The Joy And Loneliness of Tennis

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Bill Simons and Vinay Venkatesh

Paris

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “The best help my parents gave to me is that they didn’t care about my tennis.” – Zhang Zhizhen

THE JOY OF TENNIS: You’ve probably never heard of the Serbian player Olga Danilovic. She’s rail thin, a lefty, with the darkest of brown eyes. She’s rather emotional, and she’s good – never mind that she’s only No. 104. 

The 20-year-old came through three qualifying matches, then downed the surging Danielle Collins in the second round. Today, she was crushed in the first set by the veteran Croatian, Donna Vekic, but battled back to win a thrilling marathon match, 0-6, 7-5, 7-6 (8), on one of the most beautiful tennis stadiums in the world, Court Simone Mathieu, the sunken garden court.  

“This is absolutely incredible,” said one commentator. In tears, sobbing and holding her heart, Olga later explained, “I love clay, I love Paris. I was fighting every point… My coach says it’s always very important to win the last point. So that was kind of my logic…Those were tears of relief and happiness. I mean, we played for 3 hours and 8 minutes. To sit in one place for 3 hours and 8 minutes you’re going to be bored. Your heart is going to get that level of stress… I don’t know if it’s healthy…[In the end] I deserved that kind of a moment for myself to soak it in.”

As for that other Serbian (you may have heard of him), Novak Djokovic, Olga said she’s been asked a billion times about him. Then she added that he’s “a very humble, honest and nice guy,” who’s offered her a lot of simple but good tips on playing the tour. Her eyes lit up as she said that winning the doubles match in the United Cup in Australia with the GOAT “was a bucket list for me. I played with Novak and I won.”

THE LONELINESS OF A TENNIS PLAYER: Danielle Collins, who with all her success this year has been thrust into the spotlight, commented, “Being a professional tennis player and being lonesome often are inextricably interwoven.” 

SNATCHING DEFEAT FROM THE JAWS OF VICTORY: Yesterday our lead article was about how the supposedly struggling Novak Djokovic is trying to kick the blues. Today, Arthur Rinderknech took kicking to a whole new level at Roland Garros. The young Frenchman tapped into his inner David Nalbandian (who was kicked out of the Queens Club tourney for blasting a courtside sign, which subsequently injured a linesman).

The world No. 69 found himself up two sets to one against Tomas Martin Etcheverry, but he struggled in the fourth, and imploded by kicking an advertising board with his foot, injuring himself in the process. Down 5-0 in the fourth, Rinderknech was forced to retire, 3-6, 6-7 (8-10), 6-1, 5-0. 

ZVEREV COURT CASE OPENS IN BERLIN: Alexander Zverev’s domestic assault trial was quickly adjourned on Friday. His legal team requested that the rest of the deliberation to be held behind closed doors. The trial will resume on Monday and the world No. 4 will not be required to appear. 

In October, Zverev was fined $489,000 for allegedly trying to strangle Brenda Patea, his then partner and the mother of his three-year-old daughter, Mayla. The incident reportedly occurred after a “heated argument” at an AirBnB, where Sascha supposedly pushed Patea against a wall and strangled her with both hands. Patea reported she had trouble breathing and suffered from throat pain for several days.

Zverev’s lawyer called the accusations “unfounded and contradictory” and asserted Patea was said to be motivated by only fame and money. Zverev says he is confident he will win in court. “I believe in the German system, I do believe in the truth, as well. I do know what I did – I do know what I didn’t do. That’s, at the end of the day, what’s going to come out, and I have to trust in that.”

Zverev also had previously faced allegations of domestic abuse from a fellow female tennis player, his former girlfriend, Olya Sharypova. After an investigation, the ATP said there was not enough evidence to rule on the case. Andy Murray, who has spoken out in past incidents relating to violence, was critical of the ATP for not having a policy on domestic abuse. 

ARE SMOKE BOMBS COMING TO TENNIS? As the controversy swirled on about whether the French Open crowds were just too rowdy, commentaries about other venues emerged. One broadcaster said, “At Wimbledon they’re more interested in their picnics and being seen.” Another said, “New York is something else. You have to be in a certain mood. But, boy, is it magical.” 

Yesterday a fan spat a wad of gum at Belgian David Goffin. The usually mellow 33-year-old said, “Tennis is becoming like football. Soon there’ll be smoke bombs and hooligans, and there’ll be fights in the stands. It’s starting to become ridiculous.” 

Coco Gauff said she liked big, passionate crowds, but it can be tough when there’s an unexpected noise. She admitted, “Even when I’m watching my little brother play, I want to make a noise.” She contended that for the most part, crowds are respectful, “but there’s obviously some crowds that maybe aren’t.”

She said that aside from Ashe Stadium at the US Open, her favorite arena is Court Suzanne Lenglen, where so many kids passionately cheered her on.

WHAT MADISON KEYS HAS LEARNED FROM TENNIS: We don’t think that Madison Keys, a veteran of 15 years on the circuit, is exactly war weary. But she knows a thing or two. So we asked her what she’s learned from tennis.

She replied, “When you start playing at such a young age, it’s hard not to get wrapped up into the number next to your name meaning everything about you. As I’ve gotten older and as I’ve gone to therapy, it’s been a really good learning experience for me that tennis is an amazing part of who I am, but it’s not who I am.

“When you figure that out and just enjoy yourself and not get too wrapped up in tennis being your one and only identity, it makes everything so much better. The wins are better. The losses are easier. You figure out that tennis is amazing, and it’s brought so much, but you’re allowed to have other things and be different versions of yourself.

“That makes you step back and appreciate the moments that you have on courts, especially when we get to play in these amazing stadiums in front of crowds. You just get to fully appreciate it.” 

DISASTER AVERTED: Today was Iga Swiatek’s birthday – and she won with ease. She admitted, “If I’d lost, it would have been a total disaster!”

UPSET OF THE DAY: No. 6 seed and Madrid Open champion Andrey Rublev was stunned in straight sets today by the unseeded Italian, Matteo Arnaldi. Rublev has never gone beyond the quarters in any Slam. And his loss brings up the question: who is the best ATP player to never win a Slam? One might vote for Rublev, but most would answer Zverev or Tsitsipas.

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