Indian Wells, USA

The Rally: On the plights of Daniil Medvedev and Naomi Osaka, life without the Big Five, and tennis’ place in the wider world

By Joel Drucker and Steve Tignor Mar 16, 2022
Indian Wells, USA

Taylor Fritz, the happy crier whose inner beast on the court is anything but "soft"

By Peter Bodo Mar 21, 2022
Indian Wells, USA

Taylor Fritz won his first Masters title by holding off a full-throttle charge from Rafael Nadal at Indian Wells, and ending his win streak at 20

By Steve Tignor Mar 21, 2022
Indian Wells, USA

With wind casting precision aside, Iga Swiatek adopts "winning ugly" in Indian Wells final win over Sakkari

By Joel Drucker Mar 21, 2022
Indian Wells, USA

In Indian Wells stunner, Taylor Fritz hands Rafael Nadal first loss of 2022, and wins his first ATP Masters 1000 title

By TENNIS.com Mar 21, 2022
Indian Wells, USA

Iga Swiatek dismisses Maria Sakkari for Indian Wells crown, No. 2 ranking and 11th consecutive win

By TENNIS.com Mar 20, 2022
Indian Wells, USA

In supreme generational battle, Rafael Nadal's youthful energy helps see him past Carlos Alcaraz, and into the Indian Wells final

By Joel Drucker Mar 20, 2022
Indian Wells, USA

Indian Wells Men's Final Preview: Rafael Nadal vs. Taylor Fritz

By Steve Tignor Mar 20, 2022
Indian Wells, USA

Rafael Nadal survives Carlos Alcaraz and swirling wind over three-plus hours in moving to 20-0 on the year

By TENNIS.com Mar 20, 2022
Indian Wells, USA

Taylor Fritz says his “normal level” has gone way up in 2022. Are Masters 1000 finals going to be his new norm?

By Steve Tignor Mar 20, 2022

Advertising

WATCH: Novak Djokovic to reclaim No. 1 spot as Daniil Medvedev loses early

Hi Steve,

There’s an intriguing paradox going on in professional tennis these days. Inside the lines, the inherent zero-sum nature of the game remains. Whenever two players at the net shake hands, I’m reminded of these lines from the movie, The Godfather: “Tell Mike it was only business. I always liked him.”

Outside the lines, though, the word of the moment is empathy. Let’s start with a look at Daniil Medvedev and his recent journey. Just over six months ago, Medvedev was a Slam-less contender. In September, he ended Novak Djokovic’s Grand Slam hopes in the US Open final. In January, Medvedev surrendered a big lead and lost a painfully close Australian Open final to Rafael Nadal. In February, Medvedev became No. 1 in the world. That same month, far beyond his control, Medvedev watched his Russian homeland earn much of the world’s wrath for its invasion of Ukraine. That all this is taking place during a worldwide pandemic only adds to the stress.

So as Medvedev unraveled Monday on Stadium One versus Gael Monfils—the husband of Ukrainian Elina Svitolina—it was easy to summon empathy. As a competitor, Medvedev has now stepped into new territory: from hunter to hunted. That itself is a significant form of pressure.

But far more important is the matter of Russia’s place in the world and the impact on athletes. We know that nations have long enjoyed trotting out their star athletes for propaganda value. Though I personally find that connection between athletic success and patriotic glory rather silly, in peace times, it’s at least tolerable. These days, though, it’s not easy to be identified as a Russian.

My personal feeling is that Medvedev should be allowed to compete as an individual anywhere he wants. There have been many other cases of individual athletes not being penalized for the actions of their country’s leaders. When it comes to team events, the ITF has taken the bat out of Medvedev’s hands by banning Russia from Davis Cup. That action made me recall 1974, when India reached the Davis Cup final and defaulted to South Africa rather than compete versus a nation ruled by apartheid. Certainly, that was a major statement, but if I was on the Indian team, I might have felt I could have made a bigger point by beating South Africa rather than withdrawing.

Steve, what are your thoughts on Medvedev, team events and empathy in the world of tennis?

Advertising

Daniil Medvedev's reign at No. 1 was brief, and was overshadowed by his country's invasion of Ukraine.

Daniil Medvedev's reign at No. 1 was brief, and was overshadowed by his country's invasion of Ukraine.

Hi Joel,

Medvedev is due for some love. He didn’t get it from the New York crowd when he beat Djokovic. He didn’t get it from the fans in Australia, despite his near-victory over Nadal. And now he’s had his rise to No. 1 marred and overtaken by the jaw-droppingly nightmarish actions of his president.

I understand why Medvedev and his fellow Russians are playing flag-less right now, but I cringe when I see those empty rectangles next to their names in the draw, and on the scoreboards on court. It’s true that professional tennis players compete for themselves first, but they take pride in representing their countries around the world; it’s part of their identity, and I’m sure it’s hard to see that part of themselves essentially erased from their professional lives. I agree that Russia should be suspended from international team competitions, but it wouldn’t be fair or appropriate to suspend individual Russian players from the tour. It was poignant to hear Medvedev, one of the two best players in the world, tell reporters the other day that he just hopes he’s allowed to “keep playing my favorite sport.”

Moving on in the empathy department, what did you think of Naomi Osaka’s reaction to a heckler earlier in the week? We’ve heard some fellow players talk about how she needs to get used to it and ignore it. And it’s certainly true that, the steelier you are as a competitor and public figure, and the more you can block out any negativity around you, the more successful you’ll be. But while nasty fans are the norm in most team sports, it’s not true that heckling of the variety that Osaka encountered is the norm in tennis—outside, perhaps, of Davis Cup in some countries, and during Jimmy Connors matches at the US Open during the 1970s. I’ve always thought of tennis as a cross between theater and a sporting event; there are expectations from the crowd in tennis that don’t exist in team sports—like being quiet and not moving around during points, and not screaming profane insults at the players. Before we tell Osaka to toughen up, I’d say we should tell fans not to come to tennis matches and yell, “You suck!” from a few feet away, for no reason whatsoever.

How about the tournament itself, Joel? I know this is your first trip to a live event since the pandemic began. How does it feel to be on site again? So far, we can’t talk about the men’s draw without talking about the Americans. It feels like it has been a long time since I’ve been able to write those words.

Advertising

In being heckled at Indian Wells, Naomi Osaka recalled what Serena Williams experienced at the tournament decades earlier.

In being heckled at Indian Wells, Naomi Osaka recalled what Serena Williams experienced at the tournament decades earlier.

Steve,

We now go from empathy to gratitude. It’s fantastic to return to a tournament. Having attended this event since 1977 (back then as a fan), I’ve long felt a kinship with everything here, from the thin desert air to the presence of dozens of fellow Californians I’ve met through 50 years being around tennis in this state. Today I made a plan to play early one morning with someone I just met. Tomorrow I’ll likely see someone I first played when I was 12 years old. So there’s a natural sense of time circling both backward and forward.

As we all know, it’s a completely different feeling to see tennis up close than on a TV screen. Saturday morning, I sat on Stadium Three for the match between MacKenzie McDonald and Carlos Alcaraz. Not having seen Alcaraz up close before, it was breathtaking to witness the weight of his shot, superb movement and fantastic intensity.

The same spirit of joy held true as I engaged in my favorite Indian Wells tennis activity, a stroll around the practice courts, to see row after row of pros hitting balls. It’s also fun on those occasions to interact with fans and hear their thoughts on players, matches, tournaments and more. This tournament has a tremendous spring training-like vibe—intimate, accessible, low-key.

What’s happened with Osaka inspired many thoughts about our current world. It’s a time that also coincides with the near-conclusion of the careers of the “Big Five” of the last two decades: Serena, Venus, Federer, Djokovic, Nadal. All year long, we’ll be witness to an idea of what tennis will look like once they’re gone.

And it’s fascinating that this transitional moment coincides with a time when so many global issues have pierced the tennis bubble. Start and finish with the pandemic, but also include Osaka drawing attention to mental health, Peng Shuai triggering the WTA to take a bold step regarding China, Djokovic’s personal stance on COVID vaccines, and now, the many complications and horrors that accompany Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

It’s easy to think that those five greats have created a protective halo of sorts for tennis. But Steve, might you say that the notion of an insular sport is at heart an illusion? How do you think events of the last two years have changed the cultural complexion of our sport?

Advertising

#CentreCourtCentennial

#CentreCourtCentennial

We're celebrating the 100th anniversary of the sport's most prestigious battleground by reliving its most memorable matches.

Joel,

The mountains, the sky, the air, the practice courts, the light fixtures that stick straight up out of the desert, the spooky sunsets, the pancake-making machine at the Holiday Inn Express, the donuts they have each morning in the press room: I wish I was there. There’s nothing like seeing—and hearing, and feeling—live tennis, and there’s nothing quite like seeing it in the expansively pristine surroundings of Indian Wells.

Tennis has always been insular and relevant to world events at the same time. On the one hand, it’s a niche sport; on the other hand, it spans the globe. It’s mostly made up of players who aren’t household names, but it has also produced some of the most culturally important athletes of the last 50 years—Arthur Ashe, Billie Jean King, and Venus and Serena Williams are at the top of that list.

With Peng Shuai, Djokovic, Osaka and now Medvedev and the Russians, tennis does seem to be rubbing up against the outside world more than usual these days. Maybe that’s a reflection of the enormity of events like the pandemic and Putin’s invasion of Ukraine—they touch and destroy everything.

I like that tennis is internationally meaningful. I like, for example, that people in the U.S. get to see the Russian players as humans, and get to root for them as individuals. Tennis can put a face on international politics like few other activities. But I also like the insularity and niche quality of the game. The tours roll on all year, ignored by most, but followed passionately by a few. What I consider a Golden Age—of the Big Five, as you call them—has hardly registered with most of the world, and somehow that makes it more special. It’s all ours.

Speaking of those five, the thing I’ve been thinking as they leave the stage is that tennis will go back to normal. You could see it in Medvedev’s defeat to Monfils. Once upon a time, before Federer, Djokovic and Nadal raised the bar with their ludicrous consistency, even world No. 1 players lost early on a regular basis. The mutants are leaving, and the humans are taking over again.

Advertising

Download the Tennis.com app on your IOS or Android device today!

Download the Tennis.com app on your IOS or Android device today!