Tennis briefing: Djokovic, a bottle of water and so many injuries in Rome

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Welcome to the Monday Tennis Briefing, true The Athletics will explain the story behind the stories of the past week in court. This week the coveted Masters 1000 in Rome ran its first week and the stories on the track were matched by the drama off it. Novak Djokovic left the field hit by a bottle of water, Rafael Nadal took the next step in his comeback and the spectacle on the field was overtaken by a strange referee.

And is everyone hurt now?

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Are all these injuries signal or sound?

Friday afternoon in Rome and the Foro Italico felt like an infirmary for a moment, as one medical bulletin followed another.

First, defending champion Elena Rybakina withdrew due to illness, before the first matches of the day on the courts of Campo Centrale and Pietrangeli ended in retirements: Lorenzo Musetti (virus) in the former, Anna Blinkova (ankle) in the latter.

Later in the day, world number 7 Casper Ruud struggled with a back problem in his defeat to Miomir Kecmanovic, who suffered a similar injury and said afterwards that he took three types of pills to numb the pain.

At the Italian Open, two of the men’s favorites, Jannik Sinner and Carlos Alcaraz, had withdrawn due to fitness issues before it had even started. Defending champion Daniil Medvedev arrived with a problem in his thigh. Elsewhere on Friday, Dominic Thiem announced he will retire later this year due to his long-standing wrist problem.

So does tennis have a problem with injuries?

It was a topic of conversation throughout the first week in Rome and Danielle Collins, who benefited from Blinkova’s retirement, said The Athletics after the match that these types of situations are an occupational hazard given tennis’ unforgiving schedule.

Collins came to Blinkova’s rescue before she had to retire (Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

“It’s to be expected when we have so many tournaments in a row,” she said. “It is a physical sport and when people go far and play many matches, injuries and illnesses can arise.

“I’m not surprised. It’s a long season; everyone has to deal with injuries or illness during the season.”

A few days earlier, Medvedev played down the withdrawals: “Injuries are generally a coincidence, unless it is the same injury for everyone.”

Grigor Dimitrov, the world number 10 and a relative veteran at 32, offered a different perspective: “We have seen many more retirements in the last two and a half years because the sport is much more demanding.”

Can Kerber and Osaka make the comeback (on clay?)

Naomi Osaka and Angelique Kerber are very good tennis players, and giving birth wouldn’t change that.

That doesn’t mean coming back is easy. Tennis doesn’t protect player rankings during maternity leave, so women can be thrown to the wolves in the early rounds of tournaments and struggle to get wins when they need them most. Osaka and Kerber have been dealing with that in recent months, showing flashes of their past Grand Slam-winning selves but also bouts of inconsistency that could spell doom in two-of-three-set tennis.

Naomi Osaka Rome Open scaled

Osaka embraced clay this week (Dan Istitene/Getty Images)

But in Rome, Kerber is back in another Masters 1000 round of 16, where she will have her work cut out for her against world No. 1 Iga Swiatek. Reaching the second week already counts as a victory for Kerber, who is only in month five. of her comeback. With her best career results on grass and hard courts, she is not a player any seed wants to face this summer.

Osaka’s coach, Wim Fissette, set her a goal of getting back into shape for this year’s hard swing in North America, but Osaka is known for his impatience and has recently been questionable in the red. Rome was perhaps her best week, with victories over Marta Kostyuk, one of this year’s best players, and Daria Kasatkina, perhaps the smartest player in the world. Next up was Australian Open finalist Zheng Qinwen, who is 21 years old and enjoyed the match, eliminating an errant Osaka in straight sets.

That defeat doesn’t discredit Osaka’s commitment to improving on a surface she normally doesn’t enjoy at all. Osaka lost early in Madrid and went to Mallorca to train for Rome. “I watched some videos,” she said. “I saw Rafa. I watched Alcaraz. I saw Rublev, which is very inspiring. He hits the ball and I thought, ‘I don’t want to have any regrets when I leave the field.’ In Madrid I regretted not swinging fully.”

No regrets? Sounds good.

In the Tram Lines: Should Referees Be Part of the Show?

The rise of electronic line calling (ELC) means that referees are increasingly becoming peripheral figures in tennis.

Clay is slightly different, with tournaments including the Italian Open still relying on jumping out of their seats to inspect ball tracks.

During a tense final set between British number 67 Dan Evans and home favorite Fabio Fognini on Thursday evening, Fognini scooped a forehand drive volley short and wide – too wide. The linesman in charge of the singles sideline initially extended an arm to indicate it was out; the Hawk-Eye evidence indicated it was out; referee Mohamed Lahyani insisted this was not the case.

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“You couldn’t show me the goal, the ball didn’t touch the bloody line,” as Evans put it.

Mohamed Lahyani Umpire scaled

Lahyani’s thirst for spectacle has irritated players (Alex Pantling/Getty Images)

During the argument, Lahyani insisted that the line judge had called the ball in, which turned out not to be the case. The incident came a year after Evans’ compatriot Andy Murray had a similar altercation with Lahyani – against the same opponent and at the same tournament.

The back and forth continued and Evans was given a code violation warning for unsportsmanlike conduct.

Some would argue that this was not entirely coincidental. Lahyani is happy to be involved in matches – sometimes too much, like six years ago, when he gave Nick Kyrgios a mid-match pep talk and subsequently earned a ban from the ATP. In Rome there was the surreal spectacle of Lahyani being harassed by spectators in the grounds of the Foro Italico. Officials are not generally honored in this way, and at last year’s tournament Djokovic took the referee to task for this, asking him “what’s the drama” and “are you playing here?” during an argument about the score being called.

Perhaps this will be a thing of the past once ELC takes over completely – the ATP says it plans to have the technology at all clay-court events next year – and referees are pushed even further to the margins. A step forward for some; for others, more evidence of the purification of tennis.

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Why did so many people think someone threw a bottle at Djokovic?

The widespread assumption on Friday night that Djokovic had been hit by a water bottle intentionally rather than accidentally came about largely for a number of reasons.

The first was that the original footage made it look that way.

The second, and more revealing, reason is that someone hating Djokovic so much that he threw a bottle at him didn’t seem particularly far-fetched. And perhaps these prejudices are what led so many to assume it was a conscious choice from the start – not just his most devoted fans, but also the social media aggregators, figureheads and Boris Becker.

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Djokovic’s divisiveness is well-documented, with an army of supporters and his litany of dazzling feats failing to stand in the way of a host of opponents. Without rehashing all that here, the animosity originally stemmed from the rivalry he enjoyed with the largely beloved Nadal and Roger Federer.

It has intensified in recent years.

Djokovic Divisive Water Bottle scaled

Djokovic often finds a sense of humor in directing partisan crowds (Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

He has arguably surpassed both in terms of performance with relatively little fanfare; his decision not to take the Covid-19 vaccine, which he always emphasized was a personal choice, has led to defamation and unwittingly made him a poster boy for groups who believe that choice is a victory over the establishment.

There have been other controversies: at last year’s Australian Open, his father was pictured with supporters of Vladimir Putin; in the first week of last year’s French Open, he wrote on a television camera “Kosovo is the (heart symbol) of Serbia” in response to the violent clashes in Kosovo, once again placing himself in the middle of a struggle that has ravaged the Balkans almost for a thousand years and made accusations that he aligned himself with fascism and philosophies that led to ethnic cleansing.

Djokovic said both words were misinterpreted.

Fortunately, Djokovic was not attacked on Friday and the next day he made light of the incident, arriving at the Foro Italico wearing a bike helmet before losing to Alejandro Tabilo.

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Not a shot of the week

Club players of the world: does this sound familiar?

Shot of the week

Club players of the world: yes this To seem familiar?

Recommended reading:

📅Coming soon

🎾 ATP:

📍Rome, Italian Open (1000) second week, ft. Stefanos Tstitsipas, Alejandro Tabilo, Thiago Monteiro, Grigor Dimitrov
📺 UK: Sky Sports; USA: Tennis Channel 💻 Tennis TV

🎾 WTA:

📍Rome, Italian Open (1000) second week, ft. Iga Swiatek, Aryna Sabalenka, Elena Rybakina, Coco Gauff.
📺 UK: Sky Sports; USA: Tennis Channel

Tell us what you noticed this week in the comments as the tours continue.

(Top photos: Mike Hewitt; Alex Pantling; Dan Isitene/Getty Images)

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