They are dropping like flies: time to act?

Welcome back! Wimbledon is getting into its last stretch, and we’re still hoping the sun will grace it with its presence.

MENS SANA IN CORPORE SANO 
They are dropping like flies: time to act?

Tennis Closing GIF by Wimbledon

Gif by wimbledon on Giphy

Are tennis players turning into an endangered species? The Tour might want to look into it. I will for sure forget some, but here are a few examples of the dreadful streak we’re on right now at Wimbledon.

Madison Keys (hamstring) retired in tears against Jasmine Paolini in the fourth round, followed by Grigor Dimitrov, who slipped and injured a knee. Before them, Thanasi Kokkinakis fell and injured a knee. Lucas Pouille tore his abdominal area. Hubert Hurkacz had to retire after being unable to walk anymore after injuring a knee while diving. Aryna Sabalenka and Victoria Azarenka withdrew without even hitting a ball in the main draw because of shoulder injuries. Elena Rybakina has been sick every other week or so this year. Ons Jabeur says she’ll have to accept that she will always have knee pain. And on Thursday, Anna Kalinskaya had to retire from her fourth round because her right wrist refused to keep going. The list keeps growing.

“We’re talking about it,” Jelena Ostapenko said when I asked her if players were starting to talk about these injuries. The reason she sees? “It seems the grass is more slippery this year.”

Grass season is coming after those limbs (again): we know, we already talked about it. But now it’s becoming way too much, and questions must be asked about the surface but also how demanding the season has become on the bodies. We haven’t forgotten that both Carlos Alcaraz and Jannik Sinner spent as much time in rehab than on the court through the clay season, that Novak Djokovic left a part of a meniscus in Paris, and that Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray have been dragging their hips, backs and other joints through pain for years. They’re all breaking down at every age and level. This is not normal.

The most grueling schedule

Denis Shapovalov

Every professional player goes on the court with some niggle here and there. But here we’re talking about severe injuries, joints breaking down, and players being in their early 20s. “Look at how long the season is now, with all the Masters 1000 going two weeks as well. There’s zero break for players”, Denis Shapovalov told me at Wimbledon.

The Canadien spent six months off the Tour last year because of a knee injury. “It was the most grueling schedule in any sport to begin with, and they’ve made it longer. It is what it is. It’s not easy, especially if you’re playing well. So, to me, it’s super impressive the way Carlitos and Jannik were able to play at the French Open as they were dealing with stuff in Madrid and Rome. It’s not easy and hopefully, they can see this and make some changes because these are young guys getting hurt.”

Tennis won’t win in seeing its players regularly missing months of competition because of injuries. How many matches have been lost for paying spectators and broadcasters paying a lot of money for the rights? Obviously, it should be enough to point out the need to protect the physical integrity of the players, but we all know that for some, the business angle talks louder. From anywhere you’re looking at it, it’s bad news. So maybe, just maybe, it’s time to think that we’re not facing a streak of bad luck but something created by the sport itself. Just in case.

WIMBLEDON
Svitolina, despite the pain again

It doesn’t matter, again, if Elina Svitolina wins the trophy or not again at Wimbledon this year. The Ukrainian champion is winning each time she steps on the court at a time when her country is under attack, with her family under the bombs. On Thursday, Svitolina not only found a way to set foot on the court to play her fourth round, but she won it. Despite the monstrous attacks currently happening in Ukraine.

In the last ten years, only Serena Williams (16) and Simona Halep (13) reached more women’s singles Grand Slam quarter-finals than Elina Svitolina (11). Wearing a black ribbon on her top, she was in tears after her win while answering questions on the court, and still looking upset when she came to press. But she kept it together and, actually, it seems that Svitolina has made it her duty to keep showing up and keeping it together.

We feel guilt that we feel happy or that we feel good.

“It was an incredibly sad day today for all Ukrainians,” she said during her press conference. “It was really difficult for me to really be here in a way and do anything. I just wanted to be in my room, just be there with my emotions, with everything. (…) Straightaway you see the images and everything that happened there. So many kids lost their lives. (…) I have to put my head down and show up and do my best, my very best. Every Ukrainian is using their own way to raise awareness, to raise money, to help in every possible way they can. My way is through tennis. This what's really motivated me today to do something. I tried to be focused on my job, tried to be focused on what I can control. Just do what I can in a way. I'm playing, of course, such an amazing event as Wimbledon. I have to also think about how I can use that in a way for Ukrainian people. At least with my win today, it was a small light that brought a happy moment for Ukrainian people. (…) Many Ukrainians will share this feeling with me: We feel guilt that we feel happy or that we feel good.”

Swiatek needs a break

Iga Swiatek hits a forehand

Iga Swiatek (credit: On)

Iga Swiatek had a bad draw for a player who’s still not a real fan of the surface and for someone who’s been nearly playing non-stop until the end of Roland-Garros. So she lost in the third round of Wimbledon, which might be a blessing in disguise, as she looked like she lacked energy after the first set. As always, Swiatek tries to get going on the grass, and you can see since last year that she’s finding the way. It will take time, but there’s something for her to do there.

She was very honest afterward about why she looked so lost in the last two sets against Yulia Putintseva, who, as usual, proved to be such a fierce competitor. Iga Swiatek made a mistake: yes, it happens to the World No.1, too. “I really messed up my recovery. I feel like on grass I need little bit more of that energy to keep being patient and accept some mistakes. Like mentally, I didn't really do that well on this tournament. I need to recover better after clay court season, both physically and mentally. I literally came back to work - not tennis-wise, but off court stuff - and I shouldn't have done that. Maybe next year I'm going to take a vacation and literally just do nothing.” Sounds like a plan. And now Swiatek has all the time in the world to prepare for the Olympics on clay at Roland-Garros. Everyone will say again that she cannot lose it, so she has to be glad to get some extra time to prepare for what’s to come.

Jabeur and Gauff bow out, while French tennis finds new hope

The women’s draw lost two of its most popular players here, with Ons Jabeur losing to Elina Svitolina in the third round after playing two finals in a row here and Coco Gauff losing to Emma Navarro in the third round. “People, fans of the game, are a little bit disrespectful when it comes to other players on tour. Maybe their ranking isn't there, but the level is there. They're here for a reason. They deserve their spot. There's no easy draw. There's no cakewalk or anything. This is a competitive sport and we all want to win,” said Gauff when asked about being one of the few top seeds left in the draw.

Giovanni Mpetshi Perricard (21yo, coached by Emmanuel Planque), who is way more than his crazy good serve, and Arthur Fils (20yo, coached by Sébastien Grosjean), who has a great all-around game: here are two players who made some headlines here and who could give some new ambitions to French tennis. They lost in the fourth round, for their first time in a second week of a Grand Slam, but they impressed many people on the way. Are we getting ahead of ourselves again because that’s what French people tend to do? Maybe, but this time, I don’t think so.

What I also loved to see among the players who lost at Wimbledon? Denis Shapovalov playing very good tennis again and Ben Shelton who beat him in the third round before losing to Jannik Sinner. Tennis needs both their game and their personality. Shapovalov’s lefty paw is a blockbuster, and if that knee stays on track, it should shine bright again soon.

Someone who keeps defying all odds? Novak Djokovic. Whatever happens at Wimbledon, he has added a new page to its legend by coming back from that knee surgery to then go through a part of that draw. I crossed his physio Miljan Amanovic before the start of the tournament and told him in a joke that people might be saying they’re crazy to try that. He laughed, saying that maybe sometimes it’s a good thing. It seems so!

A few heartbreaks: Felix Auger-Aliassime losing to Thanasi Kokkinakis despite four match points in the tie-break of the third set, Kokkinakis then injuring his knee in the next match as if he hadn’t gone through enough already, and finally Leylah Fernandez losing to Caroline Wozniacki despite having two match points in the third set because the Canadian is putting her whole heart into each point and has been so close so many times this year.

QUESTION OF THE DAY 
What should they do?

It’s a tie! You were 37,50% to say you’ll mostly remember Andy Murray for his fighting spirit. And also, 37,50% say it will be mostly of his sarcasm.

What should tennis do about all these injuries?

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BUSINESS / MEDIA 
Sports get new deals

They all want a share of the sports market pie.

  • CNBC launched CNBC Sport “to ramp up sports business coverage.” Why? “The spotlight on sports has never been brighter with more money at play than ever before,” said KC Sullivan, CNBC President. “CNBC Sport will offer the highly engaged sports business audience and those looking to invest in this rapidly growing sector, a trusted destination where they will get analysis, updates and insider insights to help them get in on the action.” Axios sees this move as a new proof that “cable news companies are scrambling to reimagine their businesses for a digital future.”

  • Warner Bros. Discovery teams up with Snapchat, starting this two-year deal at the Olympics. They’ll debut this partnership with a weekly program called “Beyond The Olympics,” “which will deliver localized content for users in the UK and France, including highlights and behind-the-scenes content.” SIG reports that “according to recent research from Snapchat, 65% of 18-24-year-olds’ interest in the sport has increased, while 47% regard traditional sports fandom as being inaccessible for them.”

  • Coco Gauff remains an in-demand player for brands. She recently inked a deal with Naked, a smoothies brand I personally discovered a few years ago at the US Open. Fitting for Gauff!

SOME BREAK POINTS… 
Tech to the rescue against doping in Paris

  • AI to fight doping? The International Testing Agency surely hopes so. “Today, we have our own software, and the next stage will involve programming computers to extract this data because we still do a lot of this work manually. (…) If it's done properly, AI will enable us to go much further in risk analysis and prediction. (…) Artificial intelligence will enable us to say: 'This is really an unusual result, which could suggest doping.'“ It could help us flag them,” told IT Director General Benjamin Cohen to RFI.

  • Chris Evert won Wimbledon 50 years ago. Time flies! She talked to the Times about how the sport has changed since then and how her journey evolved. “I can understand why these players have mental health issues because if [fame] happens overnight, it can be mindblowing,” she said.

PLAY HARD, TRAIN HARD, DRESS THE PART 
Nike, that’s better…

Nike, you’re starting to redeem yourself. Please do go on. I ranted enough about what they did to Carlos Alcaraz at Roland-Garros and Naomi Osaka at Wimbledon. Yet, on Sunday morning at Aorangi Park, I found a ray of hope. Not of sunshine, because after barely ten minutes there, it started to rain cats and dogs. But it was still enough time to discover that fantastic Carlos Alcaraz hoodie. In a sea of uninspired or plain dreadful Nike outfits, here was a gem. Finally!

In this WSJ interview, Coco Gauff confirmed what we all guessed: tennis players both love seeing tennis trending in fashion and find it slightly cringe. Tennis-core” taking off is so good. For me, it’s been a little weird to see your equipment, basically, taking off as trendy,” she said. Yet she keeps getting tempted to join the trend off the court. "Off-court, sometimes I try to incorporate it and sometimes I feel weird and end up taking it off. There was a TikTok I posted about this polo shirt I thrifted, and I was asking how to style it. Everyone recommended a white tennis skirt. I was like, I’m trying to get away from that!”  In this interview, Gauff details her training routines and also advocates for mental health, saying she talks to her therapist every two weeks.

EDITOR’S PICKS 

READ: Private Equity has fallen in love with sports. Is it reciprocal, though? The jury is still out. Yet Front Office Sports has a long feature on the topic that is worth reading. Stratospheric franchise values have made many millionaire owners billionaires, and PE wants its piece.CVC Capital Partners, for example, have injected 150 million dollars into the WTA to get 20% of the WTA commercial entity.

READ FOR THE SASS: “Summer in the Hamptons Means $30 Berries and $120 Lobster Salad.” Yes, it’s over the top and for the one-percenters. But the Hamptons, where I’ve never set foot, are my guilty pleasure to read about or to watch. Someone spent $20 on two tomatoes, come on… How could I resist sharing that WSJ feature about the ridiculous summer pricing in the Hamptons? No way I could, so please enjoy. What do you say? The link with tennis? Well, the US Open is looming, and it’s very close to the Hamptons. There, you have it:)

WATCH: Are you curious about the world’s fastest humans ahead of the Olympics? Well, Netflix has you covered with Sprint.