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    The Brain Within the Brain of a Rising Tennis Queen

    AdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyThe Brain Within the Brain of a Rising Tennis QueenIga Swiatek of Poland came out of nowhere to win the French Open in October. A sports psychologist was with her all the way.Sports psychologist Daria Abramowicz, right, watches Polish tennis star Iga Swiatek during a hitting practice at Melbourne Park in the week before the Australian Open.Credit…Alana Holmberg for The New York TimesFeb. 7, 2021, 1:00 a.m. ETMELBOURNE, Australia — In October, a teenager from Poland, Iga Swiatek, stunned the tennis world when she came out of nowhere to win the French Open.She was ranked No. 54 heading into the tournament yet won the singles championship without losing a set in any of her seven matches. The run instantly made her one of the top young stars in tennis, a celebrity in Poland and a favorite to play deep into the Australian Open, which begins Monday.Swiatek’s unusual breakout — and whatever may follow for the 19-year-old — has come in part because of her unusual strategy of allowing a mental health and psychology coach to play a central role in her training since very early in her career.The coach, Daria Abramowicz, 33, is a former competitive sailor who has spent much of the past decade trying to bring mental health and psychology to the fore in sports in Poland. She has been a constant presence at Swiatek’s matches since 2019 and can often be seen on the court during her practices, watching closely with her arms crossed, trying to peer into Swiatek’s mind.They talk off the court for hours on end about Swiatek’s fears and her dreams. They work to deepen Swiatek’s relationships with relatives and friends, the people who can provide emotional stability — “the human anchor,” Abramowicz calls it.During practice, Swiatek sometimes wears medical instruments that measure her stress level by monitoring the activity of her heart and brain. Ahead of the Australian Open, she watched and reflected on a documentary about Princess Diana to better understand the pitfalls of sudden fame. On Saturday afternoon, two days before her opening match in Melbourne, she went to the beach.“My life changed,” Swiatek, 19, said recently, answering questions from the Melbourne hotel room where she had spent 19 hours each day for two weeks during the limited quarantine required of players because of the coronavirus pandemic. “There is a little bit more pressure.”Many top tennis players consult with mental coaches, but Abramowicz works with Swiatek much more frequently than usual for the sport. Abramowicz also takes a counterintuitive approach of prioritizing gratitude, human relationships and personal growth as a path to winning.At this level, every player has beautiful strokes and athleticism. What often separates the merely great tennis player from the champion, or a one-time Grand Slam champion from a dominating repeat winner, is having the fortitude to prevail on those few key points on which a match turns.“We talk a lot about positive and destructive passions,” Abramowicz said in an interview. “Perfectionism is not so helpful, so we tried to create positive passion, determination and grit. You embrace your potential in pursuit of excellence. You go for the best, but at the end of the day you are human and you have other aspects to your life, and it doesn’t mean when you lose your match you are less worthy as a human being.”Abramowicz said that self-confidence and close relationships built on trust were crucial to supporting attributes like motivation, stress management and communication that drive athletic success.“It is impossible to become a champion when you don’t have a fundamental joy and your needs fulfilled and satisfied as a human being,” Abramowicz said.That may be debatable. Tennis, like other sports, has had plenty of champions who were miserable at times, even when they were on top. Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf, who are now married to each other, and more recently Victoria Azarenka, have had plenty of success during unhappy periods in their personal lives. That said, Abramowicz has pushed Swiatek to embrace the idea that she can achieve lasting success far more easily and certainly more enjoyably if she approaches tennis not as life itself but as one part of it.“It is important to have peace so you can focus on working,” Swiatek said. “It is not only true for tennis players but for any person who wants to succeed and is doing extraordinary things.”The tennis court is like the sea.Abramowicz was a prospect in Poland’s sailing program before she studied sports psychology.Credit…Alana Holmberg for The New York TimesAbramowicz’s journey to Team Swiatek began 15 years ago, when Abramowicz was an 18-year-old rising prospect in Poland’s national sailing program. After a national regatta, Abramowicz fell 10 feet from a trailer while packing a sailboat, shattering her left wrist.After the accident, she could no longer sail competitively and felt empty and alone. But two weeks later, a coach asked if she might serve as an unofficial coach at a regatta in Italy because she had sailed at the venue before..“It lifted me up and showed me the new path,” Abramowicz said.She continued to coach as she studied sports and psychology. As her knowledge deepened, she created a website to write about mental health in sports.By the time Abramowicz earned a postgraduate degree in psychology in 2016, she had a growing reputation in sports in Poland because of her push for athletes to be more open about their mental needs. Then in February 2019, a member of Swiatek’s management team called to ask if she would be interested in working with a still maturing young tennis player with seemingly limitless potential. Swiatek can mash her groundstrokes and execute soft drop volleys off passing shots rocketed her way, but at times she struggled mentally during matches.The pairing was a gamble. What might a sailor know about the rigors of elite tennis? Abramowicz said the two pursuits were strikingly similar.A competitive sailor has to sense the changing conditions of the wind, to see the puffs of water during a race, just as a tennis player must absorb and adjust to the rhythms of a match. During tennis matches and solo sailing races, there is no team to rely on.If you become exhausted or flustered, it is all on you.After the call from Swiatek’s management team, Abramowicz flew to Budapest to watch her next match. As she watched, she saw a competitive fire in Swiatek that she had rarely seen in a young athlete.Afterward, Swiatek told her she was flattered that Abramowicz had come all the way to Hungary to see her play. She knew little about sports psychology beyond the notion that it might make her a better player.Swiatek uses stress tests and sudoku puzzles.Swiatek needed three sets to beat Kaja Juvan in a tuneup tournament before the Australian Open.Credit…Alana Holmberg for The New York TimesSometimes, before Swiatek takes the court for practices, Abramowicz attaches a heart rate variability sensor to her to measure the tension Swiatek is experiencing during high-stress moments. Other times, she has Swiatek strap on a device that measures brain waive oscillation to detect stress.The goal is to use every tool available to train Swiatek’s mind to manage the adrenaline and pressure of a match. At the 2020 Australian Open, Abramowicz noticed how Swiatek became both calmer and more locked in if she spent the hours before her matches working on homework, especially math.Swiatek graduated from high school last year and does not have homework anymore. So Abramowicz now has her work on crossword puzzles or sudokus as a cognitive warm-up. Other top players often use the same downtime to listen to music or binge-watch television shows.The approach is similar to that of another athlete whom Abramowicz has challenged Swiatek to emulate in many ways: the champion skier Mikaela Shiffrin, who often does word searches before her races to relax and focus her brain. Swiatek tries to watch all of Shiffrin’s races. Abramowicz points to Shiffrin, who became a world champion at 17 and is a huge star in Europe, as a model for how to manage success and expectations without letting fame spiral out of control.Consider this: A year ago, over dinner at the Australian Open, Swiatek told Naomi Osaka, the three-time Grand Slam champion, that she was considering going to college instead of playing professional tennis.“I was telling her she’s really good, and I think she’s going to do really well, so maybe don’t try to divert your energy to college just yet,” Osaka recalled last week.After her championship, the work shifted.Swiatek did not lose a set in the French Open in her run to that title.Credit…Christophe Ena/Associated PressThrough her work with Abramowicz, Swiatek has been changing from a player motivated solely by results — a common trait, especially among young players — into someone who, as she put it, can “be happy even when you are not winning.”That goal morphs over time.As Swiatek played match point at the French Open against Sofia Kenin, Abramowicz tried to figure out where to shift their focus. Ahead of the Australian Open, Abramowicz and Swiatek have been working on managing life as a favorite and an international star.“We have prepared for success,” Abramowicz said.Last week, Swiatek competed in her first tournament since October. Given the layoff, she tried before the tournament to put every expectation for winning out of her mind.“I won against some of the great players,” Swiatek said Saturday. “That can really, like, mess with the head sometimes.”Showing the rust, she needed three sets to defeat Kaja Juvan, a 20-year-old Slovenian, and then lost decisively, 6-4, 6-2, to Ekaterina Alexandrova, the veteran Russian.Now comes the next Grand Slam. Much of Poland is watching closely. As always, Abramowicz will be, too.AdvertisementContinue reading the main story More

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    How to Watch the Australian Open Tennis Matches

    #masthead-section-label, #masthead-bar-one { display: none }At HomeExplore: A Cubist CollageFollow: Cooking AdviceVisit: Famous Old HomesLearn: About the VaccineAdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storySet Your Alarm to Watch Great TennisFor two weeks starting Sunday, more than 1,000 hours of Australian Open matches will be available to American audiences during the night and into the morning.Naomi Osaka, last year’s U.S. Open champion, will be seeking a fourth Grand Slam title.Credit…Andrew Brownbill/Associated PressFeb. 6, 2021Depending on your appetite and geographic location, the Australian Open can be the equivalent of a midnight snack or an after-hours all-you-can-eat buffet. Held in Melbourne, Australia, which is 16 hours ahead of the East Coast of the United States, the Grand Slam event is an annual tennis treat for nocturnal American sports fans. This year, more than 1,000 hours of coverage of the singles, doubles and wheelchair competitions will be broadcast in the United States through the night and the morning.The tournament, which begins Sunday at 7 p.m. Eastern (30 minutes after the kickoff of the Super Bowl), may not get too much attention in its opening hours. But once a champion is declared in Tampa, Fla., the Australian Open could find itself in a unique position to hold the attention of the sports world for the next two weeks, not overlapping with the most crucial stretch of any major sport’s season.How to WatchIn the United States, the matches will be broadcast on ESPN platforms. If you can stream ESPN3 or ESPN+, either online or with a Roku, Apple TV or similar device, you will have to do the least searching to find which app or site is airing the tennis at any given time. You will also exert the most control over what you watch, with the ability to pick streams from up to 16 live match courts, as well as on-demand replays of matches you may have missed.If you rely on traditional cable, you may have to do a bit more work to keep up with where to find the matches. On the first day, the tournament will begin on ESPN for three hours before shifting to ESPN2. Coverage for the next nine nights will be primarily live on ESPN2, beginning (all times Eastern) at 9 p.m., though the first two hours of play on those days, from 7 to 9 p.m., will be available on ESPN’s streaming platforms. On Feb. 17 at 10 p.m., coverage shifts to ESPN from ESPN2, starting with the women’s semifinals. The men’s semifinals are scheduled to begin at 3:30 a.m. on Feb. 18 and Feb. 19. The women’s final will be at 3:30 a.m. on Feb. 20, and the men’s final will be at 3:30 a.m. on Feb. 21.If you’re a more diurnal viewer who still prefers tuning into live terrestrial television, ESPN2 will show replays of the previous day’s matches at various times on most afternoons, or starting in the late morning on weekends.What to Keep in MindFor the second year in a row, understanding the Australian Open will require understanding the distinct Australian geopolitical and health backdrop. After last year’s tournament was largely overshadowed by ravaging wildfires, this year’s tournament, like all other sporting events, is at the mercy of the coronavirus pandemic. Australia has combated the virus more effectively than nearly any other country, which makes it both uniquely capable and uniquely anxious when it comes to staging a major international event at this time. Up to 30,000 fans could attend the tournament each day, but whether Melburnians are ready to embrace the event remains to be seen; the special treatment tennis players received during the quarantine process rankled many locals, and crowds were scant at the warm-up event held at the same facility last week.The Players to WatchSerena Williams is once more vying to extend her Open-era record of 23 Grand Slam singles titles to 24, matching the record set by Australia’s Margaret Court. Williams won her last Grand Slam title four years ago in Melbourne, during the early stages of her pregnancy with her daughter, Olympia. Naomi Osaka, last year’s United States Open champion, will be seeking a fourth Grand Slam title. The top-seeded woman, Australia’s Ashleigh Barty, is seeking a second Grand Slam title after not competing most of last year because of the pandemic.In the men’s draw, the top-seeded Novak Djokovic will be vying for his ninth Australian Open title, while the second-seeded Rafael Nadal looks to increase his overall Grand Slam haul to 21, breaking his current tie at 20 with Roger Federer, who will not be in attendance.AdvertisementContinue reading the main story More

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    Players to Watch at the Australian Open

    AdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyPlayers to Watch at the Australian OpenWe know who’s likely to be in the spotlight at 2021’s first Grand Slam event, but here are six players who could be surprises.Daniil Medvedev on his way to winning the ATP Finals in November.Credit…Toby Melville/ReutersFeb. 6, 2021, 6:46 p.m. ETThe Australian Open has largely belonged to just two men since 2004, with Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer winning 14 of 17 titles. With Federer sidelined by an injury, Djokovic is the obvious favorite, and there are just two other clear-cuts: Rafael Nadal, who captured his 20th Grand Slam singles title last year in France and could claim his record 21st in Australia, and Dominic Thiem, who earned his first at the 2020 United States Open. (Thiem also beat Nadal in last year’s Australian Open and pushed Djokovic to five sets in the final.)The women’s draw is more open, but it has a few players in the spotlight. As with the men’s side, it starts with the top three in the rankings: Australia’s own Ash Barty, the world No. 1, who did not play in 2020 after the lockdown; Simona Halep, who reached the semifinals of the Australian Open last year, and had a win streak of 17 matches and three titles; and Naomi Osaka, winner of three Grand Slam events, including the 2019 Australian Open.Then there’s Serena Williams, whom people will watch because of her all-around greatness. If she wins this year she will tie for the most Grand Slam singles titles among women with 24.But there are less-recognizable players who could have deep runs into the second week and might even win. Here are six to watch in 2021.Daniil MedvedevThe men’s Top 10 has several rising stars like Stefanos Tsitsipas or Alexander Zverev, but Daniil Medvedev is the best bet to take home the title. To win, a player will likely have to take down two of the top three seeds, and he is the best candidate.While Medvedev’s 16-19 record versus Top 10 players may sound poor, it’s the highest for a player without a Slam. He’s winless against Federer, so that absence improves Medvedev’s odds.Medvedev, the 6-foot-6 Russian with the big serve and persistent baseline game, emerged as one of the game’s top returners and a Top 5 player in 2019. Grinding his way to two Masters 1000 titles, he also reached six straight finals, including the U.S. Open, where he took Nadal to five sets.Most notable was his triumph in November at the ATP Finals, where he had five straight wins, over Diego Schwartzman, Zverev, Thiem, Nadal and Djokovic. That level of sustained excellence gives him an edge.Credit…James Ross/EPA, via ShutterstockNick KyrgiosKyrgios, of Australia, has an overpowering serve, making him especially dangerous on the Open’s hard courts. His hard-court winning percentage is among the highest of players competing at the tournament. But he has so far failed to live up to his enormous potential. Temperamental and undisciplined, he has fallen through the years from 13th in the world to 47th.At 25, he’s still young, and he is prodigiously talented.His athleticism and flash always make him riveting to watch. If he can stay focused for two weeks, he’s 5-5 lifetime versus Nadal and Djokovic, which should give the front-runners pause.Credit…Julian Finney/Getty ImagesTaylor FritzThe younger players who could make a mark in Australia include Denis Shapovalov, Félix Auger-Aliassime, Jannik Sinner and Carlos Alcaraz. The most likely American would be 30th-ranked Taylor Fritz. Fritz has wins over Thiem, Zverev and top veterans like Fabio Fognini and Schwartzman. Last year, Fritz reached the finals in Acapulco, Mexico. A quarterfinal slot might be a stretch, but if he survives until the second week, it will herald a big step forward.Credit…Lintao Zhang/Getty ImagesBianca AndreescuThe cancellation of WTA’s year-end tournament gave the top players a long break before the Australian Open. But no top contender has been off the court as long as the eighth-ranked Bianca Andreescu, who has been sidelined with injuries since 2019.That year, she won 31 of her first 34 matches, including the BNP Paribas Open as a wild card because of a wide array of shots and a fearlessness in going for them. She capped her rise by upsetting Williams in the U.S. Open finals. If her shoulder and knee are healthy, she has the aggressiveness, the power and the Grand Slam experience to tear through the tournament.Credit…Thomas Samson/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesVictoria AzarenkaShe may be ranked only 13th, but she is, once again, a definite threat. Winner of the Australian Open championship in 2012 and 2013, Azarenka reached No. 1 in the world. She was the game’s top returner, breaking her opponent’s serve more than half the time. But she fell off the map after having a baby and then getting caught in a custody battle. When she did play, she struggled, reaching the fourth round of a major just once.But in 2020, Azaernka rediscovered her magic in a five-tournament run, where she won a title, reached two more finals, including the U.S. Open, and beat six players in the Top 20.Credit…Pool photo by Riccardo AntimianiGarbiñe MuguruzaShe finished 2019 ranked 36th. Then she went to the Australian Open in 2020 and reminded everyone that she was a former No. 1 and a Wimbledon and French Open champion. Muguruza used improved net play to topple the Top 10 players Elina Svitolina, Kiki Bertens and Halep en route to the finals. She lost to Sofia Kenin.Muguruza’s big serve and potent, albeit high-risk, ground strokes also looked impressive in Rome in September, and she defeated Sloane Stephens, Coco Gauff, Johanna Konta and Azarenka before falling to Halep. With both of those 2020 tournaments, Muguruza, now ranked 15th, showed she still had what it takes for a deep Grand Slam run.AdvertisementContinue reading the main story More

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    Because of Covid-19, Even Getting to the Australian Open Is a Battle

    #masthead-section-label, #masthead-bar-one { display: none }The Coronavirus OutbreakliveLatest UpdatesMaps and CasesSee Your Local RiskVaccine InformationWuhan, One Year LaterAdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyBecause of Covid-19, Even Getting to the Australian Open Is a BattlePlayers not only must be quarantined upon arrival, but then they are mostly confined to their rooms.The courts at Melbourne Park will have a limited number of spectators during the Australian Open.Credit…David Gray/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesFeb. 6, 2021, 6:44 p.m. ETAngelique Kerber was all dressed up with nowhere to go.It was Kerber’s 33rd birthday, and the German tennis player was stuck in a hotel room in Melbourne, Australia, on Jan. 18 unable to even open the door for more than the time required to grab a bag of food left outside.But rather than mope about her inability to celebrate, or even to practice for the Australian Open because of a strictly enforced two-week quarantine, Kerber decided to make the best of it. So the 2016 Australian Open champion videotaped herself donning a fancy party dress, dipping strawberries in chocolate, opening a bottle of champagne and dancing around the room, all by herself.Because of the pandemic, athletes in Australia and around the world have had to make major adjustments to earn a living. Tennis players, who spend their lives on airplanes and in hotels, are among the most vulnerable.Players, including Angelique Kerber, and staff members were required to spend 14 days in quarantine after they arrived in Australia in accordance with tournament protocols.Credit…Daniel Pockett/Getty Images“These days, traveling is just an absolute nightmare,” said Reilly Opelka who, at 6-foot-11, struggles on long flights during the best of times. “With Covid, tests, quarantining and paperwork, it’s the biggest headache.”A year ago, the Australian Open was hit by the environmental effects of bushfires that ravaged the country. At Melbourne Park, where the tournament is played, haze and smoke from the nearby fires left some players gasping for air during their qualifying matches.If 2020 was jarring, the 2021 Australian Open, postponed by three weeks from its customary summer dates, seems apocalyptic.“Last year feels like 10 years ago,” said Rajeev Ram, who won the Australian Open men’s doubles title last year with Joe Salisbury. “Not only did we have the bushfires last year, but we had our first inklings that the coronavirus was becoming significant because some of our Chinese players weren’t able to go home. That now feels like forever ago.”This year, Ram was confined to his hotel room for 14 days from the moment his chartered flight from Los Angeles landed in Melbourne on Jan. 15. His coach, physiotherapist and Salisbury were just steps away in other single rooms, but physical contact was prohibited.Tennis players and support staff arriving at the Grand Hyatt hotel on Jan. 15.Credit…William West/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesThe original plan, as laid out by Tennis Australia, the governing body of the Australian Open, was for everyone associated with the tournament to fly into Melbourne on carefully orchestrated chartered flights from Los Angeles, Miami, Abu Dhabi (where a WTA tournament had just concluded), and Dubai and Doha, both sites of the Australian Open qualifying tournaments.Planes were just 20 percent full to allow for social distancing, and players, coaches and support staff members were tested for Covid-19 before takeoff. Players would quarantine for two weeks, though they were allowed out of their rooms for a total of five hours per day to practice, do physical training and eat at the tournament site.The intent was to keep everyone safe, including Australians, who have endured strict lockdown mandates. With Covid-19 positivity near zero in the country, fans are permitted to attend the Australian Open, though in limited numbers. Tickets are available for one of three zones, each containing one of the show courts, but fans are required to stay within their specific zone for the duration of the session.The Coronavirus Outbreak More

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    Sofia Kenin: Moved to Tears, and Victory

    AdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storySofia Kenin: Moved to Tears, and VictoryOnce the defending Australian Open champion is on the court, it’s all about “grooving in the game.”Sofia Kenin ended 2020 ranked No. 4 in the world and was named the WTA Player of the Year.Credit…Jonathan DiMaggio/Getty ImagesFeb. 6, 2021, 6:41 p.m. ETSofia Kenin had just beaten Ashleigh Barty, the world No. 1, to reach the final at the Australian Open last January. Still in her tennis clothes and seated on a bench in the locker room next to her friend and doubles partner, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Kenin glanced at her phone and put her hands to her mouth.“Andy Roddick just tweeted. Oh my God, Oh my God,” Kenin said as she read aloud the former world No. 1’s message. “‘This girl has become the goods,’” Roddick wrote, urging her to win the title.“I will,” Kenin yelled into her phone. Then she cried.Kenin, 22, met Roddick when she was a 7-year-old Florida phenomenon playing exhibition matches with the former world No. 1s Jim Courier and Venus and Serena Williams. She told a reporter that she knew how to return Roddick’s 150-plus m.p.h. serve by split-stepping and hitting with a short backswing.Tears have become Kenin’s mantra. She cried from nerves before every match during last year’s Australian Open and then sobbed with joy after she beat Garbiñe Muguruza to win her first major title.She fought back tears of frustration in the middle of her French Open final-round loss to Iga Swiatek and then let them flow as she sat courtside during the trophy presentation.Sofia Kenin after she defeated Garbiñe Muguruza to win the Australian Open last year for her first major title.Credit…Asanka Brendon Ratnayake for The New York TimesKenin entered last year’s Australian Open ranked outside the top 10. Helped by a potent backhand down the line, a well-disguised drop shot and an unwavering will to win, she ended the Covid-truncated season ranked No. 4 and was named the WTA Player of the Year.The following conversation has been edited and condensed.What’s with all the tears?I don’t know. I try to handle it. I can’t go on the court crying because then it’s a big advantage for my opponent, so I have to wipe my tears, have a good warm-up, feel the ball and then start grooving in the game. That’s when I forget I was crying and just focus on the points.Do you cry before every match?I did in Australia last year. I wasn’t doing it on purpose, it was just happening. And then, I’m superstitious so I was like, I got to cry. I’m not a good actress.In last year’s final, you were at 2-2 in the third set, down 0-40 on your serve, and you hit five straight winners. How did you do that?Yeah, yeah, I know those points. I just watched them on TV again, and I got a little emotional. Those were really clutch points, probably the best points of my life.Novak Djokovic, your fellow Australian Open defending champion, became an inspiration for you last year. How did he help?I was watching his match, and I messaged him on Instagram. I was hoping he would win so I would have an excuse to congratulate him. Then he was on the practice court next to me the day before the final, and he came up and gave me some advice. He just told me to enjoy the moment and leave it all out there. I think I’m going to ask him how to handle the pressure of being a defending champion. He’s got a lot of experience with that.Not long after you won in Australia, the tour was shut down for five months because of the pandemic. Did that make you angry?It hit me hard because it was supposed to be the best thing that ever happened. Three months of practicing and everything canceled.I wasn’t in a depression, but I was really down. I didn’t want to be on the court. But when we started again, I was super excited to go out and compete, even though it was really unfortunate that there were no fans.Heading into Melbourne, what are you most excited about, and what are you most afraid of?I’m definitely happy that I get to experience being a defending champion. That’s quite special. Then, I’m most afraid to lose and lose early.How are you different from that wide-eyed 7-year-old who wanted to return Roddick’s serve?Well, I won a Slam, and I got to the final of another one. So that’s a big difference.AdvertisementContinue reading the main story More

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    Ashleigh Barty Seeded First in Australian Open Draw

    AdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyAshleigh Barty, Back on the Court, Is Top Seeded at HomeBut Naomi Osaka could face a tough path in the women’s draw at the Australian Open.Ashleigh Barty in a doubles match at the Yarra Valley Classic on Friday.Credit…Jonathan Dimaggio/Getty ImagesFeb. 5, 2021Updated 1:02 p.m. ETTop-ranked Ashleigh Barty once more sits atop the Australian Open women’s singles draw that was made Friday afternoon in Melbourne, and gives her country its best chance to win its home Grand Slam.Barty has held the No. 1 ranking without interruption since September 2019. But that streak, made possible by the WTA Tour keeping 2019 ranking points intact during a season of upheaval, does not quite reveal the reality of her last 12 months.Before this week, Barty had not played a tour match in nearly a year. At last year’s Australian Open, she was seeded No. 1 and lost in a semifinal to the eventual champion, Sofia Kenin. Then, when the coronavirus pandemic disrupted sports, she stayed home in Queensland and remained there even as some tournaments were held in other parts of the world.Barty has looked strong in a warm-up tournament this week at Melbourne Park, reaching the final of the Yarra Valley Classic after a withdrawal from Serena Williams. Still, it is yet to be seen how she will perform during the Grand Slam tournament, which is scheduled to begin Monday, given her limited match preparation.Barty’s path in the women’s singles draw is largely favorable. She opens against 77th-ranked Danka Kovinic. Should Barty reach the semifinals, she could get a rematch against Kenin, who is seeded fourth this year. Kenin, who also reached the finals of the French Open in October, has said she is uneasy about defending a Grand Slam title for the first time.“Obviously very nervous, but I’m going to do my best and we’re going to see how it goes,” Kenin said this week.Kenin received a seemingly comfortable opening match against the 130th-ranked wild-card Maddison Inglis, but could face trouble in the second round, where she would have to face frequent giant-killer Kaia Kanepi or the 2018 U.S. Open semifinalist Anastasija Sevastova.The 2019 Australian Open champion, Naomi Osaka, sits in the bottom half of the draw seeded third, where she landed one of the most brutal opening challenges: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, a talented Russian veteran who has reached the quarterfinals each of the last two years in Melbourne.Osaka, who ended last season on an 11-match winning streak after winning the U.S. Open, faces a potentially loaded path to the semifinals after Pavlyuchenkova, including 27th-seeded Ons Jabeur; last year’s runner-up, Garbiñe Muguruza; 2016 champion Angelique Kerber; the 2019 runner-up, Petra Kvitova; the seven-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams, and eighth-seeded Bianca Andreescu, who is playing in her first Grand Slam event since winning the 2019 U.S. Open.Tenth-seeded Serena Williams, who is seeking her 24th Grand Slam title, could await whoever advances from Osaka’s quarter of the draw. Williams opens against the combative Laura Siegemund, but her toughest test might come from the enigmatic player who looms in the fourth round: seventh-seeded Aryna Sabalenka. Despite the pandemic-decimated schedule, Sabalenka has won four WTA titles in the last 12 months, including the final two tournaments of last season and the first of this year. But Sabalenka has not played well at Grand Slam events, only once advancing to even the fourth round in 12 main draw appearances.Whoever advances from Williams’s and Sabalenka’s section very likely has a tough battle on her hands in the quarterfinals as well, with both second-seeded Simona Halep and 15th-seeded Iga Swiatek looming. Swiatek won the French Open in October.On the men’s side of the tournament, the already dim hopes among American players got even dimmer after the draw.With the highest-ranked American man, John Isner, choosing to stay home, 27th-seeded Taylor Fritz is the lone seed from the United States in men’s singles. He could face the next-highest ranked American man, his friend Reilly Opelka, in the second round. But whoever comes out of that part of the draw would most likely run into the buzz saw of Novak Djokovic in the third round.The top-seeded Djokovic, who has won eight Australian Open titles including the last two, opens his tournament against the Frenchman Jeremy Chardy, and could face another young American, 2019 quarterfinalist Frances Tiafoe, in the second round.One of Djokovic’s toughest potential tests looms in the fourth round, where he could face the 17th-seeded Stan Wawrinka. Wawrinka is one of only three players to have beaten Djokovic in Melbourne in the last 10 years. He did so in the 2014 quarterfinals en route to winning his first Grand Slam title.Djokovic could face third-seeded Dominic Thiem in the semifinals in what would be a rematch of last year’s final. Second-seeded Rafael Nadal, in his first try at breaking the Grand Slam men’s singles titles record after tying the absent Roger Federer at last year’s French Open, opens his tournament against the 56th-ranked Serbian player, Laslo Djere.Two of Nadal’s most intriguing possible early opponents play each other in the first round: 21st-seeded Alex de Minaur, who is the highest-ranked Australian man, and Tennys Sandgren, the Tennessean who had seven match points against Federer in last year’s quarterfinals but could not convert any of them.Nadal could face the fourth-seeded Daniil Medvedev, who is on a 12-match win streak after winning the ATP Finals and Paris Indoors Masters last fall, in the semifinals.The draws on Friday were delayed one day because of problems with the coronavirus. A quarantine worker at one of the hotels where players were staying tested positive, prompting tournament officials to halt activities on Thursday. Instead of a splashy, prime-time ceremony to reveal the first-round pairings, the draws were done in a back room and streamed online.AdvertisementContinue reading the main story More

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    Tony Trabert, a Two-Time No. 1 in Men’s Tennis, Dies at 90

    AdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyTony Trabert, a Two-Time No. 1 in Men’s Tennis, Dies at 90Trabert drew on a powerful serve-and-volley game and an outstanding backhand to win five Grand Slam tournament titles in a single year.Tony Trabert playing against Kurt Nielsen at the Wimbledon final in 1955. Wimbledon was one of five Grand Slam tournaments he won that year.Credit…Associated PressFeb. 4, 2021Updated 6:22 p.m. ETTony Trabert, who won five Grand Slam tournament titles in a single year, 1955 — three in singles and two in doubles — making him the world’s No. 1 men’s player for a second time, died on Wednesday at his home in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. He was 90. His death was announced by the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, R.I., where he was inducted in 1970.A sturdy 6-foot-1 and 185 pounds, Trabert drew on a powerful serve-and-volley game and an outstanding backhand in capturing the 1955 men’s singles at the French, Wimbledon and United States championships and teaming with Vic Seixas to take the men’s doubles at the Australian and French events. He had also been ranked No. 1 in 1953.Only Don Budge, who won all four men’s singles majors in 1938, and Rod Laver, who matched that feat in 1962 and 1969, have exceeded Trabert’s 1955 singles accomplishment, a mark that has been matched by several others.Trabert, who won 10 career Grand Slam tournaments overall — five in singles and five in doubles — was described by the tennis journalist and historian Bud Collins as “the all-American boy from Cincinnati with his ginger crew cut, freckles and uncompromisingly aggressive game.”Trabert played on five Davis Cup teams in the 1950s and was later the captain of five American squads.Tennis was largely an amateur affair in Trabert’s heyday. In October 1955, 13 years before the Open era, when pros could compete against amateurs, Jack Kramer signed Trabert to a contract guaranteeing him $75,000 to join his professional tour; over the years the tour also included stars like Pancho Gonzales, Pancho Segura and the Australians Ken Rosewall, Lew Hoad and Frank Sedgman.The United States Davis Cup team, of which Trabert was the captain, after winning the cup in 1979. From left: Vitas Gerulaitis, John McEnroe, Trabert, Stan Smith and Bob Lutz.Credit…Associated Press“I never have — or never would — admit to a weakness, because I don’t think I have a particular weakness,” he told Sports Illustrated in 1955.“I think I can play equally well with any shot,” he continued. “It’s not overconfidence or bragging. I know my capabilities and my limitations. I certainly know that because I’m reasonably big, I can’t be as quick as some of the smaller fellows who run around the court and get a lot of balls back defensively. So, quite simply, my game is that I make up in power what I lack in speed.”He went on to be a tennis commentator for CBS for more than 30 years and was president of the Tennis Hall of Fame from 2001 to 2011.Marion Anthony Trabert was born on Aug. 30, 1930, in Cincinnati, to Arch and Bea Trabert. He began hitting tennis balls at a neighborhood park at age 6. His father, a General Electric sales executive, arranged for him to take lessons from local pros when Tony was 10. Two years later, Bill Talbert, a neighbor 12 years his senior and also a future Hall of Famer, began giving him tips.“I could see in him a duplicate of myself at the same age — an intense desire to be a good player and a willingness to spend the long hours to make the grade,” Talbert wrote in “The Fireside Book of Tennis” (1972, edited by Allison Danzig and Peter Schwed).Trabert won the Ohio scholastic tennis singles title three consecutive years while at Walnut Hills High School in Cincinnati, where he also played basketball.He teamed with Talbert to win the doubles title at the French championship in 1950 and captured the 1951 N.C.A.A. singles tennis title while at the University of Cincinnati.Trabert also played guard for the Bearcats’ basketball team, which went to the National Invitation Tournament at Madison Square Garden in March 1951 (at a time when the tournament carried more prestige than it does today) before losing in the first round.Arantxa Sánchez Vicario of Spain in 2007 at her induction into the International Tennis Hall of Fame, alongside Trabert, who was inducted in 1970.Credit…CJ Gunther/EPA, via ShutterstockHe joined the Navy during the Korean War and served aboard an aircraft carrier.Trabert won the men’s singles at the United States Nationals in 1953 and the French singles in 1954 before his three singles victories at Grand Slam events in 1955.After being defeated by Rosewall in the semifinals of the 1955 Australian singles championships, the first of the four annual Grand Slam tournaments, Trabert won the French championship at Roland Garros, on clay, and then won Wimbledon and the United States Nationals at Forest Hills, both on grass. He did not lose a single set at either of those two tournaments.He also won the 1955 U.S. Indoor and Clay Court titles. In addition to winning the doubles in Paris with Talbert, he won four doubles titles in Grand Slam tournaments with Seixas.Trabert played on America’s Davis Cup teams from 1951 to 1955. He made it to the 1952 event while on a Navy furlough.The United States lost to Australia in the 1951 and 1952 finals, but an especially wrenching defeat came at Melbourne in 1953. The U.S. was leading Australia in the final, 2-1, but Hoad and Rosewall, both in their teens, beat Trabert and Seixas. The Americans did defeat Australia at Sydney in the final the next year.While Trabert was captain of the American squad from 1976 to 1980, he guided two cup winners.He is survived by his wife, Vicki; a son, Mike, and a daughter, Brooke Trabert Dabkowski, from his marriage to Shauna Wood, which ended in divorce; three stepchildren, Valerie Mason and James and Robbie Valenti; 14 grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.Looking back on his career, Trabert expressed no regrets about turning pro and disqualifying himself from further Grand Slam events before the arrival of the Open era.“When I won Wimbledon as an amateur, I got a 10-pound certificate, which was worth $27 redeemable at Lilly White’s Sporting Goods store in London,” he told The Florida Times-Union in 2014. “Jack Kramer offered me a guarantee of $75,000 against a percentage of the gate to play on his tour.“I made $125,000 to play 101 matches on five continents over 14 months. People say, ‘Yeah, Tony, but bread and milk was five cents.’ I say, ‘Give me Agassi’s $17 million and I’ll figure out the rest.’” Alex Traub contributed reporting.AdvertisementContinue reading the main story More

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    For Melburnians, the Australian Open Tests Anxieties About the Virus

    #masthead-section-label, #masthead-bar-one { display: none }The Coronavirus OutbreakliveLatest UpdatesMaps and CasesSee Your Local RiskVaccine InformationWuhan, One Year LaterAdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyFor Melburnians, the Australian Open Tests Anxieties About the VirusAustralians have gone to great lengths to control the coronavirus. And some don’t want to throw that away for a tennis tournament.A worker cleaned during a warm-up session at Melbourne Park on Thursday.Credit…David Gray/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesFeb. 4, 2021, 1:02 p.m. ETMELBOURNE, Australia — From the banks of the Yarra River to the vineyards of Mornington Peninsula, the news out of muggy Melbourne Park sent shivers across the state of Victoria.A worker at one of the hotels where players and officials were quarantined ahead of the Australian Open had tested positive for the coronavirus. The announcement, made late Wednesday, carried an irksome echo for Melburnians who have endured three lockdowns, including one that lasted 111 days, to successfully subdue the coronavirus.“There’s no reason for people to panic,” Daniel Andrews, Victoria’s premier, said on Thursday. But in many circles of this city, that button had already been pressed. The first tennis major each year is the crown jewel in this country’s sporting calendar, but even before the positive result snapped the state’s 28-day streak of zero community transmission, many Australians seemed conflicted about going forward with the event.Ian Hickie, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Sydney, said that Australia shut down the country last year — at tremendous cost to the economy and people’s mental health — “so we are spared the physical health disaster of North America and Europe and South America.”To risk giving back those hard-won gains “just doesn’t make sense outside a very narrow business sector,” he said, adding, “I think it would be safe to say most people are furious that it’s gone ahead.”The letters sections of Australia’s newspapers in recent weeks have become a Greek chorus, with readers railing about the hypocrisy of welcoming international visitors while continuing to shut out Australian citizens stuck abroad and about the dissonance of preaching about public health and safety while seeming to prioritize a world showcase event.The tournament had planned to allow up to 30,000 paying fans a day on the grounds, but the positive test prompted some ticket holders to ask for refunds on Twitter. Six men’s and women’s tuneup events at Melbourne Park were suspended Thursday, with matches rescheduled for Friday. The draw for the Australian Open was also postponed by a day to Friday. Craig Tiley, the chief executive of Tennis Australia, remained resolute that the Australian Open would start, as scheduled, on Monday.Craig Tiley spoke at a news conference on Thursday as tune-up events for the Australian Open were suspended for the day.Credit…Tennis Australia, via Associated Press“This is not about no risk,” Tiley said. “There’s no such thing as no risk. There’s always going to be risk. The objective is to minimize it as much as possible.”Restrictions on travel to a nation surrounded by water have helped Australia get and keep the virus largely under control. There were 52 active coronavirus cases in the country as of Thursday and nine people in the hospital. With a population of 25.8 million people — about four million more than live in Florida — Australia has had 28,838 cases and 909 deaths related to the virus.That more than 1,200 visitors associated with the Australian Open, including those from countries where variants of the virus have shown to be more transmissible, were given exceptions to enter the country confounded Hickie. “Our social cohesion and cooperativeness isn’t something that you can buy, and the sense that some people are just more important than others is a very un-Australian concept,” he said.In mid-January, as the players settled into their mandatory 14-day quarantine — some more cheerfully than others — Australians seemed divided. Some were aligned with tennis and government officials who looked at Victoria as a liberator rescuing international sport from the tyranny of the pandemic. Others believed that Australia’s standing as one of the leading countries in containing the virus carried more prestige than its standing as one of tennis’s four Grand Slam host countries.The Coronavirus Outbreak More