Djokovic crashed, so what now?

Welcome back! A wind of change is trying to sweep Roland-Garros this year: it took Novak Djokovic’s injury for people to swear that this was the change of the guard. And it took Aryna Sabalenka and Elena Rybakina to be ousted on the same day for the women’s draw to either go cray or…to bow down even faster to Iga Swiatek again. In other news, On is coming for Nike (with the help of Zendaya), the WTA has a new CEO, and sports tech is outta control.

MENS SANA IN CORPORE SANO 
Djokovic crashed, but what does it really mean for tennis?

Tired French Open GIF

Giphy

The Big 4 was way above the rest, and so in the end, nobody pushed them out, and they were left with the only player they would never be able to beat: Mother Nature. She took Roger Federer’s knee, Andy Murray’s hip, and Rafael Nadal’s foot and hip. And out of nowhere in 2024, she came for Novak Djokovic’s right meniscus. Novak, still beating Carlos Alcaraz and Jannik Sinner last year, is the last one standing, and his injury is now the only reason why we are talking again of the change of the guard.

One by one, the Avengers fell but a good decade after what used to be the expiration date for a top tennis player. We’ve lost Federer, we should lose Murray this summer, and we’re going to lose Nadal between now and next year. And so now, what about Djokovic? He tore his meniscus during another crazy match that he won at Roland-Garros. Got surgery in the next 48 hours. And keeps his dream of the Olympics alive. Djokovic, like Federer, has had a relatively injury-free career: outside of that right elbow injury, the Serbian has never had to go through a Rafa-like career with months lost to rehab every other year. So overall, his body still hasn’t reached the “get me outta here” mood.

Yet, if you look at Djokovic’s 2024 dreadful season so far, maybe the first signs are there. After all, he had knee pain for weeks before tearing that meniscus, and he hasn’t looked at his usual fitness level a single time this year. He has barely played, actually. He also started to be more open about his struggles to find the motivation out of the Grand Slam events (and the Olympics this year).

Of course, it feels unfair to see Djokovic bow out of Roland-Garros without being able to play that semi-final. It also feels unfair that he probably won’t be able to play at Wimbledon and that his dream of clinching the gold at the Olympics may have been crushed along his meniscus. Yet, at 37 and without anyone pushing him out really, it was always going to be about either his body or his mind to abdicate.

But now the question is: does that injury signal the start of the end for Novak Djokovic? I’m honestly not that sure. First of all, it’s not a career-ending injury, and “Nole” didn’t hesitate at all before getting that procedure done, which shows how badly he wants to come back, as we all know how he hates the idea of surgeries. Then what if, during a 2024 season where he’s been looking like a shadow of himself on the court, that new challenge could be what saves him from fading abruptly away from the game? What better goal and motivation could he get now than coming back from that injury? Isn’t this rehab process and the challenge of playing with a damaged knee exactly what he might need to bring back the fire? Djokovic has nothing else to prove to anyone but we all know how he loves a mission: impossible.

But, for now, Paris signals something new: it’s only the fourth Grand Slam without Djokovic, Nadal, or Federer reaching the semi-finals (RG 2004, US 2020, US 2022, RG 2024): that insane 2004 - 2020 streak! It’ll also be the first time since 2003 that neither of the first two Grand Slams of the year has been won by Nadal, Djokovic, or Federer.

So yes, the guard will change in Paris this year, and it may mark the start of that new era of tennis that some have been trying to push for years now without too much success. Novak Djokovic was the last bearer of the ring, and as he stumbles this year, so does this whole tennis era. For real this time? Or will we be back with the same thoughts in 2025? At some point, it will happen, and for sure, we’ve never been closer to it. But Alcaraz and Sinner might still want to wait a bit before singing the king is dead, long live the king.

QUESTION OF THE DAY 
The end, or not?

You were 100% to say that Grand Slam tournaments should revise their night sessions.

Do you think Novak Djokovic's injury is the last sign of the changing of the guard?

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ROLAND-GARROS 
How high is the bar? At Swiatek’s level

Whatever happens on Sunday, Iga Swiatek confirmed at Roland-Garros this year that she was the one setting the bar. Even more, on clay, she is actually the bar. It seems it was eons ago already when she nearly lost in the second round against Naomi Osaka. Since that near-disaster, she just crushed everybody daring to stand in her way. And she barely sweats about it.

She’s just miles above anyone else, and you can only see an off-day or an Elena Rybakina to get the best of her at Roland-Garros. Rybakina surprisingly lost in the quarter-finals, and so remains the off-day. When you have to hope for an opponent to wake up on the wrong foot, you know it’s not ideal.

I can kind of make it a routine because that's the easier way to do it

Iga Swiatek

She could win a fourth title at Roland-Garros on Saturday, but her hold on the Tour will remain the same even if she doesn't. She’s the player to beat because she’s the World No.1, but mostly because her tennis and her athleticism are the ultimate challenge. She should be the ultimate motivation, too, for the rest of the pack to get better because Iga Swiatek ain’t going to lower that bar; they’re all going to have to catch up. And that’s how tennis wins, as it did with every past great champion that walked the courts.

Does she feel used to getting to these Grand Slam finals? Yes and no was Swiatek’s answer. “After the tournament, it usually hits me what I achieved, but during the tournament I feel like I just need to play another match. Sometimes, it's hard not to see what's at stake and what the atmosphere is around these matches. So still, I'm not used to it. It's not the routine. But on the other hand, when I'm really focused on work and on my tennis, I can kind of make it a routine because that's the easier way to do it.”

BUSINESS / MEDIA 
Could On put Nike in a corner?

It’s David and Goliath all over again, but for sportswear. The Business of Fashion documents the rise of alternative brands to powerhouses such as Nike, Adidas, Puma or Under Armour. Brands like On, Hoka, or Lululemon have indeed started to take their fair shares of the sportswear pie.

You can see the phenomenon on the tennis courts, from Iga Swiatek wearing On to Leylah Fernandez wearing Lululemon or Taylor Fritz being covered in Boss. You can also see On’s ambitions have no limit right now, as they have a collaboration with Loewe and also announced on Thursday the landing of Zendaya as a multi-year partner. We can’t think of a better partner to help us grow, evolve, and connect with people around the world than Zendaya,” said On’s Co-Founder David Allemann in a statement.

In 2020, Nike, Adidas, Puma, Under Armour, and Vans controlled 80 percent of the sportswear market, according to RBC Capital Markets. Today, that share is 65 percent. Between 2021 and 2023, revenue at 13 challenger brands tracked by the bank rose by an average annual rate of 29 percent, to the incumbents’ 8 percent”, reports The Business of Fashion. “Since the start of the year, Asics’ share price is up over 110 percent, On’s stock is up 58 percent and Hoka-parent Deckers’ shares are up 60 percent. In comparison, Nike shares are down 11 percent, Puma’s are down 5 percent, and Under Armour is down 20 percent.” Adidas is up 28% after being rescued by its Gazelle and Samba sneakers.

Yet, in terms of how full the bank account is, Nike’s revenue is still in glow-up mode with $51 billion. It’s double what Adidas makes. Both brands account for 25% of the sportswear market share. On being less than 1%, for example. Still, these challengers are now growing faster. So, will they or won’t they?

  • The trailer is here! On June 20th, the streamer will air “Federer: Twelve Final Days” about the end of Roger Federer’s career. So if you’re struggling to contain your impatience, please rejoice as a trailer has been released. Have a look here. 

  • Lacoste says yes again to Roland-Garros and the FFT. The brand has renewed its deal until 2030 as a Premium partner of Roland-Garros and an official partner of the FFT. Lacoste has been a partner of the FFT since 1971.

LATEST NEWS 
The WTA found its CEO

Portia Archer, new WTA CEO

Portia Archer, new WTA CEO

Steve Simon, currently both Chairman and CEO of the WTA, will soon be able to delegate. The WTA announced that after an extensive recruitment process led by the global executive search firm Korn Ferry”, they’ve hired Portia Archer as the new CEO. Archer “joins the WTA from the NBA, where she held the position of Chief Operating Officer of the NBA G League. She will take up her new position with the WTA on July 29, 2024. (…) Archer has more than 20 years of experience in the global sports and media industries, including senior positions at NBC Sports Group, HBO and the BBC.”

How will that “boss with two heads” situation work on the daily? Well, it sounds rather clear: Steve Simon will now focus on “on governance and strategic development” while Portia Archer “will lead the day-to-day strategy and operations (…) and the WTA’s relationship with its player and tournament members.” There’s a third head here, actually, as both Simon and Archer will also work hand in hand with Marina Storti, CEO of WTA Ventures, “the commercial arm of the WTA, which was established in 2023 in partnership with CVC Capital Partners, to drive the future success of the sport.”

A Nadal on grass in Mallorca

There will be a Nadal in the qualifying draw of the ATP 250 of Mallorca on grass (22-29 June). No, it won’t be The Rafa, but his cousin Joan Nadal, who is the son of the tournament director, the infamous Toni Nadal. It’s always been and always will be a family affair with the Nadals. Joan Nadal, 20 and ranked 1890 on the ATP, is entering that draw thanks to a wild card.

PLAY HARD, TRAIN HARD, DRESS THE PART 
That camera on the umpire’s head: yay or nay?

Let’s be real. I haven’t been a fan of the fashion exposed on the courts this year at Roland-Garros. Nothing was worthy of the tennis fashion week that Grand Slams are also supposed to be for tennis. Players were failed by their brands on a daily basis. I’ve already written my rant about it.

But what is there to say about that new accessory set on the chair umpires’s heads for the matches on the Chatrier? It looks like a helmet. Not a cute one. Not one that even looks comfy. And that is all to carry a camera. A camera on the umpire’s head: groundbreaking! Or so it should have been, but the intent has been more praiseworthy than the results. It’s supposed to let us see the marks that are contested, but more often than not, you end up not seeing the mark and being in for some sea-sickness-like motions.

The Athletic asked the question that everybody shares about that: Why? Let’s face it, they do have the best seat in the stadium,” answered Pascal Maria, the assistant referee for the French Open. “No one can buy that seat, but the thinking was that they could let the fans experience that view.” But TV seems to disagree: “Good for playback, slowed down, (but) tough to cut to live,” said Bob Whyley, senior vice president for production and executive producer at the Tennis Channel. “The ref’s head, looking down at the mark, is too quick.”

Andy Murray, never the last one to drag you when needed, isn’t a fan and let it be known.

Victoria Azarenka was also quick to let Roland-Garros know she’d have loved them to use their technology for something else.

This innovation still gave us some fun during the tournament, even though I’m not sure it was the goal.

Yet, Louise Engzell, a Swedish umpire, told the Athletic that this camera could also work as a security blanket. “I prefer that they have the information about what actually happened in a situation: why the chair umpire made this decision, and whether we are 100 percent right or it’s a gray area. At least they know and they can discuss the reality of what happened. It can only be good.”

Athletes, meet the CoolMitt

It was hot last year in Europe for the summer, and even if it doesn’t quite look like it right now in Paris, it should be hot again this year. Why does it matter for athletes? Well, there’s something called the Olympics that will be played in Paris in the heart of the summer. I hear you; you’re like: they cannot control the weather, so whatever happens, happens. Sure. But athletes also often say: control what you can control, and in this example, they may not be able to control the heat, but Reuters let us know that they could add another option to how they thrive through it. So, meet the coolmitt. 

Who thought about that? Craig Heller, a biology professor at Stanford University who specializes in body temperature regulation. At least one medallist at every Games since 1912 has been linked to that university. “Stanford-affiliated athletes won 26 medals in Tokyo and 27 in Rio in 2016.”

So how does that work? It’s a device worn like a mitten on the hand that helps extract heat while cooling the blood, which is circulated back to the heart and to the athlete's muscles. It is designed to be used during timeouts in games, in between sets and reps in the gym, or any short break in training or competition. If you take heat out of the core of the body, that prevents heat from building up in the active muscles, and they keep on working," Heller said. Imagine that: a player putting their hands in that mitten at the changeover while the umpire showcases it all via the camera put on their head. What’s not to (dis)like?

EDITOR’S PICKS 

WATCH: A movie about a gigantic shark appearing in the Seine River in Paris. I mean, a few weeks away from the Olympics, why wouldn’t you want to watch this and imagine the worst?

READ: In case there’s still someone in need of hearing it: yes, you absolutely should be reading Sapiens, a Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari. One of the few books that really shook me and opened my mind to new dimensions in recent years. When you’re done, you can follow up with Homo Deus.

LISTEN TO: House of Flame and Shadow: Crescent City, book 3 from the infamous Sarah J. Maas. It’s the third installment, following following the best sellers House of Earth and Blood and House of Sky and Breath.

“TAKE A FEW SELFISHES”:

  • Talking about these mittens (above) made me thirsty. Not you? Well, if it’s a yes, then grab that Stanley Quencher. If that’s still not enough to relax, maybe you just need stronger vibes, and for sure TheraGun could help.

  • Sometimes, sorry, you just need to cut the noise, and those Loop earplugs will do the job. If you have noise sensitivity but still want to be able to talk it through, then these are the Loop ones for you.

  • I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: these are the only things you need if you don’t want to see a pimple ruin your day or your night.

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