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#PointsWereMade: Which players are most impacted by the tennis hiatus? (ATP Edition)

Apr 08, 2020
written by: Tennis Canada
written by: Tennis Canada

Jeff D.: Thank you tennis fans for dropping by and checking out our first-ever edition of #PointsWereMade, a roundtable discussion where the Tennis Canada content team dissects the big topics in tennis, especially in these particular times of unprecedented uncertainty about the hiatus state of tennis – and, more importantly, global health.

Read up on Tennis Canada’s recommendations regarding playing tennis in the near future.

As a result of the global coronavirus pandemic, “sport” as we know it has had to shut its gates while social distancing plays a crucial role in flattening the curve and quelling the worldwide crisis. Tennis has been far from immune, as tournaments as small as Marrakesh in Morocco to those as large and prestigious as the Championships at Wimbledon have had to cancel their 2020 editions.

The ATP and WTA tours, consequently, have elected to freeze their rankings while tournaments have been unable to be played.

Want to learn more about the rankings freeze? Visit WTA.com and ATPTour.com for more details.

Oliver W.: If someone would have told me a couple of months ago that all sport, let alone tennis, would be at a standstill, I probably wouldn’t have believed them. However, I think we can all agree (or, perhaps not?) that it’s the correct decision.

Victoria J.: It’s hard to wrap my head around a world without sports, not only as an employee working for a sporting organization, but more importantly as a fan. We are living in crazy uncertain times and life as we know it is currently on pause. This is also the case for our professional athletes. And with this pause to the season rightfully came a freeze in the rankings. It will be interesting to see how this will all play out when tennis resumes.

Caroline A.: Tough times for everyone, definitely – from players to tournaments organizers to tennis fans. Pausing the tours and freezing the rankings was absolutely the right move, in my opinion, even if there are some players that will benefit from from the layoff (and rankings freeze) and some that won’t.

Colin G.: I didn’t realize how big a part of my life sports were until they abruptly stopped! Even going one week without tennis sucked, and I can’t exactly say I’m excited for the next few months. That being said, I think freezing the rankings is the right thing to do. No tennis, no points. Makes sense to me!

djokovic playing tennis
Photo: Martin Sidorjak

Ageless superstars of men’s tennis get to test their longevity

JD: Well said, everyone. Agree with Caro that some players will definitely benefit from the time off, especially the ‘Big Three’ of the ATP Tour: Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic, who all have played fairly limited schedules over the past couple years to increase their longevity.

OW: Big Three? ‘Big Four’, surely?! Did you forget about Sir Andy Murray, Jeff? Sorry, as the only Brit in this debate, I had to give a shout-out to the 2013 and 2016 Wimbledon champ!

Seriously though, I think this hiatus adds to Novak’s ‘weeks at No.1’ numbers, which will do him no harm in trying to overthrow Federer’s record – unless of course they decide to freeze that stat as well. I guess it also keeps the battle for the World No. 1 spot between him and Nadal closer for the time being…

VJ: Of course you had to bring up Andy, I would expect nothing less. Seeing as we have introduced him into the conversation, he is my pick as the player in the Big Four (I know we said Big Three, but I’m bending the rules). While Novak may benefit from remaining at No. 1 for the coming weeks, I think Andy will be the biggest beneficiary of this hiatus.

Trying to come back from injury is never an easy task, but when everyone else is also unable to play, it levels the playing field. When tennis resumes, all players will be starting at zero, with no momentum from previous matches or tournaments. If he can be healthy whenever the season picks up again, he might be able to make the argument to bring back the Big Four.

JD: Part of me thinks that Novak and Rafa definitely get a bit of a bonus for getting to hold on to their reigning French Open and Wimbledon champion status for an extra year, but I feel it has to be the current World No. 1 that has the biggest disadvantage here.

Djokovic started the season with an 18-0 record, picking up the inaugural ATP Cup title, the Australian Open (again) and Dubai – before joking that he would hope to keep his unbeaten streak alive all season. Looks like he might get that wish… but talk about a loss of momentum. He was looking pretty unbeatable to start the season and now he’ll suddenly have to start from ground zero, like Victoria said. Can he pick up where he left off?

CA: I think Federer, who’s just had knee surgery, gets a major bonus here. Talk about choosing the right time for an injury, if there was ever such a thing. By freezing his  ranking, this allows him not to lose his points from key moments in 2019 – including a finals in Indian Wells and Wimbledon, a title in Miami and a deep run at Roland Garros. His body will be ready to go once tennis returns… and it was a hiatus he was already planning to take!

CG: I’m a huge Federer fan and I think it’s great that he gets some extra time off (even though I wanted him to avenge his Wimbledon finals loss from 2019). I definitely think it’ll be hard on Djokovic, but it would also be awesome to say he went undefeated in 2020. Regardless, they’re all getting older and I think they’ll all appreciate a little time off, as much as they want to play. They each have a few more Grand Slams in them yet!

auger-aliassime serving
Photo: Martin Sidorjak

Will Canadians pick up where they left off to start 2020?

JD: And what about our Canadian contingent? Félix Auger-Aliassime was coming off an excellent February indoor swing, reaching two consecutive finals, while Milos Raonic played some of his best tennis to reach the Australian Open quarters. Denis Shapovalov, on the other hand, had a mixed bag of results following a hot start to the season at ATP Cup.

OW: This is a tough one. I think Félix’s great form in February, as Jeff mentioned, means it’s unfortunate his season was stopped in its tracks. I suppose for Milos, the hiatus gives him more time to get to tip-top condition – or as much as anyone can during self-isolation – making him a dangerous player whenever tennis resumes.

For Vasek, given the form he’d been in earlier this year, I think the hiatus is a shame. He has virtually no points to defend for a while due to that back surgery last year, so this would have been a great chance for him to shoot up the rankings – à la Vic’s point on Murray.

VJ: I think this is a tough one because it can be argued that this hiatus could negatively impact most of our players, especially in terms of the timing. While there is never a good time for the tennis season to be paused, especially when it’s due to serious external circumstances, the timing could not have been worse for Brayden Schnur. The young Canadian had just lost all of the points from his run to the final at the 2019 New York Open and cannot make them up for the time being.

CA: Completely agree with Oli. Félix and Vasek were on a good roll at the start of the year and the hiatus stops all that momentum. Given that Raonic always plays his best after he’s had time to train and recover, I think that this stop will be beneficial to him.

His results in Australia are always some of his best (his last title came in 2016 against Federer in Brisbane), and I believe it’s because the Canadian veteran likes having the time to make minor those adjustments in his game and routine.

In his recent interview with Mark Masters, Raonic talked about his thoughts on how he plans to make the most of this difficult situation and return to tour playing his best.

CG: I think as Canadians, all of us are disappointed for players who lose momentum and thrilled for players who get some extra time to rest and relax. My heart hurts for FAA, who’s probably playing the best tennis of his career right now. I would have loved to see him play in a few Grand Slams this summer. It’s the same with Vasek; it’s been phenomenal to see him return to form in 2020. The hope is that these guys can pick up right where they left off when tennis comes back.

thiago wild with trophy
Photo: Jim Rydell/Matias Donoso Photo/Chile Open 2020

Rising talents will have to wait even longer for their turn at the top

JD: Gotta feel for that #NextGen cohort out there, right? There are quite a few young and exciting talents on the ATP Tour right now who are losing a big chunk of their calendar to adapt to the pro lifestyle or cement their place in the elite. On the other hand, the hiatus does give them quite a bit of time to work on their games, their fitness and how (and if!) they’ll come out of the gates once tennis does return.

OW: Regarding our group of rising Canadian, Felix is pretty far out in front in terms of points here and I think Denis is at No. 4 in the Race to Milan. So, I guess, you’d have to say that both players are benefitting from having the rankings frozen – Auger-Aliassime in particular. However, I think we’d all have backed both of them to consolidate their position as two of the world’s top young players had the suspension not been implemented. So, it’s a double-edged sword.

VJ: In my opinion, the #NextGenATP athletes are the group of players who will be the most negatively impacted by this situation. As much as training is important in becoming a professional tennis player, match play is probably the most important in a young athlete’s development. And without matches, all players can do is train – minus being able to learn from their mistakes in the pressure moments, adapting to their opponents’ play, etc.

Older and more experienced tour players already have this advantage.

CG: I think it’s so interesting to consider the young guns of the sport, given we all spend a lot of time talking about either the Big Three or Canadians (for good reason)! I’ve kept a close eye on 23-year-old Cristian Garin and 20-year-old Thiago Wild, lately. These young clay court specialists probably won’t get a clay season at all this year. Wild won his first ATP Tour title at the beginning of March on the clay courts in Brazil, becoming the first player born in the year 2000 to do so. Garin has won four ATP titles, all on clay, including three in five tournaments in the last year.

When tennis returns, who knows where we could be in the season? I think that really affects young players who specialize on one surface and focus on it primarily throughout the year.

JD: It was tough to see Félix fall just short in his pursuit of his first tour-level title, so knowing he won’t get another shot at one for an indefinite amount of time has to sting. That being said, the hiatus might give him the time he needs to work on the small parts of his game that let him down in those finals.

You also have to look at Jannik Sinner, who narrowly edged out FAA for ATP Newcomer of the Year award in 2019. He got off to a fairly slow start this season, but there’s a good chance that the Italian’s pure ball-striking and surprisingly athletic game will have time to grow as he – and the rest of the tour – wait for tennis to return.

CA: Fresh faces like Matteo Berrettini and Stefanos Tsitsipas who excelled last year will benefit from this stop, I feel. Berrettini, for example, only played two matches in 2020 due to injuries and has quite a few points to defend from 2019; the hiatus gives him the time to get back in shape and also relieves ‘sophomore season’ pressure.

It’s the same for the Greek star, on whom expectations are high following his triumph at the Nitto ATP Finals last year. This pause will give him time to consolidate his career aspirations and get back on track when tennis starts again.

What are your thoughts on the tennis hiatus and rankings freeze? Who benefits and who is disadvantaged by the pause in the tennis calendar? Join the conversation with us on our Facebook page or on Twitter! #PointsWereMade