Recapping a wild week of tennis
9:52 AM ET
Novak Djokovic made his return to tennis last week in Monte Carlo, after more than a monthlong absence. Unable to enter the United States because of his unvaccinated status, the 22-time major champ didn’t participate in either of the Sunshine Double events in Indian Wells and Miami.
In Monte Carlo, Djokovic’s first event of the clay season, he won his first match — then fell in the round of 16 to Lorenzo Musetti, 4-6, 7-5, 6-4. But he was pragmatic about the state of his game on clay even ahead of the loss.
“Maybe for some other guys it’s more natural, I guess it’s easier for them to adjust to this surface, to the movement, to the ballstriking, in a way finding the right tempo on the shots,” Djokovic said during a news conference in Monte Carlo. “Match play is what I need. Practice points is something that helps, but nothing helps as [much as] playing an official match.”
Djokovic will next play in this week’s Srpska Open in Banja Luka, Bosnia & Herzegovina. He is slated to face Luca Van Assche — who earned the first top 100 victory of his career on Monday, over Stan Wawrinka — on Wednesday.
And Djokovic is just one of the many compelling figures in the sport right now. It was an eventful week, on and off the court. Here’s what you missed and what to know going forward.
The drama of Monte Carlo
With Djokovic’s return, and Andrey Rublev taking the title in three hard-fought sets over Holger Rune, it was a memorable week in Monte Carlo. But that’s not what everyone is still talking about. Instead, it’s the off-the-court squabble between Daniil Medvedev and Alexander Zverev that is almost giving “Vanderpump Rules” a run for its money. (Please don’t @ me, I said almost.)
During a spirited Round of 16 match, which saw Medvedev save two match points to win in a third-set tiebreak, Zverev was none-too-pleased to what he perceived to be tactical antics throughout from his opponent. Medvedev removed a net pole during the second set, took an unsanctioned bathroom break in the decider and shushed the crowd at one point.
Never change, Daniil 😂@DaniilMedwed #RolexMonteCarloMasters pic.twitter.com/RhNaigN0Gn
— Tennis TV (@TennisTV) April 13, 2023
During a postmatch interview, Zverev called Medvedev “one of the most unfair players in the world” and said he was “extremely disappointed” in his behavior.
And that, my friends, is just the beginning.
After Medvedev lost to Rune in the quarterfinals the following day, he mocked Zverev’s handshake from the previous match and then jokingly told Rune, “You play unfair.” Then, during his postmatch news conference, Medvedev didn’t hold back in his feelings about Zverev and his comments.
“Sascha [Zverev] is living in his own world,” Medvedev said. “I already had like five players in the locker room coming to me and saying, ‘Come on, Daniil, why are you so unfair?’ Sascha, when he loses, we can find maybe 25 interviews of him where he does say some strange things.”
Medvedev went on to say the pair was “never really close friends, [except] maybe only in juniors” and thought the confusion about them being such came from Zverev’s congratulatory postmatch speeches in which he implied they were close.
So, yes, just to clarify here, Medvedev went out of his way to tell the world he isn’t friends with Zverev and never has been. THE DRAMA. I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m going to need a full season of “Break Point” dedicated to this or at least an Andy Cohen-moderated reunion at the end of the season.
Rafael Nadal, 36, hasn’t played since injuring his hip during the Australian Open in January, and he won’t be playing this week’s Barcelona Open, either. A 12-time champion at the event in his home country, Nadal called the tournament “special” in a post on social media but stated he still wasn’t ready to compete. So now the question is: Will he be ready in time to play the French Open when it gets underway at the end of next month?
He has not yet shared if he intends to play at the upcoming Madrid or Rome events, both 1000-level tournaments, and one has to imagine he’s targeting one of those events to make his return, if he’s able.
Nadal is, of course, the “King of Clay” and a 14-time winner at Roland Garros, as well as the defending champion. There is no tennis player more associated with a singular event than Nadal and the French Open. And with his career seemingly winding down, it’s unclear just how many more opportunities he will have to play at his favorite event. So it’s safe to assume he’s doing everything he can to play it this year. If anyone can do it, it’s him. Heck, he did it last year after suffering a rib injury during the Indian Wells final in March, then returning in time for Madrid … and then winning the trophy in Paris. Stay tuned.
While there were no WTA tournaments scheduled last week, many of the top players were still in action during Billie Jean King Cup qualifying. The U.S. team looked dominant in its 4-0 victory over Austria in Delray Beach, Florida. Jessica Pegula won both of her singles matches and Coco Gauff recorded a win in singles and doubles (reuniting with her #McCoco other half Caty McNally) in front of Gauff’s hometown crowd. The Americans will now be seeking their 19th(!) title during the final in November.
— USTA (@usta) April 15, 2023
Pegula attempted to celebrate the victory by treating herself to a cheesy quesadilla from the airport Qdoba, but there was one problem. The restaurant ran out of cheese. Well, sort of. Her Twitter thread of what happened next is a wild adventure that really needs to be read, and appreciated, in full.
My first thread…I’m at Qdoba in the airport & I really wanted a quesadilla. I get up in line & he says we ran out of cheese. I look over and I’m like what about that cheese? He said that’s only for the bowls. I’m like but it’s the same? I don’t care if you can use that cheese…
— Jessie Pegula (@JLPegula) April 16, 2023
He says no that’s our last bin of cheese for the bowls. I told him but it’s the same, someone is going to use the cheese? He just kept saying but it’s our last amount of cheese for bowls so we can’t use it. I ended up getting a bowl with cheese and left confused. Is it just me??
— Jessie Pegula (@JLPegula) April 16, 2023
The only joy I got out of this situation was that I felt like I was in a Curb Your Enthusiasm episode which is my dream anyways and maybe one day will be an episode. Thoughts?😂
— Jessie Pegula (@JLPegula) April 16, 2023
Canada, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Kazakhstan, Slovenia and Spain were also victorious over the weekend and advanced, but there has been no word on if any players from these teams had similar fast-casual-restaurant struggles.
Don’t call it a comeback
Four-time major champion Naomi Osaka surprised the world with her pregnancy announcement ahead of the Australian Open, and the news led to some speculation about whether we would ever see the former No. 1 on the tennis court again.
But Osaka, 25, swiftly refuted that notion in a recent interview with former Japanese tennis star Shuzo Matsuoka. Reiterating her plan to return in Melbourne in January, Osaka went on to say her ultimate goal is to win eight more Grand Slam titles in her career, as well as the gold medal at the 2024 Olympics in Paris. She credited her unborn child, whom she said was due in June or July, for the surge in motivation.
“I found out and then I was like, ‘I’m definitely going to play better and be a better player after this,'” Osaka said. “For me, It just made me want to try harder and be the best that I can be.”
While winning on tour is difficult no matter the circumstances, and returning from childbirth will undoubtedly be a challenge, it’s refreshing to see Osaka so genuinely excited about the sport again after a rough few years. And needless to say, the sport will be just as happy to have her back as well.
Iga the influencer
It’s been a monumental 12 months for Iga Swiatek. The 21-year-old won two majors during that stretch, as well as a handful of other titles, and took over the world No. 1 ranking. And last week she added yet another accomplishment to her already stacked résumé: She was named to Time’s 100 Most Influential People of 2023.
Swiatek was honored with an essay written by skiing superstar and fellow honoree Mikaela Shiffrin, who praised her actions on and off the court.
“Throughout her rise to the top of tennis — and the top of sport — Iga has shown vulnerability and courage,” Shiffrin wrote. “She strives relentlessly to improve her game. She gives credit to those who have supported her, without discounting her own skills and work. She has advocated for mental health and supported Ukrainians in their fight to protect their home. As an athlete, and more importantly as a human, she embodies the kind of confidence that everyone should emulate-the confidence of action over mere talk.”
💯I have never thought that something like this will happen to me. Thank you @TIME for this incredible honor and recognition. And thank you @MikaelaShiffrin for your words. It means a lot.🙏🏼https://t.co/2gXozOd5mb
— Iga Świątek (@iga_swiatek) April 13, 2023
Swiatek was the only tennis player to make the list, but Roger Federer did write the post honoring World Cup champion Lionel Messi.
It’s no secret that the life of a professional player is a grind. Even the top players lose more tournaments than they win, and for most, the day-to-day is filled with financial uncertainty, travel woes and physical and mental strain. So, it’s fun to see a tennis player take a moment to celebrate their accomplishments. This is exactly what world No. 162 Ivan Gakhov did last week after losing — yes, losing — to Djokovic in the Round of 32 last week in Monte Carlo.
The 26-year-old fell in straight sets, but he still recognized it had been a monumental few weeks for him, in which he reached a new career-high ranking, claimed his first Challenger title and won the first ATP main draw match of his career. In a video posted by his girlfriend to her Instagram story, Gakhov was seen living his absolute best life hours after the loss with a champagne-and-pizza dinner in the bathtub, complete with bubbles in his hair and some sort of rubber duck.
There’s a lesson in here for all of us.
Ivan Gakhov last night after the Djokovic match 😅
His month of April so far:
– Maiden Challenger title in Girona
– Qualifies in Monte-Carlo
– Wins first ATP main draw match
– Pushes Djokovic to a tiebreak
– Up from #240 to #160
🎥 popovaaa (his GF) pic.twitter.com/QkSW7ZAWSq
— Bastien Fachan (@BastienFachan) April 12, 2023
Monica Puig, the 2016 Olympic gold medalist, retired from tennis last year, but that hasn’t slowed her competitive spirit. On Monday, ran in the Boston Marathon. Wearing an ever-so-perfect “2016” bib, Puig finished in an admirable time of 3 hours and 49 minutes — more than accomplishing her goal of a sub-four-hour mark.
“I wanted to prove to myself that I could excel at something that wasn’t just tennis,” Puig told ESPN.com’s Aishwarya Kumar ahead of the race. “Now I’m proving to myself that I can accomplish something big again, after [leaving the sport] I was born and destined to do.”
What’s even more impressive? She now heads across the pond to run in Sunday’s London Marathon as part of her quest to complete all six of the world’s major marathons by the end of 2024.
This week’s events
Barcelona Open, Barcelona, Spain (500)
BMW Open, Munich, Germany (250)
Srpska Open, Banja Luka, Bosnia & Herzegovina (250)
Porsche Tennis Grand Prix, Stuttgart, Germany (500)
The author of 5 books, 3 of which are New York Times bestsellers. I’ve been published in more than 100 newspapers and magazines and am a frequent commentator on NPR.