Herbert First Unvaccinated Player To Withdraw From Australian Open

Pierre-Hugues Herbert (photo: Brigitte Urban)

WASHINGTON, December 13, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Pierre-Hugues Herbert is the first unvaccinated player to announce his withdrawal from next month’s Australian Open.

The 30-year-old Herbert, who with Nicolas Mahut recently won the ATP Finals doubles championship in Turin, Italy and two years ago together won the Australian Open crown, is currently ranked eighth in the world in doubles. Herbert and Mahut have won five Grand Slam doubles titles together and in June, they won their second French Open doubles title.

According to the Melbourne Herald-Sun, Mahut’s status at the Australian Open is also in doubt as he’s so far only received one dose of an approved Covid-19 vaccine after previously testing positive for the coronavirus.

“Personally, I am not vaccinated and the trip to Australia was not an option for me,” Herbert said, quoted by L’Alsace, a French sports media outlet.

“I do what I can. But because of my singles ranking, it may have been a bad thing [to go to Australia] for a good start.”

Herbert’s current singles ranking, No. 110, placed him as the second alternate for the Australian Open singles main draw, meaning he may have had to qualify. Instead, he will start his season playing in some ATP Challenger Tour events in Italy to boost his singles ranking. He bowed in the first round of all four Grand Slam singles events this season.

“For my part, it is a personal choice not to be vaccinate,” Herbert said. “I don’t know how long it will last. I don’t know if it’s feasible today to be a tennis player without being vaccinated.

“There is not only Australia. Today, there are the United States, Austria … it is a rather complex topic.”

Delgado parts company with Murray for Shapovalov

On Friday, Jamie Delgado became the latest high-profile coach to switch clients in what has become an annual carousel of coaching changes this time of the year. That’s because Delgado, 44, has gone from being a long-time partner of Andy Murray‘s team, since 2016, when the Briton won Wimbledon and ascended to No. 1 in the world rankings – and head coach since 2017 after taking over from Ivan Lendl – to working on a trial basis with World No. 14 Denis Shapovalov.

Ironically, Shapovalov beat Murray in the third round at Wimbledon earlier this year. Delgado is expected to work with the 22-year-old Canadian at least through the Miami Open.

Meanwhile, Jan de Witt, who has previously worked with Gilles Simon, Gaël Monfils and Nicolas Basilashvili, has joined Murray’s team for a trial run starting with the upcoming Mubadala World Tennis Championship exhibition later this month in Abu Dhabi.

Murray, currently ranked 134th in the world, will use the exhibition as a prelude to playing in the Australian Open as he continues to restart his career following hip surgery in January 2019.

Nadal adds Marc Lopez to his team

Rafael Nadal has reunited with his 2016 Olympics doubles partner Marc Lopez. Only this time, the Spaniard has extended his tennis partnership to player-coach. That’s because Lopez is joining Carlos Moya and Francisco Roig as part of Nadal’s team.

Lopez has been working with Nadal in Mallorca in preparation for the 20-time Grand Slam champion’s return to the ATP Tour in Australia next month. First, Lopez will be on the sidelines in Abu Dhabi when Nadal plays in the Mubadala World Tennis Championship exhibition in the United Arab Emirates.

Remembering Manolo Santana: A great player, a better person

Manolo Santana, who passed away Saturday, is being remembered as one of Spain’s most important 20th century athletes. Santana’s death was announced via social media by the Mutua Madrid Open, whom Santana served as tournament director from 2002 to 2019 and later was an honorary president of the Masters 1000 tournament. The main show court at Caja Mágica, where the Mutua Madrid Open is played, is named after him.

The 83-year-old Santana, born in Madrid in 1938, was the No. 1-ranked amateur in the world in 1965. He won four Grand Slam singles titles – Roland Garros in 1961 and 1964, the U.S. National Championships (which later became the US Open in 1968) in 1965 and Wimbledon in 1966. He was the first Spaniard man to win each of those majors.

“My thoughts are with good friend Manolo Santana, who has passed away,” wrote Hall of Fame great Rod Laver, who shared many great on-court battles with the Spanish hero.

“A clay-court maestro, Manolo famously said grass was for cows, but still managed to win Wimbledon in 1966, and inspired generations of Spanish players with his renowned heavy topspin and fighting spirit.”

Indeed, while Santana cemented his place in the International Hall of Fame with his Grand Slam triumphs, he will be forever remembered for leading Spain’s Davis Cup team, both as a player in the 1960s and, later, as a captain in the 1980s and mid-1990s.

Women’s World No. 3 Garbiñe Muguruza, a two-time Grand Slam winner, shared a photo of her with an elderly Santana and a kind message in which she thanked him for his “goodness, warmth, and for showing us the way forward.

“You were always our reference point, for everyone in Spanish tennis, a pioneer,” she said. “So close and so attentive, in the good and bad times. We will miss you. All my love for your family and loved ones.”

Among the many tribunes for Manolo Santana shared on social media:

• Men’s World No. 1 Novak Djokovic wrote: “Heartbreaking to just get the news about Manolo Santana. Sending my deepest condolences and prayers to his family and all who loved him, which is so many. Thank you dear Manolo for paving the way, you will be missed and celebrated always! Rest In Peace legend!”

• Hall of Fame great Martina Navratilova: “Gutted to hear of the passing of one of the all-time nice human who also played our beautiful sport of tennis so beautifully. A master and a gentleman on and off the court – RIP my friend, Señor Manolo Santana #TennisHallOfFame”

• Spanish basketball star Pau Gasol: “Very saddened by the news of the death of Manolo Santana, a tennis legend and a great reference to the sport of our country. My sincere condolences to his family and loved ones. Rest In Peace, Manolo.”

Christopher Clarey, New York Times tennis correspondent: “A Spanish sports legend has passed at age 83. Manolo Santana: first Spanish man to win Wimbledon and the popularizer of #tennis in Spain. Crossed his path and interviewed him many times. A genuine caballero.”

Diatchenko wins WTA 125 Open Angers Arena Loire

The first of two year-end WTA 125 events in France concluded Sunday afternoon as 165th-ranked lucky loser Vitalia Diatchenko of Russia defeated No. 2 seed Zhang Shuai of China, 6-0, 6-4, to win the Open Angers Arena Loire title at Angers, France.

Diatchenko, 31, overcame 12 double faults to beat the No. 62 Zhang. She won 85 percent (34 of 40) of her first-serve points, saved nine of 10 break points she faced and outpointed Zhang 81-59 during the 92-minute final.

After losing in the final round of qualifying last weekend, Diatchenko gained a berth in the 32-player draw as a lucky loser after No. 1 seed Anhelina Kalinina of Ukraine withdrew. She proceeded to win five straight matches to garner her first WTA Challenger title of the season and third WTA 125 crown of her career, which was worth 12,100 euros and 160 rankings points. It was her first title win since 2019 at Taipei.

Meanwhile, the doubles title went to Tereza Mihalikova of Slovakia and Greet Minnen of Belgium, who upset No. 1 seeds Monica Niculescu of Romania and Vera Zvonareva of Russia, 4-6, 6-1, 10-8, in an hour and 27 minutes.

The main draw of the second WTA 125 in France, the Open BLS de Limoges, in Limoges, France, begins Monday. Zhang and 68th-ranked Alison van Uytvanck of Belgium are the top two seeds. Like Angers, at stake is first-prize money of 12,100 euros and 160 rankings points.

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