Love-Fifteen in the Time of Covid: The 2021 Tennis Pandemic Season

Kicking things off for our 2021 tennis season, what of the Big Three? Djokovic and Nadal seem poised to fight over the number one position in the first part of the year, with Thiem trying to chase them down. Roger might still be a factor, but has already cast some doubt on that by saying he’s probably not going to Australia.

Will Medvedev bury the mediocrity of most of his 2020 performance by continuing on the tear he went on in the last month of the season? Is Zverev at last over the hump and ready to compete at the highest level?

Will there even be a season? Indian Wells seems all but canceled at this point.

With the current Covid numbers I can’t imagine many tournaments in the US for the next few months.

Have they announced how they will handle ATP points for 2021?

Roger has got to be close to done by now. I think he can still beat anyone in a three set match but I don’t see him winning a slam with the best of five format. He may not be his old self after this long layoff. I do think he’d like to play one more time in many of the tournaments he’s played in over the years.

It does look like Nadal and Djokovic will fight for #1. Thiem may be right there with them. Zverev maybe, but he’s consistently inconsistent.

I’d like to see more of the younger players step up. Maybe FAA will make some noise.

They are currently counting the best points of the last 24 months through March 1 of 2021. If a player has played two iterations of an event during that time, he takes the points from the better performance.

I think this means that, even if e.g. Djokovic doesn’t win the AO this year, he’ll still be counting the 2000 points from his win last year in his points total, and he’ll count them until the AO in 2022. Conversely, events played after March 1st of last year are going to drop off when that event is played again this year. So when the Rome event is played this year, the 2021 Rome event points will drop off.

And for the year-end finals of 2021, only 2021 points will count toward qualification. I guess the idea is to get back to the normal system by early 2022.

Of course, at this point they don’t actually have an event schedule for 2021. Here is the original event calendar, but everyone understands it is already wrong, e.g. the dates of the AO.

Also, for context on the points, this person on Twitter tracks the points using the traditional method, assuming that they had not changed the rules for Covid this year.

Interesting. In the current rankings Federer is #5. In the list above he’s dropped out of the top ten.

I don’t care about tennis, so I’m kind of mad you used up that great thread title idea for this thread :)

Schedule update from the ATP!

They’re going to move the Adelaide tournament to Melbourne before the AO and play it and another new 250 event in the same week, Jan 31. And the ATP Cup team event will be played the same week.

That’s a lot of tennis to be played in one week before the AO, which starts on 8 Feb!

I suppose the idea is to give players a chance to work around any quarantine requirements on arrival. Players could arrive mid-January, go into quarantine, then play the Melbourne events as practice time for the Open.

Here’s a snap of the schedule:

It looks weird on paper, but it makes sense. Players based in the Americas can play Delray, players in Europe can play Antalya and then travel to Australia to quarantine if they want. My first thought was about the weather in Melbourne in February, but it looks like it’s about the same (I thought it might be hotter). The AO qualifying in Doha is the strangest thing, but that too gives just enough time for quarantining after.

With Delray Beach moving to January, New York already cancelled, and the prospects for Indian Wells looking grim, this probably means that the US spring circuit is off again this year.

I’m still not quite sold on the ATP Cup, but it makes for an okay substitute since we didn’t have Davis Cup last year.

Saw multiple reports yesterday that Andy Murray will play the Delray Beach event in January, and that he’s accepted a wild card into the Australian Open. I guess he hasn’t given up hope yet.

Edit: Also, Roger will not play the AO. Seems he is going to Australia to play the ATP Cup with Stan, but not playing the Open. I’m guessing it is to do with the knee not being ready for 5-set tennis.

Roger probably feels he has no real chance of winning the AO, so take it easy on the knee. He will probably skip the entire clay court season too and aim at a Wimbledon and USO return.

I don’t rate his chances at the US Open too high anymore given the way it’s played the past few years—a tad slower and with a noticeably higher bounce—not to mention his age. But it can vary depending on how they mix the surface (something to do with sand I think) so it’s hard to prognosticate there too much. I’m not sure how much of that is conscious by the organizers or merely happenstance. The Australian Open has trended toward having a lower bounce which is better for Federer (and much worse for Nadal and Thiem), but I’m guessing health is still a concern for him there.

Honestly, I highly doubt he wins another at this point, but I’d feel a lot better for his chances if he could play the AO this year.

Here is the official ATP tournament calendar for the first quarter, released yesterday. Note that Indian Wells is not on the calendar; it is at least postponed to a later date, if not cancelled.

Some of these events are going to suffer from the shift of the AO into February, especially if there is any sort of quarantine requirement for people traveling from Australia to the host country.

I guess things are not starting off well for the AO? Multiple people in the bubbles are testing positive (though some positive results seem to be residual), and under the rules that might force some players into full quarantine without practice while others can practice within their bubble. I’m starting to think there may not be an event, though it seems clear that the AO team are determined to hold it no matter what.

It was good to see Hurkacz win Delray Beach. He strikes me as one of the young players with huge amounts of upside, a far better player than the usual American journeymen who seem to make a career out of winning at events like Delray. And his finals opponent Sebastian Korda was also very good throughout the tournament.

Another fun thing about Delray was seeing Ecuadorian Roberto Quiroz make it to the quarterfinals. I had no idea Ecuador had any players of his quality — he’s a top 200 player — and this was his best ATP result. He lost in the QF to Hurkacz.

So the points leaders so far this year are…Hubert Hurkacz and Alex De Minaur, who won the title in Antalya.

The ATP Cup kicks off today with some very good matchups.

The Group setup is here:

Today, in Group A:

Lajovic vs Raonic
Djokovic vs Shapovalov
Then Doubles match

In Group B:

Bautista Agut vs Millman
Nadal vs De Minaur
Doubles match

In Group C:

Novak vs Fognini
Thiem vs Berrettini
Doubles match

In Group D:

Rublev vs Pella
Medvedev vs Schwartzman
Doubles match

Russia and Spain look to be easy favorites to advance. Austria look less certain — Novak is the question mark there. And Serbia are definitely relying on Djokovic to get through.

Australian Open next week!

In group A, Raonic beats Lajovic while Djokovic beats Shapovalov. The latter match was first-rate, with Nole breaking late in both sets to win 7-5, 7-5. Looks like both Nole be Raonic will play in the doubles match to decide which country advances.

Similarly, in Group C Berrettini and Fognini and Thiem and Novak are all going to play doubles in the decider. Novak beat Fognini in the first singles, then Berrettini blew through Thiem in the second.

I thought Austria would be in trouble if they had to rely on winning the doubles match. Fognini is a great doubles player when he wants to be. Djokovic really isn’t, but he and Krajinovic did just enough to see off Raonic and Shapovalov (the latter would seem to have skills that would translate well to doubles).

I thought Nadal was playing here too, but RBA and PCB played the singles for Spain. Looks like Nadal has a minor injury, not that Spain needed him against Australia.

Krajinovic was the star of that doubles match, really. That guy can really play, if he can just stay healthy. Djokovic was lucky to have him.

Now I’m wondering if it will be worth paying $50 or whatever for a service just so that I can see the Australian Open.

It’s wall to wall tennis right now. Two concurrent open events in Melbourne at the same time the ATP Cup is being played. There must be dozens of matches every day.

I think that stuff is on the terrible “Tennis Channel” in the U.S. But both Tennis Channel (yuck) and ESPN (Yay!) will have the Australian Open.