Tennis sans Serena starts in earnest at 2023 Australian Open

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The matches will be played, new stars will emerge, fans will continue to watch. And Williams will be missed, of course. By spectators. By executives from the tours, tournaments and television. By other athletes.

And as the 2023 Australian Open gets started, the first Grand Slam tournament to be held since she walked away with a farewell at the U.S. Open in September, shortly before her 41st birthday – the owner of 23 major singles championships said she preferred the term “evolving” to “retiring” – tennis will get a real taste of what a post-Serena world looks like on a big stage.

That is the case even if her impact won’t fade away, as U.S. Open tournament director Stacey Allaster put it: “She leaves an indelible legacy of grace and grit that will inspire athletes, female and male, for many generations to come.”

There surely will be those who keep an eye on tangible data during the two weeks at Melbourne Park and as this season, and future seasons, go along. Numbers such as attendance figures and TV ratings will be parsed in an effort to gauge what effect there is from the departure of someone who earned status as a just-one-name-necessary celebrity.

In a way, that is all a bit beside the point, however.

“Her legacy is really wide, to the point where you can’t even describe it in words. She changed the sport so much. She’s introduced people that have never heard of tennis into the sport,” said Naomi Osaka, a 25-year-old from Japan who has won four Grand Slam titles but hasn’t played a full match since August and will sit out the Australian Open. “I honestly think that she’s, like, the biggest force in the sport. That’s not intentionally trying to make (Roger) Federer or (Rafael) Nadal smaller. I just think she’s the biggest thing that will ever be in the sport.”

In recent decades, folks might have worried about what would happen when Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova stopped playing. Or when Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors moved on. Or Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi. Or Steffi Graf. And so on.

“It’s always a loss when you have great players leave. But I’ve been through six or seven generations of this,” said Billie Jean King, a two-time inductee into the International Tennis Hall of Fame who won 12 Grand Slam trophies in singles and another 27 in women’s or mixed doubles.

“I mean, I remember when Sampras left and when Martina and Chris left. I was like, `Oh, no! What’s going to happen?’ Well, Sampras was there, and guess what? There’s Roger Federer. There’s Nadal. … It’s the same thing with the women. We’ve got Iga (Swiatek) now, who’s taken over,” King said. “Every generation gets better, and the depth of women’s tennis is better than it’s ever been, and Serena is somewhat responsible for that, because every generation builds on the last generation.”

Shortly after Williams lost to Ajla Tomljanovic in the third round at Flushing Meadows, another titan of tennis, 20-time major champ Federer, announced his retirement. Federer hadn’t played an official match in more than a full year because of a series of knee operations.

For Williams, there were moments when she stepped away from competing for stretches, either because of health issues or simply because she wanted to spend time on other interests, which she thought contributed to her longevity.

WTA CEO and Chairman Steve Simon thinks those gaps left room for some new faces to emerge in women’s tennis, such as current No. 1 Swiatek and American teenager Coco Gauff.

“Serena has played what I would call a limited schedule over the last several years, anyway. So clearly, we have a new set of stars that are coming in and certainly establishing themselves and doing well,” Simon said. “But I see us continuing to celebrate Serena – and I hope she comes back and plays another five or 10 years.”

Good luck with that.

But those she brought to tennis, whether players or fans, should last long beyond that timeframe.

“Serena got a lot of people interested in our sport. And now it’s up to the next generation to do that,” King said. “People always – the media – goes into this every time: `Oh, they’re leaving! Oh, what’s going to happen?’ Somebody always comes up to the top. The cream rises to the top.”

Gael Monfils withdraws from French Open with wrist injury

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PARIS — A thrilling five-set victory took a toll on Gael Monfils, whose withdrawal from the French Open handed No. 6 Holger Rune a walkover to the third round.

The 36-year-old Frenchman said he has a strained left wrist and can’t continue.

He battled Sebastian Baez for nearly four hours on Court Philippe Chatrier before beating the Argentine 3-6, 6-3, 7-5, 1-6, 7-5 in a first-round match that ended at 12:18 a.m. local time.

The victory was Monfils’ first at tour level this year, as the veteran was coming back from heel surgery.

“Actually, physically, I’m quite fine. But I had the problem with my wrist that I cannot solve,” he said. “The doctor say was not good to play with that type of injury. Yesterday was actually very risky, and then today definitely say I should stop.”

Monfils reached the semifinals at the French Open in 2008 and made it to the quarterfinals on three other occasions.

Mikael Ymer fined about $40K after default for hitting umpire stand with racket

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

PARIS — Swedish tennis player Mikael Ymer was docked about $40,000 after being disqualified for smashing his racket against the umpire’s chair at a tournament the week before he competed at the French Open.

An ATP Tour spokesman said Ymer forfeited about $10,500 in prize money and 20 rankings he earned for reaching the second round of the Lyon Open. Ymer also was handed an on-site fine of about $29,000.

The spokesman said the ATP Fines Committee will conduct a review of what happened to determine whether any additional penalties are warranted.

The 56th-ranked Ymer, who is 24 and owns a victory over current No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz, was defaulted in Lyon for an outburst late in the first set against French teenager Arthur Fils last week.

Ymer was upset that the chair umpire would not check a ball mark after a shot by Fils landed near a line. As the players went to the sideline for the ensuing changeover, Ymer smacked the base of the umpire’s stand with his racket twice – destroying his equipment and damaging the chair.

That led to Ymer’s disqualification, making Fils the winner of the match.

After his 7-5, 6-2, 6-4 loss to 17th-seeded Lorenzo Musetti in the first round at Roland Garros, Ymer was asked whether he wanted to explain why he reacted the way he did in Lyon.

“With all due respect, I think it’s pretty clear from the video what caused it and why I reacted the way I reacted. Not justifying it at all, of course,” Ymer replied. “But for me to sit here and to explain? I think it’s pretty clear what led me to that place. I think that’s pretty clear in the video.”