Is the Olympic spirit on the way out?

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Welcome back to a new edition of the Tennis Sweet Spot! I hope everyone is doing well and that nobody has gotten injured while slipping on the grass… It’s been an unfortunate theme in tennis lately. Let’s dig in! Oh, don’t forget to try your luck with the referral program :)

Tennis players say, “No, Thanks”

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Is the Olympic spirit in the room with us now? Starting to doubt it. We’ve had more news about players ditching the Olympics this past week than about those dreaming of being a part of Paris 2024. Are we back to wondering if tennis belongs to the Olympics?

We know the deal. No points, tough change of surface, tough schedule, tennis isn’t a team sport, players are already so freaking rich, some of the mandatory neutral athletes are put in a rough spot, etc. Still, it has to be the first time in a very long time that you can feel tennis that is disengaged from the Olympics. Surely, it’ll all be back when the opening ceremony hits the right spots, but should we start to wonder again if tennis should be there at all?

I mean, when you start to have to beg them to care and go, surely it’s not a good sign. One might ask why anyone would care if tennis players start to snub the Olympics. Is it that deep for the sport? Well, let me answer this with other questions: what is still the biggest competition in the world for the general public? What is the one to inspire entire generations to pick up a sport and so to grow that sport? What is the one bringing in the most money from sponsors and broadcasters? Say it out loud. Then why would tennis want out, or at the very least to be seen as insignificant there?

Are we surprised to see Russian and Belarusian players not going? Not really. Nobody knows what exactly is going on for them when doors are closed, and they’re not going to say. So we’re left with either no reason given or some reasons given that make us raise our eyebrows. It is what it is. But Ons Jabeur not going? Olympics on clay? After she just reached the quarter-finals at Roland-Garros? That’s a tough one. She has struggled a lot with that knee, so switching back to clay would be too risky. Olympic spirit, if it was in the room with us, would say that getting that gold would be worth a gamble after Wimbledon. But the voice is obviously not strong enough.

Ben Shelton freeing his spot? Emma Raducanu declining the invitation? Sure, it’s not their best surface or the greatest timing, maybe, but in what other sport would an athlete, healthy and selected, decline to go to the Olympics? Shelton aims to go deep at the US Open and is already thinking about the Games in Los Angeles in 2028. But none of these two things are a guarantee. The only guarantee he had was to be qualified for Paris 2024. Yet it wasn’t enough, and that’s not a good sign for where the Games stand in this generation of players either. Of course, these snubs will surely be forgotten once the medals and the tears start rolling. But it shouldn’t if it signals a deeper trend.

Is scheduling tough? Obviously. However, tough-on-the-scheduling every four years should be something one can deal with. Also, a tough schedule at this point in tennis has become the rule. Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal are still doing everything they can to get there despite their bodies being broken. Andy Murray and Roger Federer have always found ways to add the Olympics to schedules that have always been pretty packed. Serena, Venus, Maria? They figured it out too. Iga Swiatek and Coco Gauff? Carlos Alcaraz and Jannik Sinner? They’ll be there for Paris 2024. Aren’t they also US Open title contenders? Is the schedule different for them? It’s not about the schedule, it’s about how much the Olympics mean. And the love meter is going down. Tennis has a complicated history with the Olympics, but we forgot about it. Until this year.

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Wimbledon not done with the old, but in with the new

Tennis Closing GIF by Wimbledon

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  • Wimbledon and IBM join forces to use Gen AI to create a new kind of media coverage. The pitch? “IBM and The All England Lawn Tennis Club have now unveiled new AI-powered features for the 2024 tournament that will provide real-time analysis, personalized content, and expanded coverage like never before,” reports Technology Magazine, adding that a “Catch Me Up” feature will be at the heart of the strategy.

    What does that mean? Before matches, fans will get AI-crafted previews with performance analysis and win probability predictions for their favourite players. After matches conclude, detailed summaries, highlights and key stats will automatically be produced.” If you happen to be a writer and/or a broadcaster, I know your heart just skipped a beat. Yes, it’s AI-generated content coming your way at Wimbledon. It’s supposed to be for the greater good and only here to complement the output of humans, said digital products lead at the AELTC Chris Clements and IBM’s head of sports partnerships Kevin Farrar, as per SportsPro Media.

    “There’s an awful lot happening during the Championships, especially early on in the tournament, and although we’d all love to spend all day, every day watching everything on three screens, that’s not possible for everyone,. (…) So, this service is offering a very quick and easy way to come in and pick up on what those key storylines are that are relevant to you and to make sure that you’re aware of what’s going on,” said Clements. “The top seed and the show courts, of course, get a lot of coverage. But there’s a lot of tennis going on across 18 courts over the two weeks, which means not all the stories get told. We want to be able to bring that to life and Gen AI is helping us do that. It opens the door to create stories for the junior, senior, under-14 and the wheelchair tournaments. There might be great stories unfolding but the content team might not have capacity to cover them. This is about complementing the output of humans, added Farrar.

  • Serena and Venus Williams teaming with Shonda Rhymes? Absolutely, yes. But no, it’s not for guest roles on Bridgerton, everybody can calm down. Rhymes joins Serena and Venus Williams as “the newest investor in the Los Angeles Golf Club, the L.A. based team of the upcoming, tech-focused golf league, TGL, which aims to democratize the sport,” reports The Hollywood Reporter. The first season should start next January.

  • Amazon Prime is going big to promote that already infamous Roger Federer’s documentary. It took over the London Bridge! If you’ve been in hiding or in another dimension, and you have escaped all that marketing: the documentary is out today. Andy Murray also has a documentary available from today, June 20th. It’s called “Andy Murray, Will to Win” and it’s available there.

  • Great news: Karolina Muchova is coming back! The 2023 Roland-Garros finalist hasn’t played since the last US Open due to a right wrist injury. Muchova will play her first event in Eastbourne before Wimbledon and the Olympics.

Grass season is going after those limbs (again)

The word is back. As every tennis season when it’s grass time. You know the one: Slippery. Players are trying not to think about it, physiotherapists are trying not to think about it, and tournament directors are this close to banning its use. Yet, still, it remains. And this year, it’s already been used too much at the Queen’s as many players have fallen and with dire consequences.

Danger Warning GIF

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Dan Evans and Frances Tiafoe fell on the Queen’s grass, injuring a knee, and are now in a race against the clock to be ready for Wimbledon and the Olympics. Tiafoe has a grade 1 MCL sprain and has started two weeks of rehab. Evans is said to be “worried” as he suspected he had torn “his medial collateral ligament on the inner side of his knee joint. (…) If I miss the Olympics or Wimbledon, it would be a tough one to swallow.

Halle had fewer issues with its courts than the Queen’s, but it still lost Felix Auger-Aliassime because… it’s slippery… The Canadian pulled something in his hip, reports Open Court, and so retired from the match. “FAA” had already left Roland-Garros with an adductor issue.

Grass is tough on the joints and clearly a risky surface, and it’s not helping that the grass season starts short after a very demanding clay stretch. Bodies have been pushed past their limits already. But things keep worsening this year and turning into a bit of a nightmare at the Queen’s as the event could now be why Andy Murray would be unable to play at Wimbledon one last time. Imagine that…

What happened? Well, Sir Andrew Murray was doing just fine, winning the 1000th of his career and getting ready for his last Wimbledon. Then it all collapsed, starting with his back. Murray said after Roland-Garros that his back always had trouble going through the clay season and that he had to delay the injection he usually does. He did the injection soon after losing in Paris, but it didn’t stop whatever was already going on with his back as it just refused to keep going, and he felt “a loss of power” in his right leg. “I have been struggling with my back for a while. I had a loss of motor control and had no coordination. I couldn’t move. (…) The first two balls I hit in the warmup, my right leg was so uncoordinated. I had no coordination. My right leg just was not working properly. I have dealt with back issues for a long time, for the last ten years or so, and it’s probably quite common for a lot of players. But I have never had that loss of coordination, loss of control, strength in the leg before.”

I wish I hadn’t gone on the court

Andy Murray

Murray had to retire after just 23 minutes in his second round, unable to move that back. And as that champion really cannot get a break with these injuries, he might be unable to play one last time at Wimbledon. And, this would seriously be way too much… Doing an ankle in Miami, getting through rehab like an Avengers, and taking another wall right before Wimbledon? Are you kidding? No. Murray, who explained he started to feel uncomfortable during his pre-match warm-up, said he shouldn’t have taken the court. Whatever happened from when I was doing my pre-match warmup to going on the match court, I wish I hadn’t gone on the court, to be honest. I didn’t really realise until I was kind of walking to go on the court. In hindsight I wish I hadn’t gone on there“I didn’t really realise until I was kind of walking to go on the court. In hindsight, I wish I hadn’t gone on there.”

Wimbledon announced its first invitations for the main draws this week, including Naomi Osaka, Angelique Kerber, Caroline Wozniacki, and Emma Raducanu. But if that grass season goes on, other spots are going to get available. Sadly, there’s really nothing to do to prevent any of this: on grass, one can fall, and one will fall when playing tennis at this professional speed. It’s a matter of how your body is going to take multiple hits. We still have horrific memories of Juan Martin Del Potro, Milos Raonic, and Victoria Azarenka getting severely injured at Wimbledon. Grass, it’s both beautiful and tricky.

The Djoker and Dr. Fritz

Wouldn’t that make a good start for a Marvel franchise? Sorry, couldn’t resist. Anyway, back to the real world: Taylor Fritz told the press in London, where he’s playing at the Queen’s, that Novak Djokovic had reached out to him regarding his meniscus injury. Why? Because “Nole” has either files on everybody on that Tour or the best tennis memory, and so knew that Fritz had sustained the same injury in the past. The US player indeed left Roland-Garros in the second round and in a wheelchair in 2021 because of a torn meniscus. And yet a month later, Fritz was playing at Wimbledon.

As Djokovic is still apparently hoping to be able to play Wimbledon despite what happened in Paris, he picked up his phone and asked Fritz how he did it. And as Fritz, who was back hitting after five or six days post-surgery, told the press, he was more than willing to help. “I told him what it was like for me,” he said. “A lot of it comes down to the inflammation and how you react. “It’s possible for Novak to play. It’s the exact same thing that I had and I played. Obviously, I wasn’t contending to win a title, I was just showing up to hopefully win a couple of rounds – but it is possible.”

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Barty comes back…sort of

Is Ashleigh Barty coming back to Wimbledon this year? Yes. To Play? Yes again. So where’s the catch? She’s coming back for the invitational doubles, not for another Grand Slam title. Barty, who retired in March 2022, will play along other famously retired players. No surprise as to her partner for this event: it will be Casey Dellacqua, best friend and former doubles partner. Barty will be busy in Wimbledon this year as she’ll also be a commentator for the BBC.

In other news:

  • Sadly, Jiri Lehecka lost a lot in that semi-final in Madrid. The Czech player sustained a stress fracture in his back, hasn’t been able to play ever since, and so now has had to withdraw from the Olympics.

  • Novak Djokovic keeps the dream alive. Despite tearing a meniscus at Roland-Garros, he was still named to the Serbian team for the Olympic Games, along Dusan Lajovic.

  • Milos Raonic isn’t able to play a lot these days, but when he does, he’s still a threat! And on grass, he can also make those aces rain. That’s what he did at Queen’s to break a record: the Canadian hit 47 aces through his victory against Cameron Norrie (6-7(6), 6-3, 7-6(9). “I’m glad that behind that also stands a win because maybe I’d feel differently or maybe a bit more sour if I was to get that many free points and lose the match,” he said. Raonic’s 47 aces now lead Ivo Karlovic’s 45 aces at Halle in 2015.

  • A new Rafa Nadal Sports Center is to open in Albania, in the city of Durres, close to Tirana. It joins the list of centers already built around the world (Mexico, Greece, Kuwait, Hong Kong, Egypt), starting with the original one in Mallorca.


WATCH: Silver Servers:  “Three sinewy octogenarians and one unfeasibly hale-looking nonagenarian are the focus of this perky documentary looking at tennis players still holding their own in a late tiebreak with father time. A mixture of ex-pros and dogged late starters who picked the game up in middle age, they all converge at the International Tennis Federation senior world championships in Croatia; a tournament with more matches than Wimbledon.” If these first lines from The Guardian’s review don’t get your attention… It got mine, at least!

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