For a sport that has had its season suspended, there sure is a lot to talk about in tennis these days, isn’t there?
This week the US Open confirmed that it will go on as scheduled, and the ATP and WTA tour announced that they’ll return in August. Last weekend two events made waves in different ways. Both will be back on Saturday, and next week they’ll be joined by two more. By that point, a fair number of the sport’s top players will have returned to the courts this spring.
Here are a few thoughts on the events that will return in France and Croatia this weekend, and a look ahead at the ones that will be joining them next week in London and Charleston.
Ultimate Tennis Showdown (UTS)
Location: Nice, France
Dates: June 20-21
Surface: Hard court
Players Include: Dominic Thiem, Stefanos Tsitsipas, David Goffin, Matteo Berrettini, Alexei Popyrin, Dustin Brown, Feliciano Lopez, Corentin Moutet
Patrick Mouratoglou’s Ultimate Tennis Showdown (UTS) seems determined to ask a fundamental question: What is tennis? By which I mean, how many rules and assumptions about the sport can you change and still have it be recognizable as tennis? In his quest to modernize the sport, Mouratoglou challenges some of our most cherished ideas about it.
“You have to rely on yourself in tennis”—not in UTS, where a coach can call a timeout and give you advice anytime he likes. “You can’t run out the clock in tennis”—you can in UTS, which is played like a basketball game, in timed quarters, rather than in sets. “An error is as good as a winner”—not necessarily in Mouratoglou’s world, where players are allowed to pull out a “UTS card” and make their winners count for three points each.
Richard Gasquet and David Goffin head to sudden death to decide their UTS match:
After one weekend, I’d say that UTS is an experiment worth watching. I liked the suspense of the timed quarters more than I thought I would, but it took some time to figure out what was happening with the UTS cards. Best, I thought, was the chance to hear second-tier stars like David Goffin and Benoit Paire talk during their matches. It made me realize how much it means to connect with a player’s personality, rather than just his game, and how much it helps if the players take on some of the responsibility of promoting the sport, rather than just playing it.
We won’t know the ultimate fate of Mouratoglou’s Ultimate Showdown for a while, and it doesn’t help that there are no fans to watch it live in Nice. But the sport shouldn’t hesitate to learn from his ideas. This weekend UTS will get a boost from a new entrant, Dominic Thiem. Of all the players who have returned from their lay-offs, he has looked the best.
Location: Zadar, Croatia
Dates: June 20-21
Players Include: Novak Djokovic, Alexander Zverev, Marin Cilic, Borna Coric
If UTS gave us a glimpse of a possible future in Nice, the Adria Tour took us back to the past in Belgrade. As in, the days when people gathered in public places and filled every seat in the stands at sporting events. The days when no one wore masks. The days when players shook hands.
It was thrilling and alarming in equal measure. Neither Serbia nor Croatia has been hit as hard by the coronavirus as the U.S. or Western Europe; Serbia has had 258 officially recorded COVID deaths and Croatia 107. But I still cringed at the sight of all that togetherness. Let’s just hope these events don’t lead to more cases there.
Last week Thiem and Grigor Dimitrov joined Djokovic in Belgrade. This week they’ll be replaced by Cilic and Coric. Alexander Zverev, who played in Serbia, will be back for more in Croatia.
Credit One Bank Invitational
Location: Charleston, S.C.
Dates: June 23–28
Players Include: Sofia Kenin, Sloane Stephens, Victoria Azarenka, Amanda Anisimova, Monica Puig, Ajla Tomljanovic, Danielle Collins, Alison Riske, Genie Bouchard
Have you wondered what a women’s Laver Cup might look like? Next week’s Credit One Bank Invitational in Charleston should give us an idea. In the biggest event of the lockdown so far, 16 women will gather at the facility on Daniel Island that normally hosts the Volvo Car Open, and break off into teams of eight. Instead of naming them Team Europe and Team World, as Laver Cup does, Credit One will go with something both more ambitious and more easygoing: Team Kindness (captained by Keys) will take on Team Peace (captained by Bethanie Mattek-Sands).
Highlights from Thursday's Credit One Bank Invitational press conference, featuring Madison Keys and Bethanie Mattek-Sands:
The rules won’t be as radical as UTS, but there won’t be fans, and players will call their own lines and get their own towels. While the field is by necessity American-centric, it’s a strong one, and with a few days to build momentum, the event should feel closer to a regular tournament than most of what we’ve seen this spring. Keys, for one, is ready to get back on court.
“I think we all really just take for granted how much we love competing,” she said on Thursday. “Now we’re all like, please put me on a center court, break points down in the third, because I would love to have that feeling again.”
Schroders Battle of the Brits
Location: LTA National Tennis Centre, London
Dates: June 23–28
Surface: Hard court
Players Include: Andy Murray, Jamie Murray, Kyle Edmund, Dan Evans, Cam Norrie
If you were like me this past week, you might have wondered why you kept seeing a video of Jamie Murray getting a swab stuck up his nose—way up his nose. Now we know: Murray is one of the organizers of the Schroders Battle of the Brits charity event, which starts on Tuesday, and he was getting his COVID-19 test. Though he wasn’t making it look like much fun.
Starting Tuesday, Murray the Elder will join his younger brother in an event that will be just what it says it is: an all-British team competition, with singles and doubles events. Like the tours’ year-end championships, the BOTB will begin with a group stage, and the survivors will advance to the semifinals. For most of us, the major point of interest will be seeing how Murray the Younger fares in his first outing of 2020.