Wimbledon Middle Sunday play in ’22; fans, money TBD in ’21

Jonathan Brady/PA Images via Getty Images
1 Comment

For all of the pandemic-related planning discussed for this year’s return of Wimbledon – much still to be determined, including fan capacity and prize money – Tuesday’s biggest news out of the All England Club takes effect in 2022: There will be play on the Grand Slam tournament’s middle Sunday.

In addition to creating a 14-day event by eliminating the traditional break at the midpoint, the historic decision forever alters what has come to be known as “Manic Monday,” the opening of Week 2 that made Wimbledon the only major tennis championship with all 16 women’s and men’s fourth-round singles matches scheduled for the same day.

Instead, under a plan organizers “intend to make a permanent part of the schedule,” the fourth round will be split between Sunday and Monday next year, All England Club chairman Ian Hewitt said during a video conference.

Next year marks a century since Centre Court was opened in 1922. Middle Sunday has hosted competition only four times, when rain disrupted the schedule and created a backlog of matches: in 1991, 1997, 2004 and 2016.

“We want more of this wonderful event to be available to more people,” chief executive Sally Bolton said.

The additional ticket and concession sales that become available probably will be appreciated by the club, too.

Both of those categories will drop in 2021 because of restrictions still in place amid the coronavirus pandemic, which wiped out Wimbledon completely a year ago. That was the first time since World War II the grass-court tournament was not held, but the club held cancellation insurance that paid 180 million pounds ($250 million), Hewitt said.

This year’s Wimbledon singles main draw is scheduled for June 28 to July 11.

“For an organization that is used to knowing exactly what we do and exactly when we do it, we have had to learn to work with uncertainty this year,” Bolton said. “Much remains unknown at this point.”

As of now, the plan is to reduce capacity to 25% of normal numbers – about 500,000 people attended the tournament across its 13 days in 2019 – but that could rise once the British government makes a determination on whether restrictions can be eased. That is anticipated around June 21.

Because ticket sales affect revenue, and there is “too much financial uncertainty as of now,” Bolton said she expects this year’s prize money to be announced in June.

Ticket prices will remain at 2020 levels, she said.

But other elements are still in flux and dependent on government rules. That includes whether spectators will need to provide proof of having received a COVID-19 vaccine or a negative test, whether they will need to wear masks to protect against the spread of the illness and whether they still can gather on the grassy spot – known as Henman Hill or Murray Mount – used for picnics while watching matches on a large video screen.

Players will need to stay in hotels in what Bolton described as a “minimized risk environment,” with coronavirus testing and a “track-and-trace program.” They will be limited to three entourage members each and will not be allowed to rent private homes in Wimbledon Village, as some usually do.

Sitting at the desk in the club’s main interview room, Hewitt spoke of this year’s tournament as part of the process of beginning “to embrace a return towards normality.”

And then he added: “It will, though, necessarily be different from Wimbledon as we know it.”

Frances Tiafoe lifts Team World to 1st Laver Cup win

Getty Images
3 Comments

LONDON — The last to arrive, befitting his reputation in the locker room, Frances Tiafoe strutted into the post-match news conference after clinching Team World’s Laver Cup victory over Roger Federer’s star-studded Team Europe and shouted, “Champs are here!”

Then the 24-year-old from Maryland joined his teammates at the table where the silver trophy was resting Sunday night, put down a bottle of water, pulled a Budweiser out of his red jacket and smiled that wide smile of his.

Performing with the same infectious showmanship and crunch-time success he displayed en route to his first Grand Slam semifinal at the U.S. Open earlier this month, Tiafoe staved off four match points and came back to beat Stefanos Tsitsipas 1-6, 7-6 (11), 10-8, giving Team World its first triumph in five editions of an event founded by Federer’s management company.

“I don’t like losing,” said Federer, a 20-time major champion whose final match before retirement was a loss alongside Rafael Nadal in doubles against Tiafoe and Jack Sock on Friday night. “It’s not fun. It just leaves not the best taste.”

When Tsitsipas put a forehand into the net to end Sunday’s contest – and the three-day competition – Tiafoe dropped his racket and fell to his back on the court, where teammates piled atop him. After getting on his feet, Tiafoe cupped a hand to his ear, asking spectators for more noise, then pointed to his chest and yelled, “I’m him! I’m him!”

“When it becomes a circus out here, and I’m just using the crowd and acting like a little kid and having a bunch of reactions … I end up playing really well and I start building momentum off it,” Tiafoe said. “I’m able to play and function in that better than my opponents, it seems.”

Using the nickname other players gave Tiafoe to reflect the way he embraces big moments, Team World captain John McEnroe said: “Frances is `Prime Time.’ He loves this stuff.”

McEnroe had been 0-4 while leading his squad against his former playing rival, Team Europe captain Bjorn Borg; both indicated they would be back for the 2023 Laver Cup in Vancouver, but that might be their last go-round.

This one served as a celebration of Federer and the 41-year-old Swiss star’s career.

Tiafoe responded with a quip when asked whether he might owe Federer some form of “I’m sorry” for beating him in his finale or for defeating his team, which also included Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray for a total of 66 major singles titles. That, incidentally, is 66 more than Team World, a collection of 20-somethings (Sock turned 30 on Saturday).

“”I’m not going to apologize to him. He’s got a lot to apologize for after the last 24 years – after beating everybody on the tour,” said Tiafoe, who went 0-3 against Federer in singles head-to-head. “I will say thank you for having me in this amazing event, what he’s done for the game. He’s a class act. Happy to know him, happy to call him a friend, happy to call him a colleague, and best wishes in his second act. But I will not apologize.”

Team Europe entered Sunday at O2 Arena with an 8-4 lead; the first team to 13 points would win.

Each match on Day 3 was worth three points, and Team World went ahead thanks to a pair of victories by Felix Auger-Aliassime, a 22-year-old from Canada. He beat Djokovic 6-3, 7-6 (3), after partnering with Sock to edge Murray and Matteo Berrettini 2-6, 6-3, 10-8 in doubles.

Tiafoe then made it 13-8, but it wasn’t easy.

He went a tournament-record 8-0 in tiebreakers at Flushing Meadows this month and was just as resilient Sunday.

“It’s been a long time that Frances has been playing the big guys close and losing a lot of close battles. It’s great to see lately he’s been winning,” said Taylor Fritz, an American who is the same age as Tiafoe and has known him for years. “It’s about time that he steps up and the matches go the other way. Today was a joke.”

That’s because Tiafoe was a single point from losing to Tsitsipas four times in their second-set tiebreaker, but somehow got through that. Then, at 4-all in the concluding match tiebreaker – first to 10, win by two – Tiafoe sprinted from behind the baseline to near the net and barely got to a drop shot by Tsitsipas, somehow lunging to flick an angled winner.

While most of the 16,365 fans went wild, Tiafoe went around the net and stood still, hands on his hips, relishing the atmosphere.

“We put him in the slot that he was in today for a reason,” said Team World’s Tommy Paul, another 24-year-old American, “and he stepped up for us, big time.”

Sonego beats Bublik at Moselle Open to win 1st title of 2022

Winston-Salem Open - Day 5
Getty Images
2 Comments

METZ, France – Lorenzo Sonego clinched his first title of the season by beating Alexander Bublik 7-6 (3), 6-2 in the Moselle Open final.

The 27-year-old Italian did not drop a set all tournament as he won the third title of his career and first on hard courts.

The unseeded Sonego recovered from 0-40 down in the fifth game of the match and secured victory when the seventh-seeded Bublik sent a backhand return long.

He then danced on court as he celebrated a perfect tournament where he also beat defending champion Hubert Hurkacz in the semifinals.

Sonego’s win will move him up 21 places in the ATP rankings and into 44th place.