Five talking points from the 2020 tennis season

Five talking points from the 2020 tennis season
Daniil Medvedev of Russia after defeating Dominic Thiem of Austria in the final of the ATP World Finals tennis match at the O2 arena in London Sunday. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 24 November 2020

Five talking points from the 2020 tennis season

Five talking points from the 2020 tennis season
  • The chaos caused to tennis by the pandemic saw the governing bodies freeze world rankings from March

PARIS: The truncated 2020 tennis season came to an end on Sunday when Daniil Medvedev defeated Dominic Thiem in the championship match of the ATP Finals in London.

Here are the five things to remember from the coronavirus-impacted year:

1. Novak Djokovic started the year with an eighth Australian Open and 17th Grand Slam title and finished it by equalling Pete Sampras's record as a year-end world No. 1  for a sixth time.

In between, however, the darker side of the 33-year-old emerged.

While the sport went into coronavirus lockdown, the Serb launched his ill-fated Adria Tour in June.

With no social distancing and with players pictured dancing shirtless at a packed nightclub, Djokovic became one of a number of players to test positive for coronavirus.

Grigor Dimitrov, Borna Coric and Viktor Troicki also became ill and the project was abandoned.

"You can't be dancing on tables, money-grabbing your way around Europe or trying to make a quick buck hosting the next exhibition. That's just so selfish," said Australian firebrand Nick Kyrgios.

Djokovic then saw his hopes of an 18th Slam end with a disqualification from the US Open after inadvertently hitting a line judge with a ball.

His hopes of becoming the first man in half a century to win all four Slams twice ended in a straight sets defeat to Rafael Nadal in the French Open final.

2. Rafael Nadal had skipped the US Open, where he was defending champion, due to fears over the escalating health crisis in New York.

The decision paid off as he swept to a 13th Roland Garros and 20th career Grand Slam title in Paris in October.

The French Open had been pushed back four months due to the pandemic and Nadal had entered the tournament fearing the heavier balls and autumn conditions would conspire against him.

He need not have worried as he reached the 100-win mark at the tournament without dropping a set, making light of the 1,000 fans a day limit.

3. The global pandemic closed down tennis from March until August.

Wimbledon was canceled for the first time since World War II while Roland Garros was moved from its traditional May/June slot to September/October.

The Davis Cup and Fed Cup finals were binned as were the ATP and WTA end-of-season Asian swings.

Most events were played behind closed doors.

4. Serena Williams' quest for a record-equalling 24th Slam goes on after another season of frustration at the Slams.

The 39-year-old lost in the third round in Australia, semi-finals of the US Open and pulled out injured after the first round of the French Open.

With No. 1 Ashleigh Barty not playing at all after the resumption, something of a power vacuum emerged.

Sofia Kenin had already claimed a maiden Slam at the Australian Open while Naomi Osaka claimed a second US Open and third career major in New York.

Kenin's hopes of a second Slam in 2020 were undone by charismatic Iga Swiatek of Poland who won a shock French Open. The 19-year-old, at 54, was the lowest-ranked woman to capture the Roland Garros title in the modern era and was Poland's first ever major champion.

5. The chaos caused to tennis by the pandemic saw the governing bodies freeze world rankings from March, allowing points to extend beyond the traditional 52-week window.

Barty remained world No. 1  despite playing just three events —  winning the Adelaide tournament followed by semi-inal runs at the Australian Open and Qatar Open.

Former US Open winner Bianca Andreescu didn't play a single match in 2020 after injuring her knee at the WTA Finals in Shenzhen in October last year.

The Canadian will still finish at seven in the rankings.


Saudi showjumpers riding high

Saudi showjumpers riding high
With SR130,000 ($34,600) in cash prizes, the three-day competition, held without spectators due to the coronavirus restrictions, has been organized by the Saudi Arabian Equestrian Federation (SAEF) in partnership with the Ministry of National Guard and the Diriyah Gate Development Authority. (AN photos by Huda Bashatah)
Updated 48 min 17 sec ago

Saudi showjumpers riding high

Saudi showjumpers riding high
  • Elite riders saddle up for $34,600 National Guard Ministry cup at Jeddah Trio Ranch

JEDDAH: The Saudi National Guard Ministry’s showjumping cup competition kicked off on Thursday at the Jeddah Trio Ranch, with Abdullah Al-Sharbatly and Dalma Malhas leading a top-class equestrian lineup.

With SR130,000 ($34,600) in cash prizes, the three-day competition, held without spectators due to the coronavirus restrictions, has been organized by the Saudi Arabian Equestrian Federation (SAEF) in partnership with the Ministry of National Guard and the Diriyah Gate Development Authority.
The competition consists of nine rounds, with three rounds each day. About 130 horses were registered in the competition. The fences were set at 1.15m for the small grade where about 80 riders competed on the first day.
Almost 40 equestrians took part in the 1.20m-1.25m medium grade. Another 20 competitors battled in the 1.30m-1.35m grade on the first day of competition.
“We have seven competitions under the names of seven ministries. After good international and Olympic results, support has doubled for equestrian sports, particularly showjumping,” a member of the SAEF technical committee, Ali Al-Sahli, told Arab News.
One rider, Naif Al-Sudairi, said that equestrianism in Saudi Arabia is making rapid advances on many levels.
“With Saudi Vision 2030, we now have more tournaments in all regions of the country, and the competition has heated up,” he told Arab News. “This can motivate the riders to improve and show our best in the run-up to international competitions.”
He added that he is looking forward to representing Saudi Arabia in the global equestrian events.

First day
In the small round on the first day of the competition, Khaled Al-Hady came first with 20 points. His horse, Doberlina Van de Kapel, came second with 18 points. Mohammed Hassan Al-Hadi was ranked third with 16 points, while Princess Al-Anoud Al-Saud secured fourth place with 14 points, and Waleed Al-Ghamdi was fifth with 12 points. Faisal Al-Ouda and Abdul Aziz Al-Hamazani came sixth and seventh, respectively.
In the medium class, Mohammed Al-Malki topped the ranking with 30 points followed by Khalid Al-Mobty, who collected 28 points. Badr Al-Fard came third with 26 points, and Abdullah Al-Sheikh was fourth with 24 points. Ahmed Bakarman came fifth with 22 points.

HIGHLIGHTS

• The competition consists of nine rounds, with three rounds each day.

• The fences were set at 1.15m for the small grade where about 80 riders competed on the first day.

• Almost 40 equestrians took part in the 1.20m-1.25m medium grade.

• Another 20 competitors battled in the 1.30m-1.35m grade on the first day of competition.

Malhas, who secured an individual bronze at the 2010 Youth Olympic Games in Singapore, after completing the round in 38 seconds without a single penalty, came ninth with 14 points. She is also the first Saudi female equestrian to take part in the individual hurdles at the 2018 World Equestrian Championship held in the US city of Tryon.


In the big round, Al-Sharbatly, who won the individual silver medal at the 2010 FEI World Equestrian Games, came first with 40 points, followed by Abed Sanosy with 38 points. Fahad Al-Ghamdi was third with 36 points, while Badr Al-Fard was fourth with 34 points, and Talal Al-Juaid came fifth with 32 points. Sultan Al-Qarza’e and Khaled Al-Mobty came sixth and seventh, respectively.

Riders’ journey
Muneer Al-Ayoubi, who has been riding for over 20 years, told Arab News that showjumping requires understanding between rider and horse.
“I have been participating in showjumping (activities) for more than two years. It is the most difficult type of horse-riding activities,” he said. “Unlike horse racing and endurance riding, contestants have to keep training their horses. The rider and the horse should appear as if they were one soul.”
Arwa Mutabagani, owner and managing director of Jeddah Trio Ranch, said that they have riders of different levels from all over Saudi Arabia.
Speaking about the preparation to host the competition, Mutabagani said: “The horses arrive a couple of days before the competition, so we have to be ready. On-site, we have 150 horses participating, so we have different locations to host all these numbers. We made the warm-up arena ready for the riders to prepare their horses for the show.”
An Italian equestrian expert was brought in to handle the timing and ensure there are no complaints, she said. Mutabagani said that she is training a number of female riders to become champions. Family support is essential in this type of sport, she added.
“To reach a top position, dedication, family and team support, and sacrifices are all elements that should go together. You also have to have a good instructor, a good horse, and you have to have the right competition that can help you move to higher levels,” she said.
She mentioned her daughter, Dalma Malhas, as an example, saying: “When she was competing, she was young and spent weekends at the shows and not with her peers. So, you have to sacrifice being a normal teenager to reach the top.”
Meanwhile, Mohrah Faisal, a female equestrian who took part in the small round, said that she is grateful to SAEF for supporting female riders. “We did not have such an opportunity in the past. Now I hope I can represent the Kingdom at the Olympics.”
She said that her family believed in her passion for equestrianism once they saw her succeeding in many local competitions.
Wafa Hasson, another Saudi female rider, said she competed in the UAE two years ago after SAEF gave women riders the green light, which helped them improve.
Female riders are still looking for opportunities to learn. “I want to go as far as I can. I don’t really have a limit, I just want to see what I can achieve and I will do my best to achieve it.”
Ghalia Al-Musa, another participant, said that she has been riding for 13 years, and her mother is still her biggest supporter.
“SAEF allowed female riders to compete along with male riders in 2019, and it was good news for all female riders. In the same year, SAEF selected the best female riders to represent Saudi Arabia in the Arab Women Sports Tournament in Sharjah, UAE. We came second as a team and I came fourth as an individual,” she told Arab News.
Al-Musa also hopes to represent Saudi Arabia in international events, including the Olympics.
Heavy rain in Jeddah on Friday forced the organizing committee of the National Guard showjumping cup to combine the second and third day of competition on Saturday (10 a.m. to 11 p.m.) when the competition will come  to an end.