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Tennis briefing: Kasatkina ‘assured’ about Saudi Arabia, Alcaraz defies injury



Tennis briefing: Kasatkina 'assured' about Saudi Arabia, Alcaraz defies injury

Welcome to the Monday Tennis Briefing, true The Athletics will explain the story behind the stories of the past week in court.

This week the coveted Masters 1000 in Madrid ran its first week and the stories on the court were matched by the drama surrounding it, as the Grand Slams and tennis tours continue their beauty contest for the future of the sport.

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Can ‘guarantees’ about the safety of players in Saudi Arabia ever be enough?

Daria Kasatkina, the highest-ranking openly gay player in women’s tennis, was asked on Sunday how she felt about the WTA choosing to hold the Tour finals for the next three years in Saudi Arabia, a country where homosexuality is a crime that can be punishable by death.

Only the best eight players qualify for the Tour Finals. Kasatkina is currently number 11 in the world.

“Look, if I qualify, it means I’m in the top eight in the world,” Kasatkina said after advancing to the round of 16 in Madrid. “It’s great news for me.”

Kasatkina has been one of the most prominent voices on Saudi Arabia’s entry into the sport (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Then she took a deep breath. “We see that the Saudis are now very interested in the sport. They want to develop the sport, and as long as it gives the people there, the young kids and the women an opportunity as well, you know, we see that sport and tennis specifically, it’s actually close enough for them to watch it. . They can play, they can participate in this, I love it.”

When asked what she thought the environment would be like for gay players and those in same-sex relationships as her, and whether she had been assured that she might be able to share a room with a partner, Ksatkina again paused thoughtfully. I have been assured that I am fine,” she said.

Does it matter if Aryna Sabalenka wants to watch men’s tennis?

Sabalenka caused a bit of a stir last week when she told Spanish media that she doesn’t watch much women’s tennis and prefers men’s tennis, saying it was more interesting. That wasn’t the kind of buzz the women’s tour is looking for from its top players.

Sabalenka clarified these comments after winning her first match in Madrid, explaining that sitting and watching her opponents is not how she prefers to spend her free time.

“I play against all of them, and I just want to change the image. Because I watch a lot of women’s tennis before I go to the match, I also watch my opponents, I watch a lot of women’s tennis,” she said. “It’s not that I don’t like it or that I’m trying to offend what I do. I was trying to say that because I play there and it’s too much for me, I try to watch men’s tennis. It’s more fun than probably seeing my future opponents in the tournament.”

A completely understandable explanation. Tennis, and watching it, is work for the world’s top players, men and women. Baseball players don’t watch much baseball in their spare time.

(Full disclosure: This can also apply to tennis writers.)

It’s a sensitive topic on tour, especially since it wasn’t long ago that Amelie Mauresmo, the French Open tournament director and former world No. 1, described men’s tennis as more attractive to justify her decision to give men the nightly to dominate matches of the tournament. agreement.

It is unrealistic to expect female tennis players to be the sole defenders of their sport (Martin Keep/AFP via Getty Images)

Women already have enough trouble with men demeaning their sport. Fair or unfair – probably the latter – that forces them to be extra careful when talking about their favorite versions of the sport. No one attacks Daniil Medvedev or any other male player when they admit they don’t watch their sport unless they are in the middle of a tournament.

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Did an arm injury actually help Carlos Alcaraz?

There are few things that worry the tennis world more than the health and well-being of Carlos Alcaraz. His magical play and dynamic style have captivated tennis fans and the rest of the sports-consuming public. He is one of those players who doesn’t come around that often and transcends the game, giving tennis a chance to break through the swamp.

He also gets injured a lot and has missed some mid-major parts of his early seasons as a professional, which has cost him the opportunity to play in major tournaments – the ATP Tour Finals in 2022 and the Australian Open in 2023 are at the top of that list .

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Carlos Alcaraz makes magic again. Watch out.

So it was a bit alarming when Alcaraz withdrew from Monte Carlo and Barcelona this month with a forearm injury. Competing in Madrid was a matter of doing it until his last training session the day before his first match, which he played with a sleeve. His performance, a near-flawless 6-2, 6-1 victory over Kazakhstan’s Alexander Shevchenko, allayed many concerns but also showed a different side of Alcaraz, who said he never went broke with his cannon to protect his opponents . arm.

“I hit it softer than I used to, but it helped me stay relaxed,” he said. “I think more.”

The data (below) shows that Alcaraz takes a softer approach (a difference of five miles per hour may not seem like much, but over 75 feet it is a lot) and with “less quality,” but he still wins.

Far from anyone criticizing the play of a two-time Grand Slam champion at the age of 20, but if there has been a weakness for Alcaraz it is his tendency to sometimes play shots rather than play points – especially when he’s under pressure – and put together a highlight instead of simply winning by playing solid, unspectacular tennis. If there is a silver lining to this latest injury, it could be that it forces Alcaraz to become a more subdued but more effective player, still with plenty of highlights.

Two bagels for you Coco, you go Coco!

Coco Gauff has done many impressive things in her tennis career, but the so-called ‘double bagels’ are generally not her thing. She had come close before, most recently in the WTA Finals last year against a stumbling Ons Jabeur. With Gauff, however, there is usually a moment in every match when the forehand becomes wobbly or the serve fails.

Then came Madrid and an opening round match against Arantxa Rus of the Netherlands. Fifty-one minutes and a 51-18 point difference later, and Gauff had her first double bagel. In her second match, against Dayana Yastremska, Gauff sprinted to a 4-0 lead and looked like she could get three in a row, but settled for a 6-4, 6-1. Breadsticks also make good fuel.

Gauff flew through her match (Oscar Del Pozo/AFP via Getty Images)

Gauff is as good an athlete as there is in the game and can play all night if he needs to, but every player wants to be as clinical as possible whenever possible. If Gauff can figure out how to do that, especially in the early rounds of tournaments, the rest of the field better pay attention.

Is the crossover between the Billie Jean King Cup and the Davis Cup a good idea?

Legend of the sport Billie Jean King has long wanted a “Tennis World Championship” – and now she has it… sort of.

The International Tennis Federation (ITF) this week announced changes to the schedule and format of the annual event, creating a week of crossover between the BJK Cup and its men’s equivalent, the Davis Cup, with the second semi-final and final of the women’s tournament overlaps the first two days of the men’s tournament at the end of November this year.

The women’s tournament has also evolved to emulate its counterpart’s knockout structure, replacing a round-robin final with a direct shootout between eight of the final twelve teams. The four seeded countries – which in current form would be the Czech Republic and Australia, in addition to the 2023 winners and runners-up Canada and Italy – get an immediate bye for the quarter-finals.

Rune and Navone have Madrid in control

If Medvedev’s fate is in his strings, Holger Rune’s may lack a weave.

During his unnecessarily back-and-forth win over rising Argentine Mariano Navone, he went to the referee at 5-3 in his favor (although it was still 5-1 a few minutes earlier).

“The tournament is trying to cheat me,” he said. “They missed a string in my racket.” He then pushed a camera away before repeating his complaint. It looked more like a cross thread had been woven incorrectly, rather than an entire line missing.

Rune trailed 5-6, 15-30 on Navone’s serve in the second set, on the verge of exiting the tournament, before Navone sharpened up, hitting two double-double faults and a backhand error that narrowly missed the tramlines to to give. a tiebreaker. Rune ran away with it, and the next six games went 5-1, but the racket incident completely destabilized him and he ultimately needed five match points before winning 6-4 in a final service game that swung like a pendulum.

Maybe string Navone along.

Shots (fired) of the week

Alexander Bublik will do Alexander Bublik things whenever he wants. Roberto Carballes Baena is not a fan.

Recommended reading:

📅Coming soon

🎾 ATP:

📍Madrid, Mutua Madrid Open (1000) second week, ft. Jannik Sinner, Carlos Alcaraz, Rafael Nadal, Daniil Medvedev.
📺 UK: Sky Sports; USA: Tennis Channel 💻 Tennis TV

🎾 WTA:

📍Madrid, Mutua Madrid Open (1000) second week, ft. Iga Swiatek, Aryna Sabalenka, Elena Rybakina, Coco Gauff.
📺 UK: Sky Sports; USA: Tennis Channel 💻 Tennis TV

Tell us what you noticed this week in the comments as the tours continue.

(Top photos: Clive Brunskill/Julian Finney/Getty Images)