Last week, the women were playing tour events, and the men were playing a team event. This week, the roles were reversed, but the results were just as varied, eye-opening, draining and emotion-laden. Here are three takeaways from the first full week of February, the most underrated and sneaky-busy month on the tennis calendar.
Fed Cup’s Turn in the Spotlight
Did it seem, now that Davis Cup has dismantled its four-round system and put its eggs in a one-week basket, that Fed Cup’s profile was proportionally raised this weekend? It’s the only place left where we can see international team tennis the old-fashioned way, with home crowds, reverse singles matches, and unsung heroes riding in to save the day.
If so, the event lived up to that higher profile, and validated fans’ love for the old ways:
—Two ties, Romania vs. Czech Republic and Australia vs. USA, went back and forth, and back and forth again, until they were finally decided in the doubles.
—Alizé Cornet and Elise Mertens played perhaps the most brutally-fought set of the season so far, an 86-minute mini-epic that went a long way to helping France beat Belgium.
—Simona Halep and Karolina Pliskova went down to the wire in a tense battle of No. 1s. Halep’s win helped Romania upset the defending champion Czechs, and reach the semifinals for the first time in the nation’s history.
—Another star player in the making, Aryna Sabalenka, got herself back on track with two blistering singles wins for Belarus.
—Danielle Collins brought her no-holds-barred intensity to the team format she loves best, and embraced her chance to play for her country.
—Ash Barty, in her quietly commanding way, was the player of the weekend. Her three-win performance—she didn’t drop a set—lifted the Aussies over the U.S.
In the end, while the home crowds filled the arenas, it was the away teams that won. Last year’s champion and finalist, the Czech Republic and the United States, were eliminated. This spring’s semifinals will pit Romania vs. France and Belarus vs. Australia
Say It is So, Jo
When we talk about players dominating into their 30s, the game’s marquee names—Serena Williams, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal—rightfully receive the lion’s share of the attention and the kudos. But the aging—or maturing, depending on your point of view—of the game doesn’t stop with them.
In the past, if a top player had surgery at age 33—or even at, say, 28—there was a good chance that his or her career would be over. But that obviously hasn’t been the case with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who underwent knee surgery last spring, and who will turn 34 this April. Last month, Tsonga looked like his young self when he reached the semifinals in Brisbane. This week he looked even better in winning his first title since 2017, in Montpellier. It was nice to have Jo back, both for his game and his personality. Four of the five players he beat in the event were fellow Frenchmen, and after each of those victories, Tsonga cut short his celebration and shared a consoling embrace with his countryman.
If Tsonga’s run in Montpellier was a victory for the old guard, Daniil Medvedev’s title in Sofia was a win for the new one. While Stefanos Tsitsipas has made the biggest Next Gen headlines of 2019 so far, Medvedev, a 23-year-old Russian, has been just as good. He reached the final in Brisbane; made the fourth round at the Australian Open, where he was the last player to take a set from Djokovic; and he cruised to his fourth career title in Sofia on Sunday.
Along the way, Medvedev has shown off a playing style that’s devastatingly difficult to pick apart. At 6'6", he has a powerful serve and tremendous wingspan. He’s also sneaky fast, and has no trouble rallying patiently. He returns serve from well behind the baseline, and he’s happy to stay back there; his two-handed backhand is steady, but he has enough pace on his forehand to keep him from being easily overpowered. Medvedev is also good at changing speeds and not letting his opponents find an easy groove.
Who does this remind you of? If you’re of a certain age, the words above might call to mind Miloslav Mecir. The man known as the Big Cat reached two Grand Slam finals and won the gold medal at the Seoul Olympics for Czechoslovakia, before a back injury forced him into retirement at 26. He did it with a pesky, hard-to-read style that most opponents hated to face. Medvedev is three inches taller than Mecir, and he hits with more power, but I’m guessing opponents will like to face this cat about as much as they liked facing that one.
ATP Rotterdam (Mon - Sun 2/11 - 2/17)
• See Marin Cilic, Kei Nishikori, Karen Khachanov and Stefanos Tsitsipas live on Tennis Channel Plus beginning Monday 2/11 at 6:30 am ET.
ATP New York (Mon - Sun 2/11 - 2/17)
• Watch Frances Tiafoe, John Isner and Alex de Minaur live from New York starting Monday 2/11 at 11:00 am ET
WTA Doha (Mon - Sat 2/11 - 2/16)
• Starting Monday 2/11 at 7:30 am ET, catch live coverage of the Qatar Total Open featuring Simona Halep, Karolina Pliskova and Angelique Kerber.
ATP Buenos Aires (Mon - Sun 2/11 - 2/17)
• Catch the action from the Argentina Open including Dominic Thiem, Fabio Fognini and Diego Schwartzman. Live coverage begins on Tennis Channel Plus on Monday 2/11 at 12:30 pm ET
USTA College Match Day 3 Lake Nona - (Sat - 2/16)
• Tennis Channel Plus features live coverage of USTA College Matches in Lake Nona on Saturday 2/16 4:00 pm ET