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Mailbag: Early Storylines from Roland Garros 2020 – Sports Illustrated



Without fans and during a cooler, gloomier time in Paris, is the 2020 French Open falling flat? How are players handling the quick transition from the U.S. Open in New York, to clay-court lead-up tournaments, to the Roland Garros dirt?

PARIS – Wednesday is Mailbag day so here goes….

• On our most recent podcast, Chanda Rubin and I preview the 2020 French Open, also known as 2020 Roland Garros.

• Speaking of Chanda….a good solider reminder that Tennis Channel has all the coverage, first ball to last.

Onward, while marveling over Clara Tauson….….


Have a question or comment for Jon? Email him at or tweet him @jon_wertheim.

Jon, I am watching the French Open from home and I can’t make up my mind how I feel. Does it feel like a major to you or just weird?
Charles T.

• I write this with a few first round matches still left to be played. So it’s early and subject to change. But in short, yes and yes. It’s definitely weird for a variety of reasons. Obviously, the absence of fans and the COVID protocol. But also the time of year. There’s a reason why Ella Fitzgerald didn’t sing about “Paris in the fall.” It’s rainy and dark and chilly…and this impacts the surface as well as the mood. Even without a new ball. Even without a roof atop the big court. Even without lights on the court…the surface is stickier and less granular. Even stepping onto the court for interviews, I can say it feels different underfoot.

All that said, here’s what happened Monday alone: Dominic Thiem made a graceful transition and looked terrific in his first match as a major champion. Serena Williams fought through a patchy set and then played a dazzling set as she chases her 24th major (after this writing, Serena withdrew from the tournament, citing an Achilles injury); Nadal was Nadal-ing in search of his 13th title here; teenagers won; players deep in their 30s won; a match went 16-14 in the fifth; a player ran out of rackets and had to borrow a stick (off-brand) from her coach; the fourth seed lost. In other words, yes, it felt like a major.

We’ll see how this plays out. But, so far Roland Garros has taken the baton from the U.S. Open—sanitizing it first, of course—and it feels like a major.

Jon, I know the French Open just started but I’m curious what you are hearing about the 2021 Australian Open. Am I going to be able to go the tennis?!!
Djeorg, Melbourne

• Assuming you are local, the answer is, happily, likely. It is—all together now—a fluid situation. But Australia has 20 new cases the other day and the recent lockdown appears to be effective. It sounds like right now the big concern is confronting outside threats. The players recently received an email from Tennis Australia which reads in part:

“As you may have read, the Covid-19 infection rate in Australia is extremely low—today for example it was less than 20 people. Australia is a safe place and the community has done a good job ensuring the infection rate remains very low by wearing masks, physically distancing and practicing good hygiene. Our government is very committed to suppressing the spread of the virus and requires every person who comes to Australia to quarantine for two weeks. This has been the case for everyone, including Australian Citizens, since March and has been a major factor in keeping infection rates low here.”

Two other notes: I’m told that, while it will not replace the cancelled Shenzhen year-end event, the WTA is looking into adding events to the calendar, post-Paris. Multiple sources tell me Prague—which hosted an event in August—is the frontrunner for a year-end event that will include top players.

On the ATP side, it looks like 2021 will continue to feature events with reduced crowds. The big question: to what extent—if any—can tournament directors cut prize money, to reflect the diminished ticket revenues.

Just glancing at the first day scores and it seems like one of the clear themes is that players who did relatively well at the U.S. Open are falling rapidly in Paris…not uniformly, but in higher numbers than rankings and seedings would predict. Not in the least surprising but confirms what many people had expected about back-to-back majors on different continents in the age of COVID-19.
Leif Wellington Haase

• This is always the dilemma, isn’t it? Do you rest before a major? Or do you get matches, hoping to find rhythm and confidence (and appearance fee lucre)? This year it was amplified. A lot of contenders and high seeds—Svitolina, Sabalenka, Tsitsipas, Rublev, Garin, Medvedev—played the week before the 2020 Roland Garros event. And the Hamburg men’s event ended on a Sunday, meaning that after a major had started, players were still competing in an ATP 500 event.

So you don’t find Nadal’s expression of global concern for the pandemic on Twitter two months ago at all disingenuous, considering that he has no problem participating in the French Open amid a rise in COVID cases in France and Spain? I guess it’s easier to consider the situation “safe enough” when you’re a 12-time champion. At least Ash Barty, the top-ranked woman (and defending champion), commendably refused to play at both Flushing and Paris.
Sean, San Diego

• Broadly, I think we give everyone a wide berth. This situation is fluid—no pun intended—and a decision that seems sound one minute seems suspect the next. And vice versa. Also, who among us is entirely consistent here? (I’m reluctant to eat indoors; but just flew across an ocean.) Specific to Nadal, I’m not sure what’s disingenuous. You’re allowed to express global concern, but still maintain your job….After his first round match, Nadal was asked about the hollow atmosphere and the absence of fans. His response: “It’s sad…but perhaps it should be sad, in the world there are many people suffering, it needs to be sad.”

I don’t understand your support for the underhand serve. Just because it is technically allowed doesn’t make it right. There are rules in the rulebook but there are also unwritten rules, Jon. I’m not a pro but if anyone did that to me, I would probably be so insulted I’d stop playing. It’s not cool, Jon. Plain and simple.
Doug T.

• We had some back-and-forth on Twitter on this as well. Honestly, I don’t get it. When an infield plays deep, you bunt. It’s not the same exertion of power as a solid single; but it’s no less legitimate. In rallies we hit drop shots when the opponent positions himself far back. Why should it be different for the serve? It’s a completely legitimate tactic and should be celebrated, not derided as cheap.

You probably already have gotten this answer to what other Scandinavians were top tennis players. I lived in Denmark during the beginning of Kenneth Carlsen’s professional career; so I was aware of him. He was a mid-level, uninspiring player to watch. Sadly.

• Nice. And of course, Jarkko Nieminen, the Flying Finn, also interrupted the Swedish hegemony. Oh, wait, here comes another reader, Pedro Pelaez: You will probably have Sharko answer this question but I believe Jarkko Nieminen was the highest ranked Scandinavian that wasn’t a Swede in July 2006 when he hit his career high ranking of No. 13 (next closest was Bjorkman at No. 29 and T. Johansson and Soderling at No. 38 and No. 39, respectively).

After Diego Schwartzman’s spectacular recent performance, I was curious about his height. And searching for any analysis of the resulting disadvantages (or benefits) to his playing, I stumbled upon this article. His is such a wonderful story! It seems like movie material, really. And this makes me wonder that in all this hoopla about Big 3 and Murray, Wawrinka, etc. (deserving, no doubt), how many such gems lie hidden? There must be so many amazing stories about tennis players, given their diverse backgrounds, their own struggles, and their families’ struggles.

I realize that struggles are common to every sport and may not necessarily make good copy. But I am sure there will be a wealth of really interesting, but hidden, stories and nuggets, stories that give you a wider appreciation and understanding not just of the player but also of the world around them. Kind of similar to Diego’s background of his great grandfather escaping a Nazi concentration camp and migrating to Argentina. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if someone (you?) compiled the best stories among them into a book or a series?
Arun Narayanan, Lappeenranta, Finland

• There’s something wonderful about a fan from Finland, writing to an American journalist, about a player from Argentina. I love your point, as well. As tennis transitions to the Post-Big (Three/Four/Five) to an era with few titans, it is imperative that these stories are told. We won’t have players with double-digits majors so give the folks at home other stories and other reasons to care.

Regarding sibling rivalries in the same sport at the same time…Did anyone bring up the Busch brothers, Kurt and Kyle? Both are consistently in the top 12 in the points battle for the year-end championship. Both have won the championship. They have had on track altercations against each other and haven’t spoken to each other until their grandmother insisted at Thanksgiving dinner. They both drive for top-tier team owners (Ganassi & Gibbs) that also have a long and successful history in racing. The sport being NASCAR. I agree that the Williams sisters’ competition / rivalry / success is greater. The Busch brothers have also had success. If compared to in tennis, Kurt vs. Kyle would be like McEnroe vs. Connors…hot tempered, divisive, competitive, and really good.
Bret (maybe the last NASCAR fan in Utah!)

• What’s this term, NASCAR? Rings a faint bell. (You want to know from a sport in decline….) That’s a good one. While they never competed against each other—outside the home—the Reggie Miller/Cheryl Miller combo is good, too.

Press releasing

The USTA today announced that the University of Florida will be joining a growing list of colleges across the country to offer Professional Tennis Management (PTM) programs. UF will be adding a Racquet Sports Director Specialization to their online Master’s in Sports Management program. The program will focus not only on helping aspiring Directors of Racquet Sports to be masters of the game they teach, but also to have a firm understanding of business practices, communication, leadership and entrepreneurship.

• Match Tennis App is helping keep tennis tournaments alive throughout the United States through the creation of its Virtual Tournament Desk (VTD) technology. Match Tennis App is the provider of the leading tennis player tournament management application being used by tennis organizations throughout the country. Three of the largest USTA Sections have mandated tournaments to use the app. The new technology integrates with the USTA’s existing tournament management system to provide more effective social distancing protocols.

The goal was simple: Develop a technology solution that would facilitate a safer COVID-19 environment for tennis venues nationwide so that the sport of tennis could once again host competitions for tennis players, especially those hoping for college scholarships.

CEO and former WTA world-ranked No. 33 player Lindsay Lee-Waters founded Match Tennis App with her husband Heath Waters and his brother Matt Waters. As the parents of a nationally top-ranked 14-and-under junior, the Waters have been on the front lines of the junior tennis tournament scene, and desire to enhance the quality of experience for players, parents, and tournament staff through innovative digital experiences.

• The International Tennis Hall of Fame allows fans to participate in the Hall of Fame voting process through Fan Voting, presented by BNP Paribas, which will take place from October 1-25 at The top-three vote getters in the Fan Vote will receive bonus percentage points on their Official Voting Group result.

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As Ontario reaffirms no bodychecking stance, OHL says it will follow studies –



The Ontario Hockey League intends to make its return on Feb. 4, but how that return will look in practice may need to be different from what fans and players are accustomed to.

On Friday, shortly after the Ontario provincial government reaffirmed its stance that bodychecking and deliberate physical contact would not take place during sports amid the COVID-19 pandemic, OHL commissioner David Branch said the league will follow the results of scientific studies in crafting its return-to-play plan, but did not align his position fully with the province’s mandate.

“If there’s studies that really, clearly state that body contact is a contributor to the spread of the virus, then obviously we’ll have to look at it,” Branch said during an appearance on Sportsnet 590 THE FAN’s Writers Bloc. “But we’ve not looked at it yet.”

Lisa MacLeod, Ontario’s minister of sport, made clear in her Friday announcement solidifying the bodychecking ban, and in subsequent follow-up Tweets on the topic, that the mandate was an important part of playing sport during the COVID-19 era — and was not negotiable.

“Not just in the OHL, not just in hockey in general, but in all sports,” MacLeod said during a speech delivered to the Empire Club of Canada. “We’re in a very serious game right now and the reality is we have to take those public health precautions.”

According to Ontario’s “Framework For Reopening Our Province Stage 3,” a publicly available document released by the province that outlines best-practices for individuals and organizations during this stage of Ontario’s pandemic response, “prolonged or deliberate contact while playing sports” is not permitted.

“Our public health officials have been clear,” MacLeod wrote on Twitter. “Prolonged or deliberate contact while playing sports is not permitted. We will continue to work with [the OHL] on a safe return to play.”

Writers Bloc

OHL Commissioner David Branch discusses upcoming season

October 30 2020

The document goes on to say that in team sports where body contact between players is an integral component of the sport, or commonly occurs while engaged in the sport, those sports will not be permitted unless the way they’re played can be modified to prevent prolonged or deliberate physical contact.

“I suspect [the OHL] will have to modify their play until there is a vaccine or at the very least public health clearance that we have contained the spread of COVID-19,” MacLeod said on Friday.

In the summer, Ontario hosted the NHL’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, using Toronto as one of its hub cities, and did not require rule changes that would prevent prolonged or deliberate physical contact. The success of the NHL’s model — a sequestered bubble to limit exposure and remove travel risks, rigorous testing and contact tracing — would be challenging, if not impossible, for a league like the OHL to afford.

Ontario’s confirmation that bodychecking in the OHL would be subject to its reopening mandates comes as daily, reported COVID-19 cases hover near all-time highs.

Over the past seven days, the province has seen a daily average of nearly 900 new cases, according to publicly available tracking data.

“This isn’t politics and hockey,” MacLeod tweeted. “It is a global pandemic and we are guided by healthcare policy to mitigate against the spread of a deadly virus.”

It is not clear at this time how the policy banning “prolonged or deliberate physical contact” would impact other, non-bodychecking elements of hockey games such as battles for the puck along the boards.

Earlier this month, the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League resumed play without any modifications to its rules. Its schedule has been disrupted by several COVID-19 outbreaks among teams, as well as provincial restrictions on travel.

The challenge the league experienced, in part, helped solidify Ontario’s decision that bodychecking cannot take place, MacLeod said. According to Branch, that policy decision has not factored into the OHL’s return-to-play planning to this point.

“We haven’t even contemplated that, quite frankly,” Branch said. “At the end of the day, so much of what we’re attempting to do is provide the opportunity for our players to get back on the ice. We have to take them into consideration here and what’s best for their development, their ongoing development.”

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No bodychecking allowed in upcoming OHL season, says Ontario sport minister –



The Ontario Hockey League will not have bodychecking this coming season, according to Lisa MacLeod.

Ontario’s minister of sport said Friday afternoon in a speech delivered to the Empire Club of Canada that removing purposeful physical contact is a necessity for all sports in the province to slow the spread of COVID-19

“Not just in the OHL, not just in hockey in general, but in all sports,” said MacLeod. “We’re in a very serious game right now and the reality is we have to take those public health precautions.”

The OHL announced on Thursday that it plans to start a shortened season on Feb. 4, the last of Canada’s three major junior leagues to release a schedule.

WATCH | MacLeod says bodychecking barred from OHL:

Ontario’s Minister of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries discusses the OHL’s return to play proposal during the pandemic. 1:04

The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League season started earlier this month, but the schedule has been affected by several COVID-19 outbreaks as well as provincial government restrictions. After play was restricted to Maritimes Division teams the past two weeks, some Quebec teams are scheduled to resume play this weekend.

The Western Hockey League said earlier this month it plans to start its season on Jan. 8.

MacLeod said the decision to ban bodychecking was influenced by the outbreaks in the QMJHL.

“I suspect [the OHL] will have to modify their play until there is a vaccine or at the very least public health clearance that we have contained the spread of COVID-19,” said MacLeod.

The MPP for Nepean said she normally has no problem with physical play in the sport, but the pandemic is an exceptional circumstance.

“I have done a lot of work on concussion awareness so I do take very seriously the safety but if done appropriately in regular times I wouldn’t,” MacLeod said.

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MLB owners approve sale of Mets to Cohen – TSN



NEW YORK — The Wilpon family’s control of the New York Mets neared its end after 34 years when Major League Baseball owners voted Friday to approve the sale of the team to billionaire hedge fund manager Steve Cohen.

The vote was 26-4, a person familiar with the meeting told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity because the balloting was not announced. Cohen needed 75% approval.

The transfer from the Wilpon and Katz families values the franchise at between $2.4 billion and $2.45 billion, a record for a baseball team that tops the $2 billion sale of the Los Angeles Dodgers from Frank McCourt to Guggenheim Baseball Management in 2012. The Mets sale is likely to close within 10 days.

Cohen pledged to inject about $9.5 million in additional payments this off-season for pandemic-hit employees.

“I am humbled that MLB’s owners have approved me to be the next owner of the New York Mets,” Cohen said in a statement. “Owning a team is a great privilege and an awesome responsibility.”

An entity controlled by Cohen will own 95% of the franchise, and the Wilpon and Katz families will retain 5% of the team.

Former Mets general manager Sandy Alderson will return as team president.

“My family and I are lifelong Mets fans, so we’re really excited about this,” Cohen said. “With free agency starting Sunday night, we will be working towards a quick close.”

Cohen said all Mets employees, including unionized groundskeepers, security guards and engineers, will receive restored pre-pandemic salaries as of Sunday that reverse 5-30% salary cuts begun in March. He valued the restoration at over $7 million.

A seasonal relief fund will start Sunday and run through opening day for about 1,000 Citi Field employees of subcontractors that makes each eligible for $500 monthly, a commitment of about $2.5 million.

Cohen pledged to “dramatically increase” giving by the Mets Foundation and to prioritize not-for-profits and causes in the Citi Field area. He agreed to donate $17.5 million to programs developed by New York City to make grants to area small businesses through the New York City Economic Development Corporation.

Cohen made his announcement as New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city does not object to the sale. The city had the right to review the proposed transfer of the lease of Citi Field, the Mets’ home since 2009.

The current Mets ownership group is headed by Fred Wilpon, brother-in-law Saul Katz and Wilpon’s son, Jeff, the team’s chief operating officer. Fred Wilpon turns 84 on Nov. 22 and Katz is 81.

“We appreciate Fred’s decades of service to league committees and the governance of the game,” baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement. “Steve will bring his lifelong passion for the Mets to the stewardship of his hometown team, and he will be joined by highly respected baseball leadership as well. I believe that Steve will work hard to deliver a team in which Mets fans can take pride.”

The 64-year-old Cohen is CEO and president of Point72 Asset Management. He first bought an 8% limited partnership stake in the Mets in 2012 for $40 million.

“I know that Steve Cohen and his family share the same passion we’ve had for the Mets and for this city,” Fred Wilpon said in a statement. “Steve will continue, and will build upon, this organization’s longstanding commitment to the support of our community, and of those in need, which is especially important at this time. He shares the view that Saul, Jeff and I have long held, that ownership of the Mets is a public trust.”

The publisher Doubleday & Co. bought the Mets on Jan. 24, 1980, from the family of founding owner Joan Payson for $21.1 million, with the company owning 95% of the team and Wilpon controlling 5%.

When Doubleday & Co. was sold to Bertelsmann AG, the publisher sold its shares of the team on Nov. 14, 1986, for $80.75 million to Wilpon and Nelson Doubleday, who became 50-50 owners.

Wilpon and his Sterling Equities partners completed his buyout of Doubleday on Aug. 23, 2002, ending what had become an acrimonious partnership. Under the original appraisal, Doubleday would have received $137.9 million — half the team’s $391 million value after accounting for debt. Wilpon sued, and the sides then settled.

The Mets failed to win any titles under the Wilpons’ time of sole control and their final dozen years were hampered by financial losses from the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme.

“It has been a privilege and honour for our families to have been a part of this great franchise for the past 40 years,” Fred Wilpon said. “We would like to express our deep appreciation for our loyal and passionate fans, who have consistently supported this organization through the years. We’d also like to thank the many great players, managers, coaches and dedicated employees with whom we’ve been privileged to work with through the years.”

Cohen controlled SAC Capital Advisors, which in 2013 pleaded guilty to criminal fraud charges. SAC agreed to pay a $900 million fine and forfeit another $900 million to the federal government, though $616 million that SAC companies had already agreed to pay to settle parallel actions by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission was to be deducted from the $1.8 billion.


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