Rachel Stuhlmann And Paige Spiranac Are Doing Their Part For Humanity
That is a hot start to 2023 for pro tennis. As Paige has done with golf, Rachel has played a part in elevating the sport of tennis. Thanks to a German study, we now know they’ve both also elevated the health of millions.
Four-time major champion and former world No. 1 Naomi Osaka announced she is pregnant and indicated she will miss the entirety of the 2023 season.
"I realize that life is so short and I don't take any moments for granted, everyday is a new blessing and adventure," Osaka tweeted Wednesday, including a picture of an ultrasound. "I know that I have much to look forward to in the future, one thing I'm looking forward to is for my kid to watch one of my matches and tell someone 'That's my mom,' haha. 2023 will be a year that'll be full of lessons for me and I hope I'll see you guys in the start of the next one cause I'll be at [Australian Open] 2024."
Naomi Osaka announced she is pregnant and indicated she will miss the entirety of the 2023 season. "2023 will be a year that'll be full of lessons for me and I hope I'll see you guys in the start of the next one," Osaka wrote on social media.
On the eve of the Australian Open, the first Grand Slam of 2023, tennis finds itself at a crossroads.
In August, Serena Williams rocked the sports world when she announced she would retire following the 2022 U.S. Open. One month later, Roger Federer announced his retirement.
It will be the first season without both of them since 1999.
The absence of those two titans creates a seismic shift in the dynamic of the sport — from both a competitive and business standpoint.
“It’s an incredibly exciting turning point,” says the ATP and WTA’s SVP of Brand and Marketing Dan Ginger. “It’s the old guard departing the sport and this new guard entering the sport. And for us, it’s just a pure opportunity for a sport which we all truly believe has so much to offer for millions of fans around the world.”
Tennis’ rebranding party in Melbourne will boast the current game’s most marketable names, but three very notable ones will be absent.
After winning the 2022 AO in her home country, Ashleigh Barty stunningly announced her retirement at the age of 25.
Naomi Osaka — winner of the 2021 AO and 2022’s highest-paid female athlete, per Forbes — could miss the entire 2023 season after announcing her pregnancy.
Rising star and winner of the men’s 2022 U.S. Open Carlos Alcaraz will miss the tournament with an injury picked up in training.
Thus, the door is wide open for the sports’ deep roster of young talent to stake their claim of the marketing opportunities — and a share of the record $67.35 million in total prize money.
And while it’s all going down, Netflix’s cameras will be eagerly capturing everything: The first five episodes of the streaming giant’s new series, “Break Point” — which documents professional tennis’ 2022 season — went live on Friday.
It’s a game-changing opportunity for tennis — one that it will attempt to capitalize on in the coming weeks.
Getting To Know You
When Box to Box Films — the production company behind smash hit “Formula 1: Drive to Survive” — began its quest of documenting professional tennis for Netflix, it did what it does best: evoke, and showcase, the athletes’ personalities.
“Tennis players are emotionally reflecting on every point of every game at every time, and that’s what makes them fascinating,” Box to Box co-founder Paul Martin says. “Tennis is a process of mental torture in some ways.”
“A good story is ultimately a good story,” says “Break Point” showrunner Kari Lia. “There’s more story on a personal level, I would say, than just games. That was really important for us, that it felt like it was relatable.”
The show accomplishes this through its signature technique of following the current players through their personal and professional lives.
It also brings in some of tennis’ most hallowed names to provide insight into the psychology of the sport. Interviews in the show include:
“What we’re seeing now, particularly with the next generation of fans who are coming into our sport, is that it is much more athlete personality-driven,” Ginger says. “Winning is always going to attract headlines. … But when we look beyond that, the task that we have at hand is how do we build more affinity and personal connections.”
Shark in the Water
Box to Box rolled into Melbourne last year confident it would capture the rise of one of the men’s game’s young, marketable stars.
Instead, it found Rafael Nadal, one of the old guards, standing firmly in the way.
“Paul [Martin] and James [Gay-Rees] at Box to Box described Rafa as the shark in ‘Jaws,’” says ATP Media’s Chief Strategy Officer Nick Bourne. “We’re connecting with all the characters that are swimming on the surface, and there’s this terror of the deep that’s sort of lurking there.”
Despite being the No. 1 seed, Nadal comes into Melbourne in poor form — setting him up for either another storybook run or a disappointing exit.
So, this year’s shark in the water is Novak Djokovic.
Unlike Nadal, Djokovic is in excellent form, having won two consecutive tournaments in November’s ATP World Tour Finals and early January’s Adelaide International 1.
After missing the 2022 Australian and U.S. Opens due to his lack of vaccination, the 35-year-old could enter Melbourne on a warpath, looking to build on his legacy and add the $2.98 million prize to his already impressive career earnings.
Djokovic has made $164.8 million from winningsin his career — by far the most all-time and over $30 million more than the second-highest earner, Nadal ($134.5 million).
He has won a record nine Australian Opens and 21 Grand Slams, trailing only Nadal (22) for the most ever.
The Serbian comes into the 2023 AO as a massive -110 favorite to win it all.
All the same, the new crop of young players will be looking to dethrone Djokovic and Nadal in Melbourne. Among them are Daniil Medvedev(+550), Stefanos Tsitsipas (+1400), Taylor Fritz(+1700) — and controversial Australian hometown hero Nick Kyrgios (+1600).
The ATP will be ready to market them.
“Every sport has to have a succession plan, as it were,” says Bourne. “It’s about that next generation of players, enabling different fans to connect with different players in different ways, and just offering that variety to new audiences.”
The Post-Williams World
Since 2017, only three men not named Djokovic, Federer, or Nadal have won a Grand Slam.
In contrast, since 2017 — the last year Serena Williams won a major — 15 different women have claimed a Grand Slam title.
“Serena, for me, she’s the best female athlete ever, not just tennis player,” world singles No. 6 Maria Sakkari says. “We were kind of waiting for it because she was on the tour for so many years, but at the same time, you don’t want these people to leave and wish they could stay forever.”
Williams ($94.8 million) has earned over $50 million more in prize money in her career than the second-highest-earning women’s player — her sister Venus ($42.4 million).
With the women’s side of the sport enjoying competitive parity for years, there’s no shortage of young stars trying to compose the new group.
Iga Swiatek (21) — the 2022 U.S. Open winner — comes into Melbourne as the betting favorite (+225).
Aryna Sabalenka (24, +750) will try to finally break through with her maiden Grand Slam victory after being one of WTA’s most consistent players.
Coco Gauff (18, +1600) has remarkably been on the major cusp for years since turning pro at 14.
Elena Rybakina (23, +2200) will look to shock the world again after she became the first Kazakhstani to win a Grand Slam at Wimbledon 2022.
Swiatek, the No. 1 player in the world, was the highest-earning player on tour in 2022 ($9.9M) and has 11 titles and three majors to her name — but her career winnings are at a distant $14.7 million.
However, as Evert says during “Break Point,” “Women tennis players are still striving for equal prize money to men.”
Although all of the Grand Slams have committed to equal pay, many smaller tournaments will still pay the men more.
Alcaraz, the No. 1 men’s player, has five fewer titles and two fewer majors than Swiatek but trails her by less than $3 million ($11.8M).
Women also have to contend with another disadvantage: In the fourth episode of “Break Point,” Ons Jabeur talks openly about only wanting to have children after her career, and the show notes that only three women have ever won a major after having kids — something not even Williams could accomplish.
“I can’t remember how many kids Andy Murray and Roger Federer have, but I think they have quite a few, and they didn’t skip a beat, they were able to go right back to work,” says Lia. “That’s not the case for women.”
Outside the Lines
Despite playing only 11 tournaments last season and ranking just 20th all-time in career earnings ($21.2M), Naomi Osaka was still Forbes’ highest-paid female athlete of 2022.
It goes to show just how the importance of building a brand: Because women’s prize money lags behind, attaining and maintaining marketability is vital to financial success. WTA accepts its role in that process.
“We have an objective to market our athletes, but only in the most authentic way,” says WTA President Micky Lawler. “The game will pave its own path of champions, and we are here to exercise the marketing arm as fate allows. Our brand mission is to champion women who compete fiercely and live fully.”
As “Drive to Survive” proved for individual sports, there are millions of consumers who may not even know they’re tennis fans yet, they just need access to these athletes at the right time.
All the same, the eyes remain on the prize.
“Sponsors and money, it’s important because it brings this financial security,” Sharapova says on “Break Point.” “You get a sponsorship and you think it’s forever, but guess what? It’s not. It’s not forever unless you keep winning.”
What an amazing win for Andy Murray over Berrettini in 5 sets and nearly 5 hours. Murray was essentially retired a few years back, I give him a lot of credit for getting back into shape to win a match like that.
Great early start for the American's: Fritz, Tiafoe, Shelton, Brooksby, Paul, Wolf, Eubanks, Sebi, McDonald, etc. all get first round wins.
Really hoping an American male can breakthrough this season and get a Slam.
The evolution of Frances Tiafoe — who was just a little too happy
Winning makes it easy to inspire and Tiafoe did his share of that last season, climbing inside the top 20 in the world for the first time after reaching at least the quarterfinals in eight tournaments, including during a magical two-week run at the U.S. Open, where he knocked off Rafael Nadal and Andrey Rublev before falling in an epic five-set semifinal to eventual champion and current World No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz. In doing so, he became the first American men’s player to reach the final eight in New York since John Isner in 2018 and the youngest to do so since Andy Roddick in 2006. Roddick is also the last U.S. men’s player to win a Grand Slam title, which he did that year in Queens. Tiafoe doesn’t want that memorable run at Arthur Ashe to be his zenith. He wants much more, and he’ll try to end the American men’s drought again beginning this week at the Australian Open.
“I had some good wins [last year] but haven’t really backed them up, haven’t really went to that next level of being in semis and finals [of Grand Slams],” Tiafoe told The Post. “I beat a lot of good players [but] winning consistently gives you that confidence.”
It’s only taken a little while for him to get here.
“Frances was a happy kid who always loved being around a tennis court,” Benton told The Post. “I met him when he was about 5 years old. He lived to play tennis, and he smiled when he played.”
But in the early part of his career, Tiafoe was admittedly a little too happy. The story goes like this: After he finished the year in the top 100 in the world for the first time in 2017 — a season that included pushing Roger Federer to five sets in the opening round of the U.S. Open — he remarked how pleased he was with his play. Then someone asked Tiafoe who the hardest workers on tour are and he proceeded to rattle off the names Federer, Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray.
The message sunk in, eventually. According to some around Tiafoe, he had become accustomed to being treated like a star without having yet performed like one.
In 2020, Tiafoe hired Wayne Ferreira as his coach. The gritty, tough-as-nails South African who won 15 titles in a career that saw him reach as high as No. 6 in the world was exactly what Tiafoe needed.
Big night for the American's, highlighted by the shocking Mackenzie McDonald upset over Rafa. I watched the first two sets, in the first McDonald's performance was no fluke. He got up a break early in the second and then Rafa was turning it around, up 3-2 and then got hurt. Rafa is such a fighter and tried to compete, but McDonald was too strong for a Rafa not at 100%. Regardless of the circumstances, a massive win for McDonald.
Tiafoe, Korda, Keys and Coco all won their second round matches.
I watched the Brooksby/Ruud match, this was no fluke. Brooksby was fantastic. On top of that, Wolf knocks off Schwartzman in straight sets, Mmoh with a shocking win over Shasha and Shelton continues to be one of the fastest rising American male tennis players in 20+ years!
Too bad Fritz was upset, this was a tournament he could have done some real damage.
On the women's side young American Katie Volynets knocked off the 9th seed.
This is an absolutely incredible point in of itself, but considering the circumstances (down 2 sets to 0, coming off a 5 hour match previous round, playing against a home town hero, coming off years of injuries, etc...wow):
Another night, another huge win for a young American, this time its Sebi over Medvedev in straight sets no less. I wish Tiafoe would have joined him in the American dominance but unfortunately he lost a tough one.