Thursday, September 24, 2020

Of Major Importance

 

 

Coach Wayne’s Corner 

Wayne Clark

Every sport has its season ending championship series or game. In football it’s the Super Bowl, in baseball it’s the World Series, in hockey it’s the Stanley Cup, in soccer it’s the World Cup, etc.

But the sport of tennis is somewhat different. Professional tennis is played on a year-round basis and does not have a season.

Tennis professionals carry ongoing ranking points during the year. These points are accumulated by how far they may get through tournaments held during the entire year. The farther a player gets in each tournament and the more tournaments they win, the more points they
accumulate.

These points determine a player’s world ranking. The world ranking affects where they will be placed in the draw of each tournament they compete in. The placement of players in the draw mathematically prevents top ranked players from competing against each other until the quarters, semis or finals of the tournament.

While there is no championship to decide who is number one in the world, there is a year-ending ATP World Tour Final. In this tournament, which is held in November, in London, the top eight ranked qualifying players compete in a round robin format, as opposed to a single elimination draw which is utilized in regular tournaments.

While it is considered quite an accomplishment to win this year ending tennis event, it does not carry the weight or honor of winning a Grand Slam!

All tournaments played during the year have ranking points. Certain tournaments carry more point values than others. The larger tournaments require a higher ranking to be able to qualify to compete in. It’s like Minor and Major League Baseball. In tennis, lower ranked players, must play in what is referred to as the satellite tour/challenger events. These smaller tournaments do not carry as high of a ranking point value as the larger tournaments. They also do not offer as much prize money. Players often struggle playing on the satellite tour, hoping to gain enough points to qualify for higher-ranking point value/higher prize money events.

There are four tournaments which are the most prestigious and carry the highest point values. They are referred to as the Grand Slams, aka “the majors.” They are, in order of occurrence, the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

Originally, three of the four Grand Slam tournaments were played on grass. Now, the only one that is still played on grass is Wimbledon, which is considered to be the Holy Grail of tennis tournaments and is referred to simply as “The Championships!” The U.S. Open and the Australian Open are played on hard courts and the French Open is still now, and has always been, played on clay.

An interesting note in tennis history is that the U.S. Open is the only major to have been played on all three surfaces and the only player to win on all three surfaces was Jimmy Connors.

Beyond the ranking point value of the majors, there is a certain honor and privilege in being a Grand Slam champion. No matter what the highest career ranking you may have achieved, if you won even just one Grand Slam event, it puts you in a group of a special champions!

When you review and look at a players carrier history, while there may be a footnote of how many months a player held the number one world ranking, or what their career win / loss percentage was, a players success is measured by how many majors they have won.

The great Rod Laver, aka “The Rocket,” who despite being banned from playing the Grand Slam tournaments for the five years prior to the Open Era, still won 11 singles titles. He is the only player to twice achieve the calendar year Grand Slam, in 1962 and 1969, and remains the only man to do so during the Open Era. While he also contributed to five Davis Cup titles for Australia during an age when Davis Cup was deemed as significant as the Grand Slams, Laver has stated that major titles are the most important thing for a player to have on their career resume!

Roger Federer stated in a recent interview, that while he was disappointed that he was unable to compete in the 2016 Olympics, he was more upset that he would not be able to play in the 2016 U.S. Open.

Federer already holds two Olympic medals, as well as a list of stand alone statistical records which is too long to list in this article, including holding the longest run as number one ranked player in the open era of tennis. But the highlight of his career is his accomplishments in major titles. He has won more majors than any player in the history of open tennis. Federer has won 17 Grand Slam singles titles, including seven Wimbledon’s, as well as five consecutive U.S. Open titles, 2004 to 2008!

At age 35, and currently recovering from knee and back injuries, Federer realizes the opportunity for him to win another major is becoming more challenging each year. He has stated that he has no plans of retirement in the near future and is looking forward to being back in good health and ready to compete at the Australian Open in January of 2017. However, it will be quite a challenge for Federer to win another major.

One thing that makes the Grand Slam events different from all other tournaments is that the men must play three out of five sets and win seven rounds to become champion.

Depending on his ranking in the beginning of 2017, when Federer plays at the Australian Open, he may have to play three of the top five seeds in the draw to win the tournament, and those will most likely be back-to-back matches in the quarters, semis and final.

Two other top dogs in the hunt for Grand Slam titles in 2017 are Andy Murray, who has arguably had the best year of his career, and Novak Djokovic, who is currently also at the top of his game.

There are other sharks in the water as well.

Despite all of his injuries, Rafael Nadal is always a threat, and let’s not forget Federer’s fellow countryman, Stan Wawrinka, who just won the U. S. Open title.

All of the above mentioned players are top contenders and frequently comment on how competing in the majors is so important to them.

Between ESPN, the Tennis Channel and coverage by the major networks, all four of the Grand Slams will be televised. So, make an effort in 2017 to watch some of the Grand Slam events. Even if you are not a big fan of watching tennis on TV, you may just discover what an exciting, and entertaining sport tennis truly is.

Wayne Clark is a certified professional tennis instructor with over 25 years experience coaching players on all levels of the game. Wayne is also qualified in pickleball instruction. He has been the head instructor at The Marco Island Racquet Center since 2001. The Racquet Center offers clinics, private and group lessons for both tennis and pickleball. Coach Wayne’s Island Kids Tennis juniors program runs year round and has classes for players from kindergarten through high school. Contact Coach Wayne by email at WClark@cityofmarcoisland.com, by phone or text at 239-450-6161, or visit his website at marco-island-tennis.com.

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