Tennis

Rivard: How lucky can you be?

It’s a question that’s been raised before. It comes up every time there’s a momentous withdrawal. 

The New York Times tennis correspondent Christopher Clarey has been advocating for a solution he reiterated on July 7. 

It happens so rarely, but I still think it’s worth exploring. When a player withdraws this late in a Grand Slam or before a major tour final, the beaten player should be able to take the slot. In this case Fritz would play Kyrgios as a “lucky loser”.

The show must go on

— Christopher Clarey 🇺🇸 🇫🇷 🇪🇸 (@christophclarey) July 7, 2022

Should Taylor Fritz, who lost in the Wimbledon quarterfinal to Rafael Nadal, have advanced to the semi when his famous rival withdrew because of an abdominal tear?

Should a loser be automatically promoted to the next round when a winner can’t play? 

Sacrilege?

Logic? 

Disrespect?

Justice?

Evolution?

I fear it may be all of the above. Personally, I don’t hate the idea.

Still, I’ll try to condense the pros and cons of what could perhaps avoid tremendous disappointment when a surprise injury spoils a tournament. 

Among the letdowns is the fact that ticketholders are deprived of a match, often by a tennis star they paid a pretty penny to see. 

With all due respect to the players, a doubles match, no matter how significant or how exciting, isn’t a proper alternative.

Contrary to popular belief, a round off isn’t necessarily a good thing. While rest is always welcome during the long and grueling majors, a pause breaks the rhythm. Nick Kyrgios is a shining example of that when you consider his momentum after his triumph in the quarters.

So, whenever a player is unable to continue, the loser could advance to the next round to avoid the inconveniences mentioned above.

Pros

First, some context.

A player in the main draw who can’t play in the first round is replaced by a lucky loser, someone who lost in the final round of the qualifying event. So, if the empty slot in the opening round left by the withdrawal can be filled by a player who just lost, why couldn’t the same rule apply in the following rounds and even the final? 

By the way, lucky losers have penned their share of fairy tales. Imagine packing up to leave, finding out you have one more chance to play and then going on to win the whole thing!  

Among the more recent examples are Coco Gauff of the US at the 2019 Linz Open and Andrey Rublev of Russia at the 2017 Croatia Open. A week after Rublev’s win, Leonardo Mayer of Argentina managed to repeat the feat at the German Tennis Championships in Hamburg. 

Let’s say Nadal’s abdominal tear had forced him to retire while he was ahead in the last set. Would Fritz have gotten less credit for competing in the semi than if he’d been allowed to replace Nadal against Kyrgios? Did Kyrgios get less credit for making it to his very first Slam final without fighting it out in the semis? The answer is obvious. 

Cons

“No, no, no, no, no. You can’t lose in the semis and win a Slam. No.” 

So said former World No.1 Andy Roddick, who’s been spending much of his retirement on social media. 

There’s isn’t enough space here to list the arguments against letting a lucky loser into any round, but Clarey’s Twitter feed and Roddick’s response sparked an interesting debate you can follow here. 

Photo: The New York Times

It definitely takes luck to become a lucky loser. Even though players deserve a ton of credit for battling in the final round of a qualifying event, you still need a way in and an open spot in the main draw. 

As they say, one person’s loss is another person’s gain.  

Just ask one of the most famous lucky losers in tennis, our very own Peter Polansky, who started coaching Denis Shapovalov just a few months ago.  

In 2018, Polansky ended up a lucky loser at all four Slams. You read that correctly: all four. 

The fact that he lost in the first round every time doesn’t take anything away from that. 

He tweeted about his luck on August 28 and even earned himself a profile in the New York Times. 

Shapo says no to off-court coaching 

Photo: TennisMajors.com

Post-Wimbledon 2022 marks the start of a new era (on a trial basis) in the ATP: players can now get advice from their coach during match. 

But that’s not an option for Denis Shapovalov. 

He’s not interested. In fact, he’s totally against it. I’ll come back to that later. 

First, remember the wish Stefanos Tsitsipas expressed in 2021 after he was targeted as a player who was coached from the sidelines by his father Apostolos? The elder Tsitsipas wasn’t accused of anything, but the issue was the focus of a lot of talk.

I even wrote about it here. 

Last month, the ATP decided to give off-court coaching a try, just like the WTA did between 2008 and 2019, until the pandemic. As you may recall, the WTA allowed on-court coaching once per set and mic’d up the coaches when events were broadcast. In early 2020, the WTA was about to begin an off-court coaching trial, likely in response to the incident involving Serena Williams and her coach Patrick Mouratoglou at the 2018 US Open final against Naomi Osaka.

Coaches can now talk to their protégés at all regular tournaments (including qualifying rounds), as well as the US Open and the ATP Finals in Turin.

Here are the rules: 

Coaches must sit in the tournament’s designated coach seats.Coaching (verbal and non-verbal) is allowed only if it does not interrupt play or create any hindrance to the opponent.Verbal coaching is permitted only when the player is at the same end of the court.Non-verbal coaching (hand signals) is permitted at any time.Verbal coaching may consist of a few words and/or short phrases (no conversations are permitted).Coaches may not speak to their player when the player leaves the court for any reason.Penalties and fines will still apply for abuse or misuse of the above coaching conditions.

It all sounds very interesting, especially if viewers can listen in on the conversations like they can at the ATP Next Gen Finals starring the world’s top 21-and-under. In 2021, Carlos Alcaraz (seen here getting some direction from coach Juan Carlos Ferrero on the right) took home the crown.

Photo: ATPTour.com

Personally, I loved the initiative by the WTA. The coaches’ techniques, tactics, words of encouragement and strategic analysis are fascinating to anyone who plays tennis or wants some insight into what goes on between players and their coaches.  

Some of the discussions went viral, including two pep talks Philippe Dehaes gave an emerging Daria Kasatkina in 2018.

If you need a pick-me-up, here it is.

But back to Denis.

Ahead of Wimbledon, he sat down for an interview with French journalist Carole Bouchard over at Tennis Majors. When the topic of off-court coaching came up, his stance was crystal clear: 

“I’m against this. Tennis is one of the only sports where coaching isn’t allowed, it’s what makes it different. It’s so special having two players there and you’re just competing against each other. The work and the help that you got happened already so now it’s you making decisions out there. It changes the tradition… I’m for no coaching, I’m for keeping the tradition. As a tennis fan, I think the rule change isn’t great but we’ll see how it goes.”

Off-court coaching is something he got to try in Milan in 2017, at the first and only Next Gen tournament in which he competed.

Back then, Denis and Martin Laurendeau seemed to be having a lot of fun. 

Times have certainly changed.

OUCH!

Photo: Tennis365.com

It was planned, expected, calculated and analyzed. 

But when the updated rankings were released after Wimbledon, they still hit pretty hard. 

Just ask Denis Shapovalov, Hubert Hurkacz or Matteo Berrettini.

Better yet, ask Novak Djokovic.

A look at the Top 24 on Monday, July 11th was enough to get a pretty good idea of the situation. The column of points added or subtracted was as red as a balance sheet after a ghastly day on the stock market.

Because no ranking points were awarded for the Slam, Shapovalov lost the ones he’d earned for his semifinal run in 2021. 

Photo: TennisMajors.com

As for Hurkacz, he was divested of about the same number of points: 710 in total. Berrettini, who was a finalist last year, watched 1,200 points fly away. 

Photo: Wimbledon.com

But it was Novak Djokovic, winner of the last four editions, who took the biggest hit: the 2,000 points that usually go to the champion. If you take things one step further and consider his wins, he’s 4,000 points short. 

Ouch, indeed. 

Racquet flex

Photo: Twitter

We all knew racquet frames, like the balls that hit them, could get bent out of shape on contact.

But there’s rarely been such a striking example of how surprisingly flexible tennis racquets actually are.

Now, the next time you’re at the pro shop choosing between a stiff, medium or flexible frame, you’ll have a better idea of what that could mean.

Even if you don’t hit like Nick.

Email: privard@tenniscanada.com

Twitter: @paul6rivard

Follow all our Canadians in action here.

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