Andy Murray deserved a better farewell tour

Welcome to a new edition of the Tennis Sweet Spot! I will soon be on my way to Wimbledon, and hopefully, the sun will be there, too, because one rainy Roland-Garros was enough. In the meantime, let’s catch up with that grass season!

WIMBLEDON 
Andy Murray deserved a better farewell tour

Grass season, that is unnecessary drama. Like, really. Nobody needed that. Not a single living soul. Grass season, you always went after players’ limbs, but you also never knew when to stop. Andy Murray? Red line. Andy Murray for potentially the last Wimbledon of his career? Red line of all red lines. Well, technically, it all started on the clay, but clearly, grass didn’t come to the rescue and instead made it worse.

So, as I type these lines, Andy Murray still doesn’t know. If he’ll retire this summer or keep going for one more year? We wish we’d still be at this. No, Sir Andrew still doesn’t know if he will be able to play at Wimbledon this year one last time. If it were a movie, everybody would be like, “Yeah, it’s too much now, you need to revise that script, or we’re going to lose these people.” And yet, it is the reality: Andy Murray came back to the Tour with a metal hip, worked his way back to the Top 40, working like mad. Then, in the year of his farewell, he nearly destroyed an ankle in Miami. Came back faster than lightning to play one last Roland-Garros. And he is rewarded by doing his back at the Queen’s for his second tournament on grass and right before his last Wimbledon. Are you kidding me?

A spinal cyst now… Give him a break…

Sure, Andy Murray nearly won it all and is a multi-millionaire living a very privileged life. Sure, there are way, way, worse things happening in the world right now. But if we talk purely about tennis and its legends, I’m sorry, but this is at the top of the “This Is So Unfair” ladder. And it proves, just like with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, that even these Tennis Avengers were going to get beaten by Mother Nature at some point. Their rivals didn’t get them, aging while still playing at maximum intensity and dedication did.

So, what’s the new curse for Murray? In the long list of what this sport did to his body and so what his body did to his mind in reaction, Murray now had to get surgery to remove a spinal cyst. This time, it wasn’t “just” a question of getting an injection on the other side of his back, as was first thought. Playing at Wimbledon after this back surgery? Surely not, as the recovery period is said to be four weeks. Well, Andy Murray still seems to say maybe. It’s a bit confusing as on Sunday, reports started to flourish saying Murray was out of Wimbledon, and then the word from his team started to make the rounds, saying no decision has yet been made. His mother, Judy, confirmed it on Monday: “not ruled out yet,” adding: “When your private medical details are leaked to the media by someone you thought you could trust. So disappointing.” Murray was also supposed to play doubles with his brother Jamie at Wimbledon for the first time.

They were mortal, after all…

Being forever one of the Big 4 (yes, he is, as the Big 4 remained a domination story, and Murray was right there with the other three) and a key player in that golden generation won’t even give Andy Murray a proper farewell. Being in the GOAT debate didn’t do that either for Federer and doesn’t seem on the way to do it for Nadal. It’s even starting to threaten Novak Djokovic. It also shows that playing professionally close to one’s 40s has consequences on the body. So, yes, Breaking news: these four were mortal, after all. Still, Andy Murray, the greatest British tennis player of all time, deserves better than what he’s currently getting.

Also, Murray, like Nadal, doesn’t want to go. We’re not with someone who has planned his retirement with a sense of relief and cannot wait for the next chapter. No, “Muzz” still doesn’t care for that next chapter; he loves his current one. In a recent interview with The Times, he made it pretty clear.

I’m aware that it’s going to be difficult for me

Andy Murray about retiring

The thing that is difficult is that for most people, in most jobs, retirement is seen as a positive thing. They retire at a specific age, it’s something to look forward to — a time to put your feet up and enjoy the rest of your life. But I don’t see it like that. I’m not happy about it. (…) I’m aware that it’s going to be difficult for me when that time comes,” he said. “Because this gives you a lot. I invest a lot of my mental energy on tennis. Waking in the morning with a routine? To better yourself? That’s a huge motivation, every single day. And when that’s not there, it’s going to be hard to replace. And I’m sure there will be other things in life that I will grow to love, enjoy, and become motivated by. But right now? I still love tennis.”

When I asked him in Paris how in the world he went through that ankle rehab without being just mad at his bad luck, he told me he was surprised about it, that he felt himself just so motivated to work his way back again instead of throwing himself a pity party. Yet, nobody would blame Andy Murray for it, not then and not now. Retiring, for any athlete, is like a little death. When you happen to be pushed out against your will, it’s worse. When everything comes in your way of a farewell tour that you don’t even want to do? Tennis Hell. Andy Murray has nothing to do in there.

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BUSINESS / MEDIA 
First look at that Sloane Stephens and LeBron James project

Amazon Prime can’t get enough tennis! After Roger Federer’s and Serena Williams’ documentaries, the time has come for Uninterrupted’s Top Class Tennis, as the first trailer has been released. Sloane Stephens, along with LeBron James and Maverick Carter, is a producer on the show. The four-episode series follows four junior tennis players at the Orange Bowl and will be released on July 18.

Sports took over Cannes

The Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity (a gathering for the communication and marketing industry) was basically taken over by sports this year as talk of the show. A sign of the times as far as brands go? It seems!

“Sports are embracing the advertising industry in a new way, which reflects changes in the rights models, diverging from traditional linear television,” said Lewis Smithingham, executive vice president of strategic industries at digital marketing agency Media.Monks, to the WSJ. Megan Rapinoe and Sue Bird, who just signed with Vox Media to relaunch their “A Touch More” podcast, or Carmelo Anthony were seen among the hosts. “Brands are really starting to recognize the power of tapping into moments in culture in a way that we haven’t seen before,” said Simon Cook, chief executive of Lions.

How should women’s sports be part of my strategy?

As we noticed over there, tennis players are slowly but surely turning into the new influencers. They might even be late to the party as many athletes from other sports have already decided to embrace their obvious marketing potential and also their role as cultural influencers, entrepreneurs, or even fashion icons. “Every athlete we talk to under the sun has an agent that’s helping them build out a strategy to become their own media company,” said Seb Tomich, chief commercial officer of The Athletic, to Digiday.

Among this frenzy around sports - haven’t you heard about that battle over NBA rights? Haven’t you heard about the viewership numbers around the WNBA? - women’s sports could be the biggest winners. They’re the largely untapped potential and the ones on the rise. “Every brand should be asking, ‘How should women’s sports be part of my strategy?” said Kristyn Cook, CMO of insurance firm State Farm, to Digiday. “It could be talent. Telling incredible stories of these women. Not just what they do on the court but what they do in communities and their fashion — because that’s part of culture too. There are so many ways to bring it to life.” Women’s top sports are expected to generate more than $1 billion in 2024.

MENS SANA IN CORPORE SANO 
Recovery On The Go

It seems many brands picked Paris 2024 to debut new technology! We previously talked about the growing use of devices originally made for people with diabetes. This is all logical, as the exposure will be huge, and the opportunities to test the products under pressure will be numerous.

So here you go: Nike is teaming up with Hyperice to launch a recovery boot that features heat and air compression for feet and ankles. Designed to push heat into muscle tissue, the boot can assist with both warmup and recovery. It all happens on the go,” says Forbes. As Anthony Katz, Hyperice founder and president, explains: “The high pressures of the multi-zone compression drive the heat deeper into the body and amplify the effects of the heat on the tissue and fluid.” The boot also comes with a vest using the same technology for heating and cooling. Let’s see if this will give Nike’s athletes an edge or not this summer.

Djokovic: will he or won’t he?

Novak Djokovic has never been the type of player who takes no for an answer, so it shouldn’t even be a surprise that the Djoker is still doing everything he can to stay in that Wimbledon draw. The French surgeon who treated that torn meniscus in Paris told L’Equipe that it was very tough to imagine Djokovic could be back at 100% in three weeks. And yet, Djokovic is already in London, hitting these balls.

“Nole” was pictured training at the All England Club on Sunday and was again on court on Monday. He’s still not sure if he will play, but he wants to keep trying. “I will play only if I really know that I’m in a state which is good enough to go far in the tournament and fight for the title (…) I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t get the permission from the medical team. They are very happy with the way everything is going,” he said, as reported by The Times. Djokovic, who reached out to Taylor Fritz to get details on how he played Wimbledon after suffering the same injury in Paris in 2021, has won seven titles at Wimbledon and played in the past five finals.

SOME BREAK POINTS 
Sinner, whatever the surface is

Happy Come On GIF by Tennis TV

Gif by tennistv on Giphy

It doesn’t matter on what surface he stands, Jannik Sinner mostly wins. Even if he has to dive (!!) for it. On Sunday, the Italian won his first title as the World No.1 as he clinched the trophy in Halle against Hubert Hurkacz. The Australian Open champion, Miami champion, and Roland-Garros semi-finalist didn’t have an easy week, but he showed lots of grit through it all. Sinner became the eighth man to win his first tournament played as an ATP throne owner.

Sinner is the first player since Andy Murray in 2016 to win his maiden ATP event as World No.1. He’s also the first player to do this on grass since the rankings were first published in 1973. The more he plays, the more he shares his thoughts about his sport and his career, the more we’re impressed.

His girlfriend Anna Kalinskaya was beaten in the final in Berlin despite having five match points against Jessica Pegula. Yulia Putintseva won her first title on grass in Birmingham against Ajla Tomljanovic. Tommy Paul scored big in London already by getting his hands on the Queen’s trophy against Lorenzo Musetti. Some players are already way ready for Wimbledon!

Alcaraz went down, shot-clock included

Time Clock GIF by MOODMAN

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Carlos Alcaraz wants to talk to your boss ASAP. The Roland-Garros champion lost against Jack Draper, who confirms how good he is and how great he really could be, but it’s not that loss that actually made the biggest noise. The rant he had against a new rule set up by the ATP did. I had to smile first because it all sounded so much like something Rafael Nadal would have been mad at. Ah, the nostalgia.

Anyway, what’s the issue? That shot-clock. Why? Because the ATP is trying new things this year in order to speed up the game, and they’ve launched a new rule for the shot clock: the 25 seconds now start almost immediately after the end of the point, and no more when the chair umpire calls the score. And Carlitos didn’t like that at all. "I think for the players, it's something bad. I finished the point at the net, and I had no time to ask for balls. I'm not saying to go to a towel and take my time. I feel like I can't ask for the balls.”

I've never seen something like that in tennis

Carlos Alcaraz

"It's crazy. I have time just to ask for two balls and no bounces. I've never seen something like that in tennis. If you play a long point or finish at the net, you have time just to go for a towel or ask for your routine, ask for, in my case, four balls, I'm concentrating on the next point, just bouncing my bounces and serve as best as I can. (…) Today I felt like I was in a rush all the time. I had no time to bounce and do my routine." He said he was going to talk to the ATP about it as soon as he possibly could.

Alcaraz wasn’t the only one to complain about the new rule. Jack Draper wasn’t that happy either about the change: I did feel quite rushed today,” he said after his loss against Tommy Paul. “Today was the first time I kind of noticed it, I suppose. Yeah, I don't know how I got a sort of time violation on that point, because I felt like I was very quick. Maybe we played the point and I decided to go to the other side to get the towel and come back, but I'm never intentionally taking my time too long. I did feel quite rushed today, and I wasn't trying to take too long or anything. I'm not going to get annoyed because that's just the rules, isn't it? Gives me a time violation, you can give me a time violation. Maybe they are trialling it and they'll change it if they're giving a lot of time violations for no reason.”

One thing is sure: routines between points play a very important part in players’ mental work and are set up in a very disciplined manner. Any change made to the time they have for it should have been revealed way ahead of the implementation of that new rule. Yes, they would have surely complained too, but they would have at least had enough time to find a way through it. Communication, people. We’re still there.

Tennis fans love AI, says IBM

IBM and Wimbledon will launch AI-generated content for the 2024 edition. And, as per an IBM study, it’s what tennis fans want. Ahead of Wimbledon, IBM published the results of a survey it made with 18 000 tennis fans from 10 countries, including the U.S., India and Spain, on AI’s use in sports.”

What did it say? 55% of these fans felt AI had a positive impact on the support and 60% that AI will have a positive impact on fan engagement. How could AI help then? 36% said by providing real-time updates, 31% said by personalized content end 30% by unique insights. 75% of the people surveyed said AI would improve players’ training.

EDITOR’S PICKS 

READ: The Birth of Lawn Tennis, because if now isn’t the time, then when? “This mighty tome has taken authors Bob (Everitt) and Richard (Hillway) twenty years to compile. The depth of their research is breathtaking.”

LISTEN TO: If you’re looking for inspiration, listen to this interview with Angella Okutoyi by Caroline Barker on the BBC. She became “the first Kenyan to win a tennis Grand Slam title when she triumphed in the girls doubles at Wimbledon in 2022. She followed that up with gold in the women's singles final at the Africa Games in Accra earlier this year.” She talks about how “tennis took” them “away from the struggles at home.”