Another year over, a new one just around the corner. That’s how it is on the tennis tour. A seemingly endless cycle of tournaments and matches, with barely enough time to reflect on what has transpired in the past 11 months.
So how do we look upon season 2022? There have been plenty of positive storylines, of which there always are thankfully. But surely if we’re being honest, the script for this year could’ve quite easily been written by one Lemony Snicket.
For 2022 was indeed, ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’….
Let’s start from the start shall we…?
Djokovic v Australia:
Enough man power has gone into opinion pieces regarding the deportation of Novak Djokovic (and WTA player Renata Voracova), so I’m not going to wax lyrical any further. Needless to say, the whole drawn out saga was unnecessary, a blight on Tennis Australia, on Djokovic, and on the Australian government in general.
Aussie Crowds v Medvedev:
Without Novak, it seemed like sections of the crowds at Melbourne Park were searching for a villain. Step this way Daniil…
For almost all his matches, Medvedev was subjected to booing, and what he described as ‘disrespectful’ behaviour. He even made a passionate speech in the aftermath of his heartbreaking loss to Nadal…
“It was disappointing. It’s disrespectful. I’m not sure after 30 years I’m going to want to play tennis anymore,” he said. “It depends on the people around me and what they tell me, how we will go through this journey together, but the kid who was dreaming is not any more in me after today. So, it will be tougher to continue tennis when it’s like this.”
Acapulco Late Night Finishes:
Late night finishes are common place in tennis (something I have written about previously), rightly or wrongly. However, the ATP250 event in Acapulco took it to a whole new level. With the first two night matches going the absolute distance, the third match between Zverev and Brooksby didn’t even start until 1:30am. So what happened next? A marathon three-setter of course, culminating in the latest finish of an ATP tennis match in history, at 4:55am. Amazing? Yes. Stupid? Yes. Should tennis allow this kind of thing to happen again? Absolutely not.
French Open Night Sessions:
More night dramas, although this time at Roland Garros, where night sessions were debuted this year. However, 9pm start times, cold weather, less than impressive crowds, late finishes, and lack of transport for patrons at the conclusion of the match, meant they were more controversial than successful. On top of this, only 1 women’s match was scheduled for the prime-time viewing. Hopefully some rejigging of the schedule for 2023 is on the cards.
Zverev French Open Injury:
On the cusp of becoming world number 1, Germany’s Alexander Zverev rolled his ankle in the semi-final at Roland Garros, tearing ligaments, and essentially putting him out of action for the rest of the year. While injuries are part of the sport, for one of the top 3 players in the world to go out in a Slam semi-final in those circumstances, was extremely disappointing.
Wimbledon Bans Russian and Belarussian Players:
The war in Ukraine came to the tennis circuit mid-year, when Wimbledon made the decision to ban all Russian and Belarussian players from competing at the Championships. Met with mixed reaction by players and fans alike, it meant that world number 1 on the men’s side, Daniil Medvedev, would be sitting on the sidelines, along with 4 of his compatriots. While on the women’s side, 11 players were taken off the entry list.
ATP/WTA Strip Wimbledon of Points:
The backlash to Wimbledon’s decision was for the ATP and WTA to strip all points from the prestigious major, essentially rendering the tournament, an expensive exhibition event. While this decision didn’t have a huge impact on players participating, the knock-on effect to players will continue for years to come. Players who earned points in 2021 saw them drop off, without any chance to make them up. This results in the whole rankings table being skewed, and effectively making it far more difficult in certain circumstances, to make a living. For instance, on the women’s side, Rybakina won the title, yet didn’t earn enough points in the year to make the end of year finals. While others found their ranking drop too low to gain automatic entry into tournaments later in the year. All in all, a complete mess, and a poor decision by the tennis governance.
Rafa Retiring Before Semi-final:
Nadal was on a 19 match winning streak in the majors this year, heading into a tantalising semi-final showdown with Nick Kyrgios. Tragically (in a tennis sense), he had to pull out due to an abdominal injury aggravated in his 5 set quarter final victory against Taylor Fritz. What had the potential to be the match of the tournament, ended up as a free pass to the final for Kyrgios.
Kyrgios Legal Battle:
On the eve of his biggest match of his career, a Wimbledon final, it came to light that Nick Kyrgios was up on charges of common assault from an alleged incident with his ex-girlfriend last year. While this case is yet to be resolved, the timing of the case becoming public was somewhat odd and unfortunate.
Covid Positive Players:
While the worst of Covid has been put behind us, it didn’t stop a raft of players having to withdraw from events early in the season. Paire, Rublev, Nadal, Humbert, all tested positive in Australia at various stages. Covid cases continued to cause disruptions in the French (Krejcikova), all the way through to Wimbledon, where Matteo Berrettini and Marin Cilic were forced to withdraw on the eve of the event.
One of the most controversial comments came from French star, Alize Cornet, who claimed that there was a ‘tacit agreement’ to keep Covid cases quiet on the tour unless absolutely necessary. Thankfully, 2023 should see that problem resolved.
On-Court Behaviour of Players:
Another year, another list of unsavoury incidents. From Zverev smashing his racket centimetres away from the umpires leg in Acapulco, Shapovalov accusing umpires of being corrupt, to Kyrgios spitting, throwing rackets and swearing on court. We all have some level of acceptance towards frustration and a smashed racket, but there are times players cross the line.
The ATP did suggest they would come down harder on incidents half way through the year, and there’s no doubt the second half of the season was calmer. Let’s see if it continues to translate into a peaceful new year on court.
Djokovic vs the USA:
While nowhere near as dramatic as the Australian Open saga, the bottom line is, the best player in the world, was not able to compete at the second hardcourt major of the year. It won’t take anything away from Alcaraz’s stunning run, but it was yet another disappointment for tennis fans who had to watch another major without the best line-up.
Naples court dramas:
Naples had been given a one-off licence for an ATP250 event this year, and they sure didn’t do themselves any favours if they were hoping to keep the event on the 2023 calendar. The players in the qualifying tournament didn’t take long to discover the surface was sub-standard, and unsafe. The tournament was required to strip the old surface off, and bring in the surface from Florence, which was used in a tournament the week before. All this resulted in delays to the schedule, leaving a sour taste in the mouth of all participants.
Simona Halep Drug Ban:
One of the biggest shocks of the season, came when a drug-control sample from the US Open, showed up as positive for a banned performance-enhancing substance. While this would be a storyline no matter whose sample it was, the fact it was former world number 1, Simona Halep, sent the tennis media into a frenzy. Simona has vehemently denied any wrong-doing, but is staring down the barrel of a long suspension if she can’t overturn the result.
Rogue Tennis Dad Beats Daughter:
While not a specific ATP or WTA issue, footage of a Chinese father violently beating his 14 year old daughter on a practice court in Serbia, quickly went viral around the tennis world. The sickening footage was called out by many top players and journalists. This was a stark reminder that there are still some major issues behind the scenes, and looking after our young players’ well-being is essential.
WTA Finals crowds:
The year-end WTA finals were to be held in China, but due to continued Covid restrictions, the event had to find a new location. Dallas Fort-Worth in Texas, was the chosen city. However, the decision wasn’t made until around 6 weeks before the tournament was due to kick off.
Marketing and promotion was clearly lacking, as players competed for the one of the biggest prizes of the year, in front of barely a few hundred people. By the end of the week, the crowds had grown to a respectable level, but even the players were disappointed with the optics of the situation. The WTA deserves a better stage for its finale.
Has there ever been a year where more fan favourites left the sport? It’s hard to think of one. Take in some of these names…. Federer, Serena Williams (although I feel as though we haven’t quite seen the last of her), Del Potro, Barty, Tsonga, Petkovic, Anderson, Seppi, Kohlschreiber, Karlovic, Gilles Simon, Tommy Robredo… It’s quite a list, and although there is an exciting crop of young players coming through, to lose so many stars in the space of 12 months, is unsettling to say the least.
Davis Cup Scheduling:
The Davis Cup has copped it’s fair whack over the last few years, since it was ‘re-invigorated’. Poor crowds, lack of atmosphere, lack of home ties, etc. All that is still relevant this year, except we can add one more gripe…the timing of the finals. Playing it after the ATP finals, when most players and fans have thrown in the towel for the year, is hard enough.
But to put it up against the start of the football World Cup, is mind-boggling. Tennis should be aiming for maximum exposure for its pinnacle of team sport. Unfortunately, it’s been pushed a long way from the front page.
So there it is. Hardly a season to be spruiking about. In fact, this has probably been the most controversial, and disappointing tennis season I can remember.
The good news is, season 2023 is mere weeks away, and surely….surely…it’ll be a smoother year ahead.