More stories

  • in

    As Covid Rules Ease, Australian Open Can Play Before a Full House

    Two of Australia’s biggest sports events — the Australian Open tennis tournament and the annual Boxing Day cricket test match in Melbourne — will be allowed to take place before full-capacity stadiums as part of an easing of coronavirus restrictions.With 90 percent of people over 16 expected to be fully vaccinated by this weekend in the state of Victoria, of which Melbourne is the capital, the authorities are easing pandemic-related rules, including capacity limits for public events.Events with up to 30,000 spectators can be held without state government approval, and larger events can go ahead at full capacity if they have a government-approved coronavirus safety plan in place.Attendees at all sports events will be required to be fully vaccinated.The Australian Open, which is played early each year in Melbourne, attracted about 820,000 spectators over two weeks the last time it was held at full capacity, in 2020. The Grand Slam tournament is played in a variety of venues, with the largest, Rod Laver Arena, able to seat about 15,000 spectators. More

  • in

    With Win in Paris, Novak Djokovic Secures Year-End No. 1 Ranking Again

    He bolstered his claim to being the best men’s player of this era by securing the year-end No. 1 ranking for a record seventh year.PARIS — When Novak Djokovic was 7, the world of elite tennis was a distant place, visible only on the television screen of his parents’ pizzeria in the Serbian mountains or the modest family apartment in Belgrade.His two young children have a much better view.On Sunday, as he hustled and pondered his way through his rematch with Daniil Medvedev, Djokovic’s son, Stefan, 7, and daughter, Tara, 4, were in the front row along with friends, family and stuffed animals.When Djokovic finally prevailed, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, to win the Paris Masters for the sixth time, he met Medvedev at the net and then walked, beaming, toward his children to embrace them in the stands.“A special day for me,” Djokovic said. “It’s the first time both my kids are together to watch a match of mine.”It is one of the perks of enduring sporting excellence and one of the inspirations: to give your offspring a memory of you in full flow.“It’s one of the biggest reasons why I keep on playing,” Djokovic said. “I always dreamed of having my children in the stands.”His longtime rival Roger Federer, a father of four, has reveled in the experience. So have many leading athletes, from football’s Tom Brady to women’s soccer’s Christie Pearce, in an era when more superstars have found a way to stay longer at the top.At 34, Djokovic is riding the same wave and not yet ready to get off. He proved it in Paris, where he rebounded from a demoralizing stretch that could have left him reeling.Djokovic kissed his son, Stefan, after defeating Medvedev.Thibault Camus/APAfter failing again to win a medal at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo in August, Djokovic got within one match of achieving a Grand Slam only to lose the U.S. Open final in straight sets to Medvedev. Rod Laver remains the last man to win all four major singles titles in the same year. He completed the Grand Slam in 1962 and 1969, and judging by the steady improvement of Medvedev and the new generation of men’s stars, it is difficult to imagine that Djokovic will have another chance to join Laver’s club.But after seven weeks away from the tour, Djokovic reminded fans of his resilience, talent and resourcefulness with his performance in Paris.He bolstered his claim to being the best men’s player of this golden era by securing the year-end No. 1 ranking for a record seventh year, breaking his tie with Pete Sampras. He also broke another tie with Rafael Nadal by winning his 37th Masters 1000 title and became the first man since Andre Agassi in 1999 to win the French Open and Paris Masters in the same season.Medvedev, the gangly Russian shock absorber, had looked unstoppable as he rolled over a weary Alexander Zverev in Saturday’s semifinals, barely making an unforced error. Meanwhile, Djokovic had only squeaked past an inspired Hubert Hurkacz in a third-set tiebreaker in their semifinal, struggling for consistency off the ground and in his own service games..css-1xzcza9{list-style-type:disc;padding-inline-start:1em;}.css-3btd0c{font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-size:1rem;line-height:1.375rem;color:#333;margin-bottom:0.78125rem;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-3btd0c{font-size:1.0625rem;line-height:1.5rem;margin-bottom:0.9375rem;}}.css-3btd0c strong{font-weight:600;}.css-3btd0c em{font-style:italic;}.css-1kpebx{margin:0 auto;font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-weight:700;font-size:1.125rem;line-height:1.3125rem;color:#121212;}#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-1kpebx{font-family:nyt-cheltenham,georgia,’times new roman’,times,serif;font-weight:700;font-size:1.375rem;line-height:1.625rem;}@media (min-width:740px){#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-1kpebx{font-size:1.6875rem;line-height:1.875rem;}}@media (min-width:740px){.css-1kpebx{font-size:1.25rem;line-height:1.4375rem;}}.css-1gtxqqv{margin-bottom:0;}.css-16ed7iq{width:100%;display:-webkit-box;display:-webkit-flex;display:-ms-flexbox;display:flex;-webkit-align-items:center;-webkit-box-align:center;-ms-flex-align:center;align-items:center;-webkit-box-pack:center;-webkit-justify-content:center;-ms-flex-pack:center;justify-content:center;padding:10px 0;background-color:white;}.css-pmm6ed{display:-webkit-box;display:-webkit-flex;display:-ms-flexbox;display:flex;-webkit-align-items:center;-webkit-box-align:center;-ms-flex-align:center;align-items:center;}.css-pmm6ed > :not(:first-child){margin-left:5px;}.css-5gimkt{font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-size:0.8125rem;font-weight:700;-webkit-letter-spacing:0.03em;-moz-letter-spacing:0.03em;-ms-letter-spacing:0.03em;letter-spacing:0.03em;text-transform:uppercase;color:#333;}.css-5gimkt:after{content:’Collapse’;}.css-rdoyk0{-webkit-transition:all 0.5s ease;transition:all 0.5s ease;-webkit-transform:rotate(180deg);-ms-transform:rotate(180deg);transform:rotate(180deg);}.css-eb027h{max-height:5000px;-webkit-transition:max-height 0.5s ease;transition:max-height 0.5s ease;}.css-6mllg9{-webkit-transition:all 0.5s ease;transition:all 0.5s ease;position:relative;opacity:0;}.css-6mllg9:before{content:”;background-image:linear-gradient(180deg,transparent,#ffffff);background-image:-webkit-linear-gradient(270deg,rgba(255,255,255,0),#ffffff);height:80px;width:100%;position:absolute;bottom:0px;pointer-events:none;}.css-1g3vlj0{font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-size:1rem;line-height:1.375rem;color:#333;margin-bottom:0.78125rem;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-1g3vlj0{font-size:1.0625rem;line-height:1.5rem;margin-bottom:0.9375rem;}}.css-1g3vlj0 strong{font-weight:600;}.css-1g3vlj0 em{font-style:italic;}.css-1g3vlj0{margin-bottom:0;margin-top:0.25rem;}.css-19zsuqr{display:block;margin-bottom:0.9375rem;}.css-12vbvwq{background-color:white;border:1px solid #e2e2e2;width:calc(100% – 40px);max-width:600px;margin:1.5rem auto 1.9rem;padding:15px;box-sizing:border-box;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-12vbvwq{padding:20px;width:100%;}}.css-12vbvwq:focus{outline:1px solid #e2e2e2;}#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-12vbvwq{border:none;padding:10px 0 0;border-top:2px solid #121212;}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-rdoyk0{-webkit-transform:rotate(0deg);-ms-transform:rotate(0deg);transform:rotate(0deg);}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-eb027h{max-height:300px;overflow:hidden;-webkit-transition:none;transition:none;}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-5gimkt:after{content:’See more’;}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-6mllg9{opacity:1;}.css-qjk116{margin:0 auto;overflow:hidden;}.css-qjk116 strong{font-weight:700;}.css-qjk116 em{font-style:italic;}.css-qjk116 a{color:#326891;-webkit-text-decoration:underline;text-decoration:underline;text-underline-offset:1px;-webkit-text-decoration-thickness:1px;text-decoration-thickness:1px;-webkit-text-decoration-color:#326891;text-decoration-color:#326891;}.css-qjk116 a:visited{color:#326891;-webkit-text-decoration-color:#326891;text-decoration-color:#326891;}.css-qjk116 a:hover{-webkit-text-decoration:none;text-decoration:none;}But Djokovic found a new level and a new tactic against Medvedev, borrowing a yellowing page from tennis’s traditional playbook by serving and volleying 22 times and winning 19 of the points when he did.It was an astute attempt to take advantage of Medvedev’s extremely deep return position, but it still required Djokovic to make a series of brilliantly angled volleys and drop volleys to keep the ball out of Medvedev’s long reach. More impressive was that the tactic continued to work throughout the match even after Medvedev had a chance to adjust.“It won Novak the match for sure,” said Mark Petchey, the veteran coach and analyst. “It’s been a changeup strategy for Novak in the past, a surprise tactic, but Daniil knew it was coming and still couldn’t stop him.”It helps that Medvedev slaps relatively flat returns and passing shots compared with a player like Nadal, whose dipping topspin can make it harder to hit decisive volleys. New paradigm? Probably not, but it was certainly effective indoors on Sunday despite the relatively heavy balls that, in theory, should have made winners more difficult to produce.“He puts a lot of returns back in play, and he’s just so good at staying in the point and making you suffer and forcing you to do an unforced error,” Djokovic said. “So you have to have in a way controlled aggression against him.”He added, “I wanted to keep him on his toes, so he doesn’t know what’s coming up next, to be a little bit unpredictable.”It is surely easier to surprise Medvedev at this early stage of their rivalry than men whom Djokovic has faced for more than a decade, like Nadal and Federer. But though Djokovic and Nadal had a memorable duel this year in Paris, with Djokovic prevailing in a four-set semifinal, Djokovic versus Medvedev has been the most compelling rivalry of the year.Djokovic beat him in straight sets in the Australian Open final, lost in straight sets in New York and then won their best match yet in Paris. It would be no surprise if they met once more this year at the ATP Finals in Turin, Italy, which will begin on Sunday on another indoor hardcourt.Medvedev has become Djokovic’s most compelling rival over the past year.Christophe Petit Tesson/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock They have become increasingly comfortable with each other and even trained together recently near their Monte Carlo residences: a rare occasion for a No. 1 and No. 2 player. Their meeting at the net after Sunday’s final was full of warmth despite Medvedev’s disappointment, and Djokovic has perhaps never applauded an opponent’s winners as often as he did for Medvedev’s in Paris. That was in part because the level was so high, particularly when they were locked in baseline exchanges that both were able to extend far beyond the norm with their extraordinary defensive skills.“He’s probably my biggest rival in tennis at the moment,” Djokovic said.The question is whether either of them will make the long trip to Melbourne for the Australian Open, where the state government of Victoria has indicated that players will be required to be fully vaccinated for Covid-19. According to the ATP Tour, 25 percent of the top 100 singles players remain unvaccinated. Djokovic, who contracted the coronavirus in 2020, and Medvedev, who tested positive for coronavirus in April, have declined to disclose whether they are vaccinated. Both said in Paris that they would decide whether to play the Australian Open after the tournament made its formal policy clear.“I don’t want to be part of the stories about the assumptions and what ifs,” Djokovic said. “When the official conditions and requirements to travel to Australia and play in Australia are out, then obviously I will see what I personally do with that, and also the bigger group of the players. Because the situation is obviously different in Australia than most parts of the world.”The announcement is imminent, according to Tennis Australia, which will officially launch the tournament next week with tickets going on sale on Nov. 19.Skipping the trip would be no small sacrifice for Djokovic, who is in pursuit of a 21st Grand Slam singles title to break his three-way tie with Federer and Nadal. Djokovic, a nine-time Australian Open champion, has won nearly half of his majors on the hardcourts in Melbourne. Though he remains No. 1 after another brilliant and resilient season, he can sense the pressure from below from Medvedev, 25, and his peer group, who have no children in tow just yet.“He’s the leader of the next generation,” Djokovic said. “They are already there, and they are challenging the three of us old guys, and we’re going to try to hang in there.” More

  • in

    WTA Finals, a Nomadic Tournament, Lands in Mexico

    A last-minute deal brings the event to Guadalajara. But what about that altitude?After two decades of wandering the globe, the WTA Finals had finally found a home, or so it seemed in 2019.That was the first year the finals were held, to great fanfare, in Shenzhen, China, under a deal that would keep the tournament there for 10 years.The event has not been back since, and on Wednesday it will instead be played in Guadalajara, Mexico, after an agreement in September.The tournament, which has been played under different names over the years, has long been a bit nomadic. It was held at Madison Square Garden from 1979 to 2000 and has moved five times from 2001 to 2013. It then spent five years in Singapore.The pandemic forced the cancellation of last year’s tournament, the first time it had not been held since the finals began nearly 50 years ago, when the finals were called the Virginia Slims Championships.This year, with the Akron WTA Finals Guadalajara, that means some players will be competing in one of the biggest tournaments outside of the Grand Slams in the third different city in the last three finals.“I personally don’t care if the location changes every year; it’s always exciting to be able to compete in the event,” said Garbiñe Muguruza of Spain, who qualified three times from 2015 to 2017 and is one of the eight players invited to play singles this year.For months, the WTA planned a return to Shenzhen, while having parallel discussions with other cities, including Hong Kong.“Knowing the situation was less than clear, we had a Plan A, a Plan B and a Plan C,” said Micky Lawler, the WTA president. “We wanted to give our top players a chance to compete the way they deserved to end 2021, but putting on events is really tough during a pandemic, and circumstances keep changing and are out of your control.”The tour ended up going with Plan D: Guadalajara.“I personally don’t care if the location changes every year,” Garbiñe Muguruza said of the WTA Finals.Dean Lewins/EPA, via Shutterstock“It’s very difficult to plan an event at this scale, and they offered a great solution in a market where we already had a tournament,” Lawler said, referring to the lower-level tournament held there in March. (The No. 1 seed was 46th-ranked Nadia Podoroska of Argentina.)The WTA was impressed by the team that ran that tournament, but also there was no Plan E, Lawler said. “This wasn’t a situation of ‘Let’s choose between places,’” she said. “It was, ‘We don’t want a second year in a row without a WTA Finals, so let’s put all our resources together and make this work.’”Lawler said that Steve Simon, the WTA chief executive, was running weekly board meetings and that the tour held constant discussions with the players and the sponsors. “Everyone’s attitude was that this was not what we planned for, but they would support it because it was better than no tournament.”While Lawler is certain that there will be challenges — she points to a sudden Covid-related lockdown that started during a recent tournament in Moscow — she is confident that they will be surmountable. Many of the players are certainly eager for the tournament, even if there are obstacles. (The exception is Ashleigh Barty, the tour’s top-ranked player and the defending champion. She is skipping the tournament to avoid another stint in quarantine after returning to her native Australia.)Karolina Pliskova said reaching the WTA Finals was always a personal goal when the season started. This is her fifth straight year at the tournament, making her the only player besides Muguruza with experience in the event. The newcomers competing in singles are Paula Badosa, Anett Kontaveit, Barbora Krejcikova, Aryna Sabalenka, Maria Sakkari and Iga Swiatek.Pliskova, who is the only person to play in Singapore, Shenzhen and now Guadalajara over three consecutive WTA Finals, said the shift in locales erased some of her advantage.“It’s better for players who have never played in the tournament because if it was in the same place each year, players who had been there would know how the courts play and know all the activities and would feel more relaxed,” she said. “This year, everybody is basically starting from zero.”The biggest difference between Guadalajara and pretty much any other WTA Finals location is the altitude. The city is about 5,000 feet above sea level, which will make the ball fly faster but trickier to control, while also challenging players to catch their breath after long rallies.Guadalajara is about 5,000 feet above sea level, an altitude that will affect how the ball flies and how players breathe.Getty Images“The altitude is a salient factor, and it came up in conversations with the players, but everyone’s in the same boat,” Lawler said, adding that it is no different from having a surface that favors certain players. “These players are the best of the best, so while some will love it less, they’re going to adjust.”Krejcikova said that she had no experience playing at that altitude, but that she did not care about how it would change the game. “I’m just happy to be going to the WTA Finals,” she said. “I always wanted to play against the other top players to see where my level is.”She said that she believed that the bigger hitters and servers might benefit from getting extra velocity on their power shots, resulting in shorter points, but that she would not decide how to adjust her game until she practiced there.Muguruza said the strongest players might benefit from the altitude. But the extra velocity comes with a catch. “It will be the ones who can control their power who will have more opportunities,” she said, because balls could easily sail long or wide.Pliskova said she might change the tension on her strings to give her more control or more spin.“I don’t want to change too much — my game is my game — but I may change a little,” she said, adding that someone who was good at defending might benefit if players could not control their shots, as long as they were in good enough condition to handle long points at that altitude.Although the WTA hopes to return the finals to Shenzhen in 2022, there is hope that this rare visit from the game’s best players will give the sport a boost in Mexico. Heather Bowler, a spokeswoman for the International Tennis Federation, said in an email that at the recreational and amateur level Mexico had the lowest ratio in the region of players to population and the lowest percentage of female players.“Bringing an elite-level tournament, WTA Finals will drive awareness and increase an appetite for the game, so it certainly is a good basis on which to build on in the future,” she wrote, “and the WTA should be a great catalyst for sport in the region and for Mexico as a nation.”Lawler said that while nothing was in the works, increased interest could eventually lead to bigger tournaments and more resources for young players in the region, creating a positive cycle. “If there is an appetite to build something in Mexico, we would do everything we can to support it,” she said.Krejcikova said she thought about the way the sport and the players were seen by girls at every tournament, but especially when it was someplace new.“I hope we are good examples for them,” she said, “and can have a big impact on the younger generation in Mexico.” More

  • in

    Iga Swiatek, Voted a Fan Favorite, Turns to the Finals

    She shocked the sport when she not only won the French Open, but dominated it. Building Legos helps her relax.Iga Swiatek likes Legos and long books. Both help keep her mentally sharp for the grueling matches she plays on the WTA Tour.While quarantined in her hotel room for two weeks before the Australian Open in February, Swiatek, 20, completed the contents of two giant Lego boxes that she carried from her home in Poland. When she began competing at the United States Open in August, she was three weeks into reading “Gone with the Wind,” a long American classic.A year ago, after shocking the sport by winning the French Open without dropping a set (she lost just 28 games in seven matches), Swiatek became the lowest-ranked woman, at No. 54, to win the title. She was also the first player from Poland to capture a major and the youngest woman to win at Roland-Garros since then-18-year-old Monica Seles in 1992.Swiatek qualified for her first WTA Finals, the eight-woman championship, last year, but the event was canceled because of the pandemic. A year later, after winning the Adelaide International and Italian Open and reaching No. 4 in the world in September, Swiatek, now ranked No. 10, has qualified again.The following conversation has been edited and condensed.How disappointed were you when last year’s finals was canceled?I wouldn’t say that I was disappointed because last year was pretty tricky for me. I was happy that Roland-Garros was the last tournament because I could learn how to deal with all the new reality and new obligations. And it wouldn’t have been fair [to contest the finals] since there were so few tournaments and many players didn’t play. I know that the Covid situation and the break that we had on tour probably helped me a lot. I don’t know if I would have had the same success if we didn’t have Covid.Iga Swiatek returned a shot to Anett Kontaveit, of Estonia, during the third round of the U.S. Open in September. Last year, she became the lowest-ranked woman to win the French Open. Elise Amendola/Associated PressWhen you were a little girl, did you ever imagine being among the Elite Eight?I never thought about it because there are so many other players with great experience. But after I won Roland-Garros I had the feeling that anything could happen in tennis right now.In Guadalajara, you will be playing with pressureless tennis balls to combat the effects of the 5,000-foot altitude. How will you adjust?I have no idea. I have to try this. I played in Madrid (about 2,100 feet) for the first time this year, and my shots were flying like crazy. So we made some adjustments, and by the end I played really solid tennis. Guadalajara is going to be even worse, so I really need to get used to the conditions.In Indian Wells you had the chance to visit with Andy Murray, and now you want to practice with him. What do you want to learn?I told him we should practice on grass because, even though I reached the fourth round at Wimbledon this year, I feel like every day can be tricky on grass, and I need some more power and more experience to be solid there.You were voted the WTA’s fan favorite for your drop shot and your singles play. What did that mean to you?It meant a lot because when I have a hard time finding the motivation to practice I always remember that tennis is entertainment. I love playing in stadiums, especially when I win, and I love the support I get from people.You recently donated $50,000 in support of World Mental Health Day. What have you learned about yourself and your own mental wellness after traveling for so many years with your own sports psychologist?It’s hard to separate what I’ve learned from the new experiences I’ve had and from just growing up. When I won Roland-Garros I was 19, and that’s a period of life when you learn a lot about yourself even when you’re not an athlete. I feel like there is a pretty crazy mix between my personal and work life because being an athlete is a 24-hour job. But I wouldn’t change this experience for anything because I think it gave me a lot of knowledge about myself and wisdom that I can use later in life. More

  • in

    Pandemic Speeds Adoption of Automated Line-Calling Systems

    The accuracy of Hawk-Eye and Foxtenn are allowing tournaments to reduce the number of officials on the court.The ball streaks through the air toward the base line, topspin yanking it down right near the line. “Out,” shouts the line judge.For 15 years, a player who disagreed could protest with a challenge, and fans at the Rolex Paris Masters, and every other major tournament, would then look to the video screens, often clapping rhythmically, building toward when the Hawk-Eye line-calling system would provide true justice.The pandemic has changed the game. For safety, the hardcourt Masters 1000 tournaments this year, as well as the Australian and United States Opens, replaced line judges (backed up by Hawk-Eye for challenges) with a fully automated system, Hawk-Eye Live.Novak Djokovic said he supported the use of the review technology. David Aliaga/MB Media/Getty ImagesThis system, which the ATP debuted in 2017 at its Next Gen Finals, makes instantaneous calls. Automated line calling has increased confidence in accuracy, while raising questions about the game’s human element.A tour ruled by machines is still far in the future, but this temporary fix provides a sense of where line-calling may be headed.To retain some human element with Hawk-Eye Live, tournaments use recorded voices instead of beeps and boops. “It would feel wrong for tennis to become too robotic,” said Ross Hutchins, ATP’s chief tour officer. (One Hawk-Eye executive publicly floated the idea of using sponsor names, so instead of “Out” you might hear “Ralph Lauren.”)The challenge system demonstrated that line judges were right more often than players, but the machines are more accurate still. “Being the most accurate is the most important thing,” Hutchins said. Eliminating challenges also speeds up the game.Novak Djokovic, the top-ranked men’s player, said he liked the system.“I don’t see a reason why we need the line umpires if we have the technology,” Djokovic told ESPN this year. “I support technology. It’s inevitable for the future of tennis.”Removing people provides more space behind the baseline for players, said Pam Shriver, an ESPN analyst and a former professional player, while automated reliability produces fewer distractions for players and thus better tennis: “It gives the players one less thing to worry about.”But Hawk-Eye Live does not actually mark the spot — it uses its cameras and data to project an estimation of where the ball will bounce. Shriver finds the idea of projected estimates disconcerting, given potential distortions like wind gusts. “It sounds like guessing,” she said. “People think what was caught was the physical bounce as it was happening.”An example of the Hawk-Eye technology in use during a match between Roger Federer and Juan Martin Del Potro.Mike Egerton/PA Images, via Getty ImagesRepresentatives from Hawk-Eye claim accuracy within 3.6 millimeters and self-reported 14 mistakes in 225,000 calls at the U.S. Open in 2020.A rival company, Foxtenn, uses cameras to capture the ball’s actual movement.“Our accuracy is perfect, and one thing that makes us credible is that the player sees the real ball bouncing in the replay, not a drawing,” said Félix Mantilla, director of sales and a former player. “I think only one technology will survive in 10 years.”For now, Hawk-Eye remains the dominant player.“We’re continuously innovating our technologies, while delivering the highest accuracy possible,” the company said in a statement.The tour has confidence in both systems, Hutchins said, adding that there was “absolutely” room for two. Yet it took Covid — and the need to limit the number of people on the courts — to push toward live line calling. And plans are to have Hawk-Eye Live as an option on the ATP Tour through only the first quarter of 2022.“This is not close to permanent,” Hutchins said. “We still want to understand the system’s impact more.”Feedback from fans has been mixed, and there are issues about the impact of developing future chair umpires. Hutchins said the cost of Hawk-Eye Live would be difficult for the hundreds of junior, future and challenger tournaments to pay for, meaning line judges will remain. “There will still be a pathway for chair umpires for a very long time.”Mantilla said that while Americans loved advanced technology and embraced these changes, Europeans were more traditional. “I don’t know if it will take 10 or 20 years for there to be no lines people left in major tournaments, but it will take time.” More

  • in

    Nets Bar Kyrie Irving Until He's Vaccinated

    The barring of Irving complicates what looked like a surefire path to the finals for the Nets and could set up a battle with the players’ union.Kyrie Irving was supposed to be the starting point guard of the N.B.A.’s next dynasty. He was going to use his superb ball-handling skills to dish passes to Kevin Durant and James Harden, and together this Big Three would turn the Nets into champions season after season for years to come.Sure, Irving had suggested that the Earth was flat. But he had also delivered a championship to Cleveland alongside LeBron James, and he was a perennial All-Star. The Nets could stand a little quirkiness in pursuit of greatness.The Covid-19 vaccine, and Irving’s refusal to take it, could turn all of that upside down.As vaccine mandates roil workplaces across the country, a high-stakes stalemate in the N.B.A. took a dramatic turn on Tuesday when the Nets issued Irving an ultimatum: Get the shot, or stay home. In the process, the team has drawn a stark line over the issue of the vaccine with one of the more high-profile sports celebrities who has refused to get it.“Without a doubt, losing a player of Kyrie’s caliber hurts,” Sean Marks, the Nets’ general manager, said at a news conference. “I’m not going to deny that. But at the end of the day, our focus, our coaches’ focus and our organization’s focus needs to be on those players that are going to be involved here and participating fully.”Irving, 29, had faced the prospect of being able to play only on the road with the Nets this season because of local coronavirus ordinances in New York that require most individuals to be at least partially vaccinated to enter facilities such as sports arenas. The Nets play their home games at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.Marks said the decision to bar Irving from all games and practices had been made by himself and by Joe Tsai, the Nets’ owner.“Will there be pushback from Kyrie and his camp? I’m sure that this is not a decision that they like,” Marks said. “Kyrie loves to play basketball, wants to be out there, wants to be participating with his teammates. But again, this is a choice that Kyrie had, and he was aware of that.”The Nets’ decision to sit Irving for the road games that he is eligible to play in sets the stage for a potential battle between the team and the players’ union, which had already been pushing back on the league’s plan to dock the pay of unvaccinated players for games they miss because of ordinances in their home cities.Irving, a union vice president, is due to lose about $380,000, or around 1 percent of his base pay for the 2021-22 season, for every home game he misses. Marks said Irving would still be paid for road games this season. The N.B.A. players’ union did not respond to a request for comment.Irving has not spoken publicly about his vaccination status, asking instead for privacy, and the Nets danced around the topic for weeks until Tuesday. In response to a question from The New York Times about whether Irving was vaccinated, Marks said: “If he was vaccinated, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. I think that’s probably pretty clear.”Although the union said last week that 96 percent of players had been vaccinated, a few have expressed hesitancy and most have not actively campaigned for others to be vaccinated. In late September, James, the game’s most famous player, said that he had gotten vaccinated after months of skepticism.“I think everyone has their own choice to do what they feel is right for themselves and their family,” James said.In his most recent public comments, Irving insisted that getting the shot was a matter of privacy.“Everything will be released at a due date and once we get this cleared up,” Irving said during a virtual meeting with reporters on Sept. 27, adding: “I’m a human being first. Obviously, living in this public sphere, it’s just a lot of questions about what’s going on in the world of Kyrie. I think I just would love to just keep that private, handle it the right way with my team and go forward together with the plan.”Irving has long been known as one of the league’s more mercurial figures, expressing unconventional opinions on a variety of topics since he joined the Cleveland Cavaliers as the top overall draft pick in 2011.But he also has outsize influence within the league, and he led a bloc of players who disagreed with the N.B.A.’s decision to resume the 2019-20 season in a Florida bubble because of the pandemic, expressing concern that the move would limit the players’ social justice efforts after the police killing of George Floyd.Last season, Irving missed several games for unspecified personal reasons. During one of the stints when he was away from the team, video surfaced of him attending his sister’s birthday party without a mask, in violation of the league’s health and safety protocols. A few days later, while his teammates were preparing to play against the Denver Nuggets, he appeared on a Zoom call for supporters of the Manhattan district attorney candidate Tahanie Aboushi.Still, Irving’s talents seemed to overshadow any distraction. Despite having little time to develop on-court chemistry because of injuries and other absences last season, the Nets appeared primed for a deep playoff run. But injuries to Irving and Harden hindered the Nets’ postseason hopes, and they lost to the eventual champion Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference semifinals.The Nets are still contenders this season — with or without Irving — though his presence would clearly help.But Barclays Center and Madison Square Garden, where the Knicks play, require all employees and guests 12 and older to show proof of having received at least one vaccine dose, to comply with a city mandate, unless they have a religious or medical exemption. San Francisco has a similar requirement that applies to Chase Center, where the Golden State Warriors play. The mandates in both cities mean that the players from the Knicks, Nets and Golden State cannot play in their teams’ 41 home games during the regular season without being vaccinated.The ordinances in New York and San Francisco do not apply to players from visiting teams. Jonathan Isaac of the Orlando Magic and Bradley Beal of the Washington Wizards, for example, have been vocal about their refusals to be vaccinated.Either way, unvaccinated players face a host of rules and restrictions this season. With limited exceptions, they are required to remain at home or at the team hotel when they are not at games or practices. They also are not permitted to eat with vaccinated teammates, who have far more freedom to dine out and interact with the public.Golden State’s Andrew Wiggins was unvaccinated when he arrived for training camp but relented when he was faced with the local ordinances that would have barred him from games and cost him a great deal of money.“The only options were to get vaccinated or not play in the N.B.A.” Wiggins said after Golden State’s preseason opener this month. “It was a tough decision. Hopefully, it works out in the long run and in 10 years I’m still healthy.”For now, Irving has remained steadfast. In the past, he stated that he wants his legacy to be about service rather than his work as a basketball player. He has gone to great efforts in that regard, although many of his inroads are outside any media spotlight.Irving purchased a home for Floyd’s family, according to the former N.B.A. player Stephen Jackson. During the W.N.B.A.’s bubble season, Irving started an initiative to provide $1.5 million to players who did not participate and would not be paid. His K.A.I. Family Foundation also teamed with City Harvest to donate 250,000 meals in New York.On Tuesday, Marks said he would be willing to welcome Irving’s return to the team “under a different set of circumstances.” More

  • in

    Pro Tennis Finds New Cities to Play In, but Will It Return?

    The pandemic caused many tennis events to be canceled or rescheduled. It also created opportunities for U.S. cities to throw one together.SAN DIEGO — The small tennis stadium was packed and in full roar as Daniel Vallverdú watched Casper Ruud and Grigor Dimitrov trade blows and breaks of serve on Saturday.“Five weeks, we did it all in five weeks,” said Vallverdú, the managing director of the inaugural, and perhaps final, San Diego Open.Despite the planes that droned overhead, the new tournament did not have much runway: about a month to secure temporary stands and sponsors and then stage an ATP 250 event. These remain extraordinary times for sports and those who attempt to organize them.The coronavirus pandemic has created upheaval on the tennis tour, canceling tournaments like Wimbledon in 2020 and forcing many events to be rescheduled. But the situation has also generated unexpected opportunity for American cities that would normally have been unable to find a slot on a packed international calendar.Chicago, once a regular stop on the women’s tour, has staged two new WTA events since August. San Diego, a city with a rich tennis culture, made its debut on the ATP Tour.“It was one of those things where we were in the right place at the right time,” said Bill Kellogg, one of the San Diego Open’s organizers. “We happened to be in a spot where we could say yes when they asked if we could do it with the China circuit caving in. I know guys that had been trying to get ATP tournaments for years and years and had no luck whatsoever.”When 2021 tournaments in Asia were canceled because of the pandemic, the men’s tour had vacant space to fill ahead of the BNP Paribas Open tournament in Indian Wells, Calif., a prestigious 12-day event that had been moved from March to October because of the pandemic.Vallverdú, a former player who has coached top players like Andy Murray and Dimitrov, knew there might be an opportunity in nearby San Diego with its nearly perfect weather and no tour-level event.Most ATP tournaments hold “sanctions” that guarantee their spot on the tour and that can be sold, just as N.F.L. franchises can be sold. But the ATP Tour has been offering one-year licenses during the pandemic to make up for lost playing opportunities. Thirteen tournaments have operated on these one-year licenses in 2020 and 2021.Vallverdú contacted his friend Ryan Redondo, the new executive director at the Barnes Tennis Center, a public facility with 25 outdoor courts that is a hub for the junior game.Redondo, once an all-American tennis player at San Diego State, knew the power of big events firsthand. At age 5, when he attended a 1989 Davis Cup match between France and the United States in San Diego, the playful French star Henri Leconte brought Redondo onto the court for a hit when John McEnroe took a bathroom break.“Part of my strategic plan and vision was we should have every level of tournament possible here at the Barnes Center, from red ball events for 3-year-olds to ATP and WTA events,” Redondo said. “We need all of that to inspire the kids.”He spoke with two potential benefactors, Kellogg and Jack McGrory, who thought Redondo had to be talking about 2022, not 2021. But they quickly agreed to become the still-notional tournament’s co-sponsors.“We said yes in 24 hours, and we had no idea what we were getting into,” McGrory said. “It was much more complicated than we expected.”McGrory said they got the initial funding for the tournament with a $100,000 grant and $200,000 loan from the Southern California Tennis Association Foundation, of which Kellogg is president. McGrory said they were able to raise $850,000 in sponsorships and contributions and another $800,000 from tickets and concessions. The ATP contributed the prize money of more than $600,000.“We’re going to be able to pay off the loan and put some money back into the Barnes Center,” McGrory said.The tournament, with its modest stadium court expanded to 2,000 seats, was sold out for its last four days. Above all, there was a fine field with Murray, a former No. 1, and eight top-20 players: a lineup worthy of a higher-level event than an ATP 250. The proximity to Indian Wells was a big factor in the elite players’ participation, and the winner turned out to be the 10th-ranked Ruud, a Norwegian who has won five titles in his breakout season.But it remains uncertain, even unlikely, that Ruud will be able to defend his title in San Diego. A one-year license provides no guarantee that the tournament will return to the city. What it does provide is a chance to showcase a new venue.“I have a lot of titles to defend next year, and I know four of them will be played next year and for this one we will have to see,” Ruud said on Sunday as he cooled down on an exercise bike after his 6-0, 6-2 demolition of Cameron Norrie in the final. “It’s obviously tough. The ATP is hosting over 60 events a year and all over the planet, so it’s not easy to find a week to fit in. This year, San Diego was able to do this in five weeks, so I see no reason why they couldn’t do it again, and I hope they will do it again not just because I won but it was a great city and great weather. These are perfect conditions for us to play in. It’s not too hot, not too humid and great atmosphere.”San Diego has produced some fine tennis players. Maureen Connolly, who was known as Little Mo, dominated the women’s game in the early 1950s, achieving a Grand Slam by winning all four major singles titles in 1953. Karen Susman won the Wimbledon women’s singles title in 1962. Kelly Jones was ranked No. 1 in the world in men’s doubles in 1992. Recently, CoCo Vandeweghe broke into the women’s top 10 in 2018 and Taylor Fritz reached No. 24 in the ATP singles rankings last year, becoming the top-ranked American man. Brandon Nakashima, ranked 79th at age 20, is one of the most promising American men’s prospects.But there has never been a main ATP Tour event in San Diego until now, and there has been no tour-level event in San Diego County since the women’s tournament in Carlsbad moved to China in 2014.The United States, once the mainstay of the men’s and women’s tours, has steadily lost tournaments to Asia and Europe. In recent years, the Indian Wells event has been the only ATP event in California, and none of the biggest West Coast cities have had a regular men’s tour event.The decline of American tennis has played a role, particularly the decline of American men’s tennis, but the shift also reflects the more global nature of the sport and the new economic strength of Asia.The pandemic, however, has canceled most Asian events for the last two years, a particularly big blow to the women’s tour, which had moved its year-end championships and much of its late-season lineup to China. The Shanghai Open, one of the top events on the men’s tour, also was canceled in 2020 and 2021.It remains unclear what approach China will take going forward, just as it remains unclear whether the San Diego Open was a one-off or the first chapter of a long-running tennis story.But the tournament certainly got the ATP’s attention. Ross Hutchins, the ATP’s chief tour officer, was initially intending to travel straight to Indian Wells from Europe. Instead, after hearing about the buzz at the Barnes Center, he moved up his travel plans and came to San Diego to observe and meet with the tournament’s team.“It’s a huge credit to them and the tournament how they not only embraced the concept but how they delivered,” Hutchins said Sunday. “And to do it in five weeks and to have the outcome they delivered is phenomenal.”Potential options for San Diego include buying another tournament’s sanction, persuading the ATP to break longstanding policy and create a new sanction, or negotiating another one-year license.Nothing is guaranteed, but McGrory sounded confident at Sunday’s awards ceremony as he turned to the finalists.“This is not going to be their last time here,” he said. More

  • in

    LeBron James Says He Had Been Vaccinated Against Covid

    LeBron James, the Los Angeles Lakers star, said Tuesday that he had been vaccinated against the coronavirus, after evading questions about his vaccination status last season. Several other high-profile N.B.A. players have resisted getting vaccinated ahead of the start of the N.B.A. season next month.“I think everyone has their own choice to do what they feel is right for themselves and their family,” James said. “I know that I was very skeptical about it all, but after doing my research and things of that nature, I felt like it was best suited for not only me but for my family and my friends, and that’s why I decided to do it.”James did not say which vaccine he had taken, or the number of doses he had received. He also said he would not use his platform to publicly encourage others to be vaccinated.“We’re talking about individuals’ bodies,” he said. “We’re not talking about something that’s political or racism or police brutality and things of that nature.”He added: “So I don’t feel like for me personally that I should get involved in what other people should do for their bodies and their livelihoods.”Rob Pelinka, the general manager of the Lakers, said last week that he expects the team’s entire roster to be fully vaccinated ahead of its season opener against the Golden State Warriors on Oct. 19. Kent Bazemore, one of the team’s new players, said he was reluctant to be vaccinated before Pelinka persuaded him to receive his first dose. More