Confused? You should be. The tennis world has been rocked by a wealth of mind-boggling news in the last 48 hours. To try and unpick it all we’ve assembled the tennismash crack team of Vivienne Christie, Paul Moore and Leigh Rogers to have a darn good #SmashTalk.
Who is the worst performing world No.1 at the moment?
Viv Christie: Technically, Angelique Kerber. She’s lost more matches to lower-ranked opponents and Andy Murray has at least won a title (Dubai) this year. But most disappointing? Andy by far, if only for the fact that expectations were so much higher.
Paul Moore: That’s a tricky one to call. While it would be tempting to say Andy Murray (particularly on the back of his loss to Fognini in Rome), I think it’s got to be Angelique Kerber. So far this season she’s looked uninspiring, uninspired, and like someone who has done what she wanted to do and will freewheel the rest of her career.
Leigh Rogers: It is concerning for tennis that this is even a question – but the reality is both No.1s have been very disappointing so far in 2017. Murray has lost three of his past four matches and now enters Roland Garros severely lacking on match play and confidence. His form is not as worrying as Kerber’s though. The German has a 6-10 record against top 50-ranked opponent so far in 2017, and is inexcusably 0-7 against top 20-ranked opponents. Not only is her confidence low, she’s lost any aura of invincibility that usually accompanies the top ranking.
What do you make of Roland Garros’ decision not to award Sharapova a wildcard?
VC: My shock was overshadowed only by the refreshing realisation that this is a rare occasion of principle trumping commercial appeal. But off my high horse, I still can’t help feeling that women’s tennis is a more competitive and accomplished place with Maria in it. I’d have loved to see her come through qualifying.
PM: 100% the right decision. Of course, Roland Garros will lose an intrigue factor with the absence of the two biggest names in women’s tennis. But Maria has been given plenty of ‘help’ in the form of wildcards from WTA events. If she cannot play her way into the Slams despite that help, she has no business being there.
LR: I expected Sharapova to be given a qualifying wildcard, so I’m shocked. The French Tennis Federation were in a difficult position, but they have justified their brave decision well. I’m most interested to see how Sharapova responds now. I get the sense this might make her desire to return to the top of the game, and prove her detractors wrong, even stronger.
Has Roger Federer made the right decision to skip the French Open?
VC: As disappointed as I am that neither champion from the previous Grand Slam will compete at Roland Garros, it’s a logical move for the ageing superstar to focus on the venue most likely to deliver another Slam. And let’s be honest, you could almost hand Rafael Nadal the La Coupe des Mousquetaires already.
PM: Yes. The only thing Roger Federer is likely to pick up at Roland Garros this year is an injury. Not only would he go into the tournament without any match practice, but he’d potentially face a Rafa Nadal in peak beast mode. It makes far more sense for the maestro to focus his energy on Wimbledon – the Slam title he is desperate to lift.
LR: I’m going against popular opinion and saying no. Federer could have entered the French Open with no pressure – and as we saw at the Australian Open earlier this year, the unexpected could happen. Sure he was unlikely to beat Nadal in Paris – but would a loss against the Spaniard on clay dint his confidence like it used to earlier in his career? If anything, Federer’s intense focus on Wimbledon is just adding to the pressure on him when he arrives at the All England Club.
The ATP has announced major changes to the #NextGen final format. What do you think of them?
VC: Initiatives like the shot clock, a shorter warm-up and occasional coach interruptions can only add spark. And who better to profile them than our brightest young sparks? The purists can take a breath – innovation is hardly a threat when a sport has such long-standing traditions as tennis.
PM: [Where’s the thumbs down emoji]. Maybe I’m a purist and maybe I’m not the target market, but score changes, let cords and on-court coaching simply sound gimmicky. That said, the sport is crying out for shot clocks, shorter warm-ups (why not get rid of them completely?) and freedom of movement in the crowd. That tennis is searching for a shorter, sharper format for TV makes sense. That the ATP have found the solution seems unlikely.
LR: I was surprised (which seems to be a theme this week) by the format announcements. My initial reaction was ‘why?’ – but after further reading, it now makes sense to differ the format from the traditional ATP World Tour Finals. The purpose of the #NextGen campaign is to promote the next generation of players, so why not try to engage a new generation of fans through showcasing these young talents in a more fan-friendly format. If executed well, this could be a fantastic marketing success story for the ATP.
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