78th Birthday, Billie Jean King
On Monday, Hall of Fame great Billie Jean King celebrated her 78th birthday. She shared her thoughts with her many social media followers:
Life is fragile & each day is a gift. Today I am 78 years young.
Feeling grateful for the love & support of family, friends, & all of you, because relationships are everything.
Heading into this next year with energy, renewed hope & goals both big & small.
I’m not done yet! pic.twitter.com/c8htqGk3xo
— Billie Jean King (@BillieJeanKing) November 22, 2021
By the numbers
With both the Nitto ATP Finals and the Akron WTA Finals Guadalajara in the books, here are the updated ATP and WTA Top 20 rankings:
• ATP: 1. Novak Djokovic, 2. Daniil Medvedev, 3. Alexander Zverev, 4. Stefanos Tsitsipas, 5. Andrey Rublev, 6. Rafael Nadal, 7. Matteo Berrettini, 8. Casper Ruud, 9. Hubert Hurkacz, 10. Jannik Sinner.
11. Felix Auger-Aliassime, 12. Cameron Norrie, 13. Diego Schwartzman, 14. Denis Shapovalov, 15. Dominic Thiem, 16. Roger Federer, 17. Cristian Garin, 18. Aslan Karatsev, 19. Roberto Bautista Agut, 20. Pablo Carreño Busta.
• WTA: 1. Ashleigh Barty, 2. Aryna Sabalenka, 3. Garbiñe Muguruza, 4. Karolina Pliskova, 5. Barbora Krejcikova, 6. Maria Sakkari, 7. Anett Kontaveit, 8. Paula Badosa, 9. Iga Swiatek, 10. Ons Jabeur.
11. Anastasia Pavlyunchenkova, 12. Sofia Kenin, 13. Naomi Osaka, 14. Elena Rybakina, 15. Elina Svitolina, 16. Angelique Kerber, 17. Petra Kvitova, 18. Jessica Pegula, 19. Emma Raducanu, 20. Simona Halep.
“I brought a lot of confidence, match confidence, playing on big points, winning the right points in many matches. Many matches I’ve played this year have been decided by only two, three, four points. I would say majority of my wins has been decided by a couple of points. I’ve been fortunate that those points have gone in my favor.
“That’s also something you build up when you play a lot of matches. That builds like a self-belief and confidence that whenever the tightest moments are in the match, you know that maybe the day before or the week before you did something good in those moments. It’s easy to doubt yourself in the toughest moments. This year has been great for me when it comes down to this. I’ve been playing aggressively and well on the biggest points in the matches.”
– Casper Ruud of Norway, World No. 8, on what he did to improve as a player in 2021.
What they’re sharing on social media
Liudmila Samsonova / This season has been a brilliant journey …
— Liudmila Samsonova (@LiudaSamsonova) November 22, 2021
Jannik Sinner / Learning to make the perfect espresso …
Sto imparando a preparare l’espresso perfetto…☕
Grazie a @lavazzagroup per avermi fatto vivere un’esperienza stupenda in Nuvola e nella Giant Lavazza A Modo Mio, ma soprattutto, grazie per avermi mostrato come gustare un vero espresso italiano a casa come al bar 😉 pic.twitter.com/zvYLewH06Q
— Jannik Sinner (@janniksin) November 20, 2021
Paula Badosa / Couldn’t ask for a better place to be …
— Paula Badosa (@paulabadosa) November 20, 2021