Photo : Peter Staples/ATP Tour
How many sports do you know that can lose their two top players and still keep the proverbial ball rolling?
Welcome to the wide world of tennis.
This March, it’s pretty safe to say that tournament director was way up there on the list of stressful jobs.
World No.1 Ashleigh Barty caused a stir when she confirmed she was leaving the game and ready to live her life as a 25-year-old retiree.
And let’s not forget Rafa Nadal, who’s on a four- to six-month pause as he heals a rib injury that’s delaying his clay season prep.
Thankfully, tennis has tonnes of promising young talent and a lucky star.
Amidst this changing of the guard, the newly minted World No.1 Iga Swiatek is on a 17-match, 20-set winning streak that’s added three crowns—Miami, Indian Wells and Qatar—to her trophy case.
And there’s Carlos Alcaraz. Remember his name. The 18-year-old is the youngest man to win in Miami. With his 18-2 record this season, the Spaniard is on course to claim the top spot.
Fans at the National Bank Cup will love him for his exceptional talent and demonstrative personality.
The other piece of good news is that they’ll likely be sticking around for a while.
THE YOUNG RETIREES’ CLUB
While Ash’s decision to hang up her racquet was somewhat surprising, it’s not the first time a young tennis superstar calls it quits. There’s an interesting list of players who did the same.
Like Barty, Justine Henin was 25 years old and No.1 when she left the game. Kim Clijsters was 23 and Martina Hingis, 22.
The record belongs to Jennifer Capriati, who went into a short-lived retirement at the age of 18 to go back to school.
They all eventually came back to tennis. Will Ashleigh Barty be the exception?
Don’t think only women retire early: suffering from mental fatigue, Bjorn Borg quit when he was 26. He came back but his level of play didn’t.
ATP chairman Andrea Gaudenzi didn’t mince words in the internal memo he sent out last week.
With more and more players losing their cool on court, he ordered tennis officials to be a lot stricter in the application of the sport’s code of conduct.
The images of Alexander Zverev repeatedly smashing his racquet on the umpire’s chair—and coming very close to clipping the official’s leg—are burned into our brains.
Zverev was fined $40,000, disqualified and placed on probation for a year.
Nick Kyrgios (of course!) and Jenson Brooksby each threw tantrums and put a few ball kids at risk of injury in the process.
Gaudenzi also called for a review of the code with stricter penalties for outbursts like the ones we saw from Daniil Medvedev and Denis Shapovalov.
If that helps prevent a serious accident, it’s definitely a good thing.
“We all have a role to play to uphold the reputation and integrity of our sport,” wrote Gaudenzi.
Now, we’re expecting results.
BILLIE JEAN KING CUP!
On April 15 and 16, Canada will host Latvia in Vancouver.
No.19 Leylah Fernandez will lead the team, along with hometown hero Rebecca Marino, Carol Zhao, Françoise Abanda and doubles No.9 Gabriela Dabrowski.
Playing for team Latvia is former French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko, who’s currently No.28.
Strong allies against the Russian invasion, Ukraine and the US will be going head-to-head in Asheville, North Carolina.
“Everybody respects the competition, and once you step on the court, you’re competing. But, off the court, we’re allies and we’re friends, and we want to be there for them,” affirmed US team captain Kathy Rinaldi.