FROM RAGS TO RICHES: World No. 137 Sumit Nagal recently revealed he had $900 in his bank account. It’s expensive traveling the world seeking tennis glory and riches. Yesterday the Indian upset Alexander Bublik to earn $120,000 – that helps.
A TALE OF TWO EMMAS: No other tennis player has come more out of nowhere to make a big splash than Brit Emma Raducanu, who in 2021, when she was just 18, emerged out of the US Open qualifying and sprinted to the title without losing a set. But her career and her life since have been tumultuous: many injuries, many losses, many coaches and many painful articles in the tabloids. She’s now 21, ranked No. 296 and has a hefty net worth of $12 million.
In contrast, America’s Emma Navarro is a product of the University of Virginia. She won the NCAA championships, slowly rose in the rankings, won the Hobart warm-up tourney over Elise Mertens, is now No. 26 and into the second round, and has won $813,795 in career earnings. Jon Wertheim succinctly noted, “Emma has done all this without a cannon ball in the pool result.”
ELDERS FADE: While Djokovic is thriving, other ATP elders seem to be hitting a wall. It’s not only that Rafa, 36, couldn’t make it to the starting line in Australia and returned to Spain. Andy Murray, 35, after he lost his first match said, “I still feel like I can play good tennis, but it’s not happening when I go out on the court.” And Stan Wawrinka, 38, Richard Gasquet, 37 and Marin Cilic, 35, all lost in the first round.
DENMARK’S QUEEN OF TENNIS AND AUSTRALIA’S DANISH QUEEN: Just after Dane Caroline Wozniacki won her first-round match in Melbourne, Australia’s Mary Donaldson became the Queen of Denmark when her husband, Crown Prince Frederik, ascended to the throne in Copenhagen. BTW: He met his queen in a Sydney bar.
COCO’S SECRET SAUCE: US Open champ Coco Gauff won her sixth straight match of the year and her eighth Slam match in a row as she pummeled Czechia Anna Karolína Schmiedlova 6-3, 6-0.
She revealed her secret sauce, saying, “When I was nervous at 3-3 [in the first set] I told myself, ‘I look good, I feel good – just have fun.’ And then I was able to relax…Australia is truly the happy Slam so I just had to be happy on the court.”
But there was also another dynamic at work. Thanks to a two-day serving tutorial by serving whiz Andy Roddick in Charlotte, Coco has simplified and abbreviated her serving motion.
RAFA NADAL – INSPIRED SAUDI AMBASSADOR OR DISPIRITING SELL-OUT? Rafa Nadal has signed up to be an ambassador for the Saudi Tennis Federation. The beloved Spaniard said, “I want to help the sport grow far and wide across the world and in Saudi there is real potential.” While it was not revealed what Rafa’s been paid, his agreement calls for him to spend time in Saudi Arabia and there are plans to build a Nadal academy there.
In 2018 Nadal and Djokovic were scheduled for a lucrative exhibition in Saudi Arabia, but then the most troubling example of Saudi Arabia’s repressive activities occurred, the dismemberment of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The exhibition was canceled.
Writer Richard Pagliaro noted, “Skeptics say seeing one of the game’s greatest champions, who has exhibited respect and tolerance throughout his brilliant career, aligned with a regime that represses women and criminalizes same-sex relationships is a heartbreaking sell out.”
Critics point to Saudi Arabia’s low ranking in human rights (159 out of 165 nations), their involvement in 9/11 and terrorism, crackdowns on dissent, restrictions on women, criminalization of same-sex relationships and the exporting of profoundly regressive programs to other countries.
Saudi Arabia has long been using sports to improve its image. It’s called “sportswashing.” The Kingdom has a deep involvement in golf, soccer, boxing and Formula 1 racing. The ATP’s Next Gen tourney was in Jeddah and the buzz is that Saudi Arabia might buy into the Miami or Madrid Masters or land a Masters tournament of their own. Reportedly, Britain’s Lawn Tennis Association declined an initiative for the Saudis to be involved with their Queens Club tourney.
Backers of Saudi involvement contend that tennis could help inspire positive change in the kingdom, help grow the game in the Middle East, provide revenue for the tour and prize money for the players and reduce the chance of a Saudi tennis takeover.
Nick Kyrgios tweeted, “Finally, they see the value. We are going to get paid what we deserve to get paid. Sign me up.” He then added 10 money-bag emojis.
Billie Jean King said, “I’m a huge believer in engagement – I don’t think you change unless you engage. I’d probably go there and talk…I want change if we go.”
One Twitter observer noted that while the US and Australian Opens are staged at stadiums named after Arthur Ashe and Rod Laver, the Next Gen ATP Finals was held at King Abdullah Arena. The monarch had 35 wives and imprisoned four of them before he died in 2015.
Chris Evert contended, “The WTA is about equality. We’ve been leaders and role models…We’ve made decisions the last 50 years with integrity and dignity. We have empowered women.” Her conclusion: “Take less money and do the right thing.”
Martina Navratilova said, “I can tell you 100% if I were still playing, I wouldn’t be going…I’d worry for them as women…People live in fear there. It’s just too risky…You sell your soul for money…We made a deal with China and look where that got us…And now we are at the mercy of another government which clearly doesn’t play by the rules.”
Some say Saudi involvement is inevitable. Others ask: why would tennis, which has a strong tradition of integrity and equality, risk its foundational values?
Russian Daria Kasatkina noted, “Money talks in our world right now…So it’s in the hands of the bigger people, unfortunately.”
TWO REBELS IN A BOOTH: Nick Kyrgios’s debut as an ESPN commentator was compelling. Then he stepped up his game on Monday when he joined his fellow rebel John McEnroe in the network’s commentary booth. “We both brought a bit of craziness to the sport,” said Kyrgios. “What I liked most about you was your being yourself, your authenticity…and you played on your emotions.”
Nick then provided a wide range of insights and advice, but then joked, “Do as I say, not as I do.” When the Tsitsipas vs. Zizou Bergs match seemed dull, he suggested, “We’ve got to see a racket smash or a tweener. Then they’d get the crowd in the palms of their hands.”
WHO’S THAT MAN IN THE MIRROR? Novak Djokovic spoke about Dino Prizmic, and how great the young Croat was. He praised the 18-year-old’s forehand and his defense, and said, “It felt like playing myself in a mirror for a little bit. It was so hard to get through him.”
ALEXANDER’S TRIAL: A May 31st date has been set for Alexander Zverev’s eight-day domestic abuse trial. The Olympic champion has again denied wrongdoing in the second case relating to alleged abuse of two of his girlfriends. The Aussie Open’s No. 6 seed is contesting the $480,000 fine imposed on him by a German court.
SPLIT PERSONALITIES: Both Dino Prizmic, who lost to Djokovic on Sunday, and Novak’s coach Goran Ivanisevic are from Split, Croatia.
ABOUT TIME: The Australian Open is allowing fans to go to their seats after each game, not just during changeovers.
TELL IT LIKE IT IS: The injury-prone Seb Korda, whose wrist has long hobbled him, admitted, “The last year and a half definitely sucked.” But Monday he came from a set down in the fifth set against Czechia Vít Kopriva and won six games in a row to prevail.
Seb then reflected on the incredible success of his family Down Under, where his sister won golf’s Australian Open and his dad won tennis’ Australian Open. Seb shared that Down Under, “I’m known as Nelly Korda’s brother or Petr Korda’s son – but hopefully I’ll be able to make that change.”
Patrick McEnroe said that of all the young American guys, the Floridian, with his easy power, fluid strokes and great volleys “has the most well-rounded game of all the Americans.”
THE MAN WHO INSPIRED DJOKOVIC: One year at the French Open, President Bill Clinton showed up at an Andre Agassi match. The Las Vegan was cruising, but got distracted by seeing the president and lost.
On the other hand, deep into her run to the Wimbledon title, France’s Marion Bartoli got inspired when she looked up and saw the James Bond actor Pierce Brosnan in the Royal Box.
After his first-round win this year, Djokovic turned to Agassi, who was sitting in the front row, and said, “Andre I haven’t seen you in years. It was 4-0 and deuce and I made a forehand winner. I smiled at you and said, ‘It’s almost like your return.’ After that I lost three games in a row…Not your fault. I was…overwhelmed to see you.”